Conversations with Ghosts: Walter de la Mare and Megan Pickerel

by on Aug.31, 2010

This: Walter de la Mare

I am not sure where in childhood I came across the terrifying poem by Walter de la Mare called “The Children of Stare.” This poem was not in the only book of his that I owned: a dilapidated copy of the creepily titled Come Hither I had found in a used bookstore in Miami while on a family trip to Disney World. (That book seems to have fallen off the map—a tragedy as it is full of invention and charm: ghost story, poetry collection, and folkloric study all at the very same time.) “The Children of Stare” haunted me strangely.  I did not understand its story at all: as a child I thought it was about children who stare, and what could be scarier? I read it again and again puzzling over these children—they reminded me of “The Fool on The Hill” by The Beatles, a song I played that creeped me out, and which I played a lot because it was scary. Who was that fool and could he see me? “Winter is fallen early/On the house of Stare;/Birds in reverberating flocks/Haunt its ancestral box.” That a house stared, and was a box: horrible! Beautiful too like the fog that came over me whenever I’d try to understand anything really. The poem had rabbits, the sea, crocuses, moons, all sorts of childhood word-jewels, yet the poem was a shudder. “Is there anybody there? said the Traveller,/Knocking on the moonlit door” began another poem of his I returned to over and over again, “The Listeners.” If a novel or story or poem felt there really might be Listeners out there, or Fools, this was very good news indeed. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/Are you—Nobody—too?”—Emily Dickinson’s incredible poem, my favorite as a kid and still, belongs here. Nobody, Listeners, Fools: even if they were angry or weird, they were out there for you. With a stare. As a child I found comfort in books that believed in ghosts, that said what you fear is not imagined but real. I never considered there might be authors making things up—authors were books’ invisible riders. Authors are Listeners in the House of the Book.  Walter de la Mare, like Breton, felt that to be a visionary artist one could not leave childhood wonder (and its companion, deep fear) behind.

That: Megan Pickerel

First, a song . . .

Scary Lullaby by Megan Pickerel

Ghost:  Why do you eat me?

Midge: You know I am not eating you.  I breathe you in and you incarnate into me.  I breathe you out so I can sing and you become someone or something else.

Ghost: Why do you wear me?

Midge:  You are my permanent chrysalis.   Blanket of wanderoo.

Ghost:  Do you like seeing me?

Midge:  Without you I wouldn’t be able to look at the world.  It would be too bright.

Pacific Northwest musician Megan Pickerel is in Buzzyshyface (with Herman Jolly) and continues to play with seminal band Swoon 23, opening for The Dandy Warhols. She has also performed as a solo artist and in many collaborations, most recently with Hazelwood Motel, Birddog, and Transparent Thing. She is a painter and mother.

8 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    Kate, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite Yeats passages, from “Meditation in a Time of Civil War”. I’ll type it in by hand just for the pleasure of it.

    vi. The Stare’s Nest by My Window

    The bees build in the crevices
    Of loosening masonry, and there
    The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
    My wall is loosening: honey-bees,
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.

    We are closed in, and the key is turned
    On our uncertainty; somewhere
    A man is killed, or a house burned,
    Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.

    A barricade of stone or of wood;
    Some fourteen days of civil war;
    Last night they trundled down the road
    That dead young soldier in his blood:
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.

    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
    More substance in our enmities
    Than in our love; O honey-bees,
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.

  2. Kate Bernheimer

    Ahhh! Humbled as always.

  3. Joyelle McSweeney

    Re-reading the Yeats, I’m struck by all its punctuation. I read Dickinson’s dashes as gestural, bold, never quiet, despite the content of the ‘Nobody’ poem… yet all Yeats’s semicolons remind me of hunched, whispering bodies, trying to somehow cup or contain the phrases… Although they’re there to guide sound and performance, they kind of semaphor on their own…Dots and little curvy lines signal out of the poem…. I love your post, Kate, and the way all the nouns are animated into a kind of alchemical contiguity or substitution for each other… Including that magical fog, which I read literally, a literal fog…

  4. Joyelle McSweeney

    Maybe the punctuation are like grubs and maggots, eating away the poem in the grave and preserving just the shape of the thought… The pearls that were his ‘i’s!

  5. Kate Bernheimer

    Sepulchral, the Yeats, semi-colons as coffins, love that idea. The dashes in the Dickinson–as you say, gestural. As in alarm or–vision, recognition–perhaps.

  6. The Modesto Kid

    Thanks for the de la Mare — I’d never heard of him before. I just loved the line, “Light falls; night falls; the wintry moon/ Glitters” It is indeed a pretty sepulchral poem.

  7. Kate Bernheimer

    How lucky you are never to have heard of him before because now you get to discover *all* of his work for the very first time! It’s amazing: subtle. Atmospheric, breathtaking, weird.

  8. robert frank taylor

    megan: i liked your comments about de la mare.have you ever read his short story, “all hallows”?