Friday, February 19, 2010

Circus, Circus

Day 10 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and last night I had plenty of Internet, so I came down to my home office this morning full of energy at 5:45 a.m., still had it, and then, during the major-yet-routine virus scan of my machine, Internet went out. So, it’s something, and it’s something to do with stress and strain, and I am typing onto a regular document page to copy & paste into this blog later, and try to edit/adjust to avoid wacky spacing and add links.

Have I sighed lately? Sigh….

Anyhoo, back when I first asked my little question on Facebook, 10 days ago, “What are you reading?” Richard answered that he was reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I knew the answer to the “Why?” question this time was “for book group” because somebody else from his book group had come in looking for it. (I must pause to praise this particular book group, a courageous men’s book group that, back in December, read my little poetry chapbook Broken Sonnets, and discussed it. I was not there but heard, in summary, that they found all sorts of things I didn’t even know were in there, etc. I am honored. They also brought in their own favorite poems to share. And I think they did some drinking of beer.)

So, book group. I told Richard, 10 days ago, that we have an actual circus elephant guy in our town, which, coincidentally used to be a big circus town, a “winter home” though one wonders why winter here if you could winter in Sarasota, Florida? But the answer is: big barns. The big barns were practice spaces for the fliers, the trapeze artists. Or maybe I misheard, and it was the "summer home."

Our local circus elephant guy started out with horses, tending to them in all kinds of ways but specifically their hooves, and the elephant care grew out of that. Just as in the novel, he saw some poor care of elephants by the circus, but he insisted on tending them properly, making sure they got enough food, water, rest. He had some run-ins with bosses, but he took care of his animals in the circus on Navy Pier, in Chicago.

I used to meet him at the train station, this elephant man, as the ticket agent, now retired, was a circus buff. He writes about the circus and curates the circus collection at our university. Once at a fundraiser I bid on and won a painting of an Australian circus and donated that to the university circus collection. I’ve attended local art exhibits of paintings of the circus and its clowns. And recently, last May, I learned that my good friend Gary, who went to graduate school in theatre in this town, had done a thesis project on the circus and its local connections, gathering a group of…old….clowns together, putting a tape recorder in the middle of the table, and letting them talk over old times. So, if you visit Milner Library at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and want to listen to clowns talk about the circus, listen to that!

And my friend Susan used to teach voice and movement to clowns, yes, at Clown College in Sarasota, before it closed. What is the world coming to, that it has to close down its Clown College?

Ah, but we still have the Actors Gymnasium!--which is receiving an award this month from the mayor of Evanston.

By coincidence, when I first started at Babbitt’s, we got in a big bunch of circus books and ephemera. There were little circuses all over the country, and I have catalogued books and souvenir programs and documents from some of the places cited in Gruen’s acknowledgements on the copyright page of Water for Elephants: the collection of the Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida; the Pfening Archives, Columbus, Ohio (I did not know of this when I lived for a year in Columbus, writing for an encyclopedia!); Tegge Circus Archives, Baraboo, Wisconsin. We have several circus books by a guy with an ax to grind, and several nostalgic reminiscences.

And I think there is an actual literary magazine and press dedicated to circus writings, particularly the fliers, and/or to that particular kind of risk and thrill: Hanging Loose. (Is that right? Hanging Loose Press? Yes, this is a famous press, but it has nothing to do with the circus. It has to do with "hanging loose" pages, the poetry of the now. However, I think there is a press dedicated to circus-like risks and books, and that I have seen one of these.... Help?)

But, book group. Are you in a book group? And, if so, what are you reading for it? And how do those discussions go? I am reading, soon, as soon as I purchase it, Clay’s Quilt, by Silas House. Last year, or the year before, as time sort of gets away from me and is circular, spiraling, or emanating from one moment, as in ripple on a pond, for me (have I mentioned that I can’t quite any more believe in linear time?) I read his book The Coal Tattoo because he was coming to town to speak about in our Tale for Two Cities thing (twin cities here, and Bloomington was actually the big circus town, I gather), our version of The Big Read before it was called The Big Read…I think, but arising from the same impulse to get people reading again, and talking to each about what they read. Anyway, Silas House is one charming, sweet, funny guy. And I am eager to read Clay’s Quilt and discuss it with my book group. The Coal Tattoo follows two sisters and a whole community through the ravages of coal mining, and it and Clay's Quilt are part of a trilogy. Silas House has a website/blog. (It is in fact here at blogspot!)

What are you reading, or your own, or for a book group, and why?

(And P.S., here's a link to an article from the Vidette at ISU about the circus collection in Milner Library and a book event there.)


Kathleen said...

As there are a zillion paperback copies of Water for Elephants out there, I have linked you to a signed, first edition from Algonquin, 1996, at Babbitt's. Eat your heart out.

About Me said...

Didn't know you had a blog. I look forward to reading it. Check mine out also if you want at


Etta Worthington said...

Oh, and I am reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.