Winter Ghosts

I’ve been negligent. As I become more obviously pregnant, folks are so obviously and loquaciously delighted, and yes, this new baby, this unexpected girl, is a much-needed bright star in a dark year. How lovely to talk about impending birth instead of death! But it’s exhausting being so grateful all the time. I find myself staying home, avoiding the phone.

I’m a tempest of hormones and grief, and the person I most want to talk with about it is gone, the source of my pain.

I don’t need bucking up. I don’t need to be told how lucky I am. Dad was 49 when he died; he never saw his children into adulthood, never knew his grandkids. And that sucks. And it sucks that they didn’t get to grow old together. Mum was at our weddings, got to be a grammie to our kids, but she still cried in her room at night, missing her lost-too-soon husband, her life’s companion. And having had Mum for her 68 years doesn’t make her death any less of a loss to me now.

Because wonderful things and terrible things happen right alongside each other. But the wonderful things don’t “make up for” the terrible things. They’re not two sides of the same coin or balances on a scale. Life never balances out, and some days that knowledge is harder to take than others.

Kevin Prufer has a smart piece up over at About a Word on sentimentality (which is a sort of reaction to or expansion on his involvement in the Symposium on Sentiment in the new issue of Pleiades), and he says “sentimentality often involve[s] reducing an emotionally complex situation into an emotionally simple one.” And I think that’s what I’m getting at. This urge to tidy things up. It’s not just that it’s premature now, because it’s always premature.

More than that, it’s a falsification. Life is ever so much more than glass half empty/ glass half full.

It’s good to be thankful, count your blessings. But it can become simplistically reactionary, a sort of emotional shorthand that denies acknowledgment and validity to the full range of individual experience. And when that denial comes from without, from others who insist you must “accent-uate the positive, elim-inate the negative,” it feels worse than a lie. It feels like an erasure.

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.