Sunday, September 18, 2022

Cemetery Season

It's cemetery season for me, coming up on the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk. I've been a longtime writer of scripts and scenes for this walk through Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, where community members and schoolkids can meet the people who are buried there, and, in the past, I played many characters and this year will do so again. It's an exhausting but rewarding experience! As actors, we do two rounds of six performances each on the weekends, and three rounds on schooldays for field trips during the week, in all kinds of weather. It used to fall in October, and now it's bumped up to September and the first weekend of October, because the schoolkids were not wearing jackets and appropriate attire in the cold or rainy weather! My character is Helen Clark McCurdy (1866-1962), who ran for office. 

It's also spider season, and all the webs are up!

Other things on my mind:

Second blooming of a lilac bush that touches the sidewalk on my walk to work.

The mulberry bush wrapping a purple smokebush in the same yard.

The glorious breezy, sunny weather this Sunday afternoon.

Barbara Pym, as I am reading a vignette-style biography of her, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, by Paula Byrne. I discovered her when I was working at DePaul University as an assistant to the secretrary of the English Department, before I got my graduate degree there, and had submitted a story to the student creative writing magazine, that was accepted and published, and one of the woman professors compared me to Barbara Pym. So I had to find out about her. I hope it was my quirky, comic style in that particular story!

The coincidence of Pym at Oxford + visiting Germany around the time of the Hitler and Chamberlain, etc. agreement to give Sudetenland back to Germany from Czechoslovakia, who was not consulted nor at the talks or signing, and the film we watched last night, Munich: The Edge of War, based on the novel Munich, by Robert Harris, which I guess I will now not have to read...

Rejections, which are now rolling in, from a batch of submissions. Pym got a lot of rejections, too!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Parade/Shy

I did double duty in the Labor Day Parade again this year, walking first with the McLean County Democrats (blue shirt) and then with Moms Demand Action (red shirt, underneath my blue shirt, on a day cool enough to wear two and take one off!)! What a great turnout of both participants and parade viewers! So many laborers! All the unions were out, as we have a workers' rights referendum on the ballot on November 8. (Vote Yes!) So many candidates! So much candy.

August exhausted me, and not just with all the Sealey Challenge poetry reading, which also enlightened and energized me. Lots of brain energy of other sorts these days. Plus...termites. Yup. Sigh. So they are gone, we hope for good, as we got the whole treatment, burned any wood or cardboard from shed or garage that might have tiny critters, and dumped even more in Marie Kondo fashion! It's like the house fire a few years back. Anything left in the attic, that might have been damaged by smoke or water, I dumped, without much perusal. This time, anything left stacked in the basement near the termite wall...went.

But the joy and comic relief came with the book Shy, by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green, subtitled The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers. It was hilarious and very informative. Mary Rodgers wrote Once Upon a Mattress (sometimes I burst into song with "The Swamps of Home") and Freaky Friday. Plus, my parents' lives crossed with hers, sort of. Mom and Dad met her sister, Linda, then married to Dan Melnick, in the army. Apparently, they hung out together at Fort Sill army base in Lawton, Oklahoma. Dorothy Rodgers, mother of Mary and Linda, invented the Johnny Mop, a toilet-cleaning tool, a version of which I use today! Well, not today! It's the Labor Day holiday, so I cleaned my toilets and did my laundry earlier in the weekend!

And here's a Labor Day poetry feature for you at Escape Into Life. For today! [Pink gloves from The Clean House, by Sarah Ruhl, at Heartland Theatre.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Swan Song

The last book this August is Swan Song, by Armen Davoudian (Bull City Press, 2020), which seems a perfect way to end this Sealey Challenge, with a sad, gentle, glorious burst of song at the end. And I read the whole bundle from Bull City Press, and its Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A fine gathering!

The poet grew up in Iran, and it was lovely to find that the title poem is a ghazal. Subtle yet tight rhyme ripples through the book. Ah, but the sad irony of the closing lines of "Persian Poetry": "Yet I study English poetry / because Persian would have been too obvious."

Swans drift through, or paddleboats in the shape of swans, as in "The Yellow Swan" and "Swan Boats." I found the coincidence of blue in "Swan Boats": "Time out of mind, this was our turquoise blue

     mind out of time, watching white thoughts come, go
     across a mirror which, unchanged by them,
     itself was change and could reverse the down-
     ward wish of light, the headlong wash of stone
     skipped on its current.

Lovely language, lovely reversals there.

This morning I woke early, found a wishing star on the horizon in a dip of trees, and wished what I always wish. I hope it comes true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Séance in Daylight

 

August is fading, we've had a little rain, and Séance in Daylight byYuki Tanaka (Bull City Press, 2018) was the perfect and mysterious book to read for today in the Sealey Challenge. Look at that lovely, strange cover image by Kansuke Yamamoto, A Chronicle of Drifting (1949, gelatin silver print collage). There are several Japanese sources and inspirations in the book, plus Joseph Cornell, and an erasure of Tanaka's own dissertation, with echoes of The Waves (Virginia Woolf) and Nightwood (Djuna Barnes). All amazing and creating its own new drifting experience in reading...!

In another sad connection to What is the What, my simultaneous reading, I found a landmine on p. 5 of Séance in Daylight, in the poem "Death in Parentheses." I found ghosts and butterflies and the color blue in other resonances with the month's poetry reading. So much beauty, mixed with sadness, as in this couplet from "The Empire of Light":

     Soon I am going home. Changed, forgotten--
     a girl in a barren field, pressing twilight to her throat.

And this, from "Discourse on Vanishing,": "She tries / to capture a blue flower as it vanishes / in a garden."

My purple coneflowers are vanishing, except for the seedheads, left for the birds. But the sweet peas, planted from seed along the back fence, are finally blooming.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Blue Hour

You already know the coincidence of blue here, from the title and color of the book cover, which is a photograph from the series "My Ghost" by Adam Fuss. But here is the August coincidence from Blue Hour, by Carolyn Forche (HarperCollins, 2003): "Our windows faced east, and on August evenings, the sky was a blue no longer spoken." And it's also a Blue Monday in the blog.

The "blue hour," as the helpful Notes at the end explain, is "the light the French call l'heure bleue, between darkness and day, between the night of a soul and its redemption, an hour associated with pure hovering." It is the hour she would wake with her baby son. From the title poem: "When my son was an infant we woke for his early feeding at l'heure bleue--cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvence. What were also the milk hours."

Other favorite lines and phrases, some blue: 

"In the blue silo of dawn, in earth-smoke and birch copse / where the river of hands meets the Elbe."

"a confusion of birds and fishes"

"a memory through which one hasn't lived"

"a moment of bluesmoke"

"l'heure bleue, hour of doorsteps lit by milk"

"pinning their intentions to a saint's dress"

"meaning did not survive that loss of sequence"

"something broken and personal, a memory"

"the stories nested, each opening to the next"

I should have anticipated this, as Forche is a poet of witness, but I didn't expect how strongly Blue Hour, especially its long abecedarian poem "On Earth," would connect to the other book I am currently reading, What is the What, by Dave Eggers, a novel based on the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He and other orphans walked from Southern Sudan to Ethiopa, hoping for aid and relief, witnessing terrible things, including the murder of parents, siblings, and friends, beatings, death from hunger and fatigue. Some of Forche's lines stuck out as something one of these boys might see: "in this camp, so many refugees" or "the little notebook of poems in the pocket of a corpse." "On Earth" has beautiful things in it, but also terrible things, a litany of everything that can and does occur. This couplet in it even matches the novel's title in a way:

     the what is? gives the wrong answer
     the what is? has ruined thought

as does the litany of "what" in the W section of the poem. And the ending, of the poem, since the beginning of the novel recounts a robbery:

     your things have been taken
     your things have been taken away

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Saints

My copy of Saints, by Reginald Gibbons (Persea Books, 1986), with its faint scent of damp, belonged to someone else, is signed and inscribed, somebody local, now gone. I am reading layers of lines in it, what's written, how this book's previous reader may have received it, and my usual and ongoing connections to other poetry books I've read this August. As I mentioned yesterday, this title seemed like it might be good Sunday reading, and I turned first to a poem called "Sermon of the New Preacher," which is exactly that, a sermon, in prose. 

The preacher is exhorting his listeners not to make excuses for their crimes of the heart:

But Brother, you say. Brother, I have needs, I'm in trouble, or I'm in pain, or I have sorrows and worries and wounds! I'm in debt, and my son won't straighten out, and my wife doesn't love me the way she once did, Brother, I'm talking about me!

The marriage lament reminds me of lines in Corinne Lee's Pyx, and there is a similar loving wish for childen in Gibbons's "Elsewhere Children" but now for everyone's children, and the lost children of the homeless woman in a doorway: "As for wishing you always free of ordinary pain

     like a father's or a mother's, I might
     as well wish food into dead refrigerators
     and the warmth to come out of these store-windows
     into the street and do some good.

Gibbons's own tender domestic poems alternate with poems of public concern, several in Chicago settings I recognize, having lived there, and poems in other voices. "The Vanishing Point" shows us a man drawing "a severely rectilinear highway scene" in the subway station at Chicago and State. (Been there.) "American Trains" resonates with the train-riding poems in Dynamite, except Gibbons is mostly writing about passenger trains and Carlson-Wee was riding the rails via freight trains. Right up until the end, where the train also becomes metaphorical, I think:

     and there's the one you and I got on,
          that started downhill with the weight
          of what we felt and is still a plummet,
          always and always faster till it has us shaking,
          out of breath, scared... "A freight train,"
          I said when you asked me, "What is this?"

The section/long poem called "Saints" begins with an epigraph by Allen Tate: All violent people secretly desire to be be curbed by something they respect, so that they may become known to themselves. Gibbons incorporates the epigraph in the section called "In the Violent Ward," adding his own wisdom in the voice of the violent, or once violent:

     we can't be sure we want to get well---
     once you go out, time starts again
     your wounds may heal
     and you'll want to wound someone.

That does seem to be the way of it, so often. And Gibbons has also described and anticipated the current state of the political world in America in this stanza from his sad but rollicking "The Snarling Dog (A Song, Loud & Rough)":

     Have you heard people tell of the danger to us all
     when this one's elected or that one breaks jail?
     It's twice what you heard anyone tell
     and they got the snarling dog on a chain at heel.

Well, the dog days of August are officially, almanacally over, I guess, but I'll be out there today, forecast to be hot and humid, for the local Sweet Corn Circus, with circus gymnasts and steamed sweet corn in the streets, right after church.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Pyx

Finding the next book to read each day, here in the August Sealey Challenge, is sometimes entirely random, sometimes speculative or intuitive. As the weekend approached, I saw that Pyx, by Corinne Lee, and Saints, by Reginald Gibbons, books in my stacks in baskets (both coincidentally in the National Poetry Series) had titles tending toward potential Sunday reading. "Pyx" is a container for the Eucharist. When I opened Pyx to the first poem, "Lysistrata Motley," I found an immediate coincidence, since yesterday's poet, Jessy Randall, references Lysistrata in Mathematics for Ladies: "Oh, ladies, you hear what I'm saying loud and clear. / Have you read Lysistrata?" So Pyx it is!

But for today, Saturday, aka Slattern Day in the blog, not Sunday. (Though, truthfully, I have already done some housework.)

From "Lysistrata Motley," in Pyx, I learned: "The Egyptians jettisoned

     a mummy's cerebrum, knowing
     the heart should do
     all thinking.

Good to know, in all the ways. More coincidence: "Conveniently, the fabulous hat / appears // on the bed." Lines that bring back all the fabulous hats I saw last night in a production of Crowns, by Regina Taylor, with the Coalescence Theatre Project. And here's another: "Going over the falls / in a barrel / with the dreamed of, but born awry." Out of its context, but wonderful on its own, and evoking, for me, the cover of The Niagara River!

Everything connects, and a month of poetry confirms it!

The once again helpful notes at the end of Pyx alerted me to how the poem "After the Caves" connects to Helen Frankenthaler's Before the Caves and Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Humningbird. The latter also connects with Lee's poem "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklet and Crow," which begins, "Loneliness / of coral. But beyond yonder window, a spoon bends," showing you the simultaneity of emotion and surreal images in Pyx. These lines from "After the Caves" hurt in themselves and made me seek out the painters and paintings:

          If born with plenary,

     the infant
     daughter might have had

     a rib like mine.
     Instead, this portrait

     of woman as table.
     Carved by opener

     of the body.

The next poem, "Our Lady of the Divine Sacrum," made me look up the word "picador," also the name of a publisher I like. A picador is a kind of horseman in a bullfight, like other figures (matador, toreador), one who lances the bull to keep his head down. I looked it up in an actual book dictionary in the middle of the night, sleep still awry (to use a word from one of the poems!). Will there now be nightmares?

Indeed, this book has its own logic, like a dream. I celebrate each time I connect, as if I might be interpreting the dream correctly. Having written a Bigfoot poem myself, I delight to read "As Bigfoot, I Interpret Our Heyday," even though it's a lament about a bad time in a marriage. I connect to "Excavation" in its relentless need to protect children, their vulnerability. These children have gone on a mock archeological dig:

          Like my shoveling toddlers, I want
     the world to be pristine,
     of my design--playground wounds like zippers, raptors
     that only kiss dumpling hands.

I do love the more "domestic" poems in Pyx, the tumbling love of children, as well as the overall love of language in it. I love how philosophy slips in gently, relentlessly, alongside the quotidien: "Since we reside in a garden, / there is no purpose / but pollen." And to see, or assume, that the marriage survives, there is continued family life! Or does it slip away?

          There was the night

     we wed, you feeding me marzipan pawpaws
     with your teeth. Our love

     not yet shrouded
     by time's daft--but accurate--disguises.

And, though not named as August, there is an August feel to the opening of "Substratum":

     Setting paper cups
     of Shiraz

     at yarrow's edges
     for the elves. The cicadas throbbing.

The cicadas are still throbbing here, where I am, in August.

     
     

          

Friday, August 26, 2022

Mathematics for Ladies

Yesterday I got a package in the mail from England! With a book in it: Mathematics for Ladies, by Jessy Randall (Goldsmiths Press, 2022)! I'll be reviewing it for Escape Into Life, as Jessy Randall is an EIL poet, and you can find several of the book's poems here (Women in Math and Science), here (Three by Jessy Randall), here (Work Poems), and here (Dog Days), but this Sealey Challenge reading in August will be my first quick, holistic read-through, and I'll peruse more closely in subsequent readings. For now, I will point out the coincidence of Mary Anning and ammonite in two of these poetry books this August, this one and The Genesis Machine! (In my notes: Have Jessy Randall and Jeanne Wagner found/met each other yet?!)

This book has cool illustrations by Kristin DiVona and cover art by Ilyanna Kerr! Woo, also, I am thanked in the front of this book! Neato! The book has helpful notes at the end, a works-cited list, and a foreword, which sounds scholarly, and is, but the book and notes are also often quite funny, as is Jessy Randall. You'll see! Ah, but I am schooled on this in the poem "Rachel Bodley (1831-1888)":

     Stop requiring women
     to be charming and delightful!
     Just let us do our work.
     Thank you.

But, see, even that's funny, due to the comic timing of the last line. And, to quote "Honor Fell (1900-1986)," which is partly a poem about a ferret at a wedding, "Let's agree to laugh about it while we do our work." All these women did their work, often not laughing, diligently and with obstacles, as you can imagine. The titles are their names and birth and death dates, spanning centuries. Pippa Goldschmidt's foreword tells us the word "scientist" was coined in the 1830s to describe a woman--Mary Somerville--"because the standard phrase 'man of science' was now clearly out of date." I did not know that! Racism as well as sexism impeded the careers of many of the women scientists and mathematicians in the book, but they get their say, through the voice and imagination of Jessy Randall, in fierce poems after the fact.

Also, the title, Mathematics for Ladies, which sounds dismissive, and was, actually pertains to "a new kind of math, // descriptive math, something more like / philosophy" that women practiced more in the past and men love today--abstract math, rather than applied math.

I love the caterpillars in "Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)," a poem that reveals, I think, the moral superiority of Merian ("She learned art just so she could draw them") over Audubon, the painter of birds.

     She drew her caterpillars from life,
     never pinning them to a board.
     It did not occur to her to kill them
     to hold them still. They stayed still
     in her mind, where it mattered.

Audubon killed his birds. And, oh, the amazingly huge jellyfish described in "Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz (1822-1907)"! And the authority in the voice of spider-loving "Mary Treat (1830-1923)":

     When I found the lily
     I knew it was something.
     I schooled Darwin on bugs.
     I'm steady. I'm plain. I write
     like a woman and invite readers in.

I bet you'll feel invited in by Jessy Randall's steady, plain voice in these poems, too. Every one made me want to know more about the woman and her work!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Break the Glass

I'm tired, physically and mentally--a lot on my mind these days--and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing...with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I'd find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.

The watery feel is there in "The Japanese garden":

     It might be under water,
     the birds be fish, colored in.     And you,

     maksed reader:          the glance
     of your underwater lamp,

     your blackwater embrace---
     not bought or sold.

I also found the coincidence of elephants in "Ghost Elephants" and a novel I read for narrative escape, The Elephant's Journey, by Jose Saramago. "In the elephant field / tall green ghost elephants / with your cargo of summer leaves"

True, Valentine's elephants appear to be plants. 

The coincidence of blue in the remarkable "Then Abraham," combining the Abraham/Isaac story with a Vermeer painting:

     Still, all the history of the world
     happens at once: In the rain, a young man

     holds out a blue cloth
     to caress her head...

And the coincidence of reading the phrase "in a rainstorm" in a rainstorm this morning, one we needed, though it weighed down the branch of Rose of Sharon with its last lavender blooms.

Lucy is also known as "'Dinkenesh,' an Amharic language term meaning 'You are beautiful.'" And arouses our empathy. "No one is so tender in her scream." And connection:

               when my scraped-out child died Lucy
     you hold her, all the time.

And when I read, "The nine wild turkeys come up calmly to the porch / to see you, Lucy," I recalled our neighborhood flock of wild turkeys, their calm visits to us all, driveway by driveway, yard by yard.

I loved "Outsider Art" for itself, for the artist it celebrates, Martin Ramirez, and for its astonishing end to writer's block:

    When writing came back to me
     I prayed with lipstick
     on the windshield
     as I drove.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Dynamite

Today's book for the Sealey Challenge is Dynamite, by Anders Carlson-Wee (Bull City Press, 2015).This one is, for real, hard-hitting, as they say, beginning, with the title poem, "Dynamite":

     My brother hits me hard with a stick
     so I whip a choke-chain

     across his face. We're playing
     a game called Dynamite

     where everyting you throw 
     is a stick of dynamite

     unless it's pine.

Imagination or reality, dream or dumpster dive, it all hurts. There's more fighting later, and a "Polaroid" to prove it. The brothers ride the rails, and one brother rides alone. Even so, and over time

     You have learned very little.
     But that little is what you are throwing
     in the furnace. That little is stoking the dust-
     coals of last year and burning something. 
     Burning blue.

There are owls, train-related (glossary in back) or avian. There is fishing, in "The Raft," and I'm sure there was fishing earlier in this August of poetry.  And riding the train. There are guns and dust and mold, wisdom, tenderness, and "Life out of nothing." In "County 19," the speaker/poet hitchhikes by the old folks home his grandmother lived, lingers a while, then says he'll go "as far as you can take me." In another poem, he honors "Moorcroft": "You gave me a ride when I was lost in Wyoming."

Lost, but maybe found. "I've heard it said that the kingdom of heaven / surrounds us though we fail to see."

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Connotary

This was a lovely book to read outdoors on a lovely day, Connotary, by Ae Hee Lee (Bull City Press, 2021), with a lovely cover, Green Flash, by Stephanie Law. I don't know what "connotary" means, but maybe there's an idea of connotations. Each poem title has a doubleness built into it, and each poem evokes place, or memory, or connection. In the first, "Hyu::In-Between," I learned about real jujubes, not the candy jujubes I remember from my own childhood: "It's a quiet

     and passionate affair--to dwell
          in the meanwhile, with a waiting so bright

     red like the beads of jujube fruits
          our grandmother used to dry

     out in the yard, so they would amass all
          the sweetness of the world in their little bodies.

That right there shows you how the poems will somehow do the same! I appreciate the cooking, the eating. In "Kimchi::In Trujillo": 

     My mother's measuring tool: her intuition, her philosophy
     that a fixation with perfection deters one from pouring jeong
     into the food. Jeong, she teaches me, is love
     that comes with time...

I loved, in "El Milagro::Edges," the eating of a pineapple down to its core, or not, depending on your culture, and how its juicy sweetness relates back to this:

     Once I read each heart knows
     its own bitterness,

     and no one else
     can share its joy.

And ends up here:

     She eats until her hands empty,
     while I don't. It's hard
     and not so sweet.

I learned so much from this book, and I hope you will, too. And that you will love the surprise of the perfect ending. That also pours its jeong into the world.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Should Our Undoing Come Down Upon Us White

I woke up to dense dog, the world gently white outside the window, and picked up this snowy white book, Should Our Undoing Come Down Upon Us White, by Jill Osier (Bull City Press, 2013), cover painting by Marina Mariya. The first poem suggests it (the poem itself, perhaps the book) won't be telling the whole story, not yet, but that it "is not about loss," a momentary comfort, but maybe it is, or about waiting, or about readiness.

I wasn't ready to spot coincidences on this Blue Monday in the blog, but I found "a dead-blue tulip" in the poem "Last Dream of Flowers."

The poems are quiet and gripping, like a cold and snowy day at the edge of the woods, silence fallen. The title poem begins:

     Even while we talked, snow must have been falling. Now it's a scar:
     I've mostly failed in the rooms

     of honesty and forthrightness.

Then there's the story of a child sledding.

I find myself reading and re-reading these snow-packed or gently drifting poems. I see little flickers of red and flame and skies and fields of snow. In "Flame,":

                                   Your heart, red wax,

     slipped soft from its nail. I shaped it back, and the two of us lay waiting
     in a cabin's draft.

What if you could live in a box, a camera obscura?

     A small, simple box with a tiny hole
     for light to come through,

     make everything clearer?

Or a snow globe? In the middle of the book, in the middle of the poem "Obscura," the scene becomes object suddenly:

     Shaking the scene now, snow falls,
     smoke rising up to meet it.

I am not ready for winter. I am not ready for snow. It is only August. Ah, but those first yellow sweet gum leaves already litter the yard.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour

From the title, you can tell this might be a dark, hilarious book. And it is. It's really dark, so dark it sometimes swallows up the hilarity, and all the horror of world politics shines through. A paradox, that shining. Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour, by Conor Bracken, is another of the wonderful Bull City Press books, this one from 2017, but, since it's about the polarizing figure of Henry Kissinger, seems to fit the general polarization of now. 

The cover art, Overflow, by Jenny Blazing (2017, acrylic, collage), looks like a city turning into a waterfall--so it brings to mind The Niagara River, by Kay Ryan, and its cover--but it might be a dam, its mechanisms overcome...which, yes, also describes the book--how loving the machinations of a world maker/breaker transforms things or sort of obscures and reveals what's really going on...

I was delighted to find the poems "jogging through August," like me, on p. 13, in "Henry Has Me Tell Him About My First Time," which is a pretty icky and not very delightful account of unwanted attentions, in a swamp. As you can imagine.

Another coincidence was the color blue again, in the amazing "Henry Pats His Heart for Emphasis," in the line, "I hold his x-rays to the moon's blue light." The poem keeps trying to figure out if Henry has a heart:

     If it mutters to itself at night upset
     by coups planned late, worrying that it left
     the serial numbers on the submachine guns.

You get the idea! And the dark hilarity! And the speaker is quite up front about his/her/their (?) complicity, as in "How American":

     Henry and I, we're as American
     as an overdose of opiates,

     our bodies red and white and blue
     and bloated. American as rural poverty
 
     and tort law, fingers lopped off by gears
     that move fast as the cruise missile in his living room

     we take turns straddling like a mustang,
     whispering hoarsely "ashes to ashes,

     lust to lust."

Dark, right? And I love the pun in "hoarsely." And it's amazing how the poems really are love poems, as in the last stanza of the poem "Henry Talks About the Hyenas," an unlikely title for such a lovely turn at the end, when, Henry having chosen the descriptor "velvety" for the night, this happens:

     The night a curtain
     we can roughen with one hand
     and smooth with the other.

Which also describes the manipulation of world politics, eh?

More (scary) blue in "Call Me Condor": "before dragging me from the air's blue throat." More marvelous (scary) imagery: "the sun still zipping the river / up in a yellow body bag." The continued mix of love and horror--in "How Mercy Works" (by blame and cruelty)--and in the wordplay of the title, "The Hands With Which Henry Puts The Casual Back in Casualty." But you know it's going to be this way from the very first poem, with its funny title, "The Tao of Henry," and that short poem's last two lines:

     Keep your boot on the throat of the season.
     With your good eye dare the horizon to shrug.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

To Be Read in the Dark

I love how I finished reading this one in the dark! That is, at night! A glorious summer night, after an exciting in-and-out rainy day. We need more rain, but I am also happy for summer to last as long as it can and for fantasy/Camelot (only rains after sundown) to reign as long as it can. The book is To Be Read in the Dark, by Maxine Chernoff, a Chicago/San Francisco poet (Omnidawn, 2011).

I loved the immediate coincidence of blue, in the very first poem, "The Box," itself an accidental/prescient, pre-pandemic enclosure coincidence!

     blue as memory's
     alien air
     you
     blue as
     the world

The word "alien" is also an amazing coincidence re: yesterday's book, which uses the word "alien" in a number of ways!

I loved the phrase, and the personal/universal resonance of "memory's edge / is too demanding" in the poem, "There Will Be Consequences," the title of which also resonates with my upbringing. I loved the coincidence of "cardboard scenery" (theatre/unlikely) and "circumference" (Emily Dickinson, etc.)

I loved "How I Wrote Certain of My Books" for 1) its title and 2) the coincidence of mountain in "mountain's white page" (in part, in connection to Heidi, oddly!)

And I loved, and grieved, the last poem's aching, ever pertinent, perennial question, "What Did You Do in the War?" and how it devolves into "moments reduced / to cicada and vision," still going on in my own back yard in August....

Want Books?

The other day I tried to give away a bunch of wonderful poetry books and chapbooks at an open mic event, but, like me, after reading the Marie Kondo book, many people these days are avoiding more accumulation of books, no matter how much they love them! If you, however, as readers of a poetry/reading blog by a blogger who attempts the Sealey Challenge each August, if you would like a little box of books, a sampling of the kinds of things I read and respond to here, please send me an email (via the Contact-Info page of this blog, above) with your address and I'll send some along! You might create a little pile in readiness for next August, adding things you select on your own to the little grab-bag I'll send you. It might take me a while to send it off--busy here!--but I'll get to it eventually. If there's a particular book you want, that you've seen here this August or a past August, let me know, but I will probably save/set aside some of these books for sentimental reasons...and won't send them off till I do the sentimental weeding stage of the Kondo cleanout. Sigh... I love books.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Wild Fox of Yemen

Here in August, during the Sealey Challenge, I love the immersion in lives, languages, and cultures not my own. In this book, The Wild Fox of Yemen, by Threa Almontaser (Graywolf Press, 2021), I also loved tracking the wild fox, its brief appearances, its changing meanings...and, as keeps happening, tracking the coincidences--how the books or images in them keep connecting, or how my mind is doing that. I encountered the Tooth Fairy in the nonfiction book, The Tales Teeth Tell, but I was surprised to find her here, in the very first poem, "Hunting Girliness," "It is not tasteful / to fuck with the Tooth Fairy, baby teeth planted // in the oleanders." (And I just made the connection that she is "hunting" girliness, like a fox!)

Teeth again, and precise dental terminology, in "Recognized Language," "Now the words shed from my mouth like deciduous teeth." 

Here is the wild fox in "Heritage Emissary":

                                    At dinner,
     Baba tells a story of his childhood in Yemen.

     About catching a wild fox with his cousin---Arabic
     the medium through which his body can return home.

But imagine my surprise at the coincidence of sharks in the next poem: "In Yemen, I loved sharking / the tall mountains, twining my hair w/ hawk bones." And the coincidence of hair: "I refused to straighten." I loved learning, from "Etymology of Hair," that "The etymology of hair // is nest, from the Arabic..." I might have expected the connection of Arabic coffee in Wild Fox and Hard Damage, but I could never have guessed I'd be able to connect "Kalda the goat herder" in Almontaser's "Coffee Arabica as a Malestrom of Endless Aftershocks" with Peter the goat herder in Heidi, which I am accidentally re-reading prior to adding to the Little Free Library in front of my house. (And the grandmamma in the city sends coffee to the grandmother on the mountain!)

So many wonderful lines: "I plant our spangled plotlines in tin canisters, tempt a flower to rocket out, offering myself as witness." (From "Guide to Gardening Your Roots.") And "I imagine Allah as ever-shiting. As light / that keeps dazzling." (From "Operation Restoring Hope.") And the fox turns up again in "After Running Away from Another Marriage Proposal": "The fox stands heavy over my heart, watching the vast, empty valley, bronzed by the yellow moon."

I'll leave you with that, the yellow moon.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Niagara River

Any time I read a poem or bunch of poems by Kay Ryan, I am blown away. This bunch, in The Niagara River (Grove Press, 2005), tipped me over the edge in a barrel! The cover art, which I had been staring at for a couple years maybe, and thought was a photograph, is a painting by Frederic Edwin Church from 1857. Kay Ryan amazes me with her pithy truths and fabulous serious humor in short lines, short poems, each one hard and shiny as a crystal. The first/title poem is surreal and super real at once, part of the crystalline quality. Current events in my family wamily make me want to text "Carrying a Ladder" to my son. And suddenly, on p.4, I found the coincidence of sharks, in "Sharks' Teeth." And teeth.

The phrase "quid pro crow" in "Felix Crow" made me smile.

The subtle and persistent internal rhyme also made me smile. As did the way she sees a bird on a beach. In "Expectations," I am amazed at how an abstract and widely applicable title attaches to a specific dry creek bed waiting for rain. And how she turns the landscape voluptuously human in 10 short lines in "Green Hills."

Is "Rubbing Lamps" also an ars poetica? The poet describing

     something
     so odd and
     filled with promise
     for a minute
     that you spend
     your only wish
     wishing someone else
     could see it.

And I think I am her "Ideal Audience," a poet in the same room with her. "The Past" as a "frozen lake..breaking up" reminded me of the t-shirts for our family vacation: "The past is a bucket of ashes." (Carl Sandburg) And "Legerdemain" made me look up the word "legerdemain." There are poems that seem to be elegies and others that seem to be phiolsophy and poems that are dreams. A coincidence of Australopithicus. And a sad little lime of a poem at the end.

Sad as it is, August is a good month.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Equilibrium

Equilibrium,by Tiana Clark (Bull City Press, 2016) is another winner of their Frost Place Chapbook Competition and another winner for me in the Sealey Challenge! A powerful book with powerful cover art by Amy Sherald. You can read "Particle Fever," a poem from the book, and get the book, here at Bull City Press. I think I got it by ordering a bundle of their chapbooks, probably when researching the competition! 

The first/title poem is split down the page, showing a main split in her life and also her solution to it:

Took me                                 thirty years to say
I'm glad                             I don't pass for white.

First coincidence: sitting beside my  TV is a DVD I just brought home, with both versions (1934 and 1959) of the movie Imitation of Life. I think I wanted to see them to compare them to each other and to the film Passing, directed by Rebecca Hall, which we admire. 

Second coincidence: I was just learning that the teeth of a comb are probably called that because of the actual animal "toothcomb," used for grooming. You can read about it here in Wikipedia, but I read about it in the book, The Tales Teeth Tell, by Tanya M. Smith, which something had led me to obtain via interlibrary loan. But in Equilibrium, I find those teeth in the poem "Hair Relaxer: An Origin Story," about the split between wanting to straighten her hair and accepting its "genetic bend of curls."

Third coincidence is the color blue, running through so many of these books this August, here in the poem "A Blue Note for Father's Day," as the speaker's white father is an absent one. And maybe there's another split running through all this, the body from the spirit, as with the beautiful Sarah, in the poem "Exorcism," "a girl with no father, a girl that / made God her father, a girl that wanted to be saved, / but mostly to be loved."

New Orleans and New York City come passionately alive in two back to back poems in this book, one of them, "Tell Me: Harlem," which begins, "Every day, I walked over the ashes of Langston Hughes " & his glittering cosmogram of ancient rivers...."

Then there's the heartbreaking "Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott," with a Facebook "video looping like a dirge on repeat" of "another black man dead, another fist in my throat." In "Particle Fever," she evokes her own name via the "hard consonant of T, / said with the Tip of the Tongue." In this one, she does name herself: "But Tiana--// you have got to stop watching this video. Walter is gone & he is not your daddy, / another story will come to your feed, stay back."

Emily Dickinson is invoked in "Sandy Speaks," a poem that made me gasp at the end. And again, in "How to Find the Center of a Circle," in the word "circumference," though the epigraph is from Countee Cullen, and the subject matter is "the first time // you are branded"--unforgettable. All through the book, such a perfect ordering of poems!

Fourth coincidence: I've been listening to Billie Holiday CDs, a compilation of Love Songs, recorded in the prime of her life, and her own favorite, Lady in Satin, with Ray Ellis and his orchestra, when her life and her voice were ravaged. Here in Equilibrium, I find in "Waking in the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital,"

     It does not matter what wild honey
     drove me here for dark angels to sing:
     I'm all Bessie, Billy, and Simone---

     black pain swinging, sweet and low.

Fifth coincidence is lace, here "red lace, / endless red lace spills down the mountain / of memory." This lace is in part 3, Origin, of a long tour de force poem called "Prometheia Remixed." In part 4, "The Fire-Bringer," as a lover of myth and theatre, I am pulled in by the line, "I wish I could have seen Paul Robeson play Othello---" and then her imagination and writing let us see it, from her point of view:

     I want to see him smother
     a white woman
     on stage every night and every night

     after the play
     make love to that same
     pure milk he loved so much...

Please do find the rest of this poem on your own, how it keeps shifting, and how it ends.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

hell of birds

I went on my first formal bird walk this year, though I enjoy birds in my own back yard and often spot herons and swans at local ponds and owls and hawks on road trips. hell of birds is no bird walk. It is its own thing altogether! A compelling chapbook by Kimberly Povloski (Driftwood Press, 2019) with compelling cover art by Alexander Landerman, that folds over onto the back cover, too. Interestingly, the book's title comes from another work of art, Hölle der Vögel, by Max Beckmann.

The gray swirl of birds in Landerman's cover reminds me of a phrase I love in one of Povloski's poems: "dark pearl of weather." Then a sad, moody poem called "pearl" begins, "The summer your parents planted a wisteria tree it died." Then a coincidence, a short poem called "painted bunting" reminds me of Thoreau burning down the forest in O'Nights.

     i could set fire
     to these fields

     i could burn

The book is about "bird gods" as much as birds, about saints and suffering. It ends with an interview with the poet about subject matter and process. I love her answer to the first question, about birds: "They exist and thrive in human-engineered environments--in the cities and suburbs that have destroyed their natural habitats." That's something I learned on my first bird walk! How my own community is actually a haven for birds that would otherwise be displaced. Povloski goes on, "That adaptability, that cunning, seems almost elemental. Birds-as-animal embody an extant wilderness in our daily lives. I think that's what makes birds-as-symbol so provocative."

Yet another wonderful find in the Sealey Challenge this August!

Monday, August 15, 2022

Rowing Inland

When I opened the book Rowing Inland, by Jim Daniels (Wayne State University Press, 2017) to the table of contents and saw a poem titled "Wishbone," I knew it was the book for today, following yesterday's The Wishbone Dress. And there's the first coincidence!

This is part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series, and I was eager to encounter some Pure Michigan (Yes, Michigan!--calling on various tourism slogans here...) as our family had annually spent a week together in Michigan for many summers, right up until this one, when we went to Nashville, TN (or just outside it, with redheaded woodpeckers, I am happy to report!), but this is not tourist Michigan. It is lived Michigan, with car factories, trailer parks, economic decline, smoking and drinking, streetlights (and streetlights out), and fireworks going off long past the 4th of July. The title poem and others have nostalgia in them, for lost childhood (and childhood friends), but it's a clear-eyed book, too, hard-hitting at times, with humor, light and dark.

In "Wishbone," we see the mother's windowsills with "potted violets" in tender light. "My mother dried wishbones on those sills." That happened at my house, too. "It was she who decided they were dry enough / to break. She never wished herself." My mother always gave the wishbones to her children. "If you find my father / in this picture, please let me know." Now there's a particular sadness. His father worked nonstop in the factories...and left unfinished projects in the house, went on one vacation, or went fishing (that was not fishing).

Yes, I found August: "Outside, August waits." That's in a poem with no day job. And I also found Labor Day, waiting just around the corner. And August again in that same poem, "Summer Weight, Labor Day":

     Anticipation is a dog that's already
     been kicked. Sad September.
     If only you could go back
     to school and do it right this time,
     or merely better.

     Pencils sharpened by August heat.

The poem continues with "Lawn mowers on the prowl," and that reminded me to tell my husband, after his most recent mow, that already the first yellow leaves of the sweet gum were landing. And then, in the last stanza, the word "Zoom" leapt out in its current resonance before receding into the past and fading summer:

     Zoom in on you sprawled on your porch
     issuing lame challenges to insects and sunshine
     to linger. Over a warm beer, you dream
     of the perfect cool hat that could've
     changed your life.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Wishbone Dress

In a terrible and ironic way, The Wishbone Dress, by Cassandra J. Bruner, is, again, the perfect book to read on a Sunday, given the presence of biblical quotations and a dubious pastor within. The Wishbone Dress, published by Bull City Press, was the winner of the 2019 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, and it is a stunning book, just like its excellent cover by Jennifer Thoreson, Flora 1, from her Flora series. My husband, a painter, loves this cover, seeing the cross in it. I also love the author photo, her hair, her choker, which, one of the poems tells me, can mask the Adam's apple.

That inner narrative, of a boy named Reid, wracked by medical problems in his youth, who transforms into a woman, is told with the perfect mix of a mother's empathy and confusion in the poem, "Demeter: The Poem As My Mother." Taking on her mother's voice, the poet/speaker, I am guessing, better understands her mother and, perhaps, herself. That the poet has chosen the name Cassandra 1) thrills me, as I identify with Cassandra, too! 2) is powerful and poignant, as the ekphrastic poem "Object Lessons: After Solomon J. Solomon's Ajax and Cassandra" shows us that painting. (Here, shown via photographic reproduction thanks to Wikipedia.) This poem, partly about the rape of Cassandra by Ajax in mythology, also tells the story of the rape of a girl in a parking lot--a story told by the dubious pastor:

     The preacher stresses this point
          as he reads newsclippings to rows
               of children. Their silence thick as gauze
          over a slit eye. A creature bent toward

     her destruction
he calls her. Just as Solomon
          paints Cassandra--straining over Ajax
               toward Athena's altar, rainbowed pinions
          of light pressing her against her assailant.

The preacher's "point" was to blame the victim with a detail of what she had been doing the moment before...as if to provoke/deserve the attack. We all know this old story, alas. And how powerful women are called witches, and burned. In "Cora, Bound to the Tree, Delivers Her Testimony," Cora (the Witch) says:

                                                                   Go
          ahead. Puncture my ankles with an iron rod & call them

     pillars of onyx when they refuse to shatter. Watch my
          hair flash into steel ribbons under your blades.
     Make a profane miracle of me---

It's a beautiful and heartrending book. From "Of the Night":

     We will kneel, unfurling
     our perfumed nests of hair in offering.        

Those who have been reading along in the blog re: Sealey Challenge connections will recognize the blue coincidence of "blue ribbons of humiliation" in "Poem of My Shame." Along with myth and the Bible, there is also Nature--birds and prairie, heron and milkweed. From "Apologia":

                                        Somewhere a goshawk
     descends & a pair of women

     dress themselves with wishbones in separate
     rooms

In my separate room, reading of another woman's separate experience, I am connected, I am bound, I am wishing...       

Saturday, August 13, 2022

O'Nights

The wonderful title for this one, O'Nights, by Cecily Parks (Alice James Books, 2015), comes from a bit of dialogue quoted in Henry David Thoreau's journal, a Goodwin speaking, saying, after a bit of age guessing, re: Emerson vs Thoreau, "But he has not been out o'nights as much as you have." On this gorgeous, breezy summer day, I was outside for most of it, and so was this book, and, I gather, so was the poet, while writing it! Are these eco-poems? Nature poems? Or "postpastoral" poems, as in the poem actually titled "Postpastoral"? 

     I borrowed an axe
     so heavy I had to drag it
     through the woods.

This stanza from it reminds me of the movie we watched last night, Land, a Robin Wright project, recommended by a co-worker (a recommendation I heartily pass along to you!), even though the axe in the movie mostly stayed closer to home...in the wild.

I love learning stuff in poems, and, in "When I Was Thoreau at Night," I learned that "Peregrine," a human as well as falcon name, means "wanderer." In that same poem:

                                                  Oh, yes,
     I wanted the world to be wild again. I believed

     I might hold weather in my hands
     and mend it.

That, and the opening poem, "Hurricane Song," make me think that this is a book in tune with and in defense of the environment.

Now let me tell you about the random coincidii and the many mentions of the moon! (Sun & Moon is the theme of the upcoming open mic at the public library, so the moon is on my mind, as is the caveat against the moon in poems, which always makes me so glad to find the moon there!!) The moon:

     the moon said, You dream me (p. 3)

     low-slung moons (p. 9)

     the street's mechanical moon (p. 53)

     Some nights I beg the moon / to swerve and hit me. (p. 66)

The random coincidii:

     "I believe it's all this pollen that dizzies me." (It was a high-pollen count day in central Illinois today!)

     Just yesterday I heard the first/only (?) ice cream truck in the neighborhood, and here's a poem titled "Girls Ride Shotgun in the Ice Cream Truck."

     Lots of blue in "Blue Oat Grass Epithalamium" (as is some previous books!)

     I just read (outdoors!) in the current issue of Vanity Fair a reference to Virginia Woolf in the article about Joan Didion and Eve Babitz, and here in a Note at the end (p. 77), referring to the title of a particular poem (p. 5), "The Swallow Dips Her Wings in Midnight Pools," is, of course, Virginia Woolf!

     The book is published by Alice James Books, and there is a poem titled "Alice James" and a Note about William James. Er, more than coincidence?!

     In a way, the poem "Pilgrim" confirmed my connection to the movie, Land:

     Then I'm going to tell him how I lived
     in the wild: I ran out of electricity
     one autumn and camped outside,
     sleeping by a stump whose rot
     coincided with my idea of discipline.

     ...

                                    When I ran out
     of conversation, I came inside and made amends
     with my home, my socks, the length
     of autumn. I doubted the winter
     so fiercely that my electricity stayed lost,
     I was going to practice being a pilgrim forever.
     I was going to worship my head lamp
     until its battery ran out. I thought better.

I enjoyed this book. I did not know that Thoreau set fire to the forest. Yikes! I love how, in "I Have Set Fire to the Forest," and other poems, she wears a dress on her walks in nature:

                                                        If I were
     Thoreau, Spring would make me want

     to destroy something.

LOVE that stanza break! And how the poem is quietly, insistently, erotic:

                                       Like the pussy willows
     I know I'll bloom eventually
     and when I do, people will want to touch me.

     




Friday, August 12, 2022

Hard Damage

This one had poem after poem of gripping intensity and experience unlike my own, so I read it as if looking into a new world. Hard Damage by Aria Aber, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and the Whiting Award (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). But it is my world--America with its covert actions elsewhere in the world (once her parents' homeland) and full of privilege (of which she and I both partake). And it isn't my world: it is refugee camp, Afghanistan left behind, and languages I don't know but deeply appreciate, as explored in these poems.

Cover image: Moa, 1911, Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Here in Hard Damage I find grenades compared to turtles and also "grenade" connected to pomegranate in etymology:

                        Grenade, its shape
     so much like the fruit they named it after,
     pomegranate, from Latin pomum granatum
     (apple with many seeds), something
     I can harvest and pick from a tree--
     a comfortable taste in my mouth, and yes,
     fruit of the dead, or of fertility, depending
     on whose sustenance to listen to.

I find connections, of course, to the other books I've been reading here in August for the Sealey Challenge--for instance, a mention of the month of August itself, in the poem "Foreign Policies," one that moves from and shifts back to the more personal poems in the book to the more political: "August, too, was a mastermind, distracting me / toward your lima bean eyes."

And the color blue: "the blue uncertainty" of "Asylum" in a refugee camp, and "Rilke, blue prince of the lyric I, comes to me often." In "Operation Cyclone," a father, "his voice is blue shards of a dinner plate / atop a compost heap." In another part of that same long poem, a brother-uncle-son, lost, imagined in the section called "Interrogation Chamber": "The blue light censoring his face." And the sentiment that might somehow save us all: "If, despite relentless blue, despite snow, you dared to hold me / and I dared to be held"

Connections to Here, by C.S. Giscombe, in a way, to the idea of "here," as in Aber's poem titled "Here," "We sip Arabic coffee and warm our faces / by the oven, which glares at us with its black snout." (Also, a poem that contains this fabulous simile: "ice / falling from fir trees like books pushed off a shelf.") And in the poem "Alles/All," how "there" compares and contrasts to "here," creating two kinds of place:

"From the back, in my car seat, I'd protest: No, AFGHANISTAN IS MORE BEAUTIFUL. IT HAS EVERYTHING THERE.

You'd laugh, somewhat confounded: You have never been there.

There: green macaws, AK 47s, feces in water pipies, schools in clay huts, tiny crocheted shoes, market men sitting on upside down crates, landmines, mud, an abundance of apples, pomegranates, watermelon, flies, mosquitoes, that little house behind the river--does it still exist?

Here: You and I in a car, green fields of cattails, the summer night warblers gossiping, the sky lowering its clouds like marbled ham toward us.

There: I love you, I love you.

Here: All that there is."

I find it remarkable that this poet so deeply remembers a world she can't really remember--too young, gone too long--through her relatives' memories, stories, and her own research. And creates it here so well! She loves and honors her mother, who spent time in prison for revolutionary action. In "Lass/Let," one of the poems that examines meaning via a single word in German and in English, we learn:

"My mother let me happen to her. She let prison happen to her, simply because she believed in Women's Rights and Afghanistan as a sovereign state. She went to prison with her little sister, and she emerged." The story continues in the poem "dir/You": "You, I said to my mother, have been to prison. But she cooked on in the kitchen, ignoring me. Or, she scratched and peeled the wallpaper, weeping...."

It's a beautiful book, with terrible things happening in it:

"the woman, 34, revolutionary socialist, killed by the mujahedeen, was found with her head in her lap: wearing an earring, red lipstick, a book of poems in her jacket"

Because it is a beautiful world, with terrible things happening in it.