Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Today: 200 Years, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It's the big bicentennial year for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and today marks 200 years since his birth. The Today Show will have a segment; more interesting, most likely, will be the event hosted by poet/bookseller Gary Lawless. Details:

Tuesday, February 27, 7:00–9:00 pm
Birthday Cake and Community Poetry Read

Longfellow sidewalk plaque will be unveiled. Emceed by Gary Lawless of The Gulf of Maine Books, the evening will start with readings by Brunswick school children of poetry written in their classes for Longfellow Days. Following cake, courtesy of Wild Oats Bakery, adult participants may read from poems or their own composition for five minutes each.

Event Location: Unitarian Universalist Church, 15 Pleasant Street, Brunswick, ME
Fee: Free
Contact: www.brunswickdowntown.com
If you can't make it to Brunswick, Maine, today -- and I can't -- it's good to know there are events going on all year for the Longfellow Bicentennial. One site to check for events is www.hwlongfellow.org.

Longfellow started writing poetry after the death of his wife; his first blast of fame came at age 40 (and remember, "40 is the old 60") with the poem "Evangeline."

I enjoyed hearing this Longfellow poem read this morning by Garrison Keillor:


Out of the bosom of the Air.
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent and soft and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tonight at VSC: Huddle Instead of Haines

Tonight's poetry reading at the Vermont Studio Center, scheduled for John Haines, has been changes to David Huddle; Haines had "a minor physical problem" that took him out of Vermont after all. Huddle, whose 2004 collection is GRAYSCALE, begins his reading at 8 p.m. in the dining hall, in the red mill building off Main Street.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Poet Kathleen Aguero: Two Readings

One of the poets I plan to read more from this year is Kathleen Aguero. Professor of English at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., she's a bit distant in miles from Vermont, but a bulletin from the college -- which does a Solstice MFA program each year (www.pmc.edu) -- caught my interest, as PMC has scheduled Aguero for two readings in the week of the MFA program: on Sunday March 11 at 2 p.m. in Boston with program director Meg Kearney at Forsyth Chapel, Forest Hill Cemetery (info@foresthillstrust.org and 617-524-0128), and with Richard Hoffman and Linda McCarriston on Tuesday March 13 at 8 p.m. in Cambridge at the Democracy Center (www.democracycenter.org and 617-492-8855).

Aguero's books include Thirsty Day (1977, in combination with Miriam Goodman's Permanent Wave; Alice James Books), The Real Weather (1987, Hanging Loose Press),and Daughter Of (2004, Cedar Hill Books; features Miranda from The Tempest!). She has also edited three volumes of multicultural literature, and her voice is often heard in collections that speak to Latina/o life and writing.

Here's one of her poems:

Where do you live?

And how long have you lived there?
Do you have any children?

This is my mother speaking
to me in a room where her grandchildren's
photos cover the walls. You look tall,
she says, and your hair is so curly.
You still don't comb it. I know
who you are. I just wasn't expecting
someone so young.

--Kathleen Aguero

Friday, February 23, 2007

Forgiveness or Blame? Charles Todd, A FALSE MIRROR, Ninth Ian Rutledge Mystery

Like Inspector Ian Rutledge himself, the small coastal town of Hampton Regis has suffered from a force of nature: The changing coastline has muted its once thriving status as a port, and now it's merely a fishing town. The ensuing quiet mix of retired gentility and working-class bitterness ("fish scales" make a slippery slope to try to climb, socially!) gives the town some appeal as a shelter for diplomat Matthew Hamilton, settling down with his young wife Felicity after being booted -- for some hushed-up reason -- from the peace talks after World War I.

And here, Inspector Rutledge finds a tormented tangle of love, jealousy, and blame that echoes painfully the issues he faces personally. His engagement to the woman he loved dissolved in the rubble of his war wounds, as much mental as physical. And, as readers of this emotionally anguished series already know, Rutledge carries with him -- in more ways than one -- the baggage of the men he saw killed in the trenches.

But what emotional grace will release the pain, start the healing that, in the best of times, life offers? Is it necessary to discover who to blame? Or how to forgive? The "false mirror" of the title places these two processes against each other, as though they were two sides of the same coin. They are not, however, and solving the mystery demands that recognition.

Charles Todd's sure hand generates another compelling read in A FALSE MIRROR. As a daughter and granddaughter of English folk, I sometimes question a bit of the dialogue. But I suspect even this small doubt wouldn't cross my mind if I hadn't learned that Todd is a pen name for the mother-and-son writing team of Charles and Caroline "Todd," Anglophiles steeped in English history and passions but actually Americans by birth and permanent residence. Their grasp of the enduring damage to the people of this small, dignified nation during the Great War is eerily true to what I've seen and heard.

The copy I have here at Kingdom Books has been signed by both of the writing partners, and it's an added delight to see the two signatures, each one saying "Charles Todd," but so clearly different in style. I can't ever find any puckers in the Charles Todd books that would reveal conflict between the two as authors, though. And it's simpler to allow my mind to see the author as one person, perhaps middle-aged or a bit older, seated at a worn writing desk in the English countryside, penning the tale. Any moment now, the bell will ring for tea.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chris Bohjalian, THE DOUBLE BIND

Vermonter Chris Bohjalian's new book THE DOUBLE BIND, barely released, is climbing best-seller lists the way his MIDWIVES did, and Amazon now has the book at number 28. He'll be reading from it this evening at the Firehouse Gallery in Burlington (135 Church St; http://www.burlingtoncityarts.com/firehousegallery), at 6 p.m.

I haven't posted a review of the book, in spite of reading it a few months ago, because my feelings about its structure and premise are both mixed and strong. I'm open to discussion here, though -- anyone care to comment?

Monday, February 19, 2007

From the Heart to the Tongue: Bruce Weigl, Declension in the Village of Chung Luong

"To acquire another language is to acquire another soul."

Poets know this best, since they notice immediately the possibilities of expression that differ from tongue to tongue. The French expression "tant pis" is barely translatable into English as the old-fashioned phrase, "So much the worse for you!" But it has a saltiness to it that I love.

So I anticipate pleasure in reading the work of poets who have multiple tongues: Paul Celan, Clayton Eshleman, Galway Kinnell. And this winter, Bruce Weigl.

Weigl, who lives in Oberlin, Ohio, is almost as well known as a memoirist (The Circle of Hanh) as for his poetry. He's also written essays on Dave Smith, Charles Simic, and James Dickey. Significantly, working with co-translators, he has developed translations of poetry from the Vietnamese and Romanian.

In DECLENSION IN THE VILLAGE OF CHUNG LUONG, Weigl walks back to the war that shaped his generation of Americans, and writes as one who also walked in Vietnam, in military service. He pares description to "the shriven lyric," as in "Say Good-Bye":

Say River. Say bloody current. Say not enough rice.
Say mother and father. Say village bell calling.
Say village drum calling. Say music through the trees

from someone's lonely radio. Say mango
sliced into the woman's open hands.
Say rice, steaming just in time. Say paths

worn by the naked feet of lovers. Say lovers
who must hide in the mango groves,
even to say good-bye.

And when this tendril winds into more detail, as in "Con Gai Bo" when Weigle offers us "I wanted to say that you were my river, / or that you were my flower, or that you were my yellow bird," we find the black eyes of another place and music. But still Wiegl hides direct narrative behind one hand, as though he can't quite bear to open the window on the story, to the prying eyes of strangers.

There are also abrupt twitches of the mouth in these poems, where the adolescent soldier's cynicism surfs into the present: "Something splendid might happen. Whatever." The same twitch appears in the piece "My Award," where the finale reports, "When I dodged the snipers, / I would seem to float above the stage."

I itch for the sound of Vietnamese words, and wish Weigl had allowed them into these poems, since I am confident that he has them -- that other soul, peeping from the curtains that drift across old, bad memories. One piece probes treatment of a prisoner of war -- is this in Vietnam in the '60s, or in Abu Ghraib so recently? Weigl dips more obviously into the nearly present time with "Iraq Drifting, January 2003," and into what sound like recent trips to 'Nam ; then he opens delicate love poems that walk in the past again, like "On Hai Phong":

He said that the flower of her sex
opened when he said her name, his lips

pressed against her lotus lips.

The conclusion to the poem shook me: "My / friend said that when the lights went out, she put her / fingers inside his mouth."

There are so many mysteries in the narratives that Weigl unfurls, but none in the images, scented and particular, spoken from that second tongue in conversation with the first one. Or even deeply kissing, tongue to tongue. It's the kind of collection that nurtures sparks into flames that way.

Last autumn, Dave and I listened intently to Brian Turner talking about "his" war (Turner has called himself an "embedded poet" in the invasion and occupation of Iraq). At the same time, we pondered Martín Espada's advice to Turner and others returning fro Iraq: Seek out the Vietnam veterans, who've had time to work their way through the memories and the shards still in their flesh and souls.

Reading Weigl, I want to take this movement in the other direction: to read Weigl, then Doug Anderson (THE MOON REFLECTED FIRE -- Vietnam), and Turner (HERE, BULLET), and at last Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail (THE WAR WORKS HARD), a woman of three tongues (Arabic, Aramaic, English). I dream that we may not only understand the wars in our own hearts this way, but also, just maybe, see pathways away from repeating them.
N.B.: Weigl with this book won a 2006 Lannan Fellowship, and the following is from the Lannan Foundation web site:

Bruce Weigl has produced numerous volumes of poetry, three collections of essays, and a noted memoir, The Circle of Hanh, as well as translating and publishing books of Vietnamese poetry. His most recent poetry collection is Declension in the Village of Chung Luong (2006, Ausable Press). Weigl was sent to Vietnam six months after graduating from high school in Lorain, Ohio, and his experiences in that war and on his return to the U.S., combined with his enormous poetic talent nurtured at Oberlin College, created “an eloquent spokesman for an entire generation of Americans whose lives were broken by the war and a country whose moral confusion desperately needed addressing.” After teaching for many years at Penn State, he returned in 1998 to Lorain, Ohio where he holds the position of Distinguished Visiting Writer at Lorain County Community College.

His awards include the Paterson Poetry Prize, Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Yaddo Foundation, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Poet’s Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His poetry titles include The Monkey Wars (University of Georgia, 1985); The Song of Napalm (Grove, 1988); What Saves Us (Triquarterly, 1992); Sweet Lorain (Triquarterly, 1996); Archaeology of the Circle (Grove, 1999); After the Others (Triquarterly, 1999); The Unraveling Strangeness (Grove, 2002); Declension in the Village of Chung Luong (Ausable, 2006).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Carol O'Connell's New One: FIND ME

Quick alert: Grab a copy of Carol O'Connell's new (ninth) Mallory novel, FIND ME. Framed in an ultimate multi-jurisdiction serial murder (FBI, Chicago, and local police along Route 66) is a tension-driven hunt for Mallory herself, as her partner Detective Riker fears the worst: Has she killed someone, crashed through into a psychotic breakdown, lost her own center? Mallory (Kathy to her adopted mother Helen, but not to many others!) tears new body openings in self-inflated cops who perform lousy crime scene work, teaches willing newbies, and all this as an aside while she's grasping at more important issues: trust, betrayal, and the slippery escape routes of the mind. O'Connell takes it all to extremes, keeps them mostly believable, and wraps with a massively satisfying conclusion. Don't plan any visitors after you've reached halfway, as you won't want to put up with interruptions while you devour this one.

Poets' Calendar, Kingdom Books: Spring!

Here's my morning photo (before today's shoveling); yes, there's a Kingdom Books banner under that snowbank. But as another poet wrote, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Honestly, March in Vermont won't be spring either. But at least it's got great daylight, and maple sugaring. And we launch our spring calendar of poets as March rolls into April. Please hold the dates, and for off-site events if you'd like to also stop by KB itself for a bit of inspired browsing, just let us know when.

Here's the roster so far:

Friday March 30, 3:30 p.m., at the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library of St. Johnsbury Academy, cosponsored by Kingdom Books (and we're bringing the books): CLEOPATRA MATHIS reads from The White Sea and some new work. This Dartmouth poet-professor and angel of The Frost Place braids her Cherokee-Greek-Southern US backgrounds with time spent on the dunes of Cape Cod along with her adopted home in New Hampshire, and crafts from these a lifesaving rope necessary for long searches into what the soul may be. When you lose a friend, a brother, a lover, where's the person gone to? How can you find that soul, to touch or talk with or simply pursue? Free and open to the public, in the fireside lounge, refreshments included.

Saturday March 31, 4 p.m., at St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, we participate in that gracious institution's award of the Athenaeum Medal in the Arts to RACHEL HADAS, who'll read from The River of Forgetfulness and new work, as well as perhaps some classics from her 14 books. Ticketed event ($15; reserve seats at 802-748-8291).

Monday April 9, 4 p.m., here at Kingdom Books, our second Poets' Tea, saluting JULIA SHIPLEY, who won the Ralph Nading Hill Prize last fall in Vermont Life magazine. DUDLEY LAUFMAN will be here from Canterbury, NH. We'll keep you posted as more people confirm -- a great event for reconnecting with "on-the-ground" New England poets, free of course, and a perfect day to arrive early and explore the 10,000 volumes of the Poetry-and-Fine-Press room. Yes, we still have work by New England's top narrative poets like Mary Oliver, Donald Hall, Charles Simic, Maxine Kumin ... lots of Language poetry too, and fresh items from our West Coast prowl, like some great early (and one SIGNED) A. R. Ammons, SIGNED Marvin Bell, early Gerald Malanga, Janine Pommy-Vega, ooh, don't get me started... BARBARA MORAFF promises to provide copies of some of her work that's been long out of print, too.

Saturday April 28, 11 a.m., here at Kingdom Books, Poets' Brunch with two poets published by Four Way: Ellen Dudley and Joan Aleshire. We'll have Ellen's new book on hand, and expect both poetry and great stories from these two strong-voiced women.

And looking further ahead: Saturday July 14, 3 p.m., at Catamount Arts in an air-conditioned theatre (who can imagine needing cooling off just now?): An extravaganza of poets of Alice James Press, with publisher April Ossman to introduce them. More details later.

Come on north. If it's still snowing, we promise to shovel a path.

(Just to prove a warm season is coming, here's a snap from last summer's Poets' Tea for Rachel Hadas (on the right, talking with library director Lisa Von Kann from St. J.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Out of the Blizzard, Into THE ELEPHANT'S CHILD: New and Selected Poems, 1978-2005, STEVE ORLEN

Our blizzard started Tuesday night, and "going out for breakfast on Valentine's Day" vanished as a possibility within a few hours. I shoveled snow three times on Wednesday, cut through five-foot drifts on Thursday to free up the dryer vent, and opened the same path all over again on Friday. It's Saturday night now. Snow hides the Kingdom Books sign by the outside staircase, but at least you can get there from here. And aspirin for all those newly worked muscles is the best of gifts.

Without the necessity of shoveling, the mind moves into gear, and I see at last some ways to talk about a book I've wrestled with for months: ELEPHANT'S CHILD, the volume of new and selected work from Steve Orlen (Ausable, 2006).

Long loose lines, absent of rhyme; iambics so relaxed they "slope out of the room"; story after story about people I haven't known, won't meet, haven't enough data about to visualize: Orlen's work differs from most of what I've consumed lately. It's not prose poetry, because I don't get a sense that the words have been compressed into deliberate sequence on the page. It's not line-driven, because most of the time the line seems to end by accident, without a bump or indrawn breath or even a pause. And it's definitely not what Gwendolyn Brooks described when she said, "Poetry is life distilled."

But that Brooks notion turned out to be the key for me to find my way into Orlen's work after all, since if the work hasn't been distilled, hasn't been concentrated or taken to boiling or even freeze-dried to essentials, then it must be ... well, it must be un-distilled. Loose. Gentle, rambling, discursive. Ahh.

Orlen, born in 1942 in Holyoke, Mass., has five collections before The Elephant's Child -- and by the way, two chapbooks preceded his first collection. With his narrative style and his roots in the peace movement of the '60s, his poems taste like Bay Area open readings. The "new" poems in Elephant's Child draw directly on images of 1956, 1966: starving poets, whether in New York or San Francisco, feeding from the margins of society. And they roll out a midlife vision of men and women, sex and survival, conversation and silence. The book title draws from the Kipling "Just So Story" about the insatiably curious Elephant's Child who gets spanked by his relatives for asking impertinent questions. But first it's filtered through Orlen asking people about their marriages, their accidents: Parenthetically within the poem he cites his wife telling him, "You're like the Elephant's Child. I ought to spank you when you ask such questions." Yes, spank -- quivering with marital teasing and lust, as well as with the original Kipling parental overtones.

"The City of Poets: 1966" becomes frankly autobiographical with the names of Orlen's poet friends from "back then," but first lays out a daily ritual of being a free spirit, whether fictionalized or not:

At Irene Kenny's bar I conspired
In the skirmishes of poetry
And got in a shoving match
With a drunken Kurt Vonnegut who said
"Free verse is shit," then I made love
With a lovely woman, six hours later with another
Who tried to teach me how to laugh in bed.

I ate the grits and canned beef offered by the State.
I slept too little and too much.

These mellow, memory-drifted narratives are classic Orlen. Although he has newer pieces with shorter lines, more deliberate breaks, in some current journals (like issue 6 of H_NGM_N at www.h-ngm-n.com), even when the lines grow short the story often lingers. His second collection, A PLACE AT THE TABLE (1981), offered more of these short-lined poems, and among these, "Family Cups" (included in the New and Selected also) concluded,

These two cups, chipped cold pleasures
Of the mouth, fill, are emptied, filled,
That after dinner two boys may stare
Out a window at stars lighting up,
Filling the heavens' face, where
Each of them wanders in his solitude.
The fist sorrow comes from the first hope.

There are poems in the New and Selected that speak more to my spirit than these; I like the slowly elongated lines of "The Painter" for instance, and of "Nature Rarely Confides in Me": "The pomegranates slicken after a rain. I know what color they are / Because I once had a magenta Honda 300cc motorcycle that glistened / In daylight and dimmed at night, like these pomegranates." Then I realize that I've slowed myself down, set aside the urge to shovel and sort, the tension, the push: Rather, Orlen's poems have done some of this, in asking me to be patient and keep listening.

The online journal H_NGM_N features a "Thank You, Steve Orlen" section now (issue 6), in which Orlen's teaching career is celebrated by poets who were charmed by him. He has taught steadily at both Warren Wilson College and the University of Arizona (Tucson). Tony Hoagland says Orlen taught him to "stay with your work"; Martha Zweig recalls Orlen teaching, "ride the music." Steady, supportive, gentle, despite an exterior that spoke of workingclass Holyoke and even a blued tattoo, Orlen's enduring gifts extend well past his own work to the hearts of poets unfolding in his classrooms.

These are good gifts. I'm glad I caught up on the poems that have accompanied such generosity.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

When Mystery Authors Go "Off Series"

[This was printed in the February issue of the Vermont Review of Books -- a great publication.]

When a successful mystery writer moves “off series” into stand-alone books, it can be a jolt for committed readers. But it’s often propelled by fresh depths in the author’s thinking and writing. So it’s worth testing out the fresh work.
Donald Westlake (a.k.a. Richard Stark) spends his life going on and off series, although many of his independents have become series in turn. For him, the pressure to move comes from a personal writing style that presses out far more than the standard one book per year that publishers expect. Multiple series, multiple approaches, let him put out more than one at a time.
Michael Connelly avoids having his character Harry Bosch become stale for him by diverging from time to time. In 2005 he brought out The Lincoln Lawyer, a legal thriller set in Bosch’s neighborhood; in 2006 he erupted with Echo Park, a powerful, suspense-driven detective novel that takes Bosch back into his unsettle past, and wrestles with whether he has the capacity for enduring love of anyone.
John Lescroart, after 13 Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky police procedurals, needed to plow new ground and took a minor character from the series, Wyatt Hunt, as protagonist in the highly satisfying Hunt Club last year; his sales leaped by 25 percent, and he released this month another stand-alone that reaches into the series for its protagonist, Gina Roake, in The Suspect.
Lescroart’s work has been far less recognized than Connelly’s, but his new surge of success may shift the balance a bit. Even less known outside the circles of mystery fanatics is S. J. Rozan, petite, tough New York architect, basketball player (despite her height handicap), and mystery author. Her series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith is charged with electricity and chemistry, as well as the grit and diversity of New York., and she’s the only woman besides Sue Grafton to win the prestigious Shamus Award for Best Novel (for Concourse). But when she moved “off series” with the 2004 publication of Absent Friends, it was a publishing disaster.
Let me quickly add that Rozan’s Absent Friends is an intense, well-written, even gripping mystery. The drawback in publishing terms turned out to be that it probes corruption in the sea of fundraising that responded to the 9-11 disaster in New York City. And, as she explained when she visited New England last year, people who experienced the trauma of 9-11 just don’t want to read any fiction about it. That means most of New York, at least. Ouch. Yet I predict the book will be quietly rediscovered by the rest of us.
So when I picked up Rozan’s brand new 2007 release, In This Rain, I thought maybe she’d return to the tried-and-true series. Wrong. What she’s done instead is intensify the probing of a city’s complex politics and the pool of money that feeds urban development; braid it into multiple motives for political and personal loss of integrity; add a dose of realistic race conflict; and spin it all through two compelling characters, the gravely wounded Joe Cole (dedicated police officer burned in a construction scandal) and hard-driven office Ann Montgomery, Joe’s former partner.
The book opens with short jagged chapters that flash among a handful of unrelated settings, much like glimpses through a bus or train window: You see the scene, even grasp the motives, but a moment later you’re someplace else and you haven’t known enough to call in an SOS for anyone, so to speak. I hated the sensation of reading these disconnected pieces, but I admit it gives a real city sensation. And it doesn’t take long before the connections emerge. Who controls development in impoverished city areas like Harlem? How will this affect mayoral and governor aspirations for the current crop of politicos and their aspiring replacements? Joe and Ann keep diving through paper trails, crash-landing in deep waters, twisted by high risks. Their complicated affection for each other adds pain.
With these plot twists come hard questions for all of us: If a political leader makes a place better, is it worth ignoring his or her ethical lapses? If there are lives to be saved, how many of the rules can be broken? What happens in a person to move the mind into killing mode? And if you’re a career police officer, exposed to death and abuse on a daily basis, do you lose the capacity to fully love another person, even your own child or spouse?
Sure, Rozan’s earlier characters were likeable, eager, and good at unraveling police situations. But this newer Rozan, with its jagged and deep losses and its hard-won survivals, even triumphs, is a far better read.
Thank goodness she left her series and made the leap into such books. Of course, she still may not find easy recognition and fame; she might not even want it. (Could interfere a lot with the basketball games.) But with each book like this one, she’s earning the commitment of readers who want their “escape reading” to also fortify them, get them better able to face the nets of both hard choices and flaming beauty still to come.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Poetry Calendar: Vermont

It was sixteen degrees below zero here this morning. But the days are noticeably longer, and the poetry season is blossoming.

Coming soon to the Vermont Studio Center: Carol Frost, February 12; John Haines, February 26; both at 8 p.m. Be sure to phone the center on the day of the reading, as Vermont winter can force schedule changes (802-635-2727).

Kingdom Books co-sponsors the Fireside Literary Series at St. Johnsbury Academy's Grace Stuart Orcutt Library -- and welcomes Cleopatra Mathis on Friday March 30 at 3 p.m. More details later.

April is National Poetry Month, and scheduled to read at Kingdom Books are Julia Shipley on April 9, which will be our spring "poets' tea"; and Ellen Dudley and Joan Aleshire on April 28.

Riddle: When is a children's picturebook really a poem? One answer: When it's written by Reeve Lindbergh, who starts each "read-to-me" book with a poem that sees multiple drafts that emphasize rhythm, not just as meter, but also as the back and forth look and love between parent and child. Her newest is My Little Grandmother Sometimes Forgets, and we'll present it with delight on March 12.

And one more quick bit of poetic news: William (Bill) Biddle, retired St. J. Academy teacher, renewed as Lyndon State College prof and simultaneously as a slam poet (!), sent the following e-mail:

I've had a poem published in Poetry International, a nice journal from San Diego. In the same edition with Diane Wakoski, many others . . . my name actually on the cover! [...] I'm so pleased.

It's "The Satellite Man"

The man who came to realign our dish
when satellite signals failed to reach us
couldn't wait to tell my wife what he'd seen
at his previous stop. "They had chickens
that didn't have no arms, that marched around
with giant steps. Like this," he said, goose-stepping
across our dooryard, bobbing his head and shoulders
sideways like Ray Charles at the piano.
"They just walked . . . on their feet,"
he showed again, "and didn't have no hands at all."
This man looked fifty, had his teeth, used tools,
appeared, though uniformed in white, quite normal.
But he confessed he'd lived his "whole life so far"
in Angel of Mercy Parish, Boston,
and had just seen his very first live hen.
Dish reconnected to the heavens, he left
beneath a halo from my wife; no wings.

Bravo, Bill! He'll introduce Rachel Hadas at the March 31 celebration of her work at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Archer Mayor, BELLOWS FALLS (1997): On Film!

(Photo: After his Kingdom Books event, Archer Mayor kicks back to talk shop for a bit longer -- both police work and writing. Yes, those books on the table are all mysteries that he's written.)

At almost every book event, Archer Mayor, creator of the Joe Gunther series of Vermont police procedurals, fields the question: "Have you ever had a film option on any of your books?" He gives an easy smile, replies "yes, but," and goes on to say that nothing has yet come of the offers and options.

Now, thanks to Vermont's own noted filmmaker Jay Craven and his team at Kingdom County Productions, Mayor has a new glimpse of the possibilities -- because Kingdom County Productions announced last week that it has the option on BELLOWS FALLS for a new feature film. The screenplay is under development.

This haunting novel that digs into small-town life and the complications of human police work has always been one of my favorites of the Joe Gunther line. I'm re-reading it this week, with camera angles in mind. Go, Joe!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Vermont Fine Press Feature: PLOWBOY Press, Andrew Miller-Brown

Working daily with Claire Van Vliet at Janus Press, Andrew Miller-Brown handles designs, papers, and inks that slowly develop into projects of great beauty and impact. But he also has developed his own press, Plowboy Press, with an icon of a wide-spread V crossed by a horizontal at mid height, and a location given simply as "Vermont." The imprint begins in 2004 with a modest entertainment, and blossoms with Miller-Brown's fall 2005 work, "Boustrophedonic."

Andrew studied creative writing at Johnson State College (Johnson, Vermont) in 2000 and was always in the art department and print shop, where he began to study printing. In the summer of 2003 he talked with Van Vliet, whose press is about an hour and a half from the college, in the hills of Newark, Vermont. And he began working for her in 2004.

His first project independent of Van Vliet's work was his May 2004 "Fable of the Cow," 20 pages of computer-set type and shadowy cow and milking parlor photos wrapped in a chapbook-style dust jacket, itself a set of images from the photo negatives; on the reverse of the jacket is a child's fanciful drawing, also held to be a cow.

The piece is crisp and shows the precision that Miller-Brown draws on in his work, but he frankly calls it "not much," and it might have had very limited life indeed had the college not requested a printing of it -- which drove the project into its second printing of 25, for the JSC trustees. Now a third printing, of 100, gives Andrew an amusement to share with friends of his press.

"Boustrophedonic" is far more serious in its design and construction. Printed on Barcham Green Sandwich, in letterpress work (Adobe Caslon), the pages are accordion folded and bound in paste paper on Fabriano Miliani Ingres (dark brown with lush golden-brown stripes, like an upscale woolen suit fabric), in a Fabriano Tiziano slipcase of medium brown. The edition numbers 100 pieces. The text is
"a passage from Aelfric's Colloquoy, an Anglo-Saxon primer used to teach Latin to young boys. Originally written in Latin and later glossed in Old English, it is a series of dialogues between a teacher and various Anglo-Saxon tradesmen and laborers. In this dialogue, presented here as a boustrophedonic inscription, the teacher asks a plowman about his daily work. The word boustrophedonic comes from the Greek meaning "turning like an ox while plowing." It is also related to the Greek word for ox-guiding or an ox goad. During the translation from Phoenician right-to-left writing and the left-to-right system we have inherited, early Greek and some early Latin inscriptions were written in alternately right-to-left and left-to-right lines allowing the reader to read back and forth as an ox plows a field. The dialogue reads from left to right along the bottom of the accordion and moves up the entire accordion in alternate directions. The printer's translation of the dialogue follows: What do you say, plowman? How do you keep busy with your work?..."
[I leave the rest to you to read within the piece.]

One fascinating aspect of this formal, elegant, classically derived piece is that it develops into a social or political statement, and the final words are "because I am not free." Following this strand further, with Van Vliet, Miller-Brown crafted a strong political broadside in June 2006, using words from Aristotle to deliver a stinging critique of the Iraq war and its pursuit by the Bush Administration. (The broadside is issued by the Janus Press.)

Future projects from Plowboy include a larger book of poems from a Burlington (Vermont) poet with "lots of dark imagery, using handmade paper for covers," and a book based on what Miller-Brown's wife's grandmother brought from Italy when she emigrated in the 1950s with her family, including both recipes and stories.

Kingdom Books is pleased to offer two copies of "Boustrophedonic," pictured here, and one of the broadside "The tyrant who impoverishes the citizens"; contact us for more information.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Planning a Summer Vacation

Yes, I know, it's snowing... thank goodness, since up here we've been seriously worried that Global Warming would capsize Vermont's tourist industry. Skiing, snowshoeing, even maple syrup: they all depend on cold winters. We also need the deep cold to do away with pests like ticks.

But summer will most likely arrive in a few months, and I want to announce a date that's worth shaping a vacation around: Saturday July 14, at 3 p.m., we'll host an event for Alice James Books that features four terrific poets (names announced later). April Ossman, the publisher, just stopped by to help hammer out the details. How often do you get a chance to spend a Vermont summer afternoon with four poets at once? (And that's not even counting April or me, or the neighborhood of Vermont authors who'll probably drop in.)

So if you're pondering reservations for the summer, here's a way to start choosing dates and places. In fact, Dave and I will even throw a supper afterward, so people can keep on talking. Count on stacks of books, signings of course, and conversation that's worth the drive.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Abundance = Kenneth Koch

No, it's not "new math" -- but it's a simple equivalence. Kenneth Koch, who died in 2002, was one of our most prolific authors, turning out 20 pages or more each day and amassing an archive at the New York Public Library that has set records for its size, and maybe for its variety, too. Best known as a poet, he was also a gifted teacher who in turn taught others his insights for "how to teach poetry" (Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, 1970; on the title page the authors are actually listed as "Kevin Koch and The Students of P.S. [that's Public School, for you non-city folk) 61 in New York City"). In addition, he wrote fiction, drew cartoons, and more.

Despite his death, it's now clear that the abundance of Koch's life continues well beyond his passing. In 2005, the threesome who make up his literary estate -- his wife Karen Koch, poet Ron Padgett, and Koch's editor, assistant, and also poet Jordan Davis -- brought out The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Koch (Coffee House Press). The team also assisted in the publication of The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch in fall 2005. This year, it sees release in softcover.
Moreover, Padgett is the editor for the upcoming April release of Kenneth Koch: Selected Poems (from the Library of America, American Poets Project).

But this IS, after all, one of American's most abundant poets we're talking about. So Ron told me this week that there's a FOURTH book coming in fall 2007: On the Edge: Collected Long Poems, a companion to the other collected poems volume.

I'm clearing a larger shelf. Meanwhile, watch for Ron's related events, of which we're glad to announce the following, already scheduled:

February 1: Emory University, Atlanta
February 20: Double Change series, Le Point Ephémere, Paris
April 11: Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven
April 26: Lecture on Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara, Milwaukee Library, Milwaukee
April 27: Reading at Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee