Pablo Picasso: The Tragedy
is knowing this is
the beach between
sea with no boat
shore with no house
the lost cannot
the night is chill,
feet bare, clothes thin
the child’s fingers too delicate
to seize what might be
and behind the bluff
dogs strain on their chains
Remembering Ann B. Knox
I was trying to explain to Marion Knox, to Jane
Blair, to Charlotte Brewer, and others, why Ann Knox's dying affected us so
deeply. In my own case, we were not only "social friends" who have
known members of each other's families since the 1950s, but long before I met
Ann, her brother Mike Brewer, Charlotte's late husband, told me I would love
her, and we would find common interests. In their various distant Foreign
Service postings, which place countless demands and strictures on a diplomat's
wife, especially one with a brood of children, Ann was yearning for the chance
to write, and to enjoy the conviviality of fellow writers.
Ann returned to Washington, entered the literary
world full force, studying as well as writing, editing, publishing, helping
others, and until the final hour, discovering. As neighbors, we were often back
and forth between Ordway and Macomb Streets with our clutches of poems and
thoughts. As Clyde (Farnsworth) says, Ann had "a way of seeing big things
in little things. She lived to the fullest, and maintained a love of adventure."
We think of how, in her Subaru Outback, accompanied
only by her corgi, she drove several thousand miles to the Yukon. There, she
surely enjoyed Diamond-Tooth Gertie's Casino & Saloon. Toward the end of
that transcontinental loop, mostly camping out, she stayed with us in Toronto,
glad of a shower and a bed. Periodically, in the Adirondacks and in
northwestern Maryland, she emulated the Yukon miners over-wintering in their
lonely cabins with a wood stove, despite the need to snow-shoe out, or to kayak
For she needed solitude as much as she cherished
friends and family and whatever odd characters she encountered. In today's
me-me-me era of self-puffery, where we are encouraged to promote ourselves
shamelessly, she remained, in Clyde's words, "understated . . . with a
delicate power." Above all, she gave generously of her talents, ideas,
knowledge and wisdom to the rest of us.
Among a handful of writers working together in a
small circle or one-on-one, while we're critiquing each other's manuscripts
month after month, year over year, from drafts where we slash and burn, to
proofing galleys, to admiring published work, strong bonds can develop. Many of
these workshops and literary gatherings had their beginnings at 3207 Macomb
Street, subsequently mushroomed around the area, and some continue to this day.
When one member of our Inner Circle dies, a piece of ourselves
is amputated, as with the death of a sibling, spouse or child, or a lover when
one dare not show or share one's grief.
For among small knots of writers, we
become each other's confidantes, holding and protecting each other's secrets,
fictional and real. As French
philosopher Henri Bergson wrote, what happens within the mind can be more real
than the quotidian "real life" beyond. The characters who populate
our dramatis personae are often more alive than even those fellow writers
around the table—who suspend judgment on the writer regardless whether his
characters are sociopaths, call-girls, thieves, or merely klutzes. Five people
around one table may hold five different ideas for improving a given story or
poem, so the writer, who realizes something in his/her manuscript has rung
wrong for first-readers, must choose—or discover in the midnight shower a new mot juste, perfect word, brilliant
conclusion. Thus we judge only the depictions of characters fictional or real,
the verisimilitude and dialogues in the work-in-progress, the words themselves.
Concern for originality and craft dominate. "Soul-mates" is a
pretentious term, but apt. The French call the tacit communication sous-entendu, or sous le peau.
We do not need to waste spoken words
with each other, only to tailor them to fit the occasion for outsiders. We may
know more about each other's outer and inner lives than do not only outside
friends, but our spouses, parents, siblings, children, even the Great Loves.
Whatever secrets might be shared within the workshop, or merely suspected, one
rule within such a group is that whatever is said or read within these walls
goes no further—until such time as the work sees print. Then we help to
publicize each other.
Thus we become something other than family. We don't
have to argue over who-borrowed-my-hairbrush, only who borrowed a phrase or
cliché. We keep our "normal" friends, cohorts and siblings: these may
provide companionship, and sometimes grist for our mills. We are responsible
for our kind, and likewise for our others.
We re-learn our interconnectedness when one in our
circles loses a child, faces an operation, undergoes a divorce, tends a
terminally-ill parent, spouse, or ex-spouse—all of which situations Ann faced
head on. A Buddhist appreciation of life lifted her above the frenetic, above
When we read the obituary of any creative figure, we
are sad: this individual can produce no more books, no more concerti or
paintings, will no longer provide new work to enrich our lives. When one of our
own circle dies in the manner many of us would have intended for ourselves, had
we a choice in the matter— in full possession of faculties, in the midst of
celebrating the newest book—in a way that the subject would have approved for a
kindred soul, then through our tears we can only marvel.
Although the sudden death of poet—and fiction writer—Ann
Brewer Knox, sparked this essay, it also commemorates too many other close
writer friends, in the Washington area, among them John Pauker, Howard Roman,
Ann Darr, Betty and Hugh Parry, and more recently, Hilary Tham, Maxine Combs,
Elizabeth Follin Jones, and the list goes on.
Note: A more formal, less intimate, version of this personal remembrance appears in the Fall 2012 issue of Potomac Review, under the title of "Had We A Choice in the Matter."
Elisavietta Ritchie's books include Tiger
Upstairs on Connecticut Avenue (due 2013); From the Artist's Deathbed (2012);
Cormorant Beyond the Compost; Real Toads; Awaiting Permission to Land; Spirit
of the Walrus; Arc of the Storm; Elegy for the Other Woman; Tightening The
Circle Over Eel Country (Great Lakes Colleges Association's "New
Writer's Award"); Flying Time: Stories & Half-Stories. Raking The
Snow and In Haste I Write You This Note: Stories & Half-Stories Washington
Writers' Publishing House winners. WWPH president poetry 1980s, fiction,
2000-2011. Created anthology The Dolphin's Arc: Endangered Creatures of the
Sea; others. In this issue, she also shares a remembrance of the poet Ann B. Knox on Ann's page.