"I go on and do not know if I am going into darkness or to light and joy."--Dmitri, The Brothers Karamazov
I was 16 years old in 1969, the year Jane w"I go on and do not know if I am going into darkness or to light and joy."--Dmitri, The Brothers Karamazov
I was 16 years old in 1969, the year Jane was murdered. It seemed to me the whole world knew about the “Michigan Murders” over a couple years, several women killed in the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor area. But the news was on the front page of my local Grand Rapids Press and on local tv news programs all the time in the late sixties, along with the Richard Speck murders in that same time period in Chicago. Speck was convicted, and so also John Collins was convicted for life of one of the Ann Arbor murders, though it was generally known he killed as many as fifteen women. Electrifying, as they often say about these things, but as with most serial murders, everyone is paying horrified daily attention.
Of those fifteen women, Jane was one that I really did recall. That's her 15 year old picture on the book cover, against blue sky. Maggie Nelson, a MacArthur (genius) Award winner, was born four years after her aunt Jane was killed, and at some point she decided to research and write about her mother’s sister. The format is multiple genre—mostly poetry from Nelson’s perspective, but we also have diary and journal entries from various stages of Jane’s life, we have excerpts from news articles, and some letters. Her parents, traumatized, burned most of Jane’s writing, but there was enough to give us a portrait of Jane as girl and woman, sometimes elegant, sometimes insightful, sometimes moving. Always stylistically interesting as a multi-genre inquiry into her aunt, and late sixties womanhood.
The effect is not always that deeply insightful or moving, actually, in my opinion. Sometimes it very much is, though and is generally pretty insightful about what it means to grow up as a girl and woman in America. Sometimes it is very disturbing, of course. It is not overly sentimental, which is good, because it sure could have been.
Seven people (mostly young men of color) died violent deaths last Saturday here in Chicago, not all of them reported about in any detail. Two related questions: What is the long cultural obsession with dead (white) women about? (I also just read The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, about a murdered white woman). But what is it about men killing women, anyway, now, then, forever, because that is what happens with many male—and most of them are male—serial killers?
Maybe every one of the murdered committed every day everywhere deserves their own MacArthur-award winning author. Anyway, this could be a kind of model for one way to do it, richly textured and thoughtful.
Here’s a really interesting thing: Okay, there was never a trial for Jane in those years. They convicted Collins in 1970 for one murder and assumed that he had committed all the rest of them. But as Nelson was awaiting publication of this book, in 2004, 35 years after the murder, several years after she had been working on the book, the Ann Arbor police contacted her and her mother with the news that there was a DNA match and they would have a trial for Jane’s murder, which is in part the subject of The Red Parts, a memoir, which is essentially Jane: A Murder, part two....more
The poems of Barrier Island Suite are inspired by the life, art, and writings of the painter and potter Walter Inglis Anderson, who spent much of hisThe poems of Barrier Island Suite are inspired by the life, art, and writings of the painter and potter Walter Inglis Anderson, who spent much of his life on the barrier islands of Mississippi. Dunkelberg got a copy of “Horn Island Logs of Walter I. Anderson,” and makes this poetry in part out of his reading. That poetry includes elements of Anderson’s life, including his artwork, his struggles with mental illness (documented in “Asylum Roads”), his struggle with being in the world and wanting to live alone on an island. A struggle with madness weaves its way through these poems, though that’s not the focus of them, finally.
“The Cottage” shows Anderson in his workshop: “Here, the wheel of work, decorating Shearwater pots, carving intricate designs, spirals, fish, fowl, suns, and moons, forming grooves in the soft clay where the darker glaze will pool.”
The poems have this presentness about them: “I wanted to see it through his eyes rather than the present reality,” Dunkelberg says. There’s Taoist mysticism in them, and of course the focus is on the cycles of nature, this place, with the language to honor the place and Anderson’s sensibility.
Dunkelberg has music in mind in these poems, arranging them in five movements, in a suite. He includes a bibliography of his references, which is helpful. I had never heard of Dunkelberg or Anderson before reading these poems, and I thank Terry for the nudge to discover them.
“The four edges/ of his sail blow to the four corners of his dream.” ...more
I have liked reading, for instance, Mary Oliver and Donald Hall for decades, so I continue reading their works written in very old age. Why? Habit. BuI have liked reading, for instance, Mary Oliver and Donald Hall for decades, so I continue reading their works written in very old age. Why? Habit. But in part, curiosity, in part a question I have about creativity at old age. As I age, I wonder about that. Similarly, when I started running marathons at about age 55, I read that an 88 year old man had run his first marathon that year and in each of the next four years actually lowered his time in the race. That’s what I’m talking about! I want to know this is possible! As a young person I saw a lot of musicians and writers did their best work as young people. The early Dylan! In a few cases, though, I noticed people began doing their best work later in life, or—in rare cases--they just continue all the way through doing high quality work. Oliver and Hall’s late stuff was disappointing. The work of “old people,” I thought. But Ashbery, a much awarded poet whom I never liked quite as much of those other two, publishing a large collection at age 75, well, this seems like fresh and vigorous stuff.
What’s it like? Nonsense, in a way; think Lewis Carroll, re: the limits of language and consciousness, think play. It’s poetry about sound more than sense. The Chinese Whispers reference in the book’s title is a British name for a communication game, like telephone, where one whispers something to someone else who whispers to another, all around a circle only to find that the string of phrases is not usually at all related. This is a little like the “meaning” of linked phrases in Ashbery’s poems here. Thus, these poems, and the poem below, are more absurd and surreal and playful than something we are used to reading, poems that are more lyrical or narrative. They become a kind of commentary on meaning-making through language, which doesn’t mean they can’t still be beautiful, in my opinion. Ashbery’s poems here sometimes seem to touch on old age and the passage of time, but they’re only touching on those topics, they’re not really deeply autobiographical. And they feel vaguely narrative, like Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is a narrative because it sounds like one. Anyway, I like these poems quite a bit; they feel as good as anything he ever did. He's not one of my go-to or main guys as a poet, but he's good for what he does. Not bad for an old guy!
Chinese Whispers John Ashbery
And in a little while we broke under the strain: suppurations ad nauseam, the wanting to be taller, though it‘s simply about being mysterious, i.e., not taller, like any tree in any forest. Mute, the pancake describes you.
It had tiny roman numerals embedded in its rim. It was a pancake clock. They had ’em in those days, always getting smaller, which is why they finally became extinct. It was a hundred years before anyone noticed. The governor general
called it “sinuous.” But we, we had other names for it, knew it was going to be around for a long time, even though extinct. And sure as shillelaghs fall from trees onto frozen doorsteps, it came round again when all memory of it had been expunged from the common brain.
Everybody wants to try one of those new pancake clocks. A boyfriend in the next town had one but conveniently forgot to bring it over each time we invited him. Finally the rumors grew more fabulous than the real thing: I hear they are encrusted with tangles of briar rose, so dense
not even a prince seeking the Sleeping Beauty could get inside. What’s more, there are more of them than when they were extinct, yet the prices keep on rising. They have them in the Hesperides and in shantytowns on the edge of the known world, blue with cold. All downtowns used to feature them. Camera obscuras,
too, were big that year. But why is it that with so many people who want to know what a shout is about, nobody can find the original recipe? All too soon, no one cares. We go back to doing little things for each other, pasting stamps together to form a tiny train track, and other, less noticeable things. And the past is forgotten till next time. How to describe the years? Some were like blocks of the palest halvah, careless of being touched. Some took each others’ trash out, put each other’s eyes out. So many got thrown out before anyone noticed, that it was like a chiaroscuro of collapsing clouds.
How I longed to visit you again in that old house! But you were deaf, or dead. Our letters crossed. A motorboat was ferrying me out past the reef, people on shore looked like dolls fingering stuffs. More
keeps coming out, about the dogs I mean. Surely a simple embrace from an itinerant fish would have been spurned at certain periods. Not now. There is a famine of years in the land, the women are beautiful, but prematurely old and worn. It doesn’t get better. Rocks half-buried in bands of sand, and spontaneous execrations. I yell to the ship’s front door,
wanting to be taller, and somewhere in the middle all this gets lost. I was a phantom for a day. My friends carried me around with them. It always turns out that much is salvageable. Chicken coops
haven’t floated away on the flood. Lacemakers are back in business with a vengeance. All the locksmiths had left town during the night. It happened to be a beautiful time of season, spring or fall, the air was digestible, the fish tied in love-knots on their gurneys. Yes, and journeys
were palpable too: Someone had spoken of saving appearances and the walls were just a little too blue in mid-morning. Was there ever such a time? I’d like to handle you, bruise you with kisses for it, yet something always stops me short: the knowledge that this isn‘t history, no matter how many
times we keep mistaking it for the present, that headlines trumpet each day. But behind the unsightly school building, now a pickle warehouse, the true nature of things is known, is not overrided: Yours is a vote like any other. And there is fraud at the ballot boxes, stuffed with lace valentines and fortunes from automatic scales, dispensed with a lofty kind of charity, as though this could matter to us, these tunes carried by the wind
from a barrel organ several leagues away. No, this is not the time to reveal your deception to us. Wait till rain and old age have softened us up a little more. Then we’ll see how extinct
the various races have become, how the years stand up to their descriptions, no matter how misleading, and how long the disbanded armies stay around. I must congratulate you on your detective work, for I am a connoisseur of close embroidery, though I don’t have a diploma to show for it.
The trees, the barren trees, have been described more than once. Always they are taller, it seems, and the river passes them without noticing. We, too, are taller, our ceilings higher, our walls more tinctured with telling frescoes, our dooryards both airier and vaguer, according as time passes and weaves its minute deceptions in and out, a secret thread.
Peace is a full stop.
And though we had some chance of slipping past the blockade, now only time will consent to have anything to do with us, for what purposes we do not know. ...more
Terrapin and Other Poems is a book of poems selected by illustrator Tom Pohrt that he thought would be appropriate for children. They are not Berry’sTerrapin and Other Poems is a book of poems selected by illustrator Tom Pohrt that he thought would be appropriate for children. They are not Berry’s best poems, nor do I think they would be fast favorites with children, but the poems are good, they are imbued with Berry’s vision, which I like, and coupling his poems with Pohrt’s lovely watercolor illustrations makes this a fine book.
Part of my liking this book is that I met Pohrt once in Ann Arbor, through his brother Karl who owned an independent bookstore-with-a-soul there. I knew Karl pretty well for the five years I lived there. When I saw this book was illustrated by Tom I picked it up to read; when I opened it I saw the book is dedicated to the memory of his brother Karl! RIP, Karl! I hadn’t known! Why do we warm to certain books? Sometimes it doesn’t have to do with the words, it’s a peripheral thing like this. I might have rated this 3 stars were it not for the small personal connection.
But here’s two good poems from the book.
The ears stung with cold and frost of dawn in early April, comes the song of winter finches, their crimson bright, then dark as they move into and then against the light. May the year warm them soon. May they soon go north with their singing and the seasons to follow. May the bare sticks soon live, and our minds go free of the ground into the shining of trees.
To Know the Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark, go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Yesterday was the Women’s March on DC, NYC, LA, the world, so I read this book of poems by London-based Somali poet Shires, visceral poetry, angry, paYesterday was the Women’s March on DC, NYC, LA, the world, so I read this book of poems by London-based Somali poet Shires, visceral poetry, angry, passionate in every way. This 34 page book will be part of her first full length collection of poetry. Thanks to Liz Janet, whose great review led me to this book.
Here’s some lines and sections of poems from the book I liked a lot:
“I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officers, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men, who look like my father pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.”
“I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes; on my face they are still together.”
“I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.”
“Now my mouth is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun.”
“On the night of our secret wedding when he held me in his mouth like a promise until his tongue grew tired and fell asleep, I lay awake to keep the memory alive.
In the morning I begged him back to bed. Running late, he kissed my ankles and left. I stayed like a secret in his bed for days until his mother found me.
I showed her my gold ring, I stood in front of her naked, waved my hands in her face. She sank to the floor and cried.
At his funeral, no one knew my name. I sat behind his aunts, they sucked on dates soaked in oil. The last thing he tasted was me.”
“To my daughter I will say, ‘When the men come, set yourself on fire.’”
From the window she sees her children hitting trees with sticks as leaves twirl against a mottled sky. The think they make the leaves lFrom “Part of It”:
From the window she sees her children hitting trees with sticks as leaves twirl against a mottled sky. The think they make the leaves let go. In a way, they do.
Miriam Pedersen is a long-time friend, though we have not seen each other in decades, except through social media, where we became reacquainted recently. In the early eighties, she and I (and another poet and rock band singer Daneen Wardrop) drove once a week to Kalamazoo from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to take classes in the graduate English program at Western Michigan University. I asked her to send me this chapbook, which I loved as I heard her warm and kind and thoughtful voice emanating from the pages.
This collection focuses on a woman’s—her--life and family, beginning with “Erosion,” a reflection on the way things grow thin over time, as they age. Then she flashes back to pregnancy, childbirth, and these poems make me recall her husband Ron’s thrill at being a father, and her sort of generational and cultural and personal (initial) reticence about being a mother. She told me decades ago—I think, as memory is tricky—that Ron was the more “natural” parent, but in this collection we see her closely observant and loving parenting, and her loving having been parented by her fierce mother. We proceed through marriage to separation from children and older age, watching her mother slowly lose her daughter’s name, and then lose “this brief light,” of life.
There’s a poem called “Listening to Scrabble,” about language and family, her positive spirit comes through. That spirit also shines through in “What Happens” where she notes her father is attending to his declining wife, even as Miriam lectures on William Carlos Williams and then:
“In the parking lot bright crushed leaves blew and bunched around my students’ feet.”
There’s Williams and his red wheel barrow!
And then her husband replaces her lost diamond:
“We stare at its brilliance The many facets we could just Begin to name.”
“Choosing a Monument” focuses on the sweet sadness of choosing a monument—a gravestone—for her mother, which helps her recall skipping stones on the lakes of their lives.
This Brief Light, indeed. But if that as a stance about life seems to you as a younger person altogether bleak, you are missing the point about poetry, about appreciation, about the best of life. Paying attention, that’s how things work best, in the way of W. C. Williams and in the quiet ecstatic way of Robert Bly (whom we heard read on more than one occasion), and James Wright, through birth and death.
Get it from Finishing Line Press. Mir sent it to me but you can get it there. And should. ...more
Each year I and my family read and rate all the Goodreads picture book nominees. This one is nominated for 2016. I make a few comments and then add thEach year I and my family read and rate all the Goodreads picture book nominees. This one is nominated for 2016. I make a few comments and then add their separate ratings and a comment. There's 15 and this is the fourth being rated. My rating might be somewhat influenced by the family, naturally.
From spring to spring, four seasons of poems. Long for a picture book, maybe so an upper el through tween book, though I think it is really all ages because the poetry is very good throughout, personal and sweet and that pen and watercolor art matches that warmth and sweetness.
march 22 just like a tiny, blue hello a crocus blloming in the snow
february 3 with snow arms sagging the spruce seemed to know that beautiful outweighs the snow
Tara (my wife): 3 1/2 stars. Some good poems. I liked how it started and ended with the same poem. I liked the art. Harry (11): 3 stars. I liked the poems and the art. I'm not much of a poem guy, though. Hank (10): 4 1/2 stars. I like how the narrator of the poems told stuff about the seasons and her life. Lyra (9): 4 stars. Kind of long, a lot of poems, but I like the art and poems....more
The copper carries my wishes. A storm snapped a dozen trees the week you left; the same straight firs cut for masts. The gazette held no word, no siAt Home
The copper carries my wishes. A storm snapped a dozen trees the week you left; the same straight firs cut for masts. The gazette held no word, no sight of your sails. Each week, my fingers traced columns of ships— Flying Cloud, Lion of Waves, Golden Empire—with titles broader than their beams, bold as thoroughbreds, as if a name could seal a fortune. My mind slipped to the ocean floor, littered with wrecks. I placed silver coins beside your picture and knit scarves until we received the rattle and whalebone swallows. I send you handshakes in return. Our son was born this winter: eight pounds and eager thirst, no fever. It was three days of labor with compress of nettle and yarrow leaf, every knot in the house untied. His ears are tiny shells, hands in fists, your brown hair. The cradle is drawn with yellow dories. For your birthday, a party without you here: spongecake and cherryade. Hope you were given bread and molasses. My love, remember, the polestar is not alone, but twinned, a pair of suns, guiding you North.
Sherer worked as a deck-hand on the Tall Ship Bounty, a 180-foot fully-rigged ship lost in Hurricane Sandy. She writes about boats, the sea, but also this idea of “shipbreaking” in other aspects of her life. Her fears for her son’s future on this planet. The collection holds together with water and sea breezes and "she was safer at sea."
Here’s one more, for your pleasure. This is her debut collection, which feels urgent, soaring, erudite, hopeful, lovely: “that skyward longing, to be untethered.”
In a time of faint beasts, no room is left in the boats. With thin hands, we huddle sheep and dip a hundred reeds in mud. The nets wheel away so often now, sinking through days poured furious over threshing feet. As though dared in a foreign tongue to knot our sleeves, we swim through broken oars, shout off slender days. Snakes may cling to trees, and men tear at bread, but the sky stays hinged. Only heaven is full of furniture. We harness ourselves over and over, wherever hope is a yellow shore. ...more
I love this book of poetry and come back to it time and time again. It features poems in two loose forms, as the title says, dreams and letters. DreamI love this book of poetry and come back to it time and time again. It features poems in two loose forms, as the title says, dreams and letters. Dreams are a great source of topics for writers, and they in Hugo produce some marvelously inventive poems. The letters are actual and maybe you might say "poetic" letters he actually sent to friends. I sent letters to friends for many years inspired by these poems as models....more
This is the day the ﬂies fall awake mid-sentence and lie stunned on the windowsill shaking with speeches only it isn’t speech it is treFlies Alice Oswald
This is the day the ﬂies fall awake mid-sentence and lie stunned on the windowsill shaking with speeches only it isn’t speech it is trembling sections of puzzlement which break off suddenly as if the questioner had been shot
this is one of those wordy days when they drop from their winter quarters in the curtains and sizzle as they fall feeling like old cigarette butts called back to life blown from the surface of some charred world
and somehow their wings which are little more than ﬂakes of dead skin have carried them to this blackened disembodied question
what dirt shall we visit today? what dirt shall we re-visit?
they lift their faces to the past and walk about a bit trying out their broken thought-machines coming back with their used-up words
there is such a horrible trapped buzzing wherever we ﬂy it’s going to be impossible to think clearly now until next winter what should we what dirt should we
This book is about nature and observation and language. Accessible, oral-based. My friend Jenn showed me these two lines from the very beginning of the very first poem, “ A Short Story of Falling:”
It is the story of the falling rain To turn into a leaf and fall again.
and I was hooked. Oswald is a classicist and likes music, too. There’s one long poem, “Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn”. A performance piece, with music. Sad. But I like best the pieces about dew, foxes, falling night. I needed it because I just read Bill McKibben's sad book Eaarth about our fast-declining natural world. This is my first experience with her poetry. I’ll read more. ...more