My Winter List.

I’m working on a rather ambitiously tall stack of books from my reading list, and picked up two novels, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees, from the library.  Which I haven’t even opened yet because of the magnificent richness of poetry books I’m reading:

Book Cover Goes Here

I won a free copy of Blood Almanac from Sandy Longhorn’s blog.  I’ve been enjoying the vivid sense of place these poems evoke, a place very different from New England, but not altogether alien to me: my grandparents were Georgia share-croppers, and I recognize them in some of poems early in the book. Justin Evans, who won the other copy Sandy was offering, wrote a great review here, but I hope to write an appreciation some time soon. I love that its three sections are true delineations, encompass three very different kinds of poems, and admire the ease of each tonal shift.

One of the other titles I’ve been slowly flipping through is Intaglio, by Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis. I had read a few of her poems online, and sent out a call to my poet friends to borrow a copy.  Happy me, Kim had one & sent it my way, to keep! Very fortunate, considering how long it’s taking me to read.  Her style is so different from mine, so expansive and exuberant, it’s like stepping into bright lights whenever I open the book. Hopefully I’ll learn a thing or two.

Not the last book in my leaning Pisa of a pile, but the last one I’ll mention today, is The Narcoleptic Yard, by Charity Ketz.  I admit it, I wanted this one purely for its cover, which perfectly captures the scene from the poem, “Shroud”, from which the book draws its title: “Something // seams the air — what flies between // invents the narcopleptic yard, the wavering / catechism, the bugs // the buds’ red — The air / frills with shirring.”  I haven’t spent enough time with this one to really get a handle on the poems themselves, but I like what I’ve read so far.

“Decor in general left her completely indifferent.”

In this era of “Extreme Home-Makeovers” and “Trading Spaces”, it seems a crime to say so.  Let me be clear: I love a good make-over, be it person (à la “What not to Wear”), room, or home.  But when it comes to my own space, well, I just can’t be bothered.  As long as the clutter’s under control and the dust bunnies (which are really ginormous fur balls) aren’t assimilating the apartment, I’m content.  Some art on the walls would be nice, I agree, but art costs money, and if I have it to spend, I’d rather spend it on books.

Which is funny, because I did own a house for a while, a wee 730 square footer, back when I was single & fancy-free.  The first two weeks after closing, I spent my vacation painting its four rooms, unpacking, screwing together new pine bookshelves (after my LARGE particle board bookshelf [fatigued from 14 moves in 11 years] imploded, predictably seconds after I placed the last book on its shelf), and white-washing them.

But once vacation was over, in the next 5 years of home-ownership I did not tackle one decorating task more. Granted, my energies were taken up by the winter without running water, the long-running water heater issues, the propagating mice…. However, left to my own devices (and Lance will back me up on this, to his ever-loving dismay), even pictures of my family remain stacked on a shelf somewhere.  I love pictures of my family, would very much like them to be hung on my walls.  By someone else.  Because I’m over here, otherwise and much more happily occupied.

* The post title quote is from the novel, That Mad Ache, by Francoise Sagan, in a new translation by Douglas Hofstadter.  The first novel I’ve picked up in a while, it’s set in 1960’s Parisian high society, a great summer read — beautifully written and fun.  Plus, when you flip it over, on the other side is an essay by Mr. Hofstadter on the process of translating this novel, including the title.  Jane Hirshfield, in Nine Gates, also wrote on the art of translation, and William Gass too, in Reading Rilke, and it never fails to fascinate.


It’s official, and clinging to these new summer days is that summery languor, that eh, whatever, it can wait feeling. But I truly have done more than read novels and dip my toes in the kiddie pool, ensconced in my gestational cocoon — I have indeed read a lot of novels, but I had catching up to do! For a while I was reading nothing but poetry, and it’s mighty difficult to be a bookseller on a poetry-only diet.

But if you observed the several piles of books on the end table beside me, you’d see that, still, 90% of them are poetry-related. No photo, uh-uh, they’re far too ungainly and embarrassing, my piles of books. But I assure you it’s true. A few of the titles I’m leisurely reading: Colosseum, by Katie Ford; cloudlife, by Stefanie Marlis; Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, by Michael Theune; Things are Disappearing Here, by Kate Northrup; and Return to Calm, by Jacques Réda, translated by Aaron Prevots. So you can see I am not neglecting poetry.

I must confess that I also read an advanced copy of Elizabeth McCracken’s upcoming book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, which is a memoir. A quote:

A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don’t have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son.

It’s a heart-rending book, and probably not the best reading choice for me at this time, but McCracken is an exquisite writer.

This is also the season for fall/winter frontlist orders for the bookshop, so I’ve been on major catalog duty also. There are definitely some exciting books coming up, but for the life of me I can’t remember what they are — I order them, and then promptly forget all about them — unless I read an advanced reader’s copy, that is. I’ll try to post some forthcoming poetry titles when I get the chance.

I’ve been productive in my own work as well. This weekend I reorganized my chapbook, removing some poems, adding others, fine-tuning its arc, and now it’s off to a new batch of contests. May it find more luck in this incarnation! And there’s a new poem, which is turning out to be rather long-ish, that I’m drafting. I’m trying not to be too fierce with my editing scissors this go-around, let it flesh out and see what happens.

And lastly, but most importantly, I’ve been swept up in keeping the supply of sweet tea abundant enough to meet the very high demand! I’ll tell you, it’s very hard to find a decent glass of iced tea around here unless you make it yourself. Even with all the great coffeehouses about. They just get all frou-frou with it and muck it up. Or they simply don’t know what they’re doing.

Last week I despaired that maybe I’d gone “off” iced tea, the way pregnancy makes me go “off” pasta and hamburgers. One glass I bought tasted sour. The next, from another place, tasted like cigars. Seriously. That one I didn’t finish. And then the next one, which came sweet, tasted cloying and suspiciously citrusy.

The perfect iced tea is sweet and strong, and not herbal — and if you add lemon you should be fined, or at the very least strongly chastised. Thank goodness I had a fresh batch at home, which was perfect and perfectly reassuring.

Novels vs. Poetry

I don’t mean that title seriously — hierarchies trouble me. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to declare one thing better, or more essential, than another. Why, when one discusses one’s preference for, say, Anne Sexton over Sylvia Plath, it’s done in a manner that disparages Plath’s craft. This is not about “compare & contrast.” This isn’t about the “critics.” And this is not about good writing versus bad writing. This is about us — the poets/writers/readers. Why can we only praise one thing by belittling another?

My primary allegiance, what I strive to advocate and promote, is poetry. But I love novels. They feed a different part of me, I would never want to do without them. I go through jags when I can’t concentrate, I only have a brain for poems — writing poems, reading poems and essays on poems. But then there are other times, like now, when it’s novels I crave.

My first pregnancy was like this: I read a lot of novels, and wrote hardly at all. And now, in the last 3 days, I’ve read Salman Rushdie’s new novel (magnificent!), Fredrica Wagman’s Playing House (twisted & utterly compelling), and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (awesome, the best thriller I’ve read in years!). [Ed.’s note: Don’t ask me how I’ve managed to find the time to read so much, I’m mystified myself!] I wonder if it’s because my subconscious is aware that all too soon a new baby will be here and I won’t have more than fifteen minutes put together to read for a while, and so I’m bingeing now, building up my fiction reserves.

This pregnancy I have no intention of neglecting poetry — I have quite a stockpile of poetry books to read, to which I added two books from Caketrain yesterday: issue 2 from 2004 and afterpastures, by Claire Hero, which won their 2007 Chapbook Competition and has just been released. My bookshelves are a bursting treasure trove. And while I don’t seem to have the capacity to read novels and books of poems & poemstuff at the same time, I’m glad that I needn’t choose either/or, that I have both wells to draw from.