Thursday, December 14, 2017

Favorite Reads, 2017


Another year, another (smallish) dent made in the to-read pile. I read 44 books this year, up slightly from last year's 40 but continuing the cooling trend due to, probably, the time I spend watching singing and dancing reality television. But I managed to read 29 novels, 13 short story collections and 2 memoirs. And because I'm a giver, here's a list of my favorite 10. It's interesting to note that 6 of the 10 are story collections, which probably signifies some other sort of trend I could analyze if I were competent in math (I'm not). Also, I find myself feeling defensive now about the novels...I will say that I read many VERY good ones. But only a few earned my highest rating. So, without further qualifications, the ten best things I read this year (in categories!!):


The Overdue Favorites

First on my list are two books that I've seen, from time to time, listed as someone's favorite. After you see a book referred to enough times amongst a circle of writers, I figure it's time to take notice.

So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) by William Maxwell

Fifty years after a death in a small town, one man tries to reconstruct the past and reconcile his memories. An elegy of a book, full of life and sadness, written in a straightforward, lyrical style that cuts straight through to the heart. Worth every penny and all of the accolades it continues to get.



Jesus' Son (1992) by Denis Johnson

The first story of this collection, "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," is a fitting introduction to the impact Johnson's style has on a reader. Straightforward, always surprising, with a dash of poeticism at moments you may least expect it. The narrator is a drug user of questionable judgment and motive, and yet, there's no qualification in it. I suspect some of the influence this book has had is due to its form--interconnected stories--and certainly, from the unique style, which has opened doorways of imagination for many writers. Either way, it deserves its status as a classic.

The Maverick

Transit (2017) by Rachel Cusk

This book gets its own category because there are none like it, this, my very favorite read of the year. When writing strikes so close, it's difficult to explain sometimes. The second in Cusk's Outline trilogy, this novel follows the same narrator, who has relocated to London with her two sons after a divorce. There, she purchases a dilapidated flat and tries to make renovations. So, that's the plot. But what this book is, and can do, is something else. Like all of the best fiction, it's about love and loss and memory and pain, about identity and relationships and what, if anything, we can count on to be real. The first two books in this series have left a mark on me, and I expect to lose sleep waiting for the third.

Discoveries

This year, I read several authors for the first time, not because they are new authors but because our paths finally crossed.

What the Thunder Said (2007) by Janet Peery

Peery is the writer of novels and short stories, and the recipient of numerous awards; most notably, she was a National Book Award finalist in 1996. So, not a new writer at all, but one I'm lucky to be able to explore now. Set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, this novel follows the progress of the Spoon family through a range of perspectives and voices. A uniquely American story, with themes of perseverance and the bonds of family. Oh, and it's beautifully written.


Eveningland: Stories (2017) by Michael Knight

Another author I probably should have read earlier but at least I can pillage his previous writings--both stories and novels--now. Knight is one of those writers who seem to have a spotlight on the human condition. All of the stories are set in and around Mobile, Alabama, and highlight the everyday concerns of people carrying on despite the best the outside world can throw at them: home intruders, oil spills, hurricanes. An immersive read, full of treasures.


The Woman Who Borrowed Memories (2014) by Tove Jansson

The date of 2014 refers to the translation published in the United States. Jansson was a renowned Swedish-speaking Finnish writer who passed away in 2001. She was also a painter, illustrator, and comic strip author, and her varied artistic leanings come through in these original stories. Many of Jansson's characters face isolation and the complicated pull of artistic creation. A dark undercurrent runs through and yet, I found the stories, ultimately, hopeful. Sidenote: any time you're looking to shake up your reading routine, New York Review of Books Classics is always a solid bet.

The Masters

Living in the Weather of the World (2017) by Richard Bausch

I've been playing catch-up with this prolific writer, having come to him too late a few years ago. And every year, something of his seems to make my favorites list. As implied in the title, these stories are about weathering storms, the varied ways we press on. Through a diverse host of characters, Bausch always seems to be able to hit the chords that resonate most deeply, reminding us of our shared humanity. Truly a heartfelt and masterful collection of stories.


Runaway (2004) by Alice Munro

Another writer I return to, again and again, to remind myself how good writing can be. Like Bausch, she's a master of character and feeling, and illuminating the "small" things that make up a life. Bonus: afterwards, you can watch the Pedro Almodóvar film Julieta, which was inspired by this collection. I found it to be a spirited and intriguing interpretation that I enjoyed very much.

The Indies

Disclaimer: I have the distinct pleasure of knowing both of the following authors, either online and/or in person, and I may have been lucky enough to read these books in earlier forms. So I'm doubly pleased to include their wonderful novels which were, truly, among my favorite reads of 2017.

Blood & Water (2017) by Katie O'Rourke

I'll share with you what I've already written about this novel because yes, I've been yammering about it for a while already:

"Delilah is leaving her cheating boyfriend and she has nowhere to go except the home of her brother, whom she hasn’t seen since their mother’s funeral five years before. David is a single father trying to manage his teenage daughter, and he’s not exactly pleased when his wayward sister shows up. From the opening of this absorbing novel, as Delilah nurses a black eye and ransacks her apartment, trying to decide what she can’t leave behind, I was fully along for the ride. Blood & Water is Katie O'Rourke’s most compelling and heartfelt novel to date, a story about family—past and present, predetermined and chosen—and the deep veins that keep them connected."

Now go and buy it, and support a talented indie author!

Course of Mirrors: An Odyssey (2017) by Ashen Venema

In the author's own words:

"Course of Mirrors is a gripping and enchanting story of a young woman’s odyssey. Its overriding theme of a quest for belonging has a universal recognisability and appeal, and will be continued in Ashen’s sequel, Shapers, in which Ana’s journey continues into future worlds.

Inspired by 1001 Nights, and writers like Ursula Le Guin, Ashen Venema’s debut novel will appeal to fans of fantasy novels and those who enjoy coming-of-age mysteries."

This was new and intriguing terrain for me, a story unlike anything I've read. The execution of this multi-levelled, wholly unique novel was amazing to watch unfold. A truly inspiring accomplishment, which you should buy now!


Thanks for reading my list, and for reading, in general! Here's to many more discoveries of new worlds in the new year. Please tell me your favorites from 2017, particularly that one book that won't let go...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Frank Bidart



The poet Frank Bidart's career has spanned almost fifty years. He's the recipient of many accolades and awards, most recently, this year's National Book Award. More about his writing here and here.
 
Visions at 74
 
by Frank Bidart 
 
                                            
The planet turns there without you, beautiful.
Exiled by death you cannot
touch it. Weird joy to watch postulates

lived out and discarded, something crowded
inside us always craving to become something
glistening outside us, the relentless planet

showing itself the logic of what is
buried inside it. To love existence
is to love what is indifferent to you

you think, as you watch it turn there, beautiful.
World that can know itself only by
world, soon it must colonize and infect the stars.

You are an hypothesis made of flesh.
What you will teach the stars is constant
rage at the constant prospect of not-being.                        
                      •

 
Sometimes when I wake it's because I hear
a knock. Knock,
Knock. Two
knocks, quite clear.

I wake and listen. It's nothing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Chris Forhan


Chris Forhan is an award-winning poet and a professor at Butler University in Indianapolis. His memoir, My Father Before Me, was published in 2016 and tells the story of the author's coming of age during the 60s and 70s, and of losing his father to suicide. Forhan writes of finding solace in poetry. Poems, he believes, relay "a sense of openness, of receptive attention to a life that enchants and baffles.” You can find more information about his writing here.

Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer

by Chris Forhan

So this is what it's like when love
leaves, and one is disappointed
that the body and mind continue to exist,

exacting payment from each other,
engaging in stale rituals of desire,
and it would seem the best use of one's time

is not to stand for hours outside
her darkened house, drenched and chilled,
blinking into the slanting rain.

So this is what it's like to have to
practice amiability and learn
to say the orchard looks grand this evening

as the sun slips behind scumbled clouds
and the pears, mellowed to a golden-green,
glow like flames among the boughs.

It is now one claims there is comfort
in the constancy of nature, in the wind's way
of snatching dogwood blossoms from their branches,

scattering them in the dirt, in the slug's
sure, slow arrival to nowhere.
It is now one makes a show of praise

for the lilac that strains so hard to win
attention to its sweet inscrutability,
when one admires instead the lowly

gouge, adze, rasp, hammer--
fire-forged, blunt-syllabled things,
unthought-of until a need exists:

a groove chiseled to a fixed width,
a roof sloped just so. It is now
one knows what it is to envy

the rivet, wrench, vise -- whatever
works unburdened by memory and sight,
while high above the damp fields

flocks of swallows roil and dip,
and streams churn, thick with leaping salmon,
and the bee advances on the rose.
                         

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Point: A Conversation


 
               I was talking to someone today—about what I can’t recall—when they said something unexpected.

                “What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point?”

                “The point of what?” I asked.

                “The point of everything.” They looked away.

                “Well,” I said, chuckling nervously.

                A car sped down the street with purpose. We both watched it.

                “Do you ever feel like you’re on a wave?” they asked. “Not the crest, the peak, not on top of it all, riding along. Below that, under. The smooth, rising part. You’re coasting really, but the violence is just overhead, waiting to crash down and push you under. Annihilation.”

                “Oh,” I said, imagining it. I closed my eyes and saw the blue expanse, smelled the salty air. “At times," I said, "I think I have felt like the swell, before the wave builds.”

                “Yes,” they said, imagining it.

                “The idea,” I said. “The movement.”

                They glanced at the sidewalk, kicked a dried leaf out of the way. “But still, what’s the point?”

                “Every day you find a new one,” I said. “Every week you finish something. Every month you figure something out. Every year you grow.”

                “And then?”

                “You keep going,” I said.

                “Why?”

                “Because we do.”

                They rolled their eyes. “I suppose you’ll say something about love now.”

                “Sure,” I agreed, relieved. “Love. Beauty. Goodness.”

                “The shimmering ocean,” they said. “Impressionistic mountains. Flowering bushes, fresh bread from the oven, a dusting of snow on the edge of a fence.”

                “Art!” I said.

                They shrugged.

                “People too,” I said.

                “Not people,” they said. “People you can’t predict.”

                I hold out my hands, palms up. “You can’t predict the weather either.”

                “In general,” they said, “you can. The seasons. What’s most likely to happen.” They shook their head. “People you never know.”

                I let my hands fall. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

                “It’s not a matter of feeling,” they said.

                Another leaf drifted down from a nearby tree. We watched as it floated to and fro, at times a gentle falling and then, a swift swoop. We listened to the papery sound when it settled onto the pavement.

                “Better you stay alone,” they said.

                “You can’t mean that,” I said, leaning to pick up the leaf. “Can you?”

                But when I straightened up, holding the dried husk in my hand, they had gone. A buzzing in my ears, a cavern in my gut.

                “You,” they whispered. One last rasp of warm, Autumn air.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Cecilie Løveid

 
One of the most celebrated writers in modern Norway, Cecilie Løveid writes prose, plays and poetry, but is known as a "genre transgressor." In short, she makes her own way. More information about this writer here.
 
 
THE MORNING WOMAN
 
by Cecilie Løveid
 
There is no doubt that there is a body
inside the music
The music would have made love with her
if it could
don’t you think?
If she were not a woman I mean
if she were music
Would she have made love with him if he weren’t music?
She didn’t throw herself out the window
when the music stopped
The morning woman
waits for the continuation
waits for the music
waits for a sign
Would she really have loved him if he were a man
and not music?
Where shall she find him when the music stops
other than deep inside herself
There where she is
The morning woman
 
MORGENKVINNEN
 
Det er ingen tvil om at det er en kropp
inne i musikken
Musikken ville elsket med henne
hvis den kunne
tror du ikke?
Hvis ikke hun var kvinne mener jeg
hvis hun var musikk
ville hun elsket med ham hvis han ikke var musikk?
Hun kastet seg ikke ut vinduet
da musikken stanset
Morgenkvinnen
venter på fortsettelsen
venter på musikken
venter på et tegn
Ville hun virkelig elsket ham hvis han var en mann
og ikke musikk?
Hvor skal hun finne ham når musikken slutter
annet enn dypt inne i seg selv
Der hvor hun er
Morgenkvinnen

 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: W.B. Yeats



I had a hard time choosing a poem today; I don't know why. Too many thoughts crowding in, too much to do. So I'll give you this classic, still good after all this time.

When You Are Old

by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lives of Quiet Desperation

We’ve all seen memes like this circulating social media, encouraging us towards kindness. We’ve read stories about the waitress with a sick child at home, the elderly neighbor who has no visitors, the special needs child excluded from dance class. These nuggets of inspiration and these stories, be they true or not, serve to remind us of our shared humanity. They remind us to take a real look at that person at the gas station, in the park or restaurant, and to imagine what struggles they may be facing, what heavy burdens they might be carrying.

Running is a mostly solitary endeavor and when I’m out on the sidewalks of my neighborhood, most of the people I pass are alone too. I find myself often thinking about a phrase—lives of quiet desperation—and I’ll come home and look for the quote again. It’s from Thoreau, the literary world’s expert on solitariness.

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."                       –Henry David Thoreau

This is, of course, from Walden, Thoreau’s writings about his two-year experiment living in the woods near Walden Pond. His goal: “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” What Thoreau found, after comparing life in the city to that of the country, was that men were basically the same everywhere. His “quiet desperation” refers to man’s desire to accumulate more and more material things, which requires him to work, worry and want, and to lose touch with not only the natural world but also with any chance for inner freedom.

This seems reasonably argued, but I think the whole idea of a life of quiet desperation can be embraced in a much larger context. In a universal, meme-worthy context. And while empathy is certainly a useful human function, it’s essential for a writer. When I pass an older woman walking, head down, hands shoved in her pockets, I imagine what types of problems await her back at home, behind closed doors. When a driver speeds around a corner, tires squealing, I wonder what drama is about to unfold when he gets where he’s going. What has he forgotten? Whom is he angry with? Whom is he avoiding?

Sometimes this tendency to look for trouble feels pessimistic, even condescending. What if that older woman is perfectly content, basking in some wonderful memory as she walks along? What if the driver is hurrying home to see his newborn daughter? It’s what we do, I guess, we writers. We’re constantly on the lookout for human problems, for people whose lives we can imagine as quietly desperate. Does that make us empathetic or selfish? Insightful or unrealistic? I’m not sure. If Thoreau were alive today, he’d most likely be using terms like centered and presence, and he certainly would be writing about taking time to observe the world around us. Maybe some of us just have a peculiar way of doing that.

"I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.” ---also Thoreau, from Walden

 

 


Friday, September 22, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Ronald Stuart Thomas

 
Considered to be one of the most important modern Welsh poets, Ronald Stuart Thomas was an ordained Anglican priest, and much of his poetry reflects his time serving the farming population of rural, rugged Wales. Often compared with Robert Frost, "Thomas is making a universal statement... This pared-down existence, in a land of ruined beauty belonging to the past, is more human than any educated sophistication. Or perhaps one should say, it is more truly symbolic of the human predicament."

You can find more information about Thomas and his life and work here.

A Day In Autumn

by Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913-2000)
 
It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: John Ashbery


This week, many people are sharing their favorite lines or poems written by John Ashbery, one of our very best poets, who passed on September 5th at the age of ninety. He had a long and prolific career, and touched a great many lives; find his biography here.

The New Higher

by John Ashbery (1927-2017)

You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave that there.


Blithely passing in and out of where, blushing shyly
at the tag on the overcoat near the window where
the outside crept away, I put aside the there and now.
Now it was time to stumble anew,
blacking out when time came in the window.
There was not much of it left.
I laughed and put my hands shyly
across your eyes. Can you see now?
Yes I can see I am only in the where
where the blossoming stream takes off, under your window.
Go presently you said. Go from my window.
I am in love with your window I cannot undermine
it, I said.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Maya Angelou

A Brave And Startling Truth

by Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Jane Hirshfield


I recently watched this documentary about the Buddha, which features many speakers but I recognized the poet Jane Hirshfield immediately, because I had recently flagged one of her poems for this feature. Kismet, I guess, especially because this poem speaks to me quite loudly today. Hirshfield has received many accolades for her poetry and she's also an essayist, a translator, and a student of Zen Buddhism who spent three years in monastic practice. I love what she says here comparing writing poems to Buddhist practice, and I'd also highly recommend her poem "On the Fifth Day," which she read at the March for Science on April 22 of this year. But for this space, here's this one:

The Weighing

by Jane Hirshfield

The heart's reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.
                         

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Changing Currents




The Greek city of Chalcis (also known as Chalkida) is built on the two coasts of the straight of Evripos. As such, it’s a city of water and bridges. Perhaps the most famous is the sliding Negroponte Bridge, where tourists gather to watch the tidal phenomenon that has made Chalcis famous since ancient times. Here, the currents reverse direction every six hours. The water flows from the north Evian Gulf to the south for six hours, then becomes still for approximately eight minutes, then reverses direction. Because the currents can reach up to nine miles per hour, the churning visible from the bridge earned the nickname “mad waters” or “crazy waters.” The flow of the currents is entirely dependent on the moon and is directly connected to the duration of each lunar month.
 
There’s much to contemplate about this natural occurrence—scientifically, nautically, philosophically. Maybe you can relate to a time when you were between acts and seemed to be spinning endlessly, or stuck in a dormant lull. From all sides, the competing pulls of inspiration and obligation, as you churn in place, deciding. Or, an ominous surface as smooth as glass, too lacking in impressions to fully enjoy.
 
I’m between writing projects. Taking a break. Changing course. Attempting to appreciate the waves, the periods of calm. I read about Chalcis while doing research for a short story. Online, much information can be found. There are tourism sites touting the incredible sight of the “crazy waters.” Former visitors have posted videos and photos of the phenomenon. One website breaks down the entire lunar schedule for the changing of currents, minute by minute, hour by hour. But my favorite site about the amazing waters of Chalcis waxes philosophic about the whole thing:
 
The continuous function of the phenomenon in accordance with the laws of nature, for thousands of years, shows us that each and every day is a carrier of eternity."
 
And...
 
"Some have believed they have explained it—and remained with this illusion. Some others have comprehended its infinity and insolubility. Explanations are for mortals. The Universe never requires explanation in order to carry on its course in the infinite space."
 
And…
 
“Observing the tidal phenomenon one discovers, each and every time, that he has never been there before, even though he may have witnessed it so many times.”
 
Yep. Pretty much sums up the routine and surprise of creativity, its endless cycle of changing course, dormancy, and maelstrom. For now, I’m trying to enjoy the churning.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: James Baldwin


This week marked what would have been the 93rd birthday of the poet, novelist, essayist and social critic James Baldwin. Extensive biographical information here, including some wonderful videos about his life and times. And here you can read some of his memorable quotes.



Untitled
                                            
 by James Baldwin
 
                                            
  Lord,
              when you send the rain
              think about it, please,
              a little?
      Do
              not get carried away
              by the sound of falling water,
             the marvelous light
                on the falling water.
          I
              am beneath that water.
              It falls with great force
              and the light
Blinds
              me to the light.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Kenneth Mackenzie


The Australian poet and novelist Kenneth Ivo Brownley Langwell (Seaforth) Mackenzie was a character, and his colorful biography is well worth a read. Some excerpts: 

"at Guildford Grammar School, he took no interest in sport and studied only when he felt inclined."
"wherever Mackenzie was, 'wild comedy and wild adventures tended to break out'."
"He was strong, muscular and blonde, and immensely attractive to certain women."

Sadly, Mackenzie's life deteriorated, in large part due to a drinking problem. In his early forties, he accidently drowned in a creek while bathing.

Caesura

by Kenneth Mackenzie (1913-1955)

Sometimes at night when the heart stumbles and stops
a full second endless the endless steps
that lead me on through this time terrain
without edges and beautiful terrible
are gone never to proceed again.

Here is a moment of enormous trouble
wen the kaleidoscope sets unalterable
and at once without meaning without motion
like a stalled aeroplane in the middle sky
ready to fall down into a waiting ocean.

Blackness rises. Am I now to die
and feel the steps no more and not see day
break out its answering smile of hail all's well
from east full round to east and hear the bird
whistle all creatures that on earth do dwell?

Not now. Old heart has stopped to think of a word
as someone in a dream by far too weird
to be unlikely feels a kiss and stops
to praise all heaven stumbling in all his senses...
and suddenly hears again the endless steps.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Jody Gladding


Jody Gladding lives in Vermont and teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Art. She has also translated almost thirty works from French. More biographical information here.

Blue Willow

by Jody Gladding

A pond will deepen toward the center like a plate
we traced its shallow rim my mother steering
my inner tube past the rushes where I looked
for Moses we said it was a trip around the world
in China we wove through curtains of willow
that tickled our necks let's do that again
and we'd double back idle there lifting
our heads to the green rain
swallows met over us later I dreamed
of flying with them we had all the time
in the world we had the world
how could those trees be weeping?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Charles Wright


Charles Wright was named United States Poet Laureate in 2014. Born in Tennessee, he's an Army veteran, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and a winner of the National Book Award. A more comprehensive biography can be found here.


Sitting at Night on the Front Porch

by Charles Wright

I’m here, on the dark porch, restyled in my mother’s chair.
10:45 and no moon.
Below the house, car lights
Swing down, on the canyon floor, to the sea.


In this they resemble us,
Dropping like match flames through the great void
Under our feet.
In this they resemble her, burning and disappearing.


Everyone’s gone
And I’m here, sizing the dark, saving my mother’s seat.

 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Poem for the Weekend: Susan Mitchell

                                               
 
"Right now in America we are witnessing a paradigm shift in poetry, and while I think this is happening for all the reasons I have just mentioned, there is still another, maybe the most important reason: the poet's assertion of innerness, of mind, of psyche at a time when innerness is threatened by nearly all aspects of contemporary American lifestyle. Innerness refuses to be a sound byte on television. Innerness refuses to speak up at a huge poetry festival. Innerness demands that the reader slow down, take the time, pay attention. Innerness demands that the reader's attentiveness be equal to the attentiveness of the poet and the attentiveness of the poem." --Susan Mitchell

More about this acclaimed poet here.

The Dead

by Susan Mitchell

At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs
They pat the lines in our hands and tell
our futures, which are cracked and yellow. Some
dead find their way to our houses. They go up to the
attics. They read the letters they sent us. insatiable
for signs of their love. They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise they wake us as they did
when we were children and they stayed up drinking
all night in the kitchen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Suggestion of Color



I saw one of those quizzes on social media the other day, where you’re led through a series of seemingly innocuous questions until something is revealed about your true nature. This one had to do with color and how you see it. There was a square of a cool gray and the first question asked: What color do you see: gray, blue or green? And I immediately thought that I might have chosen gray, but now that blue and green had been suggested to me, those hues were apparent in the sample. It wasn’t green enough to be called green though, and certainly not blue enough to be blue, but now the gray was infused with these more lively tints and couldn’t really be seen as mere “gray” either. The fact that choices were offered had made me unsure of my perception.
 
It occurred to me that writing is an exercise in the offering of choices, in the suggestion of new or nuanced ways to view the world. Isn’t that what we’re doing by inhabiting a fictional world or the mind of a character, especially one who may see blue where we see gray?
 
Recently, I was inspired by an article about paint colors in a home decorating magazine. We’ve all wondered about the people who come up with the inventive names—because, certainly, there’s a quintessential human element in these names and their visceral modifiers, obscure historical references, and strange evocativeness. In fact, here’s an amusing article about what happened when a non-human tried to name paint colors. To me, color can infuse an entire setting, such as the endless green of a forest or the far-reaching blue of an ocean. It can be an intense character feature—a rancher’s dust-covered figure, a red-faced curmudgeon. It can set the mood for a story, such as all the feelings yellow brings to mind. Thinking this way inspired several stories in a collection I’m still working one; some of the stories take a color title: “Resonant Blue,” “Cadmium.”
 
Some people are born color blind, or can only see limited color. We’ve all seen the viral videos of a color blind person looking through special glasses that allow him or her to see color for the first time. How strange that must be, we think, a whole new world.
 
In Chekhov’s story, “Gusev,” a soldier returns from service, dying from an illness. He dies at sea and is tossed into the ocean. The men who remain on the ship watch stoically, Gusev’s body passes schools of fish and a large shark, and Chekhov’s narration then turns very inclusively omniscient:
 
“And up above just then, on the side where the sun goes down, clouds are massing; one cloud resembles a triumphal arch, another a lion, a third a pair of scissors . . . A broad green shaft comes from behind the clouds and stretches to the very middle of the sky; shortly afterwards a violet shaft lies next to it, then a golden one, then a pink one . . . The sky turns a soft lilac. Seeing this magnificent, enchanting sky, the ocean frowns at first, but soon itself takes on such a tender, joyful, passionate colors as human tongue can hardly name.”
 
Gusev’s experience, such as it is, the ultimate, unknown perception—death—is relayed with colors and strange sights. Imagine, Chekhov seems to be suggesting, imagine the unimaginable. Surely there are colors we’ve never seen, colors we’d hardly know how to describe. As writers, this is a quest we embark on joyfully, time and again, hoping to bring at least a few along with us.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka