Monday, July 31, 2006

Hold the Dates: Donald Westlake, Mysteries; Also Fine Press Appreciation Day

Calendar Call: If you haven't yet saved the dates for these two events, please mark them, and make plans to come -- exciting!

Sunday August 13, Have dinner with Grand Master of Mystery Donald Westlake and his author wife Abby Adams, here at Kingdom Books, Waterford, Vermont. An opportunity that no mystery fan should miss!

Friday August 18, Fine Press Appreciation Day -- At least three of Vermont's fine printer/designers will be here, with displays of a dozen more of the small, elegant working presses that make Vermont heaven for afficionados of this art.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

B. Comfort: Vermont's Grand Dame of Mystery - Just a Quick Tale

You've seen those classic little Vermont paperbacks with the bold titles and mysterious author: B. Comfort. They come in two character series: one with 33-year-old Liz Bell and her newly built home on the mountain above the Vermont ski town of Lofton (The Vermont Village Murder; Green Mountain Murder), the other with 65-year-old artist Tish McWhinney (Phoebe's Knee; Grave Consequences; Elusive Quarry; Cashmere Kid; and the latest, in 2001, At Loggerheads).

B. Comfort is artist and author Barbara Comfort, known as Bobby to her friends, and about to turn 90 this autumn. Her real-life Vermont town of residence since World War II, Landgrove, mounted an exhibit of her portraits and landscapes, books, and inventions (yes!) at the Town Hall for this season.

We'll post a page of material on Ms. Comfort at our web page as her birthday (September 4) gets closer. Meanwhile, here's one small anecdote from her pre-writing life, when she was a Greenwich Village artist.

One of her good friends was Bob (Robert) McCloskey, who was working on what would become his most famous children's book, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS. To do the drawings for his book, McCloskey kept (live) ducklings in his bathtub for weeks! And Barbara Comfort, on the way home from work, would stop to visit and play with the little yellow fulffballs in the tub.

Small wonder that she painted the outside of her Vermont carport with McCloskey's other famous critters, the bears from BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

History and Mystery: Amy Belding Brown, Mr. Emerson's Wife

A question about Ralph Waldo Emerson's complicated and intellectual second wife Lydia Jackson Emerson turned ex-romance novelist Amy Belding Brown into a historical sleuth. Had Lidian (Emerson's nickname for his second wife) become entangled with Henry David Thoreau? Who were the other mysterious figures among the Transcendentalists?

As she investigated, built theories, and began writing a historical novel, MR. EMERSON'S WIFE, based on the evidence she found, Brown made some painful discoveries, chief among them that "my primary obligation as a writer of historical fiction was not to history -- sorry! -- but to character."

Although the "facts" within the fiction are drenched in research, Brown feels it's the sense of life's truths, and the struggles of her characters (especially struggling with the difficulties of any long-term marriage), that matter most. "I'd like to advance the premise that what we know as facts represent the most superficial aspects of our life, and I am convinced that the real characters [Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Lidian, Bronson Alcott] in my book would agree with me."

Now she's in the research phase of her next work, also historical fiction, this time based in the lives of the Puritans and the "praying Indians" of Massachusetts. She's carrying with her the question she posed this evening" "Is historical fiction better, the closer we stay to the facts?"

Although her novels aren't likely to be called mysteries (in spite of her sleuthing), I think the question is worth considering in terms of, say, Alan Furst's espionage suspense, Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, even (or especially) The DaVinci Code.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Donald Westlake in Vermont, August 13

Here's a great photo of Donald Westlake, not taken in Vermont, but captured by his author wife, Abby Adams. Both will be here at Kingdom Books on Sunday August 13, for a "limited edition" authors' dinner for 20 (some seats still available -- e-mail us). Dave and I can hardly wait! Be sure to bring your copies of his books, for signature. Naturally, we'll provide more!

Form and Substance: Rachel Hadas, Poet and Professor

Ten of us gathered for "tea" yesterday with poet and professor Rachel Hadas. The circle of chairs encompassed an attention that she rode through more poems than she had announced she'd read, as people requested "more, another, that one."

Hadas uses her voice and eloquence strongly in reading, and the deliberate pace and alliterations reveal dense, powerful bones of the poems. She brought with her a dual response to the review I had posted on our web site ( of her new collection, THE RIVER OF FORGETFULNESS. One urge was to counter my assertion that the first third of the book includes "ragged edges of free verse" -- an implication of absent form or plan that she rejected firmly. The other was to demonstrate the pertinence of the book title. Death, she asserted, was but one aspect of the river Lethe that the collection probed; others included loss of memory, perhaps even of form, especially as we (poet and listeners) navigate midlife; and powerfully, the call of actual bodies of water like "the Water Andric," an enduring mountain stream nearby that bears a quintessentially British name.

I savored the vigor that this experienced Rutgers professor brought to the ad hoc classroom in the summer afternoon, along with the precise way she teaches and narrates. (I'll comment later about a remarkable essay of hers that she brought to our attention too, "Notes From the Kingdom of Illness.")

One moment of explanation captured both classroom and setting, here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, with mountains rising in pre-thunderstorm haze and a wind of wildflowers sweeping the room: The Sapphic, she demonstrated, is a form of three "longish" lines in equal measures, followed by a short line that goes -- she demonstrated the beat -- "like, blueberry pancakes." Say it aloud: BLUE-berry PAN-CAKES.

Every head in the circle nodded or dipped with immediate recognition.

The poems, we will all read again and again, testing and plumbing for meaning and resonance. The teaching, we won't forget. What a gift...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ellen Bryant Voigt: Poet as Professor

Although her other collections are powerful and incisive, KYRIE by Ellen Bryant Voigt has become the work she teaches regularly at the summer Advanced Placement Teachers Institute in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. One reason is the structure: nearly 50 poems of sonnet forms, deliberately crafted and varied, in construction, volta, rhyme, voice. Voigt as professor leads the teacher/readers into this. Voigt as poet blazes with passionate response to queries: "Is this part supposed to mean something or did it just come out that way?" "Nothing just comes out! I write fifty to a hundred drafts of every poem!"

Voigt as professor also carries a flame of light and heat into the sustaining foundations of modern writing. She quotes, for instance: "Ezra Pound said that an image is a complex of emotions in an instant of time -- an instant of time." She draws into the conversation shreds of other fields that demonstrate how the brain receives and unpacks poetry, too: From her take on Steven Pinker's writing, she posits that syntax in the brain is lodged next to music, and both depend on "chunking" for us to grasp them. "Poetry can reinforce the chunks."

Fiercely committed to lyric poetry within this understanding of what it is to be human, she concludes that "The interest of the lyric poem is in stopping time, so that it can examine all that feeling" -- the emotions are where we people are most connected, most of the time -- "That's why I'm most interested in the lyric poem."

KYRIE narrates a village's dreadful losses and struggles during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, that death-loaded conclusion to the period of World War I. One of the sonnets concludes:

After the paw withdraws, the world
hums again, making its golden honey.

Friday, July 21, 2006

More Poetry Readings in Vermont, New Hampshire

There's a tradition at The Frost Place, located in Franconia, NH, that the person chosen to be resident poet each summer (live in Robert Frost's home, complete with modest stipend) should be about at the same career point of Frost when he arrived there in 1915: published some, but not yet well known, and ready to benefit seriously from time spent there.

That's why you probably don't yet know the name of poet Robert (Rob) Farnsworth, yet he's both the resident poet and about to offer a reading at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at the highly distinguished poetry series there. He'll share the podium with Frost Place director Jim Schley on Tuesday July 25. The reading starts at 7:30; come early, as seating is limited, and dress for a bit of heat -- the room is not well ventilated. But the sound system is superb and the poetry, based on a bit I heard from Rob at the start of July, will be worth every droplet of sweat and minute of arranging to be there.

Other poetry events coming up: Kingdom Books is hosting a tea on Tuesday July 25 at 4 p.m. to honor poet Rachel Hadas and her new book THE RIVER OF FORGETFULNESS (we'll post a review on the web site this weekend). Then on July 30 the Frost Place begins its week-long Festival of Poetry, featuring evening public readings by Lynn Emanuel, Carl Philips, Kimiko Hahn, Tony Hoagland, Jane Hirshfield, and of course Robert Farnsworth (details on the web site

Major excitement erupts August 2 at the aforementioned St. Johnsbury Athenaeum (1171 Main St., St. J; 802-748-8291) with the summer series finale by Galway Kinnell, who'll read from STRONG IS YOUR HOLD, his impressive new collection reaching publication in September. He read some draft poems from the collection at Kingdom Books last winter; this is a post-9/11 work, and I can hardly wait to have the finished copy in hand.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ron Padgett & Tom Veitch: Collaborating on the Experimental Novel "Antlers in the Treetops"

Ron Padgett and Tom Veitch read at Kingdom Books today, to a packed house that included such other poets as Patty Oldenburg (now Mucha), William Corbett, and Barbara Moraff. (Peter Orlovsky didn't feel up to it this time.) Most of us found lots of humor in the way the duo passed roles back and forth as they exposed us to the wild characters and surreal conversations they'd written.

A big chunk of the reading was from their joint book ANTLERS IN THE TREETOPS, and at the end, Ron filled in a few details on title and process. The title came from a fad at the time, jokes like the mock title "A Clear Yellow Stream" by (joke author) I. P. Freely. Turns out "Antlers in the Treetops" was supposedly by Who Goosed the Moose. For Ron and Tom, it made a good giggle. They built the text in collage style: Each would clip paragraphs from newspapers, books (one Ron especially remembers was a very serious guide to building tunnels under roads), daily life. When one had collected a good stack of this "grist" (as they nicknamed it), he'd send it to the other, who would arrange the "cut-ups" in some narrative order, add a few twists of language, and return the passage to the first person, who'd then massage it through yet another stage of collage, adding more material to it. The finished product thus was built almost entirely of "borrowed" language.

This fit with Veitch's solo reading, from the 150-page memoir he's drafting on William Burroughs. Veitch, at age 23, had a memorable lunch with the older novelist, who insisted to him that "authors think they own their words, but nobody owns words, they're just words." Hence to borrow words is simply what everyone does throughout life!

Ron's solo contribution to the afternoon was a 15-minute reading of a new poem in progress, on the meanness of people, with flares of aggression and battle. It made way too much sense on a day framed with war news from the Middle East.

Both signed some books while they were here, and Veitch generously allowed us to buy a collection of his noted comics. More on that another time.

Now I've got to get the place shaped into a fresh format, as tomorrow's event here is "fine press" -- an exploration of a very different collaboration, of a poet and a book artist (Chard deNiord and Brian D. Cohen). One of the things I especially like about these summer events is the gradual accretion of fresh material from our guests.

Peter Orlovsky and the New York Poets

Poets Ron Padgett and Tom Veitch are expected any minute, so this will be brief -- but when we got a phone call on Friday saying that Peter Orlovsky may be visiting today, to spend some time with the New York Poets that were so much a part of his life before his retreat to Vermont a few years back, we scurried to craft a collection of his poetry for him to share with the others. So today we're displaying "Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs," "Lepers Cry," and "Dear Allen: Ship will land Jan 23, 58." More later.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Art of Reviewing Poetry: Mulling over the new Rachel Hadas Collection, The River of Forgetfulness

I spent my evening reading the new poetry collection by Rachel Hadas, The River of Forgetfulness. Now I feel like I've got to punch holes in my own surface, like you would in a pound cake before pouring a flavored or liqueured glaze onto it -- need to let these poems soak in a bit, so that I can see and feel them as both emotional packets, and well honed blades of the art. Hadas is a classicist, a professor at Rutgers; like her father Moses Hadas and her half-brother David Hadas, she swims in a river of classical Greek and earlier imagery. So another next step for me, as I mull over how to talk about the collection, is to reflect on other poets who tug at this river of material to ground (or flood!) their work.

Any thoughts on what reviewing poetry demands of us?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Brian D. Cohen, Bridge Press: Collaborating with Poet Chard deNiord

I drove down to Westminster Station, Vermont, to visit Brian Cohen's studio. His broadsides are drop-dead gorgeous collaborative efforts, where he creates an engraving to meld with poetry -- often by Chard deNiord, the Putney, Vt., writer who directs the MFA in poetry at New England College (Henniker, N.H.). Their collaboration results in mystical, river-deep pieces that ripple through the soul. Next week, on Tuesday July 18 (4 p.m.), the two of them are coming to Kingdom Books to talk about these collaborations: how they begin, how they add dimension. Expect to see some of the broadsides. (Brian is also bringing another collaborative effort along, THE BIRD BOOK, a marvelous 26-page hand-colored book of bird engravings, with literal maple boards for front and back, engraved by book artist Julie Chen; the whole thing is cased in a clamshell box. Oooh la la.)
Here's a taste of Brian's art, called Zeppelin Interior. I've put a longer exploration of his career on our web site (

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Poet, Novelist, and Noted for Comic Scripts: Tom Veitch (2006)

Tom Veitch and Ron Padgett Reading Poetry, July 17

I've written a lot about poet Ron Padgett lately, as we hosted his tribute to artist and poet Joe Brainard last month. (Some of his poetry, as well as a review of his Brainard memoir, can be found on our web site, Coming up on Monday July 17, 4 p.m., Ron will read his own poetry here at Kingdom Books, along with Tom Veitch. So let me fill you in a bit about Veitch, who has been under the radar in recent years as a Vermont bookseller.
As I said to the booksellers (with a few additions from Tom himself) --

I bet you think you know the booksellers in Vermont pretty well: their specialties, their tendency to post e-mails, whether they come to book fairs. But I'm guessing this e-mail might bring you a few new details about Tom Veitch of Lightgate Books. That's right, Tom with the thick shock of greying hair, bristling eyebrows, low gruff voice, plentiful suggestions about the new world of e-commerce. Tom whose shop in Manchester, Vermont (with Martha), specializes in history, travels, exploration, and comparative religion. Got it?

Well, Tom is actually one of the most published Vermonters! He started with experimental novels, and his noted "Eat This!" got praised by the Chicago Review ("His vision is perfect. He has written a masterpiece.") when it came out in 1974 through Angel Hair Books (think Lewis Warsh, Bernadette Mayer). This is a book that's heavy on wordplay, country life, alternative nutty characters, a few motorcycles and moccasins -- classic 1960s/1970s fun:

"It was night. It was day. It was night and the sky poured kerosene on the roofs of the sleepy village. Night spiders spun webs from tree to tree. The Grand Dolphin, an imposing personage of collected years, sat in the mellow light of the library, studying Mole through a lookingglass. In the darkest corners of the room the books opened and closed with clandestine sound, each whispering of the topic it knew best."

Tom's earlier work, published at first by Ted Berrigan, included plenty of poetry, too, and in 1976 Big Sky brought out his 1964-1974 collection "Death College & Other Poems," with an afterword by Allen Ginsberg, who said, "At the end he breaks through to mystical transcendence bullshit humor." Here's a Veitch poem from the collection:

They gave him a restingplace in a hurry
They had to, he was getting smaller
Soon he would disappear.
In the nick of time
They closed the grave over him!
At that moment the sun was eclipsed!
The astonomers in attendance
raised smoked glasses
and shouted: A major discovery---
Quotation marks around the sun!


Okay, now you think you know Tom a bit better. But wait -- From 1965 to 1968 he was a cloistered monk in Weston, Vermont. And after that, he wrote novels, a screenplay, edited his own magazine, and became intensely valued for scripting underground comic books. He broke through into true fame with his contributions to the Dark Horse line of Star Wars comic book titles, notably DARK EMPIRE and TALES OF THE JEDI. He also wrote for DC Comics (ANIMAL MAN; and two Elseworlds series).

Think you know him now? I bet you don't know enough yet. But if you come to his poetry reading here at Kingdom Books on Monday July 17 at 4 p.m., Tom will read collaborations with his longtime friend Ron Padgett (they met at Columbia in 1963). He'll also read from a book he is writing about William S. Burroughs. You'll at least be able to say you've heard his voice doing something outrageous and entertaining and provocative. You'll be able to shake his hand and say, "Hey, Tom, it's been real." Or more!

Come on up or over. The refreshments are on us, and you'll never think of Vermont bookshops the same way again.

Monday, July 10, 2006

C. D. Wright: Poetry in Vermont

C. (Carolyn) D. Wright is reading her poetry in Vermont this month at two good locations: The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum on Wednesday July 12 at 7:30 (arrive by 7; this fills up quickly and can be a bit warm; 802-748-8291), and at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson on Monday July 17 at 8 p.m. (plenty of seating, but call ahead to tell them how many people you're bringing, 802-635-2727, and they'll tell you whether the poet has arrived for the studio session yet).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Poetry on the Vermont Train: Leland Kinsey, David Budbill

I'm just back from a three-day rushed trip to NYC via rail, and on the way back to Vermont, the conductor announced various points of interest over the PA system, then silenced the train by reading the poem Erratic Lunches by Vermont poet Leland Kinsey (from his collection Sledding on Hospital Hill). When I later recommended to our uniformed train staffer that he sample Kinsey's newest collection (In the Rain Shadow), he told me word of the poetry reading on the train is getting around... earlier this year a man walked up to the conductor and said, "Have you been reading out any of MINE?" It was David Budbill (Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse), from Hardwick, Vermont. So if you're taking the train to Vermont, watch for the conductor (Mr. Klinger) and have a copy of one of your own works ready to give to him!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Alan Furst, The Foreign Correspondent

Dave and I sometimes wait to get our hot new mysteries when the authors have circulated a bit, signing some copies, and gathering notice. So I only just got my hands on a (signed) copy of Alan Furst's wonderful new espionage thriller, The Foreign Correspondent. Lucky for me, I recently read his Kingdom of Shadows, because there's a lot of connection -- the dark pre-WW II worlds of Budapest, Berlin, Moscow, and Paris weave the fabric on which his characters shimmer. This novel centers on Carlo Weisz, a Reuters correspondent who is suddenly also appointed editor of an underground newspaper run by emigré Italians in Paris, trying to awaken their countrymen (through sending them the paper) to the sinister collaboration of Hitler and Mussolini.
While I was awaiting my copy of the book, I had an e-mail from a former international agent and espionage professional, who said he had found the book quite sweet. The term floored me -- a dark thriller with an undertaste of tenderness? But indeed, after a day and a half in which I was so engrossed in the book that meal prep was reduced to phoning for pizza and slicing bagels, I reached the unexpected conclusion and decided: Yes. Sweet. Even as the thunderheads of war loomed over the landscape, and death and torture spread, life retained an undertaste of possibility and small, gleaming pools of happiness after all.
This is perhaps another reason my Jewish German relatives preferred not to talk about experiencing the war and Holocaust. How would they have explained that moments of sunlight lingered, piercing the heart of the storm?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Laurie King, The Art of Detection

This newest of Laurie King's Kate Martinelli series has earned a lot of critical attention, as King draws into the plot a chunk of the Sherlock Holmes material she's played with in her other series (Mary Russell, late-life wife of the noted sleuth). Thank goodness, Russell herself doesn't appear in the contemporary cop novel, though. I'm not a fan of mingling centuries... despite the success of historical mysteries. I like my time periods "Straight Up," please.
The manuscript research involved in The Art of Detection doesn't bother me a bit, though; it's very "au courant," considering The Da Vinci Code, and of course the hot bibliomysteries by John Dunning. After all, the art of the forger is a tried and true feature of well-twisted plots.
But I'm disappointed in this Laurie King, because it misses two things that I think the earlier Martinelli books did well: portraying the nature of evil, and sustaining the sense of threat.
See, a hero (male/female) who doesn't have to wrestle for her life or integrity or both is holding back -- I want a tale that gives me a sense of doubt about whether things will wrap up well enough, and I want my heroes to struggle, exert those inner muscles, prove why it is that good can indeed win in the end. There's never a guarantee in real life. A good mystery shouldn't imply one, I believe.

Donald Westlake Writing as Tucker Coe

Coming up at Kingdom Books, August 13, our "limited edition" (20 guests only!) dinner for Grand Master of Mystery Donald Westlake and his author wife Abby Adams (see the KB web site for details). Dave's now amassed some 90 Westlake items in his personal collection, including some of the scarcest. He's been kind enough to set aside another 40 or so for the "shop." And we have Abby's books, too.
After three weeks of rest with a bum knee, Dave's also read and re-read a lot of Westlake. Me, I'm still wandering through the Tucker Coe series, touched at how gentle it is. I mean, this is an author who, under both the pen name Richard Stark and his own tag, is best known for wildly comic and bloody NYC mysteries, or even darker and more masculine versions of them (Stark, of course). But Tucker Coe... well, here's my take on another one I've read (I'm doing them in order): Murder Among Children, from 1967(reprinted by Five Star, 2000).

This second in the series featuring Mitchell Tobin is a compelling read, a mix of cop shop and teenagers, looking for a hand from the exiled officer that Tobin's become. And despite Tobin’s soul-deep despair, his interactions here hint at healing, holiness, and the kind of love that real friends create. When Tobin’s young cousin Robin, a partner in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, asks him to sort out a rogue cop who’s harassing the youngsters, nobody expects murder to erupt like a communicable disease. Tobin’s soul-sickness quickly falls into perspective as a heck of a lot better than that of the murderer. There are repeated threads of discovery and compassion and a predictably bittersweet wrapup.
There are three more Tobin books; Westlake wrote in the intro to the reissued series that he found himself caught, knowing that if he let Tobin heal, the series would lose its meaning -- and yet you can't keep probing the same wound forever. I appreciate that. Still, as in the darker Vachss series featuring Burke, there's a lot of leeway to paint with the pain.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

From Joe Brainard to Donald Hall

Ron Padgett's recent tribute to Joe Brainard (it was on June 24 in Vermont) kept us all smiling, enjoying Joe's knack for capturing on paper the silly or provocative things we all thin about but rarely capture: things Joe nailed in his classic "I Remember" series of poems. I brought with me a copy of the memorial tribute to John Myers, of Tibor De Nagy Gallery, so I could ask Ron whether it was true that John Myers had "named" the New York School of Poetry (as a parallel to the NY School of Art). Yes, said Ron, who also noted that the NY School of Art was itself named to parallel the Paris version. Then Ron mentioned, "Funny that it was called the New York School of Poetry, because it really formed at Cambridge" -- that is, at Harvard, where Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Robert Bly were all in residence. Myers would soon see the potential for pairing poets with artists, a brilliant stroke. Padgett told me the Big Names, as students, connected through the Harvard Advocate.
Hmm, I asked, wasn't Donald Hall (next US poet laureate) also at the Advocate -- but maybe that was later?
Not much later, and there was certainly an overlap, Padgett confirmed, although Don Hall was a bit younger, in his recollection. But: and this is a big one: Padgett commented that at the time, Hall was enamored of Robert Frost's writing, so deeply that Koch, Ashbery, and O'Hara, who were cutting different turf, didn't want to hang out much with Hall.
What an image of this group as undergrads! I'm still pondering it. By the way, James (Jimmy) Schuyler, also significant in what John Myers pulled together in New York, seems to have been a bit later arriving. Anyone care to add details?