An era ends.

Today, after 71 years in business, the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop closed its doors to the public for the final time. And while I’m sad that Amherst has lost my favorite bookstore & that I’m shortly to be unemployed (there’s still a fair amount of work to be done, just no bookselling), that my next son will never grow up in the bookstore as Vincent has done, I confess I’m not feeling especially emotional about it. //” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Partly that’s because I’ve had a couple months to mentally adjust. But also, well, there are worse things:

A dear friend has lost his grandmother, wife, and father, in just the last 5 months.

In the face of real tragedy, how can I possibly lament that my wonderful bosses can now enjoy their retirement? As for my little family, thanks to the many social services that Mass. provides, we won’t starve, and we won’t lose our apartment. And in a few short weeks, we’ll have a new baby to love — and the time to appreciate how fortunate we are.

So Happy Thanksgiving to you all! And come Friday, think of me, back in the shop, boxing up the last of the stock, and, instead of venturing out to do some bargain shopping, stay home, eat another slice of apple pie, and read a book.

Dream at 35 weeks.

In general I haven’t written much here about my pregnancy, but some stories just demand telling.

I don’t know if this sort of thing will begin occurring more frequently as labor approaches, but I had a birth-dream last night:

As now, I’m at 35 weeks. But, unlike real life, in the dream, I’m in labor prematurely, having twins. they rush me to the OR to perform a c-section. And my new babies are born.

They are bananas.

And naturally, being premature…

they are green bananas.

Eternal object of my desire:

Filters. Verbal filters. As in, I wish customers weren’t taking advantage of this unsettling time to speak their thoughts at the exact moment they think them. Example par excellence:

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Middle-aged male customer enters store after reading large sign outside, looks around, then says to me with what has become the usual note of suspicion, “Everything is 60% off?”


He then wanders around for a few minutes, picks up a couple books, returns to the counter.

“So you’re closing, then?”


He nods, goes on shopping, and then comes back to the counter.

“So you’re losing your job?”


Nod, shop, shop, shop, then there he is again at the counter. He points at my belly.

“So what, you must be at least 9 months, huh? What’re you, post-date?”

An utterly harmless & well-meaning man, but my inner-Austen was bristling: “Insupportable!”

The Plath Cabinet.

One of the things I’m going to miss when the store finally closes is the vast array of catalogs I receive, the plugged-in aspect of being a book buyer. I love knowing what’s coming out next season, who has new books and when.

But there’s frustration there, too. Today I received the University Press of New England’s spring 2009 catalog. They also distribute for Four Way Books, among others, and I was jazzed to see a new book of poems by Catherine Bowman being published by them in April, The Plath Cabinet. More on that, but what’s frustrating is that I wanted to include here a picture of what I consider a great cover, but neither the UPNE nor the Four Way Books websites include the spring 2009 list yet. Why? Is it a conscious choice not to highlight books so far ahead of time so as not to take away from the more immediate or current frontlist? Because I can’t imagine that it’s so difficult to transfer from print catalog to website.
Illustration from "The Writer's Brush"Sylvia Plath. Self-portrait 1951. Pastel. 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy of the Lilly Library.

To get back to the book: like many women poets, I’ve long been a fan of Plath, especially as I grew older and read deeper into the poetry itself. Then I became a mother, and the realization that she wrote these amazing poems in the midst of caring for her young children just knocked me out, and still does. Her drive, her work ethic, her ambition, her genius — and the flip side — her biography both inspires and saddens me. But the poems, the poems move me.

So I’m looking forward to Catherine Bowman’s The Plath Cabinet. The copy from the catalog:

Part homage, part exploration, The Plath Cabinet offers a new window onto Sylvia Plath’s world, from her hand-made dolls and her passport to a preserved lock of her hair. The Plath Cabinet is not simply an unparalleled biography: it is a memoir in poems, telling the story of Bowman’s relationship to Plath and to poetry. The Plath Cabinet is a must-read for Plath-lovers, for anyone interested in memoir and biography, and for all readers of contemporary poetry.

“This exuberant, tragic, sensuous book, with its fecund richness of forms and word-play, fulfills the promise; it does Plath and her influence proud.”

–Annie Finch

“Bowman builds a repository of treasures or a museum of precious artifacts, but more: by keeping counsel with her dangerous muse, she challenges us to rethink the cabinet in which we have canonized women poets.”

–Susan Gubar

And, like I said, it has a really nifty cover, but apparently you’ll have to take my word for it, for now.

Camille Paglia’s strong medicine.

The Fall 2008 issue of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics includes the piece, “Final Cut: The Selection Process for Break, Blow, Burn, by Camille Paglia.

I read Break, Blow, Burn and have a copy of it here somewhere, and while I don’t agree with every choice, what I appreciate about Camille Paglia is that not only does she have strong opinions, she’s quite passionate about voicing them. //” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Upon finishing this essay, you know exactly what she thinks about each poet and poem under discussion — there’s nothing more frustrating to me than reaching the end of a review and feeling no more enlightened about the critic’s true thoughts than when I began. (Though Joe Queenan has a funny counterpoint in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review in a bit about overly-enthusiastic reviews.)

This is a lengthy and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the process behind the book, which took Paglia 5 years to write.  One characteristic excerpt (from the essay, not the book):

The obtrusive “ideas” in late Stevens have naturally provided grist for the ever-churning academic mill. But poetry is not philosophy. Philosophic discourse has its own noble medium as prose argumentation or dramatic dialogue. Poetry should not require academic translators to mediate between the poet and his or her audience. Poetry is a sensory mode where ideas are or should be fully embodied in emotion or in imagery grounded in the material world. Late Stevens suffers from spiritual anorexia; he shows the modernist sensibility stretched to the breaking point. Late Stevens is not a fruitful model for the future of poetry.

Most importantly, Paglia’s also called my attention to the poet David Young, whose book The Names of a Hare in English now seems an imperative need!

No silver bullets, if you please.

When Vincent has been denied something he dearly wants and feels he clearly must have (such as a broom to chase to chase the cat with, or a fresh bar of soap to gnaw on, to name the two most recent catalysts), like most toddlers, he has a tantrum. //” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.As he is my first child, and still an only for 7 more weeks, I’m unsure how a/typical his tantrums are, but I find them fascinating: he falls to his knees in abject despair, lays his head in his hands, and howls. Howls.

And then it’s over. Like a thunderstorm that breaks a hot Georgia afternoon, a miracle of rage and release.

I empathize. This retirement sale is wearing me down. It’s such a bizarre way for us to be doing business. And egads, the neverending questions: Yes, everything is 50% off, exactly as the Big Sign advertises. No, we’re no longer honoring the Educator’s Discount — unless you’d rather have 10% off instead of the 50% we’re offering. Your choice. And no, we definitely do not have any more Obama books, that ship sailed days and days ago.

And how depressing it is that while the rest of the store shelves are emptying, the poetry section seems as full as ever. Do we actually, literally, need to give poetry books away?

I could whine all day, but that would be obnoxious, and only slightly entertaining, so I’ll take my cue from Vincent and keep it brief. However, I’d really really like to howl.

“The trouble with writing poetry…”

The trouble with writing poetry is that you have readers, and the trouble with readers is that you have to listen to them after they have spent their time reading you. Mine, unless they are young poets or teachers of English, usually say one of three things. If they are relatives, they ask me why I choose such sordid downhill subjects. If they are strangers who want to be cordial yet dislike what they have read of me, they admit that some of the things I have published are over their heads. If they are not sure that they want to be cordial, they overemphasize that they are not intellectuals. They confess that all they can do is run a brokerage, make money, have five children, build a house from their own plans, and run, say, the Boston Museum of Natural Science as a hobby. The final blow is to ask me in a harsh, clear, incredulously polite voice about the Pulitzer Prize. “You won the Nobel Prize, didn’t you? Everyone can’t do that.”

–Robert Lowell, “Art and Evil”, Collected Prose

Collected Poets Series, Nov. Edition

Wyn Cooper

This Thursday, the Collected Poets Series resumes its normal first-Thursday-of-the-month schedule with the readings of poets Wyn Cooper and Amy Dryansky.

Wyn Cooper has published three books of poems: The Country of Here Below, The Way Back, and Postcards from the Interior, as well as a chapbook, Secret Address. His new book of poems, Chaos is the New Calm, will be published by BOA in spring 2010.

Amy Dryansky’s first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, won the New England/New York award from Alice James Books. She’s been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, awarded fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center, Villa Montalvo and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She’s also a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets.

For more information on this month’s poets, or a schedule of the upcoming events, please visit the Collected Poets website.


Last week’s reading with Baron and Jim and the student poets of the Mohawk Arts and Education Council was fantastic! The “Retirement Sale” at the bookshop began last week, so of course the store’s been completely deluged with customers. Door-to-door, wall-to-wall, it’s totally crazy, and I’m exhausted. Closing the doors at the end of each day is a major trial in itself. So I arrived at the reading early-ish, but later than I prefer, and more than a little tired.

But then the first student poet got up to read, and he snapped me out of it — how can someone so young already be so polished in his performance? All the student poets impressed, but Seth, he was my star pick, no question. I may be slightly biased by the fact that he used to be our neighbor. But I had no idea he would be one of the students reading that night, so it was a great surprise. Also great was to see how engaged he was by the readings of Jim and Baron, how utterly at attention he was — exactly the purpose of CPS, ensnaring the next generation of poetry-lovers!