Category Archives: books

Posts about books. I used to write about every book I read, but I realized I read too many.

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’ve been enjoying Hannah Stephenson’s blog, The Storialist, for several years. She posts a poem every day, usually inspired by someone else’s artwork. They’re quite good, amazing really, when you consider she does this every weekday. So I was happy to read her collection In the Kettle, the Shriek (Gold Wake Press, 2013).

These poems are full of warmth, wit, and so many questions. I really like the way she asks questions in her work. I found myself stopping in my tracks, sometimes doubling back after a few pages as I realized my thoughts weren’t keeping up with my reading. Go slow, with this book. Too fast and you’ll miss something. I suppose many books are like that, but In the Kettle, the Shriek rewards that doubling back.

Many of the poems seem to throw a bunch of vivid images and intriguing ideas out there, and I wonder what will stick, where is this going, and then I think, who cares, I’m enjoying the ride. But at the end, the poet often manages to both tie it all together and reveal something new in a single line that is often a question. This is the genius of the work, I think, and what I found so compelling, so interesting.

This is a very positive book. There is darkness, death, panic, extinction, in these pages, but there is light too. A gentle reminder that things will often work out if we are strong, if we are brave. I was especially struck by “Pressing Ghosts,” in which the speaker shares her own fears that her work is unremarkable and dull (it isn’t!) and concludes with:

Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

Strong work here, and I look forward to rereading In the Kettle, the Shriek one day. In the meantime, I will keep reading Hannah’s work at The Storialist.

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Weaving a New Eden Cover Image

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Deep roots fascinate me. My siblings and I grew up following the whims of the US Navy. Being of a place, deeply rooted, is foreign to me. As far as I know not many branches of my family have generations-long roots to any particular place either. We’ve always felt a little bit like tumbleweeds.

So books like Sherry Chandler’s beautiful Weaving a New Eden (Wind Publications, 2011) really interest me. I’ve known Sherry online for a while now, and I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her fine book, but I do think books tend to come up in my pile when they are supposed to and this one came up when I needed some inspiration, and, boy, did it deliver.

The poems tell the tales of the women who settled Kentucky, Sherry’s home state, from Rebecca Boone to Sherry’s own family members whose stories are so movingly told in a section called “The Grandmother Acrostics.” (By the way I’ve never seen acrostics so well done).

There follows a long sequence of poems about Rebecca Boone, famed frontiersman Daniel’s wife, that had me going back to Wikipedia to read some of the history behind the poems, but I always found Rebecca’s voice as written by Sherry more compelling than anything I’ve ever read about Daniel. There’s something in Sherry’s work that honors more than celebrates or mythologizes these people and so while Daniel Boone seems as mythic as ever, Rebecca is real, and her sacrifices, her losses, hurt.

Weaving a New Eden is an exploration of place as told by and for the women who built it. Beginning with a meditation on personal loss and carrying through a fragmentary poetic history of the settling of Kentucky and circling back again to “The North Yard,” a sonnet crown, in which Sherry writes eloquently of the cycles of life and death in her own settled yard, often with a scientific understanding of the world that would have been alien to the frontierswomen we met earlier in the book.

This is a wonderful, beautiful, book, worth taking your time with. It took me two weeks to read because I kept going back, rereading, and then letting the poems rest in my mind for awhile before moving on. I look forward to her next book. In the meantime, I will enjoy her twitter feed, rich with her micropoetry.

Baobab Girl by Nic Sebastian

There was a beautiful sunset, the kind we get in Texas, all sky and cumulus clouds outside the window of animal emergency a few Fridays ago. Once again Joey and I were back for fluids to cope with an episode of bloody diarrhea. While there, I read Nic Sebastian’s Baobab Girl, a short collection I downloaded a long time ago before I got a Kindle and last Friday, I finally read it.

Stunning.

Sebastian’s Dark and Like a Web is one of my favorite short collections, and this one didn’t disappoint either. Baobab Girl takes the reader all over the world through experience, myth and legend. The language is pure delight: fresh and often startling. Lines like “Ivar’s silver eyes / are moon-lure, his voice / honey of ash sap” have played in my head for days as has the imagery and story told in “Under the Yew.” These 12 poems are to be savored and at some point reread.

Great poetry transports us, and this collection certainly did that. As I finished the last poem, the vet came into the room to tell me Joey would be fine. I was startled. I had almost forgotten I was in the EC with a sick pup and night falling all around.

Leap by Heather Grace Stewart

After reading Where the Butterflies Go, I was interested to read more of Heather Grace Stewart’s poetry and so next up was Leap, a shorter collection than Butterflies and interesting for the way it moves between the real and online worlds. There are a number of poems in which the author seems to be wrestling with what it means to live in such a socially interconnected time, but as with her other collection my favorites are the poems inspired by parenting since that’s the focus of my life right now. It’s good to read poems that capture parenting and the way it changes marriage with such insight, wisdom, humor and well, yes, grace. A good read all around especially “Autumn Will,” “Beautiful Chaos,” and “Valley.” I look forward to reading her third collection Carry On Dancing, which is coming up soon in my reading pile.

The Books I Read (Belated 2012 Edition)

I read a lot this year, but mostly magazines or to my son. To carry on tradition, if a few weeks late, here’s the list of what I read last year. I wrote about the first one and so it’s linked.

  1. Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine – Nic Sebastian (reread)
  2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern – Stephen Greenblatt
  3. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino (reread)
  4. One Stick Song – Sherman Alexie
  5. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkein (reread)
  6. Sailing Alone Around the Room – Billy Collins
  7. The Magic of Mechanics – Lawrence J Clark
  8. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq – Stephen Kinzer
  9. Ancient Lights – Dick Jones
  10. The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep – Harvey Karp, MD
  11. The Most Beautiful Thing – Fiona Robyn

I also read Good Night Moon, The Going to Bed Book, Little Blue Truck, The Book of Sleep, Kittens, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, and a few others hundreds of times each. Those were, of course, the most wonderful reading experiences of 2012.

And did you know that in Good Night, Moon, the young mouse is on nearly every full room page and always in a different place? This is why I like rereading.

Where the Butterflies Go by Heather Grace Stewart

I just finished reading Canadian poet Heather Grace Stewart’s collection Where the Butterflies Go. The book is divided into three sections: Pain, Growth and Family and it was the last that resonated most with me. Equal parts meditation, celebration and reflection on family life, marriage and parenting, the poems here are full of keen observation of relationships and the small details that make each family unique and special to its members. My world now is so full of learning this whole parenting business, I found myself frequently smiling and nodding along as I read. I especially enjoyed the way Stewart’s book moves between poems that recollect the transition from childhood to adulthood and others that celebrate childhood innocence through the eyes of a wise mother who knows that innocence is fleeting. Beautiful work.

Dark and Like a Web by Nic Sebastian

Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine (Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress, 2011) by Nic Sebastian and edited by Beth Adams has been following me around in my bag and on my phone for several months now. There is a lot of weight in this short collection of 15 poems, and it may not be too much to say I love this book.

Sebastian traces a spiritual path that resonates with me for its recognition of the longing for what is often right in front of us, though unnoticed and forgotten in the action and busyness of life. We wind up seeking something that’s really never very far at all. Sebastian doesn’t attempt to directly define the divine and I like that too. There are more questions than answers here creating an openness and space for the reader to enter and follow along on a shared journey.

In her introduction, Sebastian writes of being sick for silence and stillness which is where I was when I picked the book up last year.

my days are flocks of starlings
wheeling dark waves
of loud chatter

—”my days are flocks of starlings”

A year ago, I found myself “sick for silence” and set out to get back into my habit of walking and writing small stones, a kind of active meditation or prayer, if you will. Those starlings (well, they’d be grackles down here) can get out of hand… loud and noisy nuisance birds, flying in all directions, crapping on everything. With all that going on, it’s easy to forget to be awed by nature, the trees dropping leaves, the birds on their great journeys, even those starlings. To lose this is to close off an important path toward the divine, to stick with the poet’s usage, which I rather like.

home
because my breath ends
in silver plainchant
and woven silence
in you

—”the names of my breath”

There are other journeys too of course, those not marked by miles. The one called parenthood that we’re on now spirals, at this point anyway, deeper into home. My son who has the past week discovered consonants and repeats them endlessly, delightedly, as if singing the most wonderful song seems to me a gift… something so undeserved and precious as to make us wonder how we didn’t know he was missing during the years before he came. He sings his babbling song, we sing back, he responds with laughter and raspberries.

your step is like a small flame
and a song unfurling

—”antiphony in the hills”

Sebastian’s language and imagery—landscapes that evoke the widest vistas and the narrowest paths—are vibrant. This is a book that takes the reader on 15 journeys, each longer and deeper than the relatively brief poems that contain them. The journeys, of course, are one journey leading back to wholeness.

when I have readied myself

I rise whole from the pool at sunrise
and step into you as onto a straight road

—”when you come to me in the dark of night”

Oddly, or maybe not, this book speaks to me most of the end of journeys in which we may have experienced something of what exists behind nature, community, communion, and silence that can’t really be described or explained. It’s not nothing. It’s not imaginary. And in opening ourselves to it, we can find the recognition, warmth, healing and mystery that fill us up with an awe and wonder the way a woodpecker’s rhythm in the trees, a scorpion’s path along the road, the touch of a loved one or a baby’s laughter do.

In this book I’m reminded of the importance of finally coming home. Whatever that might mean to any given reader.

So Long, 2011

The same old picture since 2005

What to say about 2011? There are two 2011′s really, neatly divided by a Sunday in late June. Prior to that my year was filled with reading and writing poetry, birding, blogging, the occasional video. The other 2011 was the beginning of parenthood.

It’s hard to imagine any of my previous 41 years have been as life-altering as 2011. Becoming a parent for the first time in June changed every routine in my life. For the better, always for the better, though now that we’re 6 months in we’re finally starting to get some sleep and even a few moments here and there to do things for ourselves. For me, that’s blogging, writing and reading.

Anyway, as usual, here’s my end-of-year reading list. Many of these were chapbooks and most of my reading was done prior to June; in fact, all but the last four were read before June, and I’m not quite through with the last one. Still, here ’tis:

  1. Everything’s Eventual – Stephen King
  2. American Primitive – Mary Oliver
  3. The Planets – Dava Sobel
  4. The Gunslinger – Stephen King (reread)
  5. American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume 1 – John Hollander, ed.
  6. Blameless Mouth – Jessica Fox-Wilson
  7. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  8. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (reread)
  9. Scene of the Accident – Howie Good
  10. Disaster Mode – Howie Good
  11. Pay Attention: A River of Stones Anthology – Fiona Robyn & Kaspalita, eds.
  12. Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
  13. Xenocide – Orson Scott Card
  14. Shannon – Campbell McGrath
  15. Woods, Shore, Desert – Thomas Merton
  16. Love is a UFO – Howie Good
  17. The Happiest Baby on the Block – Harvey Karp, MD
  18. The Baby Owner’s Manual – Louis Borgenicht, MD & Joe Borgenicht
  19. Your Baby’s First Year – The American Academy of Pediatrics
  20. What to Expect the First Year – Murkoff, Mazel, Eisenberg & Hathaway
  21. Watermark – Clayton T. Michaels (reread)
  22. The Book of Ystwyth: Six Poets on the Art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins – Bonta, James, Selch, Urquhart, Davies & Youmans
  23. Tender Mercies – mark Stratton
  24. Dark & Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine – Nic Sebastian
  25. Children of the Mind – Orson Scott Card
  26. Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer – Robert Swartwood, ed.
  27. Greeks Bearing Gifts – Joseph Harker
  28. Postmarks – mark Stratton
  29. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (reread)

…and a bunch of kids books…

There were no great obsessions this year like last year’s Dark Tower series, though I did go back and reread The Gunslinger. Speaking of rereading, the best book on the list was a reread: Cloud Atlas. Regarding new books, my favorites were probably The Book of Ystwyth, a book so beautiful, I didn’t want to stop looking at it much less reading it. Other favorites were Shannon, Dark and Like a Web and Speaker for the Dead. Of course the run of baby care books were probably the most important and certainly the most useful ones. At 6 months in, though, I find we’re referring to them less and trusting ourselves more.

And though I haven’t been blogging or writing much lately, I have been preparing a short poetry collection. Birds Nobody Loves will be available sometime in mid-January. I’ll post more about it in the coming weeks. Perhaps after I finish that, I’ll start blogging more.

Finally, to those of you who come round here, read and leave comments, thank you. And have a happy 2012.

Tender Mercies by mark Stratton

I’ve been carrying mark Stratton’s Tender Mercies (The Pancake Truck Press, 2011) around in my bag for a few months. Mainly it was so I wouldn’t forget to write something about it, but it’s taken me this long. The old blog has fallen down the priority list somewhat these days, but periodically I get the book out, read a few random poems and then stick it back in my bag. Now it’s started to feel like a friend tagging along from place to place offering snapshots and images from dreams and nightmares. It’s a friend who doesn’t explain himself but the conversation is good and usually interesting.

The Cowboy rides
through lead guitar dynamics
a single stream of time
signature changes

–from “Tender Mercy #28D”

That’s the sense I get from Tender Mercies, a collection that began as a series mark posted to his blog about a year ago or so. Sense is a funny thing too, because it doesn’t always make sense to me. I don’t always get what mark’s getting at, but the ride, the language, is a pleasure, and sometimes a line or two finds a place in my mind, takes root and won’t leave me alone. So the book goes back in the bag and I carry it around some more, sometimes forgetting it’s there only to be happily surprised again.

I misplaced my words

I kept them in the lee
Of a tow sail

They went well with
Collard greens
Or a glass of milk.

–from “Tender Mercy #17b”

Earlier this year, mark asked me for feedback on the manuscript and a blurb. I offered those, but I kind of wish I’d had the year to do it. Maybe the blurb would have been better, at any rate. I say that simply because after nearly a year of hanging out with these poems at hospitals, the dentist’s offices, school, who knows where else one finds a few moments to read, I just like them more and more the better I get to know them. I still see a lot of poems about connection and disconnection, love and loss, though, but they get funnier or sharper or wiser with time and rereading. Sometimes more mysterious too. I think good poetry should be like that.

Toxic rains fall not
from only the heavens.
Domestic gods and
Dusting share the blame.

–from “Tender Mercy #14″

In addition to Tender Mercies, mark has just released a limited edition chapbook called Postmarks. There’s also an interesting interview with mark at Jessie Carty’s blog. mark blogs at AGGASPLETCH.

Elsewhere on the Web

During April, I only blogged poetry in my weekdays-only NaPoWriMo effort and during May, I took an unintentional vow of blogging silence (here anyway) and posted pictures of the local wildflowers. Now it’s June and there are many things I meant to link to and write about so here’s a dump of sorts since I’m a little short of time right now.

I’ve read a lot of good poems lately. Some have really stuck with me. Check out “Wake” by Angie Werren, “Running Water Ghazal” by Joseph Harker, and “Doors” by Dick Jones.

NaPoWriMo ended and, alas, so did Big Tent Poetry just a year after Read Write Poem closed. Is there something about NaPoWriMo that burns out prompt sites? It’s sad to see the Big Tent fold, but thanks (many many thanks) to Deb, Carolee and Jill for running the site and providing so many wonderful prompts that led me to writing a number of poems that I still like. Now, after giving so much to the poetry community Deb, Carolee and Jill are blogging together at A Fine Kettle of Fish where they’re taking well-deserved time to focus on their own poetry. Go check it out.

Nic Sebastian published her collection Forever Will on Thursday. It’s a fine read, deserving of a longer review here at some future time. I’ve read it online and intend to order the book because I’m a paper kind of guy. One thing that’s unique about her publishing process is her philosophy of delivering poetry in multiple formats, several of them free, which means you can read Forever Will End on Thursday as an e-book, pdf, paper book, website or listen to her read it online as a download or on a CD. I really admire this approach and may emulate it when I get around to publishing my short collection.

Speaking of fine reads deserving of their own posts (perhaps later when I have time), Mark Stratton’s collection Tender Mercies is out now. Mark asked me to give some feedback on the manuscript, and then he kindly sent me a copy of the finished book, which I enjoyed even more in final form. Many of the poems first appeared on his blog, Aggaspletch, and they combine nicely into this debut collection. I’m especially fond of “Tender Mercy 12F,” which you can read on Mark’s blog.

Yesterday, I got my copy of The Book of Ystwyth: Six Poets on the Work of Clive Hicks-Jenkins. I haven’t read it yet, but good lord, it’s one of the most beautiful books I own. It’s full of excellent reproductions of Hicks-Jenkins’s paintings alongside the poems they inspired. I’d read Dave Bonta’s “The Temptations of Solitude” series on his blog, and it’s great to see his work alongside the images that inspired it. Also, a joy to discover five other poets whose work is new to me. Actually, I have read one poem in the book, “Pegasus” by Catriona Urquhart. I flipped it open and that’s the one I came to. It floored me and I wanted let it settle before diving in. Hell, I might read the whole book just by flipping through. That’s how I often do my first read of a poetry collection.

The blogosphere is changing as more and more links are shared through Twitter and Facebook, and it seems that the venerated blog carnival I and the Bird has run its course. I contributed off-and-on since 2006 and even had the privilege of hosting it once (in ghazal form). The final installment was over at Twin Cities Naturalist. It’s sad to see it go, but there’s still loads of great bird blogging to be found.

My video of Howie Good’s “Fable” took 3rd place in the Moving Poems video contest. Do check out the various entries. It’s interesting to see how different videomakers interpret the same poem. Thanks, Howie & Dave!

Qarrtsiluni‘s latest issue, “Imprisonment,” is off to a powerful start. Make sure you check out “My Cellies.” I’m honored to say that I’ve got a poem that will be appearing later in this issue. Also, while we’re on qarrtsiluni, the chapbook contest deadline is June 15.