Sunday, January 16, 2011

Heart Almanac

Day 342 of the "What are you reading, and why?" and today I want to return to Blood Almanac, by Sandy Longhorn, which I wrote about earlier and have now finished, in the context of Diane Lockward's comments in her blog about reading a book of poems from start to finish.  (Then I will, as usual, ramble.)

Diane, herself a poet, gives excellent reasons for reading a book of poetry whole and straight through, and advice for what to look for to guide that reading (book title, order of poems, etc.), and shows what poets go through to create a book.  And she hopes that Mr. Lemony Snicket will take her advice!

I do now tend to read books of poetry straight through like a novel, but I have to take it at various speeds because I find poetry pretty intense and subtle, requiring close attention.  So sometimes I read a poem a day, and sometimes I read a titled section (like a chapter) at a time.  Often, I am indeed fitting this into my life between various activities and often between other kinds of reading.  For poems, I want silence, a dictionary at hand, and maybe an expanse of snow outside the window on which to rest eyes and mind.

So I read Blood Almanac slowly and at good times, not between matches at the volleyball tournament.

And I was powerfully moved by the last section, Listening in the Dark.  I'd like to mention Sandy Longhorn's arrangement.  Blood Almanac begins with a section called Birthlight, which puts her in a particular "homeland" and landscape.  Next, we have Momentary Constellations: 12 Self-Portraits, one for each month.  Then, Listening in the Dark.  And finally, Postscript, a single poem, "To My Docent Who Has Taken His Leave."  She helps situate us as readers, and gently guides and tugs so we get where we need to be to see her world and to listen in her dark and light.

I think the last section gripped me so much because there is love and loss, earnestly told.

Here is a poem from that section, called "Recitation in the Dark" about listening in the dark to a literal storm.  (I am breaking it up with my commentary, so be sure to go back and read it whole.) It begins:

Let the thunder clamor above and continue
after lightning has licked the heavy air.

(Anyone who has seen a storm begin in the Midwest has seen this licking, felt this heavy air.  Somehow the poem turns me into the lightning, changes my tongue.)

This is not a haunting.  I mean to be awake
and wide-eyed--to be both owl and field mouse
caught in strobes of light.

(Now the poem reveals an intention--to look and listen closely, to learn from the storm, to enter its characters, which turn out to be predator and prey.)

The clock pushes past midnight, then one,
then two, and I am counting backwards
into what is left as the bruises fade.

(Ever had a sleepless night like this, storm or no?  The phrase "counting backwards" took me to anesthesia for an operation, and those "bruises" and dull residual pain, but then I came back to the "strobes of light" of the previous stanza and the bruises were on the wall, as light and shadow.)

One man told me love was a transitive verb,
worrying me like a rosary bead to prove it.
Another man stood me in the middle of Nebraska
to prove the Permian seas once stretched
from Pittsburgh to Denver, home to creatures
we read about with our stone-caressing fingers
but could never know.  The last man was a thief,
his voice a prayer to a god so exotic I bloodied
my knees falling down before them both.

(Wow.  Heart of the poem.  A list of lovers, or heart teachers.  Thudding like thunder into the room.  Bringing history and science, somehow archaeology and religion.  The earlier bruises have prepared me, somehow, to fall down, bloodied.)

This is a recounting.  I mean to be accurate
and true--to be both diary and document
held open and up to the light.

(I love the distinction between "accurate / and true" and the quiet insistence on "both diary and document."  This stanza returns to the intentionality of stanza two and its "I mean to be awake."  She is going to see it and say it, while listening to the storm in the dark.  It is, after all, a "recitation.")

Let the storm pass, dawn taming the landscape
outside my room, leaves and branches loosening
back into the shapes of trees.

(I've been up all night with the speaker of the poem.  Now it is daylight, the world is as it was, but I have seen  the truth, heard the inner storm as well as the outer, so it is also transformed by that.)

To return to Lockward's poetry-book reading advice, you can also see this poem in light of the book's title, Blood Almanac, and bloodied knees and weather resound again in that context, of crucial calendar and the detailed information necessary for survival.

Now, to ramble back over to the volleyball tournament, I did read between matches, but what I was reading was Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I could barely put down.  As the Time blurb on the cover says, it's "a page-turner and a heartbreaker."  I have a feeling my mom picked this one up at Babbitt's when she got his book Remains of the Day, because she said she got two of his and that one was "like nothing I've ever read before" and didn't say much else, so read the book and you'll know why and won't want to give anything away, either.

And, finally, I am honored to appear in the new issue of Blue Five Notebook with four other fine pieces and fabulous art.  I am particularly tickled to have appeared as the last broadside of Blue Fifth Review, and the first poem in Blue Five Notebook, its new incarnation.  I came to e-zines late (technology challenge, busy teaching, editing, and childrearing), but I am glad to be here now!


Nancy Devine said...

your poem is, of course, terrific.
i rarely read a collection of poetry straight through. i sort of dip in and out.
marie howe's collection "What The Living Do" is perhaps the only collection i've read (and re-read) straight through front to back and reading it this way is unbelievable.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Nancy. I see I forgot to give my blog entry a proper title. I will go back and edit!!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow, Kathleen. Thanks for the kind words and careful attention, again. It is reassuring to know that my book rests in such sure hands.

Your poem is amazing. The first and last lines really dug into me.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Sandy! I will hold your almanac close to my heart.

Maureen said...

Wonderful explication of a wonderful poem.

Congratulations on your appearance in Blue Five Notebook; I'm heading there now to read your poem.

Maureen said...

Terrific poem, Kathleen.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Maureen!