Sunday, October 28, 2007

Commentary: Soldier-Poet Brian Turner in Vermont

Brian Turner flew in from California to spend four days in Vermont -- including one in St. Johnsbury as the guest of Kingdom Books. His evening reading was in the classic upper hall of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, where in the 1900s the high social, literary, and political figures of the nation brought their public speeches. Craftsbury (VT) poet Peggy Sapphire, author of A Possible Explanation, offers the following commentary on the reading:

Brian Turner's reading from HERE, BULLET at the St. Johnsbury Athanaeum began with the title poem, as if it were a "photograph which takes him to the space he needs." Turner often read from memory, eyes closed, quietly and with images and memory running simultaneous with his sometimes whispered words. Almost all the poems in this first collection were written in journals while serving in Kuwait and Iraq.

"Hwy 1" begins as the "Highway of Death," and he knew as he wrote that his would be a "very long year." Turner counted 16 Iraqi police dead after one convoy passage, then counted out 16 of his audience this night, to wonder aloud the impact their deaths would have on their loved ones-children, parents, wives and husbands. "Each of us is a universe," he tells us.

The last line of "Observation Post #71," written in Balad, Iraq,"My mind has become very clear," was originally the first line of the last stanza of this short 3-stanza poem. It leaves things "open," he tells us, as they must be. This story is not over. And in fact, Turner is searching for ways to keep this story alive here at home, wanting us all to “feel it,” asks us, “Is the Iraq war here? Do we feel it?”

Turner looks to those of us gathered here, and asks that we remember "Eulogy," as the one poem would truly honor him, and in fact it was written to honor his dead friend, Pvt. 1st Class Bruce Miller, whose death remains unrecorded as among "the dead," omitted from the roster upon the return of remains to the U.S. Turner tells us it "undoes a wrong" and he reads it everywhere.

Turner discloses that nothing can "modulate the pain" of these poems until "we sit and talk" together.

Upon reading "2000 lbs." he incants "Inshallah," and it echoes throughout the Athenaeum. And my silence is all the more about my inadequacy, my helplessness in the face of this Hell in which Turner has somehow survived,and "Inshallah" becomes my prayer for him.

He reads "Night In Blue," and, as if in a final disclosure, says again,"I have no words to speak of war."

But Brian Turner has come closer than any I know. There seems no distance between where and what he has written, and where and what we hear in his courageous poems. Turner’s work challenges me not to go far from the Hell that is happening as I live my life, as I awake each morning long past the dawning hours of Iraq. And I will remember
the “night sky of the skull” of every dead child, every Iraqi grandmother, every dead American troop and all who survive with horrific wounds, certain of which will be tormenting for a lifetime. And beyond, as Turner offers from Qur’an 10:30, to ask

“Who brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living?”

Thank you, Peggy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Galway Kinnell Reading, Fri. Nov. 2

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell, of Sheffield, Vermont, will open this year’s Fireside Literary Series at St. Johnsbury Academy on Friday November 2 at 3:30 p.m.

Kinnell, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1927, is a long-time Vermont resident. He has mentored many poets and other authors through his career as Professor of Creative Writing at New York University; as Chancellor for The Academy of American Poets; and as distinguished faculty on many a writing workshop, in the United States and abroad. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his 1980 “Selected Poems.”

His newest volume, “Strong Is Your Hold: Poems,” includes his powerful 9-11 masterpiece “When the Towers Fell” as its central offering. Many of the other poems in the collection deal as directly and deeply with love, as implied by the title of the volume, drawn from Walt Whitman: “Strong is your hold O mortal flesh,/ Strong is your hold O love.”

His wife Bobbie Bristol, who is an editor, and his now grown children Maud and Fergus are often the focus of such poems, but so is the Northeast Kingdom, and one of his noted pieces is “The Beauty of Pigs.” Although the title of the poem is lighthearted, the material allows other readings too, as Kinnell has always faced squarely his perceived obligation as a poet to grapple with and voice the value and fragility of life.

“One thing that leads a person to poetry is an inner life of some activity and maybe even turbulence,” he has explained, “the weight of meaning and feeling that has to get out.”

Kinnell’s reading is sponsored by the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library, where it will take place, and by the St. Johnsbury Academy Department of English and Kingdom Books (which will provide books for purchase at the event). The library is fully accessible, and the event is free and open to the public.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Quick Updates: Kingdom Books Calendar

Yesterday's readings by soldier-poet Brian Turner riveted the audiences, especially the teens, who heard poetry, war stories, and Turner's assertion that they're walking into world responsibilities for problems their parents' and grandparents' generations have passed along. We have a few signed copies of Turner's award-winning collection written while he was an "embedded poet" in the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Iraq.

Kingdom Books has its usual second-Monday-of-the-month open day on Nov. 12, and the next author events are scheduled for Saturday December 1, to launch the holiday season with Vermont-centered merriment:


10 a.m. Share coffee and treats with Irasburg, Vermont, novelist Howard Frank Mosher, signing copies of his newest book ON KINGDOM COUNTY and chatting about his recent 90-city tour. Little-known fact: Howard loves turtles. Do you have one to bring along for a visit with this latter-day Mark Twain?

11:30 a.m. Mid-day event with a familiar voice from VPR, Steve Delaney, longtime new correspondent who's written a tender and humorous set of reflections on his adopted state in VERMONT SEASONINGS. Steve will sign books. Why not unplus and tote along your answering machine and ask him to record your holiday message in that inimitable deep resonant voice?

1 p.m. Mary Azarian's illustrations always say "Vermont" even when the book she's illustrating is set in New Hampshire -- like TUTTLE'S RED BARN. This will be a dandy children's gift, as well as a nostalgic adult remembrance of the southern NH family farm -- still in operation! We have plenty of her other books, too. We love having Mary come to visit!

REVIEWS resume on Sunday.

Vermont/New Yorker Cartoonist Ed Koren: Award!

Are you a fan of the hairy-looking cartoons by Ed Koren in The New Yorker? Koren, who lives in Brookfield, Vermont, receives the Governor's award for Excellence in the Arts this afternoon in Montpelier. There's a great audio interview with him on the Vermont Public Radio web site.

This award is presented each year by the Governor, in a ceremony celebrated at the State House. It is bestowed upon a Vermont artist who has achieved national or international stature for making a significant contribution to the advancement of his or her chosen art form.

The 2007 Governor's Award will be presented to Koren on October 26, 2007. The ceremony and reception will take place from 4-6pm in the Vermont State House.

Edward Koren has long been associated with The New Yorker magazine, where he has published close to 1000 cartoons as well as many covers and illustrations. He has also contributed to many other publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, GQ, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Fortune, Vanity Fair, The Nation and The Boston Globe. Koren's cartoons, drawings and prints have been widely exhibited in shows across the United States as well as in France, England and Czechoslovakia.

Edward Koren has received a Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Union College, and been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He is also a captain of the Brookfield, Vermont, Volunteer Fire Department.

W. S. Merwin Captures LOC Bobbitt Prize

Fresh news from the Library of Congress (here is the LOC press release in full):

W.S. Merwin, Winner of the Bobbitt Poetry Prize, Will Read, Oct. 31

Celebrated poet W.S. Merwin will receive the 2006 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and read selections of his work at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The prize, the ninth to be given, will be awarded to Merwin for his book "Present Company," published in 2005 by Copper Canyon. The 2006 Bobbitt Prize is awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry published during 2004 and 2005.

The biennial $10,000 prize recognizes a book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years, or the lifetime achievement of an American poet. The prize is donated by the family of the late Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and awarded at the Library of Congress.

Bobbitt was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sister. While a graduate student in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O.P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas.

William Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and educated at Princeton University. From 1949 to 1951, he worked as a tutor in France, Majorca and Portugal. For many years thereafter he made the greater part of his living by translating from French, Spanish, Latin and Portuguese. In 1952, his first book, "A Mask for Janus," was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. "The Carrier of Ladders" won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize, and "Migration: New and Selected Poems" (2005) won the National Book Award. He also has nearly 20 books of translation, numerous plays and four books of prose. He lives in Hawaii.

From 1999 to 2000, Merwin served at the Library of Congress as Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry, along with Rita Dove and Louise Glück. The three poets helped mark the Library’s 200th anniversary in 2000.

Merwin has received the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the PEN Translation Prize and the Wallace Stevens Award, among other honors. He has held fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation.

The winner of the 2006 Bobbitt National Prize was chosen by jurors Betty Sue Flowers of Austin, Texas, and Sherod Santos of Chicago. Liam Rector also served as a juror until his death in August 2007.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rachel Hadas Poem on The Writers Almanac, Tuesday October 23

Rachel Hadas lives in New York City, works in Newark, and keeps a home -- with a part of her heart -- near us in Vermont. She phoned last night to say she's planning a longer Vermont stay for 2008, and to give a heads-up for tomorrow's edition of Keillor's The Writer's Almanac on public radio. Keillor will read a poem from Hadas' most recent collection, THE RIVER OF FORGETFULNESS -- the poem "I.D. Photo."

If you don't have time to tune in, you'll be able to hear the poem anyway once tomorrow arrives, at Or read it today:

I.D. Photo

Since I can feel my radiant nature shine
Out of my face as unmistakably
As sunlight, it comes as a shock to see
The features that apparently are mine.

Mirrors are not a lot of fun to pass,
And snapshots are much worse. Take the I.D.
Picture taken only yesterday
(Take it-I don't want it): sallow face

Pear-shaped from smiling-lumpy anyway,
Droopy, squinty. General discouragement.
I'd blame the painter, if this were in paint,
But can't avoid acknowledging it's me,

No likeness by an artist I could blame
For being bad at matching in with out.
What I see, alas, is what I get.
Victim and culprit are myself and time—

Having seen which, it's time to turn aside;
Look out from, not in at, an aging face
That happens to be mine. No more disgrace
Lies in having lived then having died.

Crossover Post: Poetry to Mystery (!!)

Today's Garrison Keillor pick for The Writers Almanac made me grin, because it's such a direct crossover from poetry to mystery. It's by Ron Koertge, from his collection FEVER:

Nancy Drew

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" And it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
with his mouth open.

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

Nancy accepts their thanks, but she's subdued.
It's not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans
a short vacation to sort out her emotions she knows
there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green
off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband.

Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one:
the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way
he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard,
those feelings that made her not want to be brave
confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Poets Nurturing Poets: Potluck for Brian Turner

Brian Turner's reading at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum on Thursday October 25 (7:30 pm; free and open to the public) is sure to draw a crowd. In addition: If you're a poet and would like to join us for a quiet potluck supper for Brian ahead of time here at Kingdom Books at 5:30, please get in touch by e-mail, -- we'll limit the group to 8 or 10, to keep things gentle. But this will be a nice chance to talk as poets who care ...

Last Call, Supper with Archer Mayor and His Joe Gunther Mysteries

There are still some seats available for Monday's event with premier Vermont mystery author Archer Mayor. A mere $35 (of which $25 goes to the book) gets you a signed first edition of Mayor's new Joe Gunther police procedural CHAT, plus a tasty Vermont supper here at Kingdom Books, plus three hours of conversation with the author as we all sit down together and talk mystery. E-mail right away to save your seats, please: -- and yes, signed copies without coming to supper are also available, for $25 plus $4 shipping.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Awards in Poetry: What Do They Mean?

On October 12, I posted the list of National Book Award finalists here. For a challenge to what the award represents, see the highly noticed blog article by Ron Silliman here:
Here's an excerpt from Silliman's contentious essay:

This past week’s National Book Award nominations for poetry are a scandal that should get somebody fired, not so much for the poets who were chosen – most are credible examples of the same small school of writing – as for the selection of the panel who did the choosing. Charles Simic, Linda Bierds, David St. John, Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey may be diverse in terms of gender, race, even age, but all five represent the same neophobe movement in American letters. There is not one post-avant, not one third-way, visual, slam or other kind of poet. Imagine a National Book Foundation panel that included, say, Jack Hirschman, Antler, Diane DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Janice Mirikitani, all poets associated in some way with the Beat scene, and that they chose a list of possible recipients that included Eileen Myles, David Meltzer, Jack Foley, Michael Rothenberg & Amiri Baraka. There would be howls of outrage, as there were in 1979 when the National Endowment for the Arts attempted to redress that agency’s historic neglect of “marked case poets” of all kinds all at once. If there are not screams & speeches before Congress at the output of this year’s panel, it’s not because the panel represents a broader spectrum of the world of poetry, but only because it represents that tiny sliver that fancies itself as being “just poets.” This panel’s selections reflect not only aesthetic sameness, but all are white, four are published by big trade presses, all but Ellen Bryant Voigt have Ph.D.’s and teach for a living. Voigt, obviously the rebel in this scene, got her MFA at Iowa City. Oh, she too teaches.¹ At 57, Linda Gregerson is the baby of the group. As a cross-section of American poetry, this doesn’t stretch even from A to B.

And for a little news from the opposite front, I note that Alice Notley has won this year's Lenore Marshall Award in Poetry, announced by the Academy of American Poets:



New York, October 3—The Academy of American poets is pleased to announce that Alice Notley's Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970–2005 (Wesleyan University Press) was chosen by poets David Baker, Mark McMorris, and Marie Ponsot to receive the 2007 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year. The finalist for the award is David Wojahn for his collection Interrogation Palace (University of Pittsburgh Press).

About Notley's winning book, judge Marie Ponsot remarked:

These poems give us thirty-five years of political, personal, death-defying engagement. The nature Notley most loves is human nature. That urban passion propels her speculative dramas of gender, class, and race; of Vietnam and Iraq; of schemes of power and the claims of art. Ardent and agile, she is willing to cry out, to drift, to stammer, so as to put every turn of language to her use. Her aim is to speak to everyone; her book shows her success.

Alice Notley
A prominent member of the eclectic second generation of the New York School, Alice Notley has published over thirty volumes of poetry, including Disobedience, winner of the 2002 International Griffin Poetry Prize, The Descent of Alette; Selected Poems of Alice Notley; Waltzing Matilda; and Spring Comes, which received a 1982 San Francisco Poetry Award. Notley has won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Paris, where she edits the magazine Gare du Nord.

David Baker
The author of eight books of poetry, most recently Midwest Eclogue (W. W. Norton), as well as two critical books, Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry and Meter in English: A Critical Engagement, David Baker has received fellowships and awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mark McMorris
Mark McMorris's books include The Black Reeds winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series from Georgia University Press; and The Blaze of the Poui, which was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize. He has been published widely in magazines and anthologies and teaches at Georgetown University.

Marie Ponsot
Marie Ponsot has published numerous works, including Springing (Knopf); The Bird Catcher, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Green Dark; Admit Impediment; and True Minds. Among her awards are the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize was established in 1975 by the New Hope Foundation in memory of Lenore Marshall (1897–1971), a poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist. Lenore Marshall was the author of three novels, three books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and selections from her notebooks. Her work also appeared in The New Yorker, The Saturday Review, Partisan Review, and other literary magazines. In 1956 she helped found the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the citizens' organization that lobbied successfully for passage of the 1963 partial nuclear test ban treaty.

About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1934 to foster appreciation for contemporary poetry and to support American poets at all stages of their careers. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world;, the most popular site about poetry on the web; the Poetry Audio Archive, capturing the voices of contemporary American poets for generations to come; American Poet, a biannual literary journal; and our annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy also awards prizes to accomplished poets at all stages of their careers—from hundreds of student prizes at colleges nationwide to the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement in the art of poetry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Public Radio "Recovering Flatlander" Issues His First Book -- and It's a Keeper

(Steve Delaney, left, and Bob Kinzel, reporting on Election Night 2000)
In the 1970s he was an NBC correspondent in Tel Aviv; in the late 1990s he became a central voice of Vermont Public Radio.

Now, after 10 years with VPR and 20 years of life in Milton, Vermont, Steve Delaney has put his “recovering flatlander” status on the line in his new book, “Vermont Seasonings.”

The clear-speaking correspondent who covered wars on three continents, as well as politics in Washington, DC, turns instead to Vermont years and ways in this tasty volume of just under 200 pages. Delaney opens with the March traditions of Town Meeting and voted budgets, and ruminates on the terms “flatlander,” “downcountry,” and “from away” – which he also defines in entertaining fashion in the book’s Vermont-Speak Glossary. Among his other terms are:

“Real Vermonter (n.) (Loose definition) Person who has always lived in Vermont… (Strict definition) Person who has always lived in Vermont and whose parents have always lived in Vermont… (Ultra-Orthodox definition) Person who has always lived in Vermont, whose parents have always lived in Vermont, and whose ancestors have always lived in Vermont, for at least seven generations. Occasionally insufferable about it.”

Besides Delaney’s humorous twists, which often tease from his own life, he spreads out seasonal changes like sugaring, flights of geese, late-arriving spring (“moving at about the speed of a butterfly near the town of Lebanon”), fireworks, and the boat traffic on Lake Champlain. He’s often personal in his observations: “I can’t come with you, Brother Goose, but it’s a comfort to know that you call forth the banked bit of wild in me.”

It’s a delight to read beyond the low mellow voice of the radio’s noontime show, to page through the reflections of a new grandfather and ardent observer. And it’s fun to tag along for his fall foliage view, ice fishing trip, and hours in the local store soaking up language about how cold it gets in February. In all those years as a correspondent, he didn’t often let the fun parts spill out publicly.

But now, thanks to this dandy calendar of ruminations, interspersed with gentle poetry, we’ve got front row seats to watch a Recovering Flatlander (R.F. after his name) ease his way into Vermont storyteller status. I like the comment that journalist Chris Graff offered for the back of the book:

“Steve Delaney reminds us throughout ‘Vermont Seasonings’ that he is not a ‘Real Vermonter,’ but he displays such a keen understanding and appreciation of the rhythms of a Vermont year that readers will think otherwise.”

Delaney’s book is available at local shops -- he’s delivering the copies himself, enjoying the driving around the state where he’s rooted since 1947. And in the interest of full disclosure: I've been assuring him for at least a year that he should follow through on getting this book into print. But the little bits I saw via e-mail ahead of time didn't give me half as much fun as opening up the printed pages and chuckling my way through this wry commentator's take on real life in Vermont.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dinner with Archer Mayor, Mon. Oct. 22

Kingdom Books still has some seats open for our "Limited Edition Dinner" with Archer Mayor on Monday October 22 at 5:30 p.m. Meet and enjoy an evening's conversation (stay as late as 9 p.m. if you like) with Vermont's master of the police procedural. The dinner fee of $35 per person includes a signed copy of Mayor's spanking new Joe Gunther novel CHAT, plus a tasty New England autumn supper here at the home of Kingdom Books in Waterford, Vermont. Please contact us to reserve your seat: 802-751-8374 and If you can't make it to Waterford that evening, you can also reserve a signed copy of the book ($25 plus $4 shipping; yes, you can specify an inscription!). We also have all of Mayor's other Joe Gunther titles available as hardcover first editions.

BOOK ARTS: Claire Van Vliet and Landscape

Nancy Reid is a neighbor to book artist Claire Van Vliet in Newark, Vermont. She recently "rehabbed" her classic New England barn to create a gallery explicitly dedicated to landscape -- and chose work by Van Vliet for the opening exhibit.

Describing Van Vliet's path from papermaking at the Twinrocker paper Mill in Indiana, to creating her own handmade papers for use in her limited edition books, to literally painting with the pulp during the papermaking process, Reid commented that "The sinking of the color into the paper pulp makes for a texture of great luminosity and extreme sensuousness."

For the Maple Ridge Gallery exhibit this fall, Van Vliet provided images of the "primal land" of northwestern Ireland, where she toured in 1983. Her excursions into the rugged back-country extended from a month-long stay at Ballycastle in County Mayo for an arts festival. Van Vliet writes:

The coastal landscape in County Mayo feels similar to the American West, with distant horizons. This vastness hooked my imagination. Yet in Mayo, it is an illusion of vastness, as the actual distances are not that great. There is a human scale and the palpable presence of the five thousand years of people shaping the landscape... Even after fourteen years, the material gathered in that period is a well that continues to feed my work.

Van Vliet's images of wildlands crossed with human purposes mesh well with the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where she chose to situate her book arts as The Janus Press. (Hr awards for The Janus Press are many, and she was given a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1989.) I find their dark exhilaration to be the perfect counterweight for exploring the precise and balanced type and design work of, for instance, her Gospel of Mary (see our web site,, for photos and a video of this powerful construction). Moreover, the sense of this well of vision enhances the experience of Van Vliet's body of book arts as a whole.

Kingdom Books offers a signed copy of the Claire Van Vliet exhibit catalogue for "Primal Land - Northwest Ireland."

And for more information on Reid's gallery, contact her directly: Nancy C. Reid, Maple Ridge Gallery, 1713 Maple Ridge Road, Newark VT 05871 (802-467-8400; also, although the web site was not yet active at the time of this writing).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Those Challenging Modern Neighbors to the English Country House Mysteries

For differing reasons, I read all the Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine and Colin Dexter crime novels I can lay hands on. I find that the friendships within the books offer, for me, a good balance to the darkness of the crimes and evil that each author lays bare. It's a far cry from the Agatha Christie English country house style.

One of our Kingdom Books "regulars" also turned us on to a Scottish (Glasgow) writer whose work we'd somehow missed -- William McIlvanney. In Scotland he's noted as a literary author, but his three works of crime fiction create a set of characters and memorable neighborhoods. Wikipedia notes that "Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991) are crime novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Laidlaw is considered to be the first book of Tartan Noir, despite the author calling the genre "ersatz"."

And then there are the Irish... in fact, this spring when Europa Editions released Gene Kerrigan's THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR (second crime novel of another literary figure, this one from Dublin), I lost two days of other work because I couldn't put the book down. Rereading it draws up the insistent contrasts of wealth and desperation, law breaking and family attachment, career policing and career politics. Although the book is set up as a sequence of "tales" of Irish detection and corruption, they're smoothly linked and compelling. From gang leader Lar MacKendrick and his murdered brother Jo-Jo, to Detective Inspector Synott's blind pursuit of a rape suspect, to the conundrum of a jumper from a rooftop who is apprehended by Detective Joe Mills but who refuses to explain the dried blood all over him, there are unexpected strands of connection. Here's an excerpt:

Detective Garda Rose Cheney finished typing up a long-overdue report on a child abuse case just in time to leave for the courts. The way traffic was, it meant adding half an hour to the usual driving time, just in case. Better that a copper be an hour early than keep a judge waiting half a minute. She pulled on a jacket and was reaching for her handbag when her mobile rang. The caller introduced himself as a detective from Earlsfort Terrace. "You're dealing with an alleged rape, I'm told?"

"Who said?"

"A colleague mentioned it, knew I'd an interest, put me onto you. The name of the alleged rapist is Hapgood, I'm told?"

"You know him?"

"We should talk."

Kerrigan is an award-winning journalist; he's writing the streets and conflicts of modern Dublin as he's lived with them. His first crime novel was the deeply disturbing Little Criminals. Looks like he's on a roll... This book goes on the shelf with space next to it for Kerrigan's future efforts.

Spanish Detective Fiction: The Petra Delicado Series

From Prime Time Suspect:

I reached the conclusion that there ought to be convents for non-believers, bruised, exhausted people, in need of solitude, but who did not want to have to give up all the pleasures of life. What about sex and love? Would they all have to give that up, too, or risk the convent becoming a brothel within three days of being set up? What would the community live off? Where did monks and nuns get there money from, anyway? Did they still make sweet liqueurs and embroidery? How to finance the thing? That would be the reatest problem, as always. Money, money, money. I thought about the case again. How was Moliner getting on with the minister? We had arranged to meet at nine in the hotel, where he had also reserved a room. Perhaps he would tell me then...

Europa Editions ( now offers two Petra Delicado mysteries, translated from the Spanish; a third one is planned for 2008. That's half the volumes already in print in Spain in this enormously popular series by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, who had already brought out from 19996 to 2006 six of the projected thirteen books in this detective sequence. In Spain there's even a TV version available, and Giménez-Bartlett won the 1997 Feminino Lumen prize for best female writer in Spainm, as well as the Baccante literary prize.

Europa offers Dog Day (first in the series) and the sequel Prime Time Suspect, which I enjoyed over the summer. Delicado is a Barcelona Police Inspector with a partner, Sgt. Fermin Garzon, who assists her in navigating the webs of politics and departmental finances while investigating capital murder. Without losing her sense of humor or her sensuality, Delicado provides a tough driven career approach; Garzon takes the softer, more sentimental route and frustrates his boss by not seeing the underside of people as readily.

In Prime Time Suspect, the death of a television journalist links to that of another celebrity; blackmail seems a likely factor. But whether Delicado will get to handle her case at all -- she is transferred almost at once -- and whether the hornets' nest of accusations will become too "political" for the police department to pursue continue to dog her progress.

Nick Caistor translated both this one and Dog Day; although he sometimes slips among forms of language and American terms, the distractions aren't significant. I would guess the original Spanish had more distinctive voices for the characters, but that too is a small complaint compared to the pleasure of digging into a new series and a compelling plot-driven mystery. And through it all, the savor of a modern Spanish police inspector, full of life and appetite, comes through the language gap very clearly.

Coming up in 2008: Death Rites, with another translator. I'll be ordering my copy in advance.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ellen Bryant Voigt: MESSENGER

(This review ran in March in the Vermont Review of Books. I'm printing it here for convenience for blog readers; it will also be in the Poetry Reviews section of our web site,, later this week.)

The Word, the Knife, the Poem: Ellen Bryant Voigt, MESSENGER

by Beth Kanell

There are only ten new poems in Ellen Bryant Voigt’s MESSENGER: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1976-2006. I wish there were more, because for me, each time Voigt releases a new group of poems, I realize there’s a new principle she’s putting into effect. And ten poems is a bit of a short run for me to grasp and grapple with her latest.

In fact, I have to look words up (like Rubato, which is the title of her second new poem here: Italian in origin, a musical term for fluctuation of speed within a musical phrase – which alerts me to listen to the changes within the poem’s meter more intensely and actively), recollect the classics and biology, reach for visions of birds whose forms and colors I may not yet be aware of.

The book’s final poem is both fierce and frightening: the messenger is not a kind one, and the Annunciation (Mary hearing the angel announce her future), swept into the poem, contrasts its assumed comfort to the danger of the messenger Voigt has witnessed. “One doesn’t notice wings when they’re at rest. / One doesn’t notice the scythe of the beak at rest: // opaque, like horn, or bone, knobbed at the base / but tapering, proportional to the head.” Grasp at the heron mentioned soon, but there’s little doubt that this is a more dangerous, more threatening messenger. It doesn’t leave for the winter; it stays, “camouflaged /among the gaunt gray alders along the brook, / still as a stalk beside the water’s edge-- // of course it’s there.”

Like a student voluntarily accepting the leadership and carving knife of a skilled teacher, the reader of these poems – by choice – may bare the throat to this power. But despite my choice here of “starting at the end of the book,” it makes sense instead to follow the path Voigt lays out in her sequence from earliest published poems to current ones.

In the poems from her 1976 collection Claiming Kin, Voigt writes from a looser, more rural stance, framed in the Southern farmland of her youth. Yet the first piece opens with the hands-on killing of a chicken, and two poems later, in “Dialogue: Poetics,” I find the voice of the poet who demands that every word be selected for significance and resonance:

Admiring the web, do we
forget the spider? The real
poem is a knife-edge,
quick and clean.

Here are the terse, enjambed lines that become Voigt’s hallmark. Her second collection, The Forces of Plenty, exhumes and examines grief and loss that are never fully explained; whatever postmortem the poet has conducted is distilled instead into something less skeletal (if equally bloody). We peer into a life, then see the curtain sharply drawn across the window. In “Year’s End,” there’s a flash of family that quickly ascends into complication, multiple threats to children’s lives:

We sat together in the little room,
the walls blotched with steam,
holding the baby as if the two of us
could breathe for him and were not helpless.

In “Jug Brook” the deaths of wildlife (deer, fish, even mosquitoes) rise into a personal lament: “Have I learned nothing? God, / into whose deep pockets our cries are swept, / it is you I look for / in the slate face of the water.”

So the selected poems move onward, as we and Voigt, with 30 years to collapse into a single book, struggle for vision and perspective. I find her choices from The Lotus Flowers reflective of the increasingly specific professorial position she undertakes, as she tells “The Last Class,” “Put this in your notebooks: / All verse is occasional verse.” And then she instructs, “The man is not a symbol,” and pounds forth, “I wanted to salvage / something from my life, to fix / some truth beyond all change,” as she pushes from the poem’s premise like a climber’s stretch toward the intended goal, the goal that was always the reason for the toehold chosen. Later she names a “cruel perfected music.”

Two Trees offers variations, as if in music, upon both Eden and the intertwining of song and story. And then the work takes a powerful side journey, away from the terse and pruned earlier lines, into a longer, looser structure of a sequence of sonnets that evoke a community suffering the influenza epidemic of 1918, at the end of World War I. Voigt created the transition of form as a discipline for herself; the selection of 32 of the sonnets here conveys the passionate liturgy of the full book.

Voigt’s 2002 collection, Shadow of Heaven, is so much less interlinked that it almost moves beyond the spider at the center of the web that she posited in 1976. Grappling with both the deaths and the lives of her parents, and the rhythms of her marriage to Francis Voigt, she announces in “Long Marriage”:

More than a lucky fit—
not planks planed from the same
oak trunk but mortise and tenon—

it is the yoke that makes
the pair, that binds them to
their blind resolve …

Through a conversation with the poet Aga Shahid Ali, a sequence of sonnets redolent of Virginia (her sister’s home; Voigt has chosen Vermont for her own since 1969), and a long intense series (“The Art of Distance”) that narrates stories of her father and grandparents, Voigt names the ways in which she has chosen to resemble her parents, even as she continues to argue with their voices. Her meter insists on the import of each word: “My strict father,” she pounds, “would have been appalled” at the way she watches an injured snake struggle toward its own death. She yields to the judgment of the voice, then piles story upon story until finally, like Penelope in Odysseus’ absence, asserting the feminine: “but like loom’s ratcheting shuttle, weaving / first a net, then a veil, and then shroud.”

And that, of course, brings us to the finale of MESSENGER – circle back to the start.

National Book Award Finalists in Poetry

We still have a signed copy of Ellen Bryant Voigt's MESSENGER on hand here at Kingdom Books, and we'll be adding the rest of these titles over the next week or so. I love wrestling with the top picks and hypothesizing about what gets them onto the short list. With Voigt's collection, there are some quick answers: It's a lifetime survey of her work, jammed with poems that evoke lasting responses, and the new work in the final section is dense and provocative. More later on the other four...


Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Robert Hass, Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins)
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St. (Louisiana State University Press)
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart (W.W. Norton & Company)
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006
(W.W. Norton & Company)

Poetry Judges: Charles Simic (chair), Linda Bierds, David St. John,
Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey.

CRITICAL MASS: Doris Lessing Wins Nobel

Looking for a really good interview of Doris Lessing, this week's newly announced winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature? Try this one, from the blog of the National Book Critics Circle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MIDDLEWORLD: Vermont Authors Launch a New Adventure, in a New Middle-Grade Imprint

Jon and Pamela Voelkel left a powerful advertising career in England to settle in rural Norwich, Vermont, where they built a home, welcomed the (surprise) arrival of their third child, and made the ultimate career switch: They started writing for “young adults.”

Their adventure novel “Middleworld” became available at the start of October, through a publishing house called Smith & Kraus (S & K), a mostly theater-related publisher. Its owners were persuaded by their son Peter Kraus, who discovered the manuscript – and insisted that his parents take it seriously. Now, with a New York City launch and an active book tour underway, it looks like Peter’s discovery is a hot new success within the firms fresh middle-grade imprint, Smith & Sons.

Every middle-grade book these days gets compared to the Harry Potter series, and “Middleworld” has already been called “Harry Potter meets the Maya.” And the plots have in common magic, a teenage boy, and plenty of battle scenes. But there are more differences than similarities, and the differences make this an exciting fresh book.

Max Murphy is fourteen. An expert on computer games and on resenting his mostly absent archaeologist parents, he’s spoiled, self-centered, and angry. That’s a tough combination to identify with, and it makes for a rough opening to the book. But there’s so much action that there’s little time for doubts, from either Max or the reader.

Because when Max’s parents suddenly dump him from their summer vacation plans and fly off to the fictional country of San Xavier, chasing down Maya relics and rituals, the family’s mysterious housekeeper soon tells Max that “they” need him down there, handing him an air ticket and his passport. Next thing you know, he’s landing in Latin America, discovering his Uncle Ted is operating a criminal trade in artifacts, and being locked into and out of places by an ominous set of adults who seem much more angry, and far more dangerous, than Max.

You could say it’s lucky for Max that he finds a companion in his escape from a murderous Spaniard and his uncle’s punitive ambitions – a modern Maya teen, Lola. But actually it’s not luck: It’s courage, of a kind that Max hasn’t shown outside his computer games before. He chases Lola through a jungle, learns to eat strange food (even a jungle rodent), argues with a shaman, and discovers way more than is healthy to know about some artifacts called the Jaguar Stones that may be the key to whether the world turns darker and deadly or has some hope.

Halfway through “Middleworld” – named for what the Maya call life on earth, caught between an evil underworld and the land of the gods – Max is no longer identifying with his past: “It was time to take sides. As long as he kept comparing San Xavier to Boston, he was no better than one of these tourists. Like it or not, the jungle was his only home right now … His parents were out there somewhere and until he found them he wasn’t going to think about his old life. … he could be zooming up the Monkey River with the wind in his hair.”

Max’s emerging stubborn bravery and persistent problem solving win him friends who are smart and knowledgeable about the Maya and their gods and leaders, who pose a huge threat to the universe, and especially to Max and Lola. Soon he’s a much more likeable kid. But there’s plenty of unfinished business even when he’s done his best, and “Middleworld” is only Book One of the trilogy titled “The Jaguar Stones.” Coming next: Book Two, El Castillo (Max and Lola track their enemies to Spain), and Book Three: The Return of the Hero Twins (racing from the end of the world on Maya terms, to 21st-century Boston).

The Voelkels have a 21st-century approach to presenting their adventure: Their web site,, offers details about the book and its authors, as well as adventures in learning about the Maya (six million of them alive today) and their culture. In addition, the authors offer Ancient Maya workshops and activities, and an audio-visual presentation with exotic refreshments, jungle plants, and more.

So it’s not Harry Potter and the Maya; it’s a far different adventure, tied to modern dreams as well as mythic conflicts. I’d compare it more closely to Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” or even to “Gulliver’s Travels,” and to the struggles and risks of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series – but with more hope and better results for Max and Lola.

And that's also one of the gifts of the end of the Harry Potter series: There's room for a lot of fresh new novels to erupt this year, and here's a good one to sample.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Next Title from Julia Spencer-Fleming ...

It's often worth checking the web site for Julia Spencer-Fleming (, and I just found her announcement of the next book in her terrific mystery series set in upstate New York -- in her own words:

Coming Soon…
I Shall Not Want

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your interest and inquiries! No, I haven't finished the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. The story continues with I Shall Not Want, Minotaur's lead title for May, 2008. Expect to see more of the Van Alstyne family, more of how joining the New York State National Guard affects Clare's life and ministry, a new officer joining the MKPD, and of course, lots and lots more Russ and Clare, as they struggle to come to grips with the events of All Mortal Flesh.

By the way, her current title, All Mortal Flesh, garnered a slew of well-deserved award nominations. I expected to see the book capture the Anthony Award for Best Mystery at Bouchercon 2007, which took place at the end of September in Anchorage, Alaska. But this time wasn't the one ... here's the official list (from, where you can also see the Macavity awards list):


Laura Lippman, NO GOOD DEEDS, Harper

Louise Penny, STILL LIFE, St. Martin’s Press

Dana Cameron, ASHES AND BONES, Avon

Simon Wood, “My Father’s Secret,” Crimespree Magazine, Bouchercon Special Issue 2006

Jim Huang and Austin Lugar, Editors, MYSTERY MUSES, Crum Creek press

Jim Huang, Crum Creek Press and The Mystery Company

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Love Mysteries? New England Crime Bake...

There are still some registration slots open for this year's New England Crime Bake, the Sisters in Crime event for mystery fans and blossoming mystery authors. This year's guest of honor is Lee Child. Check your calendar for November 9, 10, and 11, 2007, nice and close at the Hilton Boston/Dedham, Dedham, MA. See for all the details.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Calendar Alert: Grace Paley Memorial

Sunday October 7: Grace Paley Memorial Service. Vermont poets Cora Brooks, David Budbill and others celebrate the life and work of Vermont's beloved Poet Laureate. Vermont College Chapel, FREE, 3pm. Info. 229-2340.

... and from the Bread and Puppet web site:

Through invitations by Grace Paley, Bread and Puppet Theater became a frequent attraction at anti-Vietnam War events in the '60s and '70s. By the '80s, the puppets had become emblematic of activist pacifism and a sine qua non of American political theater, as exemplified by the massive, ascending figures that are burned into the memory of anyone who marched with or saw the haunting, massive June 12, 1982 Disarmament Parade in New York City.

(photo by Robert Henry Sturgill)

The Beat Goes On: Janine Pommy Vega, new from Longhouse

I haven't had a chance to explore it yet, but this is news worth passing along right away -- Here's Bob Arnold's latest groundbreaking offering from the noted California poet:

28171. Vega, Janine Pommy. "Across the Table (CD)". Janine Pommy Vega, 2007. Audio CD. Signed by the poet. Exclusive distribution from Longhouse: full color glory booklet, poems & music of Janine Pommy Vega with friends Across the Table (CD). Twelve poems - the first seven recorded in Woodstock, NY. by the poet, the last five pieces recorded in concert in Italy and Bosnia from 2002 through 2005. With photographs by Pier Paolo Iagulli. The musicians at the table are Nina Sheldon, piano; Betty MacDonald, voice; Michael Esposito, bass; Maurizio Carbone, percussion; Ferdinando Gandolfi, flute; Carmela Cardone, harp; Gaspare Di Lieto, piano; Giovanni Amato, trumpet; Gianluigi Goglia, bass; Stefano Tatafiore, drums, Riccardo Morpurgo, piano; Marco Collazzoni, sax; Luca Colusi, drums; Almir Nezic, bass; Janine Pommy Vega, shaker & voice. The ultimate poet troubadour's show of many shows! The poems performed: Habeas Corpus Blues, There Was A Woman, Madre di Tavolieri, Food Song, Mean Ol' badger Blues, The Green Piano, Across the Table, Mad Dogs of Trieste, Ode to Slippers, The Draft, Musician. Come gather. . Music / Poetry / Compact Disc. $15.00

Check Bob's shop of poetry at

And here's a recent one of Pommy Vega's poems as it appeared in an issue of Big Bridge:

Mad Dogs of Trieste
( for Andy Clausen)

We have never been in a war like this
in all the years of watching
the street at 3 a.m.,
kids lobbing cherry bombs into garbage cans
the last hookers heading toward home

It used to be, stopping in Les Halles cafes
after a night we could find the strong
men from the market
and the beautiful prostitutes
resting in each other's arms
Le Chat Qui Peche, Le Chien Qui Fume
alive with Parisian waltzes, his hands on her ass
We could pick up raw produce from discard bins
and have lentil stew for tomorrow

Things have never been like this.
Cops square off against teenagers in the village square
take the most pliant as lovers, and re-rout the rest
into chutes of incarceration
The mad dogs of Trieste
we counted on to bring down the dead
and rotting status quo, give a shove here
and there, marauder the fattened and calcified order,
have faded like stories

We used to catch them with their hat brims
keeping most of the face in shadow
and sometimes those voices
one by one
turned into waves
like cicadas in the August trees, whistling
receding, and the words crept under
the curtains of power, made little changes,
tilted precarious balance, and brought relief

Those packs don't crisscross the boulevards
now in the ancient cities, no political cabal
behind us watches the world with
eyes entirely
the lyrical voices rainbow bodies
your friends my friends nobody left
but the mad dogs of Trieste as we
cover the streets.

Willow, NY, August 98.