Monday, June 27, 2022

For Dappled Things: The Serendipity of Coincidence


For Dappled Things

By Alicia Rasley


Coincidence is trivial, tricky, falsely weird. But… it’s also magical.

Appreciate coincidence—it brings wonder.

As fiction writers, we’re told to avoid coincidence as a way to solve the story conflict! Coincidence is too easy, too contrived, too manipulative, too “author-intrusive.” Solving plot problems with a coincidence means the characters don’t have to grow and change. And that’s all true! Coincidence is bad in fiction.

 However, coincidence in real life—well, it happens. And maybe we might consider it something of a message from… the universe? Why not? After all, it’s one of our tasks and skills of being human to discover and create patterns, to assign meaning to what might actually be random—or at least to marvel at the unique confluence of color and shape and happenstance that creates a kaleidoscope image.

 Maybe we should sometimes stop and gaze at that coincidence as we would that kaleidoscopic pattern.

 Here’s a coincidence—or actually kind of a cascade of coincidences—that just happened to me. During all my years of teaching and writing, I’ve saved a lot of… paper. Scrap paper, old assignments, handouts for workshops, articles, and poems. Most of them are jammed into a big box under my desk, undisturbed for years… until we got a kitten. Poppy. She’s a cute little brown-and-gray tabby, both striped and spotted. (She’s cuter than that sounds!)  She is an agent of chaos. She leaves nothing undisturbed.

And she likes to roll about under my desk, biting my feet.

This morning I got up to find a sheet of paper in the middle of the bedroom floor. The nibbled corners told us Poppy had taken this from my box and brought it upstairs to us. Well, better a piece of paper than a dead mouse. We joked that she clearly wanted to send us a message. But what?

 Turns out, this wasn’t a blank sheet, but a printout of a particular poem:

Pied Beauty 


 Glory be to God for dappled things –

   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.


All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.


Wow. What a … coincidence. See, Poppy is nothing if not dappled, stippled, freckled, and goodness knows, fickle. She’s a tabby—striped and polka-dotted and brindled. She’s a dappled thing! And she somehow chose this poem about dappled things!


 We got the message. Yeah, Poppy bites our ankles and tears up paper napkins and steals our socks—but we should thank God and the universe for her and other dappled imperfect and dazzling things.


Sometimes coincidence has a fancier synonym—Synchronicity.  That’s when what seems to be just a coincidence turns out to have a wonderful quality of coherence, resonance, meaning.  And then there’s the term “serendipity”, which brings a rosy glow of optimism and gratitude. That’s what happened when I picked up that chewed-on page. I felt… serendipitous.

 As soon as I read the poem title, I was transported back to an afternoon a decade ago, when I was in London with my dear late friend Lynn Kerstan, a Shakespeare scholar turned romance novelist. We were in Westminster Abbey, coincidentally in the Poet’s Corner. She noticed the sunlight filtering red and blue and green through the stained glass, and started reciting this-  “Glory be to God for dappled things.” I can still hear her low contralto, slow and thoughtful over the lines:

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

 Does anyone write poems anymore with such careful creation of sound—the juxtaposed words, the bumpy syllables, the syncopated alliteration, the counterpointed rhyme scheme? All that jamming and contradicting just echoes the “dappling”— an audial rendition of the colliding of color and shape Hopkins thanks God for.

 And—the synchronicity continues.  Years later, soon after Lynn had passed away, I was back in London among those dappled sunbeams.  Remembering that Lynn sang many Evensongs in an Anglican choir, I wandered into the Abbey for the service. That day there was a mixed choir—children and adults in matching pristine robes. Their voices lilted up into the late afternoon sunlight as they sang the old canticles—the Introit and the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis.

 Then the Dean of the cathedral came to the lectern for the homily. And he started by reciting… “Glory be to God for dappled things.”

 All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.

 Of course the Dean used this poem to convey some lesson about appreciating nature and diversity and tolerance—all very worthy! But I knew what was really happening. Lynn was sending me a message through those sunbeams and those voices and that poem.

 I know. It was just a coincidence.

 And coincidence really is just an accident—the accidental collision of two events or thoughts. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No great power is making this confluence happen.

 But… if the randomness of coincidence strikes some chord in us—unearths a memory, manifests an image, echoes a friend’s voice—well, that’s magic. Accidental magic, maybe. But it’s the magic of meaning.

 There is nothing more human than making meaning, even of random occurrences, even of accidents, even of the detritus of daily events. We make quilts out of fabric scraps, we make paintings out of chance glimpses, we make stories out of momentary feelings. We take the chaos of existence and make order and pattern and art.

 Coincidences are just accidents, but what is important is the meaning we make of them. They’re reminders to remember, to care, to consider—to create.




My friend Lynn Kerstan

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered


One of my books got remaindered last year, so I got to buy hundreds of copies very cheap. That's a good thing (except the boxes are taking up room in my garage).  But it reminded me of this poem by Clive James that is just so full of  pleasurable schadenfreude:

(Remaindering means that this book or edition has gone out of print, but the publisher still has an inventory and sells the copies at a steep discount to distributors or the authors.)

'The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered'

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,

The rest of it is here: