Tuesday, August 31, 2021

And There is Many a Good Thing

I turned to Jon Tribble's book, And There is Many a Good Thing (Salmon Poetry, 2017), not only for its perfect fall-is-coming cover, but also for the positive, optimistic sentiment in its title. The cover image is "The Blue Leaf" by Allison Joseph, poet, Jon's wife, and, alas, now his widow. I have the Irish cover, with the leaf turned sideways, as you can see here. Shown is, presumably, the American cover, which you can also see at Amazon. Either way, a lovely cover, though I prefer mine, probably because it is mine. 

Once again, I read alert to the intersections of this poet's book with my own life, and this book with the others I've read this August for the Sealey Challenge. This book goes to Mexico, like The Death of a Migrant Worker. It has fishing poems, like The Mysteries of Fishing and Flight and Night Angler. It has constellations and whooping cranes, free verse and pantoum, elegy and grief, "and there is many a good thing," like music and food. These things do sustain us, as I hear in the final stanza of the opening poem, "The Divine":

     as the final note possesses Sarah Vaughan, possesses us,
     documents the sound we should define as pain,
     as regret, as love and loss, as human.

And I realized this book contains two of Jon's poems I had included in an anthology some years ago, poems of place and origin, Where We Live: Illinois Poets. Good to meet them again here.

Yesterday, telling you about Men, Women, and Ghosts, I also told you about my dream of a wild, baby pig. Strange and delightful to encounter Tribble's poem titled "Long Stories About Short Pigs." In the first story, a beggar boy takes a wild ride on a metal pig. Then my heart broke when the poem shifted to "the last Vietnamese family / pressed into the metal belly of the cargo / chopper" and made the connection, as many have been doing these last few days, of the exit from Vietnam and the exit from Afghanistan, leaving people behind. More heartbreak in "Banner Days in America," a poem that starts with burning a flag and ends with folding one.

Indeed, for all the delights in this book, heartbreak, injustice, trouble, or irony are right there in the background, perhaps in a restaurant, enjoying Chinese food, while a boy and his grandmother talk about things you'd rather not have to overhear. "A pig is never only a pig," Tribble reminds me, and, alas, "a fairy tale is only a fairy tale." Sometimes there are no happy endings. In "Lucky Life," about the need for riverboat casinos, "[a] few spindly antennas" in small towns are "shaping these lives to All-American mold.

          Huddled about the pixilated fire,
     cartoon promises guarantee That's all,

     folks! with piggish glee, but is it?

Ah, yes, the pig of my childhood. But this is a grown-up book.

I was grateful to see Jon and Allison get married again in "Indiana Marriage," a poem I'd heard them read when they came to my town to read at the library. This time, the Key lime pie made me cry. And the last poem in the book, his "Spirit Currency," a double elegy, for a mentor and a friend, resonated now for Jon: "Wherever we travel, / there is no destination loss has not visited before us."

Monday, August 30, 2021

Men, Women, and Ghosts

This one I chose for its fabulous cover after becoming intrigued by Debora Gregor's In Darwin's Room. The cover art is Vanitas Still Life by Herman Henstenberg. In Men, Women, and Ghosts (Penguin, 2008), I found educated and allusive poems, imaginative, ekphrastic, and persona poems, some clever and funny, some connecting with women in myth and fairy tale so they seem at times to be engaging in a kind of pleasant, modest, self-mythologizing. 

As in "Beauty in Florida," where we see Sleeping Beauty at 15 and 50.

Here at the end of a month full of poetry books, I relaxed again into noticing where I intersect with the poems and where the books intersect with each other. "Her Posthumous Life" is in the voice of Fanny Brawne, someone I once played in a one-act about John Keats. (Wikipedia has a whole section on her "Posthumous controversy"!) Greger's poem ends, referring to a Keats ode,

          To Darkness, it begins,
     and then goes on. Goes on into darkness,
          knowing the weight of earth.

This, of course, connected with the darkness in Goldenrod.

In "Chekhov for Children," the speaker is a stagehand for the play Three Sisters, dressing Olga between scenes, just as I, as an understudy also playing a small role as a maid, dressed Masha backstage at Steppenwolf years ago! You never know when or how reading a poem might cause the past to wash over you.

Or a dream. In "Death Comes to Florida" (which also reminds me of the news, now), an elegy for Donald Justice, Greger's image of Death as a wild boar reminded me of a recent morning dream of a wild baby pig sleeping under a baby blanket on my lap. (What does it mean?!)

Side by side with all the intersecting, I just enjoyed the language, like this couplet from "Missing":

     A water taxi opened the Grand Canal like a book.
     Its pages were green, edges deckled with foam.

And I should mention that it's August in "The Marriage of Orpheus."

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Death of a Migrant Worker

The Death of a Migrant Worker, by Gil Arzola (Rattle, 2021), is another of the wonderful Rattle Chapbook Prize winners I've been reading this August during the Sealey Challenge. I am so grateful to be learning about so many people's lives through their poems this month. In this book, his father dies in the opening poem, the title poem, and his mother dies or is dying in several thereafter, but his words keep them here a while, alongside his grief. In another kind of memory, another kind of grief, "She sat up in bed / damp as a day in August," in the poem "412 Beechwood Avenue Where I Lived." "After that I was tossed / like eggs over easy."

In "Surviving Storms," I love the wisdom of bending to the wind like beach grass. Even a tree, until it can't, can "give with the wind," as in "The Difference Between Me, a Rock, and a Tree," and, like a poet, "A tree has learned to pay attention." And I love the specificity of what he sees, as in "A Poor Mexican Woman Makes Supper," when he begins: "She measures nothing. She / tosses flour like confetti..."

And I love the coincidental similarity of the title "Not Everything Should Be a Poem" to a title in Maggie Smith's book Goldenrod, from yesterday. Smith's poem, called "Not everything is a poem," sure turns out to be one, a listing of what a mother finds in her son's pockets before the wash! In Arzola's poem, where the title is a sort of warning, he says:

     Some things need no words to be

     Some things matter enough
     by themselves,
     without description.

True. Still, he does a fine job of describing the things he shows us, and evoking the importance of what he'll leave alone.

Saturday, August 28, 2021


Here is another clear-voiced Ohio poet, like Rita Dove (yesterday!) or Mary Oliver, who are among the Ohio poets included in Maggie Smith's intermittent "Ohio Cento," a series of poems in Goldenrod using lines by various Ohio poets to shape new poems. They are beautiful and deep. "Everything is true," says her daughter in the poem "Lacrimae," which means tears. And everything feels true to me in the poems in this book. And how delightful that the title poem takes place "near Peoria," and I am near Peoria! And the goldenrod is near to blooming, as summer ends and fall is looming.

This is the poet of "Good Bones," that poem that comforted us even as it looked reality in the face. Here, I feel her melancholy, her despair at the state of our country, her questioning of what it means to be human right now, "who cringes to say recognition," looking at the mirror in the poem "Walking the Dog." Yes, it's hard to see ourselves when we look at humanity today. In all the ways.

Still, I recognize myself in her poems--"near Peoria," yes, but also "In the Grand Scheme of Things" with wrens chattering in the back yard...which happened while I was reading this morning, the screen door open. I identify with her in "Poor Sheep": "I am transparent and quiet." I recognize the "gray mange" and remember the "wolf" in "Wild." I, too, feel like I am "feeding myself to the hungry future."

There are bones in this book. But this is a book of "the good dark," not the "good bones." In "How Dark the Beginning," she asks:

     We talk so much of light, please
     let me speak on behalf

     of the good dark. Let us
     talk more of how dark

     the beginning of a day is.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Playlist for the Apocalypse

I let myself read this one, Playlist for the Apocalypse, by Rita Dove (Norton, 2021), in the shade, in the breeze, the heat and its heat advisory having lifted, on the patio this morning. Lovely to read a new book by Rita Dove, in her own clear voice, and in the voices of many others--human and cricket, dead or alive, and even the Statue of Liberty, who is "Liberty's pale green maiden, stranded" in "The Sunset Gates." I took few notes, letting the poems and our shared history wash over me. I appreciated the notes at the end, giving context, and alerting me to how the poems in "A Standing Witness" were part of a collaborative song cycle, meant to be sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, but delayed by the pandemic.

The poems in a section called "After Egypt" are about the ghetto in Venice, and "the first use of this word for segregated, and subpar, living quarters." In her notes for the poem "Foundry," she explains, "Ghetto is a derivation of ghet, Venetian dialect for foundry, and refers to the island where foundry slag was dumped before the Jews were forced to move there." Such sad and moving lines:

        ...You think
     as long as we stay where
     you've tossed us, on
     the slag heap of your regard,
     the republic is safe.

And, alas, that attitude is still out there, applied to many groups of people, unwanted by other groups who pretend they are protecting their republic.

That section made me think of Shakespeare, his Merchant of Venice, and Shakespeare turns up in another poem, "Shakespeare Doesn't Care," for writers possibly worried about their literary reputations:

     What does he care
     if we all die tomorrow?
     He lives in his words. You wrestle,
     enraptured, with yours.
     What time does with them
     next, or ever after,
     is someone else's rodeo.

I identified with "Insomnia Etiquette," which begins, "There's a movie on, so I watch it." I actually watch movies to fall asleep to at bedtime, and read a book if I wake in the night (often at 3:33 a.m.) "I will regret / not being able to find / a book to get lost in," she says!

And the "Little Book of Woe" section contains poems that address her multiple sclerosis, something her notes tell us she kept private for a while, so she could handle her illness on her own. I love the poem "Soup," about...soup, just what we want when we're sick!

Thursday, August 26, 2021


Wasn't I reading this last year at this time? Re-reads are OK for the Sealey Challenge! Checking my blog, I realize I was reading Indigo, by Ellen Bass (Copper Canyon, 2020) last April, during lockdown. See the beautiful fish in this tattoo? I'm also reading Russell Banks's Success Stories (Harper & Row, 1986), with the fish cover, and just finished "The Fish," a sort of fable. Once again, everything connects.

Oh, yes, I remember "smashing / the garlic with the flat of steel" from "Sous-Chef," the opening poem, and I'm back to smashing garlic this way myself, having broken two garlic presses over the past year. "You say how much cinnamon / to spice the stew." When I walked into the kitchen this morning, I thought I smelled cinnamon...

Yes, here are the orange and white high heels she shares with her mother. The chickens named Marilyn & Estelle. The bone china. "Another spoonful of crème brûlée, / sweet burnt crust cracking" (which reminds me of a Jeopardy answer-question). And the contemplation of a good and chosen death in the poem "Enough," which ends with "a fish that couldn't wait to be caught."

"Can a tree be lonely?" is a question in a poem about the old dog Zeke. I'm reading indoors this time, in air conditioning, during a heat advisory in the delayed or prolonged dog days of August. In the next poem, it's December. Life goes as quickly as that. 

The poems of the mother, the mother dying, the mother in the vigor of her life before that. I was meant to be re-reading these poems today in a waiting room, but my mother had to cancel her appointment, not feeling well. 

In "Wilderness," a love poem, the lines "Tell them a story, / you are doing to die" remind me of texts in Deathbed Sext, by Christopher Salerno, earlier this month. "Because What We Do Does Not Die" is a wonderful poem where the mother defends and supports her daughter, getting rid of a bad guy forever.

Ah, here is old Zeke again, in "Ode to Zeke." "I'll fry you a fish." And here is the heroic Lynne, who revives a lizard who was drowning in the swimming pool, in "Kiss," which is the kiss of life.

And I do so love the poem "Indigo," that starts with a tattooed man "pushing one of those jogging strollers / with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping" and ends absorbing the shock of death in the strong, clear voice of a grown-up daughter who is wide awake.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

New Life

New Life, by Dan O'Brien (Hanging Loose Press, 2016) is another example of the right book at the right time. Little did I know when I ordered it while seeking plays to suggest to Heartland Theatre--as O'Brien is also a playwright--how pertinent it would be to the new-current-ongoing situation in Afghanistan. The book is a sequel to War Reporter, and both are about the actual war reporter and Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist Paul Watson. O'Brien has written plays based on Watson's reportage and their relationship, and they've pitched scripts to Hollywood together. Their ventures in art as well as Watson's experience in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq are part of this book, which also hopes for a "new life" away from war and back to family.

"The Poet in Afghanistan" contains the lines, "...The breaking news / from Kabul spooks the poet," and this must still be true, getting new life from the troubled military and civilian exit from Afghanistan now. It contains the brutal reality of danger to interpreters, and a concern for them side by side with the hardened attitude of a longtime reporter:

          ...And anyway
     Najib won't write back. Maybe he's escaped
     to Pakistan? or had his hands hacked off
     for interpreting me. But have no fear,
     partner of mine. We'll find our new story
     elsewhere in the meantime.

This kind of violence pervades the book, along with fear, denial of fear, bravado in the face of fear. People are killed by the side of the road, in their homes or out; they're in danger for driving at night, for talking to the wrong person. They are damaged, physically (grenade, half-open window) and emotionally, and yet they go on, if they don't die. In "The War Reporter Paul Watson Expects to Depart" is this sobering reflection:

          ...We spend so much of our time
     criticizing presidents and generals
     who feed school kids into the mouth of war
     when what we should do is just pause and check
     the courage of our own decisions.

An opera has been made of War Reporter, and in "The War Reporter Paul Watson on the Downward Slope," it's part of Watson's reflection on the death of his brother and the state of his heart and mind:

          ...He'd been on the downward
     slope since the day he was born. And truth is
     I hardly feel a thing! I've felt more grief
     taking pictures of corpses. That opera
     tonight of my life has made me feel more
     than my own brother's death. But that's no shock,
     I guess. Music is peaceful, especially
     all that singing.

You hear the conversational tone here, as well as the agony and lack thereof, all of which switches back and forth throughout the book. Poet and reporter engage in email exchanges, phone conversations, fights over Hollywood pitches; they care about each other, they care about the world, and they want peace amidst "all that singing."

There are personal poems containing the joy of an expected baby, the grief for a dead friend. But there's a lot of the danger and violence and deadly repetition of the conflicts that lead to war. Even the personal, as in "The Poet Confesses," expresses this awareness: "We love war, your mother and I adore / our Shakespearean meltdowns." And history definitely repeats itself, as in "The War Reporter Paul Watson in a Coffee Shop in Aleppo":

     Every revolution has a problem
     with power. Submitting Afghanistan
     as an example: jihadis will come
     with strings attached.

Alas, they are here now. The poem continues, and ends this way:

          ... A young man rises. Your country
     did nothing. Pointing, crying. I wonder
     if he could hit me. Have I betrayed him
     personally? Trying to smooth things over,
     an old man interjects: We do not love
     jihadis. But the more our people die
     the more we learn to love.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Where the Wolf

The cover, title, table of contents, and my past reading of the work of Sally Rosen Kindred all led me to expect some fairy tales, revisited, in Where the Wolf (Diode Editions, 2021). And isn't it a fantastic cover?--the illustration by Kelly Louise Judd!

In the very first poem, "First Night," is the first mention of the wolf: "outside, in grass moon-wet with night, / a ghost Wolf guarded the yard." The Wolf is a "Her" and a "ghost" and is a presence throughout the book. Crows and the moon are part of the natural landscape here, as well as being images I found in some of the other books this month, but it was also a delightful surprise to find "witchgrass" again, right after yesterday's adventure with Gluck & Chang! And it is not August here in Kindred's book--more often October or November: "Dear October," "Which Way is November..."

There is a complicated mother-daughter relationship, and in "Wednesday's Child" the daughter is at her mother's bedside for a bittersweet couplet:

     You have forgotten you're sorry
     you had me.

And a truly sweet ending with cake:

     ... You do not want us
     to die now. You want me

     to try it, try it honey,
, it's so sweet.

"The Grief Dress" shows us the beautiful, sad family romance. And in "I Tell What Kind of Girl" is the liberation of telling one's story:

     Through the white door

     she could hear
     the pinched hearts of asphodel--
     and then it opened
     like mercy, like breath,
     when she began to tell.

"Wolf Hour" brings us into the woods and into a timeless hour in numbered sections. Section 2:

     Still you'll walk
     these woods dulled by oaks,
     dusk-muddled, staggering their golds--

     the leaves torn,

     withholding--these woods
     without wolf's throat, her cape, and the wind
     all hinge and pity.

Gorgeous. I love how the sounds and the scatter of words on the page help the wind do its work. In the same poem, the line, "You had a mother once" hurts. "She spoke in the language of wolves // and the moon heard and shut its stone door."

And the poem "Mast Year" taught me what a mast year is, one that contains a bumper crop of fruit or nuts. The internet tells me 2020 was a mast year for acorns. "My mother still knows what a mast year is" though she's forgotten her daughter. Such sadness in this book, such beauty, such resilience. 

And, as it's still August when I emerge from these woods, I find joy in a bumper crop of peaches! Ah, a Fat Tuesday in the blog!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Salvinia Molesta

As I took my book and pen and spiral notebook outside to read and take notes, it reminded me of homework, in a good way, awaking in me some back-to-school spirit. And Salvinia Molesta, by Victoria Chang (University of Georgia Press, 2008) provided some sad lessons in Chinese history inside its amazing poems. And there were crows and other coincidences, too.

"Jiang Qing" is a persona poem with the epigraph: --Mao Zedong's wife committed suicide while under house arrest for crimes related to the Cultural Revolution. In it, she says

     I used to speak so smoothly in pavilions, even
     crows and clouds came down to hear.

Chang's "Ode to Iris Chang" is about "the December 1937 invasion of the Chinese city Nanking by the Japanese army," to quote the book's Notes, and another suicide. This book took me to other parts of the world, to new perspectives on my previous learning.

And I learned what Salvinia molesta is, "[k]nown as the world's worst weed," in that poem's epigraph but looking a lot like an aquatic plant in my town's water feature. Indeed, Wikipedia tells me it can be used to clean water of pollution, and I do think my town's greenery is self-watering and self-cleaning. So, hmm. But that title poem is also about a businessman tried and acquitted of obstruction of justice. 

So I keep learning. And the coincidences continue, words or images found in the other August books: cicadas, honeysuckle, pigs, cows, the moon, gardening, as in "Spring Planting": 

     I am gardening, but my mind is tilling. The crows enter my yard.
     They remind me of ink slabs

     Chinese calligraphers used--not until mixed with water did
     their black ink breathe and broth.

And then, thanks to one of Chang's Notes at the back of the book, I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem "'Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird' is conversing with Louise Gluck's poem 'Witchgrass' in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: 'I don't need your praise / to survive' and 'I will constitute the field.'" So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with "Witchgrass" before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here's the last stanza before it, too:

     I don't need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I'll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang's poem, "I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre....

Ah, the poet's worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Mysteries of Fishing and Flight

I picked at random the next book in the Sealey Challenge pile and of course it has sandhill cranes in it, to continue the convergence of connections I mentioned yesterday. And dogs, dog days, constellations, and crows. Plus, as the title The Mysteries of Fishing and Flight, by Prize Americana winner Jacqueline K. Powers (The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2011), plenty of fishing, though often the fishing and flight are metaphorical.

I think this happened last August, too, that I kept finding amazing connections between all the poems, books, poets as I read, as well as the personal connections. Its not that we poets are so unoriginal, it's that we all see the world, we're attentive to some of the same remarkable things, and we remark on them!

I did not find August in a poem here, but I did find bleeding heart and columbine from my own spring garden, and it was almost afternoon as I read Powers's "Saturday Afternoon in the Garden," which also contained weeds. Since I had put off my necessary weeding the day before to read Debora Greger's book, I was glad I'd done early-morning weeding before I began the Powers book. She had seen "two yellow finches" in a poem, and I had seen two yellow finches feeding on the coneflower seedheads.

I was also doing laundry in the background as I read the remarkable "Feng Shui," which begins

     It was a cup of coffee and throw
     in another load of laundry
     kind of morning...

and then moves to the shock of a suicide attempt--"but she was just a teen, they said / just a gesture, they said." I'm so glad and grateful for the survivors of this poem.

I had favorites here, with titles that suggest why: "Honeysuckle," "Swimming Lesson." And I am familiar with chores that go undone, as in "Relativity, Rain Barrels and Lies":

     You say it doesn't matter
     when things get done,

     or even if they don't.

Behind me, as I read on the glider, loomed the volunteer maples that have overtaken the unmended fence... But now I'll just leave you with a great opening stanza from "Just Another Star-Free Night":

     It seems the stars all moved
     to some boxcar town in Kansas--
     corn you can drown in,
     rain like thunder-fall, a giant slide.

There's definitely "corn you can drown in" right now in central Illinois, and it did finally rain a bit yesterday, but I am glad to say my husband and I stood outside as night fell, watching the stars pop out.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

In Darwin's Room

What's happening, as I read In Darwin's Room, by Debora Greger (Penguin Poets, 2012), is the convergence of connections: 1) to the other books I've been reading, and 2) to myself, as has been happening all along, as I engage joyfully with poets and their work in August. When I encounter the phrase "ethereal pig" in Greger's poem in the voice of John Keats--he wants to feed on "the muddied blooms / of English spring!"--I flash on Billy Collins's sudden discovery of the heretofore unknown "constellation of the Pig" in the sky of his poem "Vocation," which also reminds me of the charming constellation poem in Molly Spencer's Hinge, "Portrait of Hometown as Constellation." As the poems and my impressions of them blend, the tenses in which I describe them may mix, so watch out.

The title, In Darwin's Room, made me think this would be a project book, all about Darwin and his journey on the Beagle. It isn't. There are Darwin poems, museum poems, travel poems, personal and far-reaching poems. Birds, bones, gardens, "the oldest shirt in the world," the Dark Ages, the Ice Age, art, classrooms, trees, flora. It's all here. Persona poems, where she speaks in the voice the moon, the wind, a Monet painting, winter, the rain, a rat, her personal self at various ages and stages, and, as mentioned above, Keats.

I connect to specific places referred to in these poems: Nebraska, Michigan, Florida. She lives part of the year in Gainesville, Florida, my childhood home (through kindergarten), and alligators turn up in her poems, which also made a big impression on me way back when. Ah, another connection: "sandhill cranes...who wintered in Florida" in Greger's poem "Musica Mundana." Sandhill cranes were part of my childhood and a recent visit to Kearney, Nebraska, as well as being referenced in Sandra Beasley's Made to Explode! (My head may explode, as they say.) I even lived in England for a year, and Greger goes there in this book and in her actual life, her bio tells me.

Greger's poem "The Later Martyrs" takes that deep dive that, yesterday in the blog, Billy Collins said poems should take (even when he chooses not to). From a childhood incident (broken bottle of ink at school, blood), she moves from innocence to "a Quaker and...a Buddhist monk" who "turn themselves / into flame instead of into prayer, / one in Washington, one in Saigon." That sad, brutal history flares up again.

And I was deeply moved by her "Elegy on the Far Bank," for her father. Stanza one really hit home:

     His taxes done, a garden planned,
     my father didn't want even a night
     in the hospital--then he lay his head back
     and drifted away from the doctor.

By stanza two, as implied here, he's dead, but at least "[f]or the first time in days he slept, / better than he had for years." My father, alive, is sleeping better these days, some days. Like hers, mine hates hospitals. Mine has given up planning and planting his vegetable garden and, I think, thanks to an extension, is still working on his taxes. But the connections keep on coming, with references to Russian olive and cottonwood trees. My brother was just visiting from California, and as we walked the yard at my parents' house we were remarking on where the Russian olive trees once stood. At a recent family gathering in Michigan in June, it was cottonwood season, snowing and drifting everywhere.

And then she takes a walk with her father: "We climbed the Horse Heaven Hills, / my dead father and I." Is he "[l]eft breathless // by his weakened heart?" No. But my father is, sometimes. And it turns out he is reading this blog. Hello, Dad.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Horoscopes for the Dead

Billy Collins is such a relaxing poet. His poems are deft and wise, sometimes sweet, often funny, and I love his meandering imagination. Sometimes they are very deep; he just eases you into those depths, and then you find yourself dug in. In the title poem of Horoscopes for the Dead (Random House, 2012, paperback), the dead is a Pisces (like me), and the poem leaves the superficiality of the newspaper horoscope in an upward thrust at the end.

Ah, that connects somehow (the blue, the upper atmosphere) with the lovely cover image by Eric Sloane, A Republic Seabee (ca. 1940). And I see that even major, bestselling poets revise their work. The opening line in the Pen America version is, "Every morning since you fell down on the face of the earth." In the book, it is, "Every morning since you disappeared for good," adding some mystery and evasion.

But that isn't what I started out to tell you. I was looking for August, for evidence of my own recent, comic theory that August will appear in any poet's book if you look for it. Nope. It's April, not August, but at least a named month (and one starting with "A"!) in "Cemetery Ride," and a copper bicycle appears again (suggesting autobiography), and cows (a coincidence in my reading/writing), and dogs (a coincidence with the Dog Days of August*, so we got there in a meandering way, after all.) "Grave," the very first poem in the book, is about a sweet visit to his parents' "joined grave," and "Cemetery Ride" brings us round to a general appreciation of cemeteries and the dead.

Speaking of revision (digression above), there is actually a poem called "Revision," and it has cows in it! It's about how revision might not be as wise as leaving things as they are, even if its a "swaybacked" cow.

     I was too young then to see
     that she was staring into the great mystery

     just as intently as her sisters,
     her gorgeous, brown and white, philosophic sisters.

(I hope this poem is about exactly what it seems to be: cows, revision, as of poems. Not some reconsideration of a woman poet of the past...meaning we've all been compared to cows again. I am choosing to take it at face value!) (And I should mention that "Drawing You from Memory" is very good but not relaxing, turning sharply at the end and smashing into the hard reality of a troubled relationship. It's not all easy, fun, pleasant poems in Billy Collins's kitchen.)

"My Hero," though, is a fine revision of the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Ah, but it, too, is about letting things be as they are, not having to win the race. "Bread and Butter"--with dogs again, plus the idea of thank-you notes from an earlier poem ("Thank-You Notes")--seems to affirm this in the last two stanzas:

     And now something tells me I should make
     more out of all that, moving down
     and inward where a poem is meant to go.

     But this time I want to leave it be,
     the sea, the stars, the dogs, and the clouds--
     just written down, folded in fours, and handed to my host.

Don't revise too much, don't go too deep. And now I take you to my favorite couplet, a serious question with a funny pun in it:

     Who said I had to always play
     the secretary of the interior?

Yes! That's the perfect phrase for a poet, "secretary of the interior." It's from the poem "Returning the Pencil to Its Tray," and it's like Prospero laying his magic aside at the end of The Tempest to resume his real life before he dies.

*And lest that sound too sad, here are some sweet dogs in Dog Days, with art by Yun Gee Bradley, at Escape Into Life, and some poems with dogs in them, and more dog art, also at EIL.

Thursday, August 19, 2021


Another wonderful book by Molly Spencer, Hinge (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). Its eerie cover is a doorknob in the shape of a human hand. When I woke this morning at 3:33, something I do, I came down to read the rest of it, begun yesterday, falling asleep again with this hand at my breast. A bad dream woke me, seeming in keeping with the darker themes of the book, the Grimm fairy tales woven in, the myth of Persephone and Demeter, the body wracked by lupus, the cold houses, one full of moths...

Reading If the house and Hinge together in August was good. It reminded me of Molly Spencer's big year of awards: 2019--with the Brittingham Prize for If the House and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award for Hinge, written first, published second, after 100 rejections, which should inspire us all!

And, of course, I found August: "The slow ambush / of August / heat..." on p. 31. Late in the book, the gorgeous "Elegy" has August in it, the speaker addressing her former self:

                           Girl I was,

     you keep asking the way
     fledglings beg at an empty nest. Go back

     to your shirtless, half-boy, August afternoons.
     Go to your footpath, your hill of shade.

I'm glad of the helpful notes at the end (as I always am, when poets provide them!), with sources for epigraphs and imbedded lines, erasure, overall intertextuality that engages me in other poets' work as well as these poems, a great reminder of community and, perhaps, especially given the myths and tales, the collective unconscious. And/or maybe I'm just validating my dream on the couch...

I was struck by "Most Accidents Occur at Home," its Adam-and-Eve, Cain-and-Abel resonance in contemporary domesticity. "Nobody tells you this: / Every day is a creation story." And how "Girl with Book and Angel" is a kind of annunciation story. Then "Girl with House and Lost Boys" brings us Peter Pan, Neverland. Childhood, darkened by later experience, rolls over these poems until the light breaks in, and luck, and resilience.

Also, though I am immersed just in the reading now, and in things going on in my own family life, these are the poems that make me want to write again. Thank you, Molly Spencer, for these books and your little-room-for-poetry-and-the-writing-life blog, the stanza, of the past.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

If the house

Molly Spencer is a poet I've admired for a long time, and I loved reading If the house (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019) here in August, for the Sealey Challenge. 

Of course, I encountered August in actual lines of the poems! First, in the poem "Bridging": "You've been trying to get this right--August / evening, ten o'clock and the sky / still rinsed with light." Gorgeous, huh? And again at the end, the very last poem, "I Talk Myself through the Facts of Each Day," and I must include the fact that I have just picked peaches in my parents' back yard!

     Here is a peach
     fat in my hand. This means
     it must be August.

Indeed. I loved these quiet, lonesome poems. It's a sad, gray book with snow in it, sorrow, the loving care of children, and the wisdom (and beauty) of not crying over spilled milk.

I found other coincidences beyond August. Goldenrod will be blooming here soon, and I love these lines from "Meadow / A Reckoning":

     Girl, you have burned yourself out. Goldenrod
     Rusts at your edges, the dazed sky sharpens
     Its blunted blade toward blue.

As I read these lines during the August evening, in the poem "Disclosures / If you are aware of any nuisance animals, such as crows, chickens, or barking dogs," "The crows will go on gathering / inside you," batches of crows were flying overhead, congregating in the north by northwest...very Hitchcockian.

I loved the two poems, "Conversation with Glass and Joist" and "Conversation with Windows and Green," that show the basic incompatibility of a married couple. The silence, the distance. By chance, I had just seen Aloha, and its scenes with a silent husband (sometimes with subtitles) and his yearning wife, though these involve some comedy, and Spencer's poems have no such comic relief; instead, a gripping intensity.

The sadness is relieved by fierce honesty. Titles still laden with sorrow begin to quiver with hope: "As if life can go on as it has" and "Even so, the first bird." I woke before the first bird to tell you so.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Patient Zero

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!--art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching--for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, "Patient Zero," which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as "a worried, old heart / disease," quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with "something...divine and endless." Love.

The book includes a translation of Pablo Neruda's poem "Calle a Calle," that begins, "So I am tired of being a man." It did seem in a different voice in a way. A dreamed voice? An underwater voice? 

In "At the Supermarket," the speaker imagines himself into a Rockwell painting with others in line with him at the cashier, leading to the fabulous closing lines: "the girl totals and totals what we owe, / as we inch and inch toward the infinite." [Intersection--I have a supermarket poem, too! "Grocery Store at Night."] In the wonderful "Carità Americana," he retells a Roman story about milk and generosity to include cows and a cowbird [where I intersect again with poems of my own] and pity, which may be a kind of love.

There is a remarkable long poem called "Sing Sing" about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that "Sing Sing" must come from "the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores..." Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means "stone upon stone," and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

I connected again and again with poems in Patient Zero, but I'll leave you with some lines from "Stargazing":

        ...There was a way
     I moved then, prehistoric
     you might call it, that I don't move now,
     not since life taught me patience
     never filled a hungry stomach or slowed
     the sure fist of a bully...

That rang so true, and made me sad, until I went back to the first line, to track the prehistoric, "I used to walk like a sloth," and smiled to think of the sloth in Zooptopia.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Only As the Day is Long

Only As the Day is Long, by Dorianne Laux (Norton, 2019), is a big book. It had a bookmark* in it, so it's part new read, part re-read, and I've read many of these poems earlier, too; she's a poet I've admired for a long time. The bookmark was at "The Orgasms of Organisms," about insects mating, and as I read it, cicadas were loud around, my husband reading in a hammock hung from our sweetgum tree and half-dismantled swingset-fort contraption left by the previous owners of our house. 

We are living a long, perfect summer day together. I've been reading and weeding. He's got the electric mower charged and parked out here as if he's going to mow. It's still Sunday...but I won't finish this book till Monday, as I can read "only as the day is long" and then no more.

*a Jesse White, Secretary of State, Illinois Center for the book bookmark!

How I love "Savages," about four boys reading poetry on the floor of a bookstore. "Democracy" gives me her political insight: "You can feel it now: why people become Republicans," but she isn't one, evidently. There are poems about the homeless, the poor, the troubled and disadvantaged, the hard-working class. Waitresses, nurses.

There are poems about trees. "Cello" is also about love, music, transformation...and about "a dead tree...fall[ing] into the arms / of a living tree," coupled then forever. Poems about birds, starling, raven, crow. About men, beloved, remembered, soldiers, musicians, Mick Jagger, Philip Levine.

I find my coincidence, the phrase "Against the insomnia of August," while reading, awake, in August. I find many a favorite stanza. Here's one, from "Late-Night TV":

     We know nothing about how it all works,
     how we end up in one bed or another,
     speak one language instead of the others,
     what heat draws us to our life's work
     or keeps us from a dream until it's nothing
     but a blister we scratch in our sleep.

Often I say to myself, I am never lonely, or hardly ever, I say today, Blue Monday in the blog, but yesterday afternoon, I was strangely lonely, and called some friends, and turned again to poetry, this book, an open-hearted, yearning, sometimes lonely book, and it helped.

I saved the last section, the new poems, for today, Monday, Sealey Challenge, Day 16. But yesterday I let the long day's shadows fall over me on the weathered wooden glider, softened by an ivy-print comforter (since I can't find any glider cushions at Bed, Bath, and Beyond...and don't really shop anymore, and now this is just like a diary, this reading/writing practice, sorry...), and I rested.

Ah, but the new poems, read early on this Blue Monday, are mother poems, death-of-the-mother poems, beautiful with complicated grief. Piano music poems, for the mother played. With touches of bedroom slippers, a metal collander, Route 66 as the Mother Road. Another favorite stanza:

     There will always be
     silence, no matter
     how long someone
     has wept against
     the side of a house,
     bare forearms pressed
     to the shingles.

And here, in "Letter to My Dead Mother," is a couplet I recognize as similar to something my own mother has told me:

     You told me when you were 72
     You still felt 25 behind your eyes.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Plumber's Guide to Light

Oh, my! A Plumber's Guide to Light, by Jesse Bertron (Rattle, 2021) was the perfect book to read today! I read it right before church--Zoom Church. It had occurred to me when I woke up that maybe I should have saved Holy Magic for today because of the word "holy," but instead it's a holy Random Coinciday in the blog because

1) today's Zoom Church readings were from 2 Chronicles 34:8-12, 14-19 about repairing the house of the Lord and "On Houses" by Kahlil Gibran

2) A Plumber's Guide to Light is all about the building trades (and so much more!)

3) one of the workers in the book is actually named Antonio, like my actual husband, who is a carpenter with electrician and plumber skills, too, as well as being a visual artist, the way Jesse Bertron is a laborer as well as a poet!

I connect with so much in this book! In the very first poem, "Shorty," the speaker does his work "with Shorty sitting / on a  five-gallon primer bucket" supervising. Same scene described to me by my husband, doing some labor with a retired but still licensed plumber at hand for his expertise. 

I've heard the refrain "Good enough for government work," from the poem "Slop," repeated by members of the extended family. And I give you these great lines from "Slop" (in addition to the ones about shoddy work on a toilet that mean "when the wax ring goes, // a little water mixed with human shit will leak onto the floor / with every flush"):

     Never buy a house built on a Friday, is something Jacob said
     on a Friday, as he walked away from a bad solder.

     The human race: built on a Friday!
     That's what Genesis says--a book of the Bible that I love,
     starring as it does an expert working at a speed

     that may invite disaster.

See what I mean? Perfect for a Sunday. And also a perfect blend of humor, reality of the working world, and religious philosophy.

I connect with the actual labor, having helped my husband lift and move heavy things (scary on the stairs), sand hardwood floors, grout bathroom tile, and paint porches. "Antonio loves to work..." begins  a line from the poem "Orientation," but when I told my husband he should read this book, he said, "I don't like plumbing much." (He's working on a bathroom right now.)

And there are beautiful, devastating poems about the mother here, losing her memory. In the poem "Dust," the mother forgetting her plan to "end her life" before her mind gets worse was strangely comforting to me. And "Telephone Crew," with the mother having to fend off the archer who came "with the crew...to shoot an arrow tied to high-gauge fishing line / above the trees, and use that line to string the cable // to her house," was altogether marvelous. First, who knew? How ingenious! Second, what a strong woman.

So! I love this book! I leave you with two central stanzas from "There Was No Assignment but There Will Be a Test":

     It has been a hard year, so I want to tell my neighbor's kid
     that the most important part of a story
     is someone you love will ask for what they need
     and you'll fail them in a way you have prepared for all your life.

     The only way you'll see out of the cell
     of your regret will be
     to hold the splintered thread of the everyday
     as if it were spun gold.

(See spun gold electrical wire above. Plus a toilet wax ring. Sigh....)

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Holy Magic

Holy Magic, by Priscilla Long, is another fine book from MoonPath Press in Tillamook, Oregon! The poems are linked by color and light--with epigraphs and section headings that reinforce this--and there are helpful notes at the end, which I always appreciate. The poems have great details of not just of color and light, but also of objects, foliage, fabric, history...and our shameful history. As a kind of summary, I give you this title--"Words Referring to Unspeakable Events"--and the last four lines of that poem:

     Let us speak in poems
     that smoke and flame.
     Let us speak to the dead
     who walk among us.

Another poem, "Matisse's Radiance," which begins with "London in flames" in 1942, also situates us in beauty and silence in this stanza:

     The world in war
     yearns toward evening
     light. Somewhere
     someone pours tea.

And many of the poems find the joy and celebration of color itself, list poems of what is orange or yellow, a marvelous compare/contrast poem called "Indigo & Violet." It's first four lines:

     Indigo's deep, black before dawn.
     Violet's an evening song.
     Indigo's ex is silver,

There is even praise for the "Beauty of Coal"--its color, and remembering what it was, before it was a fossil fuel.

I loved, in "Metamorphosis," the wonderful idea of a poem rhyming with a painting. In "Green Air, the coincidence of the phrase, "On this hot August day..." as I read Holy Magic on a lovely, sunny, glorious August day, the heat actually lifted now by recent thunderstorms, a jet trail slanted in the sky, dispersing into a ghostly spinal column.

There are several elegiac poems here, some to a lost sister, one, "Nisqually Delta," with these lines that give us life itself, color, silence, beauty:

     Great blue herons stand motionless
     as icons. Gulls sail blue air. Ducks
     duck into white water.

Nice how ducks can do their simply ducky thing in the midst of all the holy magic!

P.S. Tillamook

I meant to tell you yesterday, writing about Slight Faith, that MoonPath Press is in Tillamook, OR, and the marvelous coincidence that I have recently discovered Tillamook super creamy ice cream at my local Jewel in central Illinois and have some Peaches and Cream in my freezer right now!

Also, that I didn't mean to dismiss AIDS as belonging to an era. Alas, it is still with us, though now people can live and thrive with HIV, and so much is better now than in the 1980s when there was so much fear, dismay, and death. I am reliving that now as I read The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai, revisiting neighborhoods, theatres, restaurants...remembering lost friends.

The character Fiona in this book is looking back, too, from 2015 in this chapter:

"...How could she explain that this city was a graveyard? That they were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy, that when they stepped through a pocket of cold air, didn't they understand it was a ghost, it was a boy the world had spat out?"

Fiona has lost a brother to AIDS. The book reminds me that the gay community was conflicted about testing, distrustful, naturally. My friend Mitch wanted to move to Australia to get away from the concentration camps he expected to be erected in the USA. He got as far as London and had a bit more of his theatre career before he died. Of AIDS.

So there's a sad reminder and a sweet, creamy consolation for us, here on Slattern Day in the blog, where I must do some household chores interspersed with laziness and more poetry for the Sealey Challenge.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Slight Faith

Risa Denenberg of Slight Faith (MoonPath Press, 2018) might have slight faith in me now, as I got her book way back in 2018 intending to review it for Escape Into Life (as some of its poems were published there), and here it is, August of 2021, in my Sealey Challenge stack! That is 1) how slowly I sometimes read for reviewing 2) a stack mishap of some sort 3) evidence of the ongoing suspension of time, and 4) a wonderful coincidence because I am reading the right book at the right time!

"This is how you curl into your solace," says the poem "Consolation," bringing me great solace, "bidding its shell // to your mollusk, storm of sea blowing in your ear, / inexpressible pain expressed sotto voce." Here is "Swimming Lesson," on the last day of Early Bird Lap Swim! Here, in the astonishing poem "How Two Trees Become a Forest," are the lines, "An / Afghani schoolgirl covers her head and walks to the / schoolhouse with broken windows" which I read soon after hearing the news of the current exodus from Afghanistan of US-related people (and some Afghani interpreters), while so many must be left behind in such troubled circumstances.

Here, in "Life Forms Evolving," well before our current Covid crisis, are Ebola, Hep C, and HIV. Several poems take us to the sad and shocking era of AIDS, our awful losses there. A right-book-at-the-right-time thing: I'm also reading the novel The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkei, taking me back to those worries and fears. In "Yellow Star," we recall many disasters--the holocaust, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the AIDS epidemic:

     They didn't want to die so young
     and neither did the gay boys who died in droves
     at the close of the last century.

From "Abiding Winter," "Truth is brutal. So much we can't recover...."

I so love "The Outsider." Here's a great, straightforward stanza from that:

     I'm the oddball: vegetarian lesbian poet
     who celebrates Pesach to their Easter, rents instead
     of owns, has never married, chooses to live alone.

This poet is roaming, nomadic in "In Search of Home." Another fantastic stanza:

     I always depart. Things don't work out as planned.
     I clash with the boss and get fired. I My lover
     takes a lover. I feel hemmed in and need to escape
     the hundreds of tiny holes in my heart.

And I so connect with "the worry / I've lived the wrong life" in the poem "On Leaving the Barn Door Open." 

I learned words from this book--"metanoia" (spiritual conversation), "foraminifers" (tiny shells that form a kind or rock, a component of chalk), "foramen ovale" ("a hole / in the heart that must close at birth.") Here is the confident, yet heartbroken voice of "Metanoia Lost" and of the book as a whole:

     I speak god language
     because people die
     and god is the tongue of death.

The cover is gorgeous. The Dove, No. 5 (1915) by Hilma af Klimt. My bookmark for this one is the postcard of the cover!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Deathbed Sext

In the title poem of Deathbed Sext, by Christopher Salerno (Two Sylvias Press, 2020), I learn that "You can pay to receive / five texts a day that say, Don't forget / you are going to die." These days, I can't forget! And these lines got me in "The Byronic Method": "When I sexted you a snorkel you sexted me a squid." "When I sexted you / a telescope you sexted me the moon." 

I'm loving the variety of poems/books I'm reading for the Sealey Challenge, and the random coincidii. Last night thunder woke me up, and today it kept rolling through like tanks. In Deathbed Sext, I find battlefields and this: "To...be woken by thunder in the middle of the night..." (means "You'll Never Get Back To Sleep Now").

The book starts with a shocking hit-and-run accident, the speaker of "Headfirst," a boy on his bike hit by a car that drives on. Made me think of Raymond Carver's story "A Small, Good Thing" as adapted and interpreted in Robert Altman's film Short Cuts. But here the boy lives and presumably grows up to be a poet. 

There is serious stuff but also humor and wordplay, as in "Dickinsonian Pics": "I heard a phone buzz when I died. / Your sext lit up the larger darkness." And I love the "waltz[ing] away from what // once was monstrously male..." that threads in and out of these poems, summed up for me in the line: "I was sent to fetch a crescent wrench that wasn't even there." The futility, the performativity.

And I love this closing stanza (equal time to hens, after the roosterishness above) from "At the Farmstand During the Solar Eclipse":

     Not even noon but the entire farm
     is going dark, and every last hen,
     from instinct, returning to the coop.

Book cover artist: Noela Kanecka (Isn't it wonderful?)


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Adjusting to the Lights

Tom C. Hunley must be exhausted! The poems in Adjusting to the Lights (Rattle, 2020) are about raising a son who is on the autism spectrum and a daughter whom he and his wife adopted when she was a teenager, whose birth mother was a heroin addict and birth father was abusive. And these are just two of the poet's four children (the bio on the back cover tells me). There's lots of trouble, worry, and stress here, to be sure, but also so much love. So much desire to protect these children. The first and last poems, like prayers, are addressed to God. Several of the poems express the wish to be a better father, but he seems like a darn good one, in the end:

     I've had to give up so many 
     of my own dreams in order to find myself
     in theirs. 

He does sound like any mother or father who has made the full commitment, yes, but also like a poet who's had a harder time finding time to write than most, and who seems to have written one of these poems in traffic school! Who was once a census taker! "There was no autism box to check." Who tries to help his son understand "What She Said" as a phrase that's "only funny in context" and whose son has redeemed that awkward punchline forever for me now by uttering it out of context, repeatedly, in innocence!

Oh, how dearly this father wants to protect his daughter from the boys who take advantage of her, from her own past. "Her mom and I wanted her / the way sunlight and water want grass."

The wonderful cover is of a movie theatre with people in it! The cover and the book's title relate to the poem "The Last Time I Took My Son to the Movies," where they go to see Wonder, a movie about a boy with a special condition

     who gets bullied until the other kids
     get used to his face and learn to see
     past it into his beautiful true self.

In the poem, his own son gets bullied by a rude man in the seat in front of them, who doesn't understand the boy's behavior but who adjusts, and changes his seat, when the irony of the situation is made clear to him.

                    But after the movie
     I couldn't find that man among the faces
     adjusting to the lights coming on.

Wouldn't it be nice to be brave enough to apologize to each other, to forgive each other, whenever we can?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Juror Must Fold in on Herself

Wow, this chapbook, A Juror Must Fold in on Herself, by Kathleen McClung, a Rattle Chapbook Prize winner, was a wonderful surprise and a real tour de force of form! It's got the suspense of a courtroom drama and the necessary silence and discretion of being on a jury, along with villanelles, a pantoum, a ghazal, a sestina, a rondeau, a cento, a double sonnet, and a sonnet crown! Maybe more, my head is crammed. I don't think she wrote these in court, as we learn that the steno pads jurors take notes on get destroyed, shredded, maybe "wire and all." The story of what happened, condensed, not fully told, is heartbreaking. I'll let you find the verdict. I found the coincidence that makes this a Random Coinciday in the blog--that I'm reading in August about a jury sequestered during "those August days." Anyone, even a father, might get arrested, pay a fine. Anyone, even a grandmother, might spend her days at a courthouse, typing. And in this chapbook, they do! I love how everything ties together. How, in the poem "Summons,"

                  ...I seek peace,
     a juror sworn to silence on this case,
     this endless trial--victims and police
     and video, an endless loop of loss
     we twelve appraise alone. Grave calculus.

McClung's choice of repeating forms, tightly rhyming forms, connected stanzas is just perfect for her content.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Made To Explode

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about "buying weapons," so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in "Einstein, Midnight," one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, "Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode." Many details of history here, including how the poet's personal history intersects with American history. In "My Whitenesses," I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in "Monticello Peaches," a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It's hard to bear the poem "Black Death Spectacle," about Emmett Till. "Kiss Me," about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how "Winter Garden Photograph" hit me in the heart, with the words "Carl died. Life is over" written on a calendar that survives grief. And "Lazarus" is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

A Day in Boyland

Over time, I've been reading all the work of Jessy Randall, and I'm glad to be reading her very first collection, A Day in Boyland (Ghost Road Press, 2007, with that wonderful cover design by Sonya Unrein) this August for the Sealey Challenge. This book has been patiently waiting in its wrapper on my poetry book stack till now!

First time through, I read with sheer joy, taking nary a note--nary a written note but plenty of mental notes and feathery notes on my heart. Next time through, I paused in the midst of my laughter or awe to take small notes--these are mostly short poems--so I could tell you some things about why I love this book and Jessy Randall. It's all the feeling, I guess, and the wild, sweet imagination! Plus the humor. It's the childlike acceptance and honest tears. Yes, because I've laughed in delight at so much of her later work, this couplet from "Phone Words" surprised me: "I thought I wanted people to be sad / like me, but now I don't like that either." Sad like her. I wouldn't have guessed...but, yes, of course, it makes perfect sense now that I've read A Day in Boyland

There are love poems and heartbreak poems, silly poems and sad poems, and back-to-love poems. There's a narrative arc, from friends who are boys in childhood, to actual boyfriends (and a boyfriend parade!), to a crucial first love (the one you lose, alas), to finding your true love, to maternal love. It's glorious!--all the more glorious because of the suffering along the way. Gently, humorously shared suffering.

Example of her wild imagination, the first stanza of "Heart":

     I wrote a poem about your heart
     but it was really my heart.
     All the words were backwards
     and covered in spinach.

But another example could be "Three Martians Learn to Make Marshmallows," a celebration and send-up of science fiction. Or "The Couch," a wonderful what-if? poem:

     Imagine if all the couches you ever sat on
     were gathered together into one enormous room.
     And what if the people who sat there with you
     were also brought in?

There was loneliness in yesterday's book, Night Angler, by Geffrey Davis, of a different kind, and here in Jessy Randall's A Day in Boyland there is "The Zone of Loneliness," her own kind--though in it I find books we have in common, Einstein's Dreams and Clan of the Cave Bear, so waves of my own lonely loneliness of youth wash over me, along with the awareness that it is different now, and I've always liked solitude and often said, "I am never lonely." (But someday I may be.)

I liked reading the wedding poems! (My daughter is getting married next May!) I remembered "The Great Disappointment of the Honeymoon," a secret I'll leave you to discover on your own. And I can't wait till her next book comes out. Mathematics for Ladies: Poems on Women in Science, forthcoming in 2022! Find links to some of these poems here!