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.

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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!

The Bookshop & CPS, Special Edition.

This Thursday, Oct. 30th, at 7:30 pm, we’ll be hosting a special edition of the Collected Poets Series, a partial fundraiser for the Mohawk Arts and Education Council. Baron Wormser, former poet laureate of Maine, will read from his latest collection of new and selected poems, Scattered Chapters; Jim Schley will read from his newest book, As When, In Season; and the MAEC high school poets will read from their work. To read more about the Collected Poets Series and the featured poets, please visit the Collected Poets website.

Between visits of customers distraught over the closing of the bookshop, and the exhausting motions of commiseration such visits bring, I’ve been reading Baron Wormser’s The Poetry Life: Ten Stories. Each story is narrated by a different fictional persona, who in turn is writing about a different poet. The stories aren’t especially plot-driven, but explore how poetry, in even small ways, can affect a wide array of ordinary lives. It’s simply uncanny how expertly Wormser creates these personas, entire lives encapsulated in a few pages, and then incorporates the poets as well.

And from the second story, narrated by a retired pharmacist who’s discovered William Carlos Williams through a local college class, comes this excerpt, which feels apropos to this weeks-long-wake we’re experiencing at the bookshop. For every sincere, weeping customer, there’s another beating around the bush, wondering when the liquidation sale will begin…

…when Helen died I started to hate words because they were so general: “Well, we got to be with each other for a lot of years. I’m not complaining.” Or “We had our ups and downs but we hung in there together.” You get my drift. You’re always summarizing because no one wants to listen to the details. People are willing to listen some but not too much. They want an idea of what something was like that they can nod their heads to.

Of course, a defunct bookstore is not the equivalent of a dead wife, but there are parallels. If you don’t believe me, you should come on down and work a spell behind the counter…

University Press Round-up 2.

Flipping through the various university press catalogs, it’s disheartening to see how many don’t have a poetry list at all. It’s bad enough that the large commercial presses are abandoning poetry — more and more, poetry is becoming the province of the small presses, unless you’re that Anomaly, a poetry cash cow. You know who I mean. I’ll devote some future posts to those wondrous lovers of poetry, the small presses. But there are yet some university presses supporting the cause:

Arkansas University Press

  • Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry, edited by Hayan Charara. March, paperback, $24.95. 39 poets offering 160 poems. Poets include: Naomi Shihab Nye, Samuel Hazo, Kazim Ali, Lisa Suhair Majaj, and others.
  • Rift, by Barbara Helfgott Hyett. February, paperback, $16.00. Excerpt: “What is the purpose of flesh if not/ to exhaust me? How else to achieve/ the full extent of the soul? I run/ fast enough to keep her before me…” from “Apollo.”
  • Now You’re the Enemy, by James Allen Hall. January, paperback, $16.00. Excerpt: “If I could turn the photograph, bring my mother’s face/ to the bright eye of myth, my unflinching lens…” from “Family Portrait.”
  • Arkansas’s backlist includes some notables, such as David Baker, Jo McDougall, Eldon Glaser, Greg Rappleye, and oho! would you believe it! Robert Mezey (Collected Poems 1952-1999).

University of Wisconsin Press

  • Meditations of Rising and Falling, by Philip Pardi. April, paperback, $14.95. Winner of the 2008 Brittingham Prize in Poetry. This has a beautiful cover. Seriously, I would buy this just for the cover, which has a detail from what looks to be a Da Vinci drawing of flying apparatuses. From the catalog copy: “Pardi’s collection is a testimony to faith and resistance in a world where ‘falling is the given.'”
  • The Royal Baker’s Daughter, by Barbara Goldberg. April, paperback, $14.95. Winner of the 2008 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. From the catalog copy: “With nothing but her two deft hands to guide her, [The Royal Baker’s Daughter] embarks on a journey into the dark forest, ‘where sticks and stones and absolutes reign and nothing, even sin, is original.'”

University of New England Press (which also distributes Wesleyan University Press, CavanKerry Press, Fence Books, Four Way Books, Saturnalia Books, Sheep Meadow Press, and others [!])

Wesleyan University Press

  • Grace, Fallen From, by Marianne Boruch. February, hardcover, $22.95. I love Marianne Boruch, but Wesleyan has this bad habit of publishing their new poetry books in hardcover only. This kills me.
  • The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, edited by Hadley Haden Guest. May, hardcover, $39.95. Exceptions: Collected’s should absolutely be published in hardcover, yes. Excerpt: “We have built no large hall to labor in./ We sleep on small cushions for as long as we wish./ Our lives are composed with magic and euphony.” from “Composition.”

CavanKerry Press

  • The Poetry Life: Ten Stories, by Baron Wormser. April, paperback, $18.00. Catalog copy: “Baron Wormser brings to life the immense force poetry can have in people’s lives. In stories funny, tender, sad, and edgy, the narrators register how poetry has changed how they see themselves, how they live, and what they care about. As it bends genres by adapting aspects of fiction, biography, essay and monologue, The Poetry Life shows how poetry can be lightning in the soul.”

Four Way Books

  • National Anthem, by Kevin Prufer. April, paperback, $15.95. The editor of Pleiades has a new book of poems.
  • Shadow Mountain, by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan. April, paperback, $15.95. Winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize.

I realize that there’s not a lot of space in a catalog to describe a book of poems, so I’d like to state for the record that if you must choose between writing a blurb or excerpting a poem, I’ll always prefer to read the poem. Always.

Baron Wormser on Snow.

If there is such a thing as a mutable eternity, it is snow falling in the woods.  I am thinking of a windless, steady plummeting.  Nothing is moving except for snowflakes.  You can hear the snow faintly ticking on the pine needle branches.  You can hear it descending–a soft sift of air….Every surface receives the snow in its way.  A large, fallen curled maple leaf collects the snow in its center.  A boulder’s stored heat resists the snow at first, then its surface turns wet as if it were raining, and then, with un-boulderlike delicacy, a thin frizz accumulates.  On top of the garden gate a fragile white skein begins to perch.  Little, almost derby-like hats grow on the garden fence posts.  The mown grass around the house fills in gradually.  The stiff, frozen blades seem like little heights.  Then the snow, as it mounts, receives itself.  Another landscape is created, and for months we live in that landscape.

We don’t live in the woods, but close enough.  It’s the silence, how the snow muffles everything, except for itself–soft sift of air— 

And then, once the snow has stopped & the cleanup completed, the cold clobbers you day after day, and that landscape is like a taunt, until it seems as though you’ll never be warm again. 

 It’s only January 6, and yet we’ve already had more snow than we had all last winter.  Can you tell I’m ready for spring?

Living Deliberately.

I’m reading Baron Wormser’s (former poet laureate of Maine) memoir (I guess strictly speaking it’s a memoir, though it’s not so narrowly me-me-me), The Road Washes Out in Spring, which is about the 20-odd years he lived with his family in the woods in Maine without electricity, running water, or any modern conveniences whatsoever. 

(It’s also when he began writing poetry.  Perhaps there’s a correlation, but he points out that he happened to have a few days alone when his wife took their 2 kids for a family visit, so he tried his hand at writing poems, and it turned out that he had something to say.) 

I’m enjoying it quite a bit, though it meanders, so my attention wanders, and I think what I’d really like to have on hand is a book of his poems.  Also, while he explains the appeal of roughing it very well, and is also quite open about how difficult it is, and his reasons for living this way are refreshingly non-polemic–well, I’m having flashbacks to my first winter in my house (the one I finally managed to unload this summer so I could move to these bucolic hills).

 From the ides of January till the ides of April that year, I had no running water.  I did have heat, which is the only thing that kept me sane–no running water means no water–no hot water, no cold water, no toilet, no shower, nothing.  That was bad enough.  But can you imagine waking up every frigid Maine winter morning and having to stoke the fires, before you can do anything else?  And having to use an outhouse in sub-zero temps, in the dark??  (He mentions early on that this is always the detail that is the dealbreaker.) 

 They live elsewhere in Maine now, and I’m pretty sure, wherever it is, they have toilets.