Thursday, March 25, 2010

Midwest Eclogue

Day 44 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

I am now reading Midwest Eclogue by David Baker, because I went to hear him read last night and marveled at his poems. An eclogue is a pastoral or bucolic poem or set of poems, and I had encountered the eclogue in poetic tradition in works by Virgil and Spenser, and in music in works by Lizst and Stravinsky, so while the word doesn't come up that often, the form persists.

My mother will be reading his newest book, Never-Ending Birds, and then we will trade! The title of this one came from his daughter, Kate, he told us, and we learned other things about this delightful girl, now a young woman, in his poems and patter. What a wonderful reader he is, and what a joy and relief to attend a reading where the poet reads his poems well, reads them as they are written, with thought and restrained emotion, punctuation and line breaks that help convey both natural speech and artful selection and arrangement. These are poems that say something and can be uttered!

Baker is a gardener, so I look forward to poems of fine observation of nature and flowers, and other information. Already, in "Hyper," I have learned more about ADHD and, in "Cardiognosis," more about the structure of the heart and the history of knowledge about it. I am doing the thing I do with poetry books--skip around and read individual poems--and then I will go back and read the book straight through as a whole. I will do this in the summer, in the back yard, when I am not reading other things simultaneously, and when various wildflowers and perennials are blooming all around me.

The cover of this book attracted me and looked very familiar. Some of us had lingered in the gallery to chat after the reading, and David said the cover came from an illustration he found in The Gardens of Emily Dickinson by Judith Farr. "I have that book!" I said. And I have it now in front of me, so I can tell you that the flower and insect painting is by Maria Sibylla Merian, and is from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, a set of hand-colored engravings. David said it appealed to him in presenting, as if from nature, things that could not really happen in nature--different colored blooms on this same plant, and this particular gathering of insects in time. (Are those the caterpillar stages of the butterflies hovering?! For someone who does not believe in linear time anymore, this makes perfect sense to me!)

This book, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, also shows us paintings of flowers by Martin Johnson Heade, who traveled to Brazil to see hummingbirds, and paintings of women and flowers by Winslow Homer, one of my favorites. Of course I had to ask the poet if he'd read A Summer of Hummingbirds by Christopher Benfey, and he hadn't yet, but had the book and would be assigning it as a special project for his students.

So here's a guy whose work I want to know better. I had read many individual poems in journals, and the brief teaching essay in the current issue of Spoon River Poetry Review, but I do so look forward to reading all his books. Another little intersection is Jane Hirshfield, whose blurb, "Beautiful, inventive, learned, musical, and wise" appears on the front cover of Midwest Eclogue, hovering there like a tiny italicized moth. I have several of her books, too.

A few more connections to mention here:

Also in the audience was Kathryn, who will have a poetry chapbook, Turtles All the Way Down, coming out from Finishing Line Press sometime soon. She has degrees in biology and English, and pointed out that some plants do have different-colored blooms in nature. I am hoping Lorel will comment on her back yard experiments with art and flowers, and maybe some of you have seen the nature sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy?

And maybe Mary will comment on the insects in the painting? And/or Lauren, a poet and a painter of insects, who was reading This Nest, Swift Passerine by Dan Beachy-Quick in an earlier entry here, and was also reading Journal of Jules Renard and The Red Book by Carl Jung when I first asked the "What are you reading?" question at Facebook.

1 comment:

SarahJane said...

David Baker sounds good! I will check those titles out. I'm reading Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March" and a collection of essays on "Jude the Obscure" edited by Harold Bloom. Both good, but not whizz-throughs.