Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: Books (page 1 of 15)

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

Some Recent Publications

Six October Stones CoverI’m very happy to announce that my micro-chapbook Six October Stones is published by Origami Poems Project.

Like all of Origami Poems Project’s micro-chapbooks, this collection of six short poems woven into a longer poem is a free PDF download that can be folded into a very small chapbook using the instructions found on the site. Check it out!

 

 

Next up, I’m thrilled to share that the Take2 Guide to LOST is now available for download. This is a massive compendium of online writing about the ABC TV Series LOST, and it includes all of my LOST book club blog posts (explained and indexed here) as well as my reflections on “The End.” Yes, I really did read and blog about all the books that appeared on the show, and it’s nice to see all that collected with so much other fine LOST writing. More info here.

 

Finally, I’m proud to have had a poem featured at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily: “Made or Just Happened.” Do check it out if you haven’t already.

And, yes, I’m still putting finishing touches on Highway Sky and The Corner of Ghost & Hope. Things move slow.

The Scariest Book I Ever Read

The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the scariest book I’ve ever read. Not because the book is particularly scary—it isn’t—but because the first time I tried to read it, back when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I was home sick. I’d been home from school reading it most of the day and fell asleep somewhere after the chapter “Fog on the Barrow Downs.”

That night I had terrible fever dreams in which I kept dreaming and re-dreaming the scenes in which the Hobbits are hunted by the barrow wights. These were fever dreams and so very real, immediate, and hard to wake from. When I did wake, I was scared and sweaty and when I went back to sleep, the dreams would pick up where I left off or start over, and never once did Tom Bombadil show up to rescue me as he did the Hobbits in the books.

Eventually morning came, and I was freaked out enough that I put the book aside, not to be read again until late in my freshman year of high school. When I finally did read it, I made sure that I had time to read a few chapters beyond “Barrow Downs” before going to sleep. I still do this when I reread Fellowship of the Ring, and I must admit that when the movie came out in 2001, I was a bit relieved that the scene had been cut. Still, it’s among my favorite books.

I was thinking about this the other night when I was feverish and starting to have strange dreams. I finally woke and started thinking about that night of Tolkien inspired fever dreams and that led to thinking about books and the ones that have stuck with me over the years. Not always (but mostly) favorites but important for the way they affected me or made me see or understand things differently. Or maybe just because I liked them so much.

Strangely, the next morning one of my friends tagged me on Facebook with a meme to share just such a list. So, here ’tis:

Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
The House at Pooh Corner – AA Milne
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo – Ted Lawson
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke
Blue Highways – William Least Heat-Moon
Dark and Like a Web – NS
VALIS – Philip K Dick
Roughing It – Mark Twain
The Sibley Guide to Birds – David Allen Sibley

I’m supposed to tag nine others but I’m not. Play along if you like.

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 NS

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 NS’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.

NS’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 – NS (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.

One More Post about LOST

LOST ended a little over 3 years ago and with it much fodder for this blog and my personal reading lists. It was unique in television, I think, because the producers negotiated a fixed end date for the series, which allowed it to have a true story arc. Their intention was to create the TV equivalent of a Dickens novel, an author whose work they referenced more than once on the show.

So why this post? The past few months R and I have been re-watching the series and finding that it holds up well over time. As with rereading a favorite novel, the early seasons resonate more with the knowledge of how things end and the later seasons are more satisfying as well with the earlier episodes fresh in memory. It was a great show, and a good one for revisiting. We got to “The End” the other night and I realized it has one of my favorite endings ever, up there with Watership Down, another book referenced several times on the show.

The most exciting thing, though, was the epilogue “The New Man in Charge” included as a bonus item on the last disc of Season 6. It resolves just a few more island mysteries and completes Walt’s character arc, one of the few big unresolved issues on the show. It was also a real treat to find just a bit more LOST 3 years after it ended.

I don’t have anything wise or profound to say about it now that it’s all over and the mysteries resolved and island dust settled other than Damn, it was a good show. I don’t watch much TV anymore, a side effect of parenthood, but I do still watch The Office and Modern Family. Great shows, both, but it’s hard to get too excited about shows without smoke monsters.

Any LOST fans out there? Have you re-watched the series? How does it hold up for you?

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 NS

Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine (Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress, 2011) by NS 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.

NS 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. NS 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, NS 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”

NS’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.

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