Transformations

John Maguire: A holiday reading in Camden

Posted:  Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 11:15am
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A group of local writers gathered recently in Camden to celebrate holiday story-telling.

And what Christmas holiday gathering of writers would be complete without A Christmas Carol, or instructions on how to make real Plum Pudding?

Like ghosts from the past, the words of Mary Oliver, Charles Dickens, Constantine Cavafy and Dylan Thomas filled the quiet study of the century-old Main Street home, brought back by the voices of several local writers who have participated in workshops taught by Rockport writing coach Kathrin Seitz. Last Friday was an evening of delicious food and good company.

The art of reading aloud was not lost to this crowd, as the true nature of each piece came alive for all to enjoy. The readings drew out peals of laughter and solemn applause from an appreciative crowd.

For some, reading aloud may seem like a lost art. Technology allows us to read and hear great literature in all environments — from the comfort of our cars to bustling cafes and to the stillness of a living room. We can download countless books at the touch of a button or screen. While these great works are, well, great to read and hear by professional audio performers at the swipe of a finger, what are we missing out on? New York Times writer Verlyn Klinkenborg commented in a 2009 editorial Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud, "...from the perspective of a reader in, say, the early 19th century, about the time of Jane Austen, there is something peculiar about it, even lonely."

Transformations

Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories will be about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories. — Kathrin Seitz

Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at kathrin@kathrinseitz.com.

Convenience factor aside, the live performance of turning words into a meaningful experience is very much lost in the absence of other people. We gain something valuable from hearing the words brought to life by a friend, colleague or family member. As Klinkenborg notes in his editorial, the practice, "recaptures the physicality of words... The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th and 19th century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company." And as many school teachers and scientists will profess, while reading aloud builds cognitive skills, it also is just plain fun.

Some at the gathering in Camden hesitated at first. "Oh, it's too dark," I myself protested. But after some gentle prodding and perhaps feeling a little more emboldened by the others, we all took part.

Old, crotchety Uncle Scrooge transformed the other night into a joyous celebrator of life through the voice of Laura Bonazzoli. Rosy-cheeked laughter reverberated among the listeners as Linda Leonard read an award-winning tale of a family holiday Christmas that has as its guest an inflatable doll, named Louise.

With eyes glimmering over a devilish smile and a sock-covered hand, Maureen Egan read aloud A Child's Christmas In Wales, by Dylan Thomas.

While such classics as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol revived childhood memories for many of us, other excerpts were heard for the very first time. Ever read the works of Robert Service? Sheila Polson, who originally hails from Alaska, treated us to a wonderful reading of Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee. While this darkly humorous poem isn't about Christmas, it at least takes place on the holiday. And besides, it is a truly great poem to read aloud.

Here is a little taste of the reading:

Excerpt from The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

There is something very special in such live readings when performers know the territory of which the author has written about. Accents also add a certain flair to one's reading. Our host for the evening, Betsy Perry, read A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, an especially enjoyable experience as her voice lilted with the inflections of her southern home.

Shorter works of poetry were read by yours truly, and by Sandy Weisman, who read White Eyes by Mary Oliver and To Know the Dark by Wendell Berry. Barry Valentine treated the audience to Constatine Cavafy's Ithaca.

Here is the first part: As you set out on the way to Ithaca hope that the road is a long one, filled with adventures, filled with understanding.

Indeed, may our journey be long and fruitful. We are sure to encounter many new experiences that are long cherished traditions for others. Such was the recipe How to Make A Plum Pudding by Isabella Beeton (or just plain, good ole' Mrs. Beeton) from Images of Christmas by Dorothy Boux.

Here is the recipe for Christmas Plum Pudding:
(graciously typed out by fellow writer and reader Mary Bok)

Ingredients:

1-1/2 pounds Raisins
1/2 pound Currants
1-1/2 pounds Breadcrumbs
1/2 pound Mixed Candied Citrus Peel
3/4 pound Suet
8 Eggs (medium)
1 wineglassful Brandy (you decide size of the glass!)

Mode:

Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them. Wash, pick over and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely. Cut the candied citrus peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread crumbs into fine crumbs.

When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy. Stir well, so that everything may be very thoroughly blended; then press the pudding into a buttered mould.

Tie it down tightly with a floured cloth and boil for five or six hours. It may be boiled in a cloth, without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking.

As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it.

The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least two hours; then turn it out of the mould or cloth, and serve with brandy sauce.

On Christmas Day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and a wineglassful of brandy is poured round it, which at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to the table encircled in flames.

I am pleased to share this recipe and challenge all to give it a try. I will. I also challenge everyone to read aloud to their loved ones this Christmas and all other holiday gatherings. It will warm your heart.

On Dec. 20, the evening's readers included: Laura Bonazzoli, Maureen Egan, Linda Leonard, Sandy Weisman, Barry Valentine, John Maguire, Betsy Perry, Mary Bok and Sheila Polson. All were joined by fellow writers of the Kathrin Seitz workshops, friends and family.


John Maguire

John Maguire has written and published articles on food and work here in the Midcoast for the past several years. He draws inspiration from his decades-long experiences as a line cook, pastry chef, confectioner, baker and server, as well as his time on the coast as a laborer in the seafood industry. More recently he published articles in local newspapers and dreams of becoming a better writer overall. He practices writing fiction and poetry from his new home in Rockland. Read recent blog posts at johnfmaguire.com.