Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Entering Vermont Winter: Poets Carol Frost and John Haines, at Vt. Studio Center

Lyrical, image-rich, penetrating: the poetry of Carol Frost and that of John Haines share these aspects, although the poets couldn't be much more different. Frost has been both professor and poetry editor for years; her latest book, The Queen's Desertion (2006), is her tenth. Yet she's not much older than Haines was when his first collection emerged in 1966 after years of isolated homesteading in Alaska -- at age 42. Each is scheduled to read at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in February: Frost on Feb. 12, and Haines on Feb. 26, both at 8 p.m. Here's one from Frost's new collection:

To Fishermen

No more savage art: filleting: a deft pressure along the backbone
from tail fan to the red gills: fighting mystery with a honed blade
through the small bones: salt and scales on face and hands:: the Greek god,
as well, found flesh unmysterious, but in anger and disappointment: —
seagull cries, your music, are all about you: Apollonian but hungrier: nature is hungry::
the brave fish dies the birds swoop for the insides in no lovelier spirals.

And here's one from the collected poems of Haines, titled The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer (1993):

If the Owl Calls Again

at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we'll sit
in the shadowy spruce
and pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when the morning climbs
the limbs
we'll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold world awakens.

If you plan to attend either reading, call the Studio Center that day to confirm that the poet has indeed arrived (it's winter here; things change) and to reserve your seat: 802-635-2727.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Play, Not the Poetry: Grace Paley

Named Vermont State Poet two years ago (ah, that haunting line, "It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman"), Grace Paley is better known outside Vermont for her stories: vignettes that capture women's lives in intimate detail, often as they relate to protests on behalf of peace.

This evening was the opening night for a new performance drawing on those stories: STATES OF GRACE, staged by the Underground Railway Theater in Boston. Here's the skinny:

"States of Grace"

World-premiere! A new play for actors and puppets inspired by the smart, sly, funny, and moving stories of activist author Grace Paley.

Faith, a writer in a magical kitchen that becomes as animated as her imagination, seeks hope with eyes open. States of Grace is a thoughtful comedy about how to maintain optimism in a world that, as Grace Paley puts it, "threatens to drop away from us in poisonous disgust."
For show times and more detailed information... www.undergroundrailwaytheater.org or 781-643-6916.

The production runs through February 10, and on the final night there's a pre-show reception for Paley, and Howard Zinn gives a postperformance talk.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vallejo Symposium and the Complete Poems

Clayton Eshleman's bilingual edition of the complete poems of Cesar Vallejo, immense, comprehensive, and threaded throughout with the insights of this powerful contemporary American author (his depth of study and experience in myth, image, shamanism, and complex poetry are stunning), came out last fall through the University of California Press. Whether you've acquired a copy or not, if Vallejo touches your soul, here's an unusual opportunity to plunge more deeply into his work: Professor Caleb Na at the UCLA Spanish Department welcomes guests to a two-day Vallego Symposium there, on Febrary 22 and 23. Here are the details from Professor Na (q@humnet.ucla.edu):

Here is a rough schedule, and for more information, the public is welcome to call our front desk, 310-825-1036.

Thursday, 2/22
4PM – Vallejo Symposium in 314 Royce Hall
Introduction of Eshleman and Dr. Stephen Hart by John Dagenais
Introduction of Eshleman by Hart
Poetry readings by Eshleman
Introduction of Vallejo and Vallejo DVD by Hart
Showing of the DVD
Comments about translations of Vallejo by Eshleman
6PM –reception to follow

Friday, 2/23
10:30AM – Morning Roundtable in the Faculty Center downstairs lounge
Readings and comments by Michael Heim, Kelly Austin, Eshleman, and perhaps Efraim Kristal. Moderated by Kristal or Michelle Clayton
12Noon – Lunch for speakers in a Faculty Center room
1:30PM – Re-showing of the Vallejo DVD
2PM – Four afternoon papers
Papers by Kristal, M. Clayton, Hart and Chrystian Zegarra
4:30PM –reception to follow

Sunday, January 21, 2007

California Dreamin': John Lescroart's New Mystery, THE SUSPECT

We headed to the venerable mystery bookshop in San Mateo, M Is for Mystery, to help welcome mystery writer John Lescroart Saturday as he presented his hot new page-turner, THE SUSPECT. It's the latest in the series he's set in San Francisco around legal eagle Dismas Hardy and dedicated detective Abe Glitsky -- but not. After about 13 books featuring the pair, Lescroart decided a couple of years ago to slide sideways and try a new lead character, Wyatt Hunt, who eventually tied in with the others. The result was last year's lively and well-received release, THE HUNT CLUB. The author said the fresh approach pushed sales up about 25 percent ... so how could he resist trying it again?

This time, though, the protagonist is a woman, Gina Roake -- first time for this author. It didn't change the way the story flowed for him; nor did the change of scene, as his legal consultant, Al Giannini, has moved out of SF to "the peninsula" south of the big city, and as a result the plot moved south, too.

We'll post a review of THE SUSPECT on the KB web site later (www.kingdombks.com). Meanwhile, here's a quick look at the three aspects of writing and working in the genre that the gathered fans pushed: (1) the loss of one of the favorite characters within the series, Daveid Freeman; (2) the changing world of book promotion; and (3) the differences that revolve around the subgenre of thrillers. So ...

(1) No matter what Lescroart said about the new book, the questions kept hauling him back in time to when he killed off David Freeman, in THE FIRST LAW. Lescroart said the loss of the well-loved wise advisor "broke his heart" but was "necessary" in order to propel Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky into the plotted actions. Hence, character compels plot compels character. Hmm. Is there another character in the series who'll grow into the slot of team guru? Yes, says Lescroart: Aaron Washburn. Try the new volume and see if you can spot the trend.

(2) Book promotion sure is changing. Do it yourself -- don't count on the publisher. That's what this Bay Area writer discovered, after a fairly passive early career. Now he runs a web site, flies around meeting reps from Borders and Barnes & Noble, and pays to have his work announced through Author Buzz, a service that he said reaches some 40 million readers. May be paying off -- that, or the solid writing -- because his publisher, Dutton, finally bought him a full-page color ad in yesterday's New York Times.

(3) Thrillers: To Lescroart, thrillers are differentiated from the rest of the mystery genre by the unrelenting suspense in them. As a founding sponsor of a new organization for thriller writers, and joined by other sponsors Clive Cussler and Jonathan Kellerman, he's excited that conversation and sales are spiking in the subgenre.

Why did he move into legal thrillers? "Because I was failing desperately at making a living," he confessed, and also because he wasn't happy with the level of his own writing. But the critical shift in pace and depth took place when he was 41 and went into a deadly coma from spinal meningitis. A couple of weeks later, when he'd surprised himself and his world by moving into recovery, he dedicated himself to writing "a better, more important book" and crafted HARD EVIDENCE -- his fifth book and the one that really woke up readers. The first version, driven and compelling, he showed to Al Giannini, the legal eagle mentioned earlier. Al said, "It's a great book but the legal stuff is all wrong." So page by page, the team rewrote and polished.

By now, Lescroart doesn't just know his characters; he listens to them. "These guys are so real to me," he admitted Saturday. "It's not hard to keep track of them. I know where they are and where their children are. They're walking around the caverns in my brain."

As a result, he's 75 percent done with the next book already, which opens in Iraq. The research (he's not actually going there) has involved people freshly returned, and Lescroart says it's been "pretty disturbing ... the people that come back are a lot more emotional than we realize or read about in the newspaper."

But that's another story. For now -- check back with us in a week or so for a review of THE SUSPECT. And oh yes -- if you find yourself in California, do stop by M Is for Mystery. We do!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hermetic or Transparent? John Yau Reads

(Art by Jasper Johns: 0 through 9)

"Post-Modern life, you can't do anything right!" mourned John Yau as he warmed up in his reading at the Vermont Studio Center (Johnson) this evening. He was talking about the criticism he got for writing a poem in the voice of his baby daughter (now about 4 and sleeping in her mother's lap nearby), but he could as easily have referred to the sprained knee that relocated the reading, gained in a slippery winter storm today.

Yau read from his new book, PARADISO DIASPORA (note that the two words are anagrams of each other), including the long and tasty "In the Kingdom of Poetry." He slipped smoothly into his Egyptian sonnets ("A, becauses Egyptians never wrote sonnets, and B, because I've never been to Egypt"), which result in word strings like "cursing there's no canopic jar to piss in" and "riding a crocodile, gold head held high," as well as "a human jar with coiled hair," and closing with "and your face greets you from a wall you've seen before in a black mirror."

I liked his wacky 9-11 "A Revised Guide to the Ruins in New York City," and one of Cerise's poems (that's his daughter; the poems all begin with something the very young lady has said, in her own words). I also enjoyed hearing Yau talk about his passion for writing pantoums ("I go through peridos when I just write one after another -- and then I hate 'em all"), and he read aloud two that he was liking this time: "Self-Portrait by Francis Picabia" and "The Child's Story Under Duress," which opens, "A french fry stuck its tongue out at you."

The Studio Center brings together both visual artists and writers for its sessions, and Yau brings both into his work, as he is at least as serious an art critic as he is poet (and prof. at Rutgers). One result of this mingling is that the after-reading questions dare to truly question the work. After explaining the pantoum form to one artist and replying to his wife's question about his obsession (her term) with the painter Jasper Johns, Yau heard from another artist who said, "I understood one of your poems and none of the others -- are you trying to have that effect?" Yau replied directly:

"I'm not trying to write poems that people don't understand, but I'm trying to write poems that go beyond MY understanding."

He pushed this into more concrete terms by bringing back the french fry line and explaining that to him the line "is kind of inherently interesting," with its suggestion of a child's cartoon. And then there's the challenge of how to follow "a line that is complete in itself."

Most intriguing to me, though, was the discussion of why Yau's reaction to the Jasper Johns paintings is driving him to write a second book on them (the first came out in 1995). A listener inserted an extra question, asking what it is that other people miss about Johns, and Yau grasps. Yau's response:

"Everyone says Johns is hermetic and Andy Warhol is transparent. But if you're a poet, or a certain kind of poet, being hermetic is not necessarily a bad thing, and being transparent is horrible."

To Yau, "hermetic" indicates possessing a body of knowledge before you come to the world -- in this case, knowledge of Kabbala. He segued into the kinds of knowledge and work he demands of his students, whether in poetry or art criticism: He has rules, including a demand for consistent grammar and, in art criticism, a drive for fact rather than opinion. "If you choose not to know how to write, you're choosing to be ignorant," he conclued. "And that's unacceptable to me."

Next at the Vermont Studio Center: Howard Norman on January 29. Be sure to check with the center on the day of the reading to be sure Winter hasn't prevented the author's arrival: 802-635-2727.

Friday, January 12, 2007

CHINATOWN BEAT: Henry Chang and the Sound of a First Mystery

January Magazine just picked CHINATOWN BEAT for its Best Crime Fiction 2006 list, adding to the buzz and heat around this book. Here's why it's worth reading:

A piece of jade, carved with ideograms that relate to phrases that sound like the I Ching: that's the key to the actions of a Chinese mistress named Mona in New York's Chinatown. Although she's not the protagonist of Henry Chang's first detective mystery, her movements drive the plot from its inception. Chinese detective Jack Yu is caught between "old Chinatown" as spelled out in his father's life and death (and Jack's own traumatic experience as a teen) and "new Chinatown" with its gangs and power struggles (well actually, that's not so new, but perhaps more in-your-face and dangerous than it used to be). And it takes him a while to penetrate the overlapping stories around the death of a "benevolent society" leader, Uncle Four, to discover Mona's driving plan and persuasions behind the scene.

Gritty, definitely in the noir category, penetrated by dark dreams and omens, CHINATOWN BEAT is a great "first mystery." The poet side of me is especially intrigued by Chang's use of fortune-telling phrases and rhythms, his interleaving of language, image, and his abrupt transitions among characters and situations. It's a choppy, jittery tale -- but with an implication that the multiple Chinese languages behind it are forcing that sensation, as they butt up against each other, against translation, and against change.

I'd read it again.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Save the Date: Rachel Hadas in Vermont, March 31, Award Party!

The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum will award its medallion in the arts to poet Rachel Hadas on March 31, at the Athenaeum (1171 Main Street, St. Johnsbury, Vermont). Hadas, the author of a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations, also teaches at Rutgers Newark. Count on a gala event; yours truly is on the Athenaeum committee doing the party planning. Between her incisive thinking, her fierce classicist background, and her willingness to put her emotions at the core of many of her poems, Hadas offers strong and accessible work. Her newest collection, The River of Forgetfulness, is available POD from David Robert Books, http://www.davidrobertbooks.com/hadas.html

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Vermont Poet Major Jackson: HOOPS Makes the NAACP Image Award Finalists List

Hurrah! Major Jackson's outstanding 2006 collection HOOPS is one of the poetry finalists for the NAACP Image Awards -- awards that honor works in the arts creating and fostering diversity.

HOOPS contains strongly formalist narrative work by the Burlington, Vermont, poet and UVM professor, who also has a fellowship this year at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard in Cambridge, MA. The first section of HOOPS draws heavily on Jackson's North Philadelphia school years; the second is a powerful sequence that continues his "Urban Renewal" sequence launched in the earlier collection LEAVING SATURN; and the finale, thirteen poems long, is his "Letter to Brooks" -- Gwendolyn, who gave him his first public reading, and made sure he received a check for it, in an act of magical generosity across poetic generations.

The other nominees in poetry include:

Celebrations: Rituals of Peace & Prayer -- Maya Angelou
Jazz -- Walter Dean Myers
We Speak Your Names -- Pearl Cleage
Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees -- DuEwa Frazier, ed.

To learn more about the awards, visit: www.naacpimageawards.net/imageawards38.html

And for a review of HOOPS, see www.KingdomBks.com

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Bob Arnold and Longhouse: 35 Years of Poetry in Print

When Bob Arnold reached Vermont in 1971 as part of a negotiated deal with the U.S. government (remember the draft? remember what it took to earn Conscientious Objector status? remember what would come next once you became a C.O.?), he found a mimeograph machine at the church where he settled to work. And each time that he discovered poetry that he liked, he found ways to get it into print: via mimeo, typing, photocopying, and evenutally through letterpress efforts of friends (at least for wrappers; Bob wanted to keep the final prices easy on the wallet in order to see the poetry race out to readers) and this year, for instance, in a neat, conventional perfect-bound book.

The authors who became regulars for Bob's press, Longhouse, mostly wrote lyric and narrative poetry. They ranged from the frankly wild, like Irving Stettner, to a straong selection of the distaff side of the Beats (Janine Pommy Vega, Anne Waldman, Joanne Kyger), to Vermont's storytelling poets like Hayden Carruth and David Budbill. Bob has published a lot of work by Ted Enslin, a Maine poet who merits far more attention than he's had so far. And perhaps most memorably, Longhouse is the home of Cid Corman's poetry: printing, publishing, supporting, and inextricably woven into the fabric of Cid's life, whether in the U.S. or in Kyoto. As a direct extension of this resonance, Bob also vigorously promoted the work of Lorine Niedecker, a modest Wisconsin poet whose death in 1970 cost us all dearly. Niedecker's spare, incisive writing meshed well with Corman's urge to spend fewer and fewer words, with targeted energy. Bob thus nurtured the printed careers of both of them.

Bob announced this past week that the Longhouse Bibliography from 1971-2006 is now online, complete with his very personal annotations (brief but poignant) and color images of many of the covers. He invites viewers to:

Begin with the Longhouse Bibliography Part One 1971 - 1989


And continue with Longhouse Bibliography Part Two 1990 - 2006


I note here that Bob's wife Sue is inevitably part of his efforts; she joined him in 1974 and the two form an intimate Vermont partnership, with weather, wood, press, and poem. To celebrate their 35 years, in addition to savoring the bibliography, you'll probably want to pick up some of the small-press-run work that they mention, before it's gone. I do. The web home is http://www.LonghousePoetry.com

And here's a taste of Bob's own poetry, from his 1990 collection WHERE RIVERS MEET (Mad River Press):


Just before supper
I watched a storm draw in
Taking light
The trees toss
No matter
I have finished carrying
Elm from the edge of the woods
Bucked, split then stacked
I am done
Well used
Come snow

Oh yes, I mentioned a perfect-bound volume issued in 2006: That's Bob's new SUNSWUMTHRU A BUILDING, a prose sequence of tender meditations on tools, building, and fathering. Although issued through Longhouse, the book bears the Origin Press imprint, which Cid Corman originated and Bob is carrying onward, with help from Charles Sandy. But that's another story and I'll save it for another day.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Poetry on the Calendar: 2007

Kingdom Books hopes to host Brian Turner, Julia Shipley, Ellen Dudley, and Joan Aleshire over the next few months; we'll announce dates as soon as they firm up.

Co-hosting with St. Johnsbury Academy at the Grace Stewart Orcutt Library, we are very definitely presenting Dartmouth professor/poet Cleopatra Mathis on March 30 and Amherst-region poet Kevin Goodan on May 4 (those are Fridays; 3 p.m.).

Still in the planning stage: a series of visual media/poetry events featuring poets who've found Vermont to be the best retreat from the streets of New York City. Stay tuned.

And now, a few other poetry dates to note: Henniker NH's fabulous MFA in poetry program at New England College opens its January session with a dramatic move south, to a campus in Northfield, MA. See the college web site (www.nec.edu) for more details -- reading at the campus on Jan. 4 at 7 pm, Michael Waters and Ilya Kaminsky (don't miss it!); at the Hooker Dunham Theater in Brattleboro on Jan. 5, Anne Waldman and Toi Dericotte (talk about contrast!) at 8 pm; on Jan. 7 at 8 pm at the Jones Library in Amherst, Ross Gay and Gerald Stern; on Monday Jan. 8 at 7 pm back in Northfield MA, Maxine Kumin and Judith Vollmer; on Wednesday Jan. 10 at 7 pm, on the Northfield campus, Jan Heller Levi, Alicia Ostriker, and Jeff Friedman; and on Thursday Jan. 11 at 7 pm on the Northfield campus, Carol Frost, Paula McLain, Wyn Cooper, and Chard deNiord. Whew!!

Coming up at Vermont Studio Center: Jan. 15, John Yau; Feb. 2, Carol Frost; Feb. 26, John Haines (be sure to call on the date, for seat reservation and to confirm the poet has arrived -- 802-635-2727, changes DO happen).

And in case you haven't looked at The Frost Place web site recently, the 2007 resident poet is -- drums, please -- Jody Gladding! Quite a line of poets are scheduled for this summer (www.frostplace.org) at the Franconia, NH, site.