Thursday, January 31, 2008

Global Mysteries: Good News from Soho Crime

When Eliot Pattison's latest Shan detective novel PRAYER OF THE DRAGON, set in Chinese-occupied Tibet, came out from Soho Crime in hardcover in December, eyebrows flew: Once a paperback line, Soho Crime is now investing in impressive mysteries in trim, well-made hardback form. Times have changed.

Today the imprint announced the debut of a new crime series set in Brazil, BLOOD OF THE WICKED by Leighton Gage. (Watch for a review later in February.) Yes, it's another hardcover, adding to a sequence that has recently included crime fiction set in Laos, the Gaza, and Australia, as well as New York's Chinatown (Henry Chang's CHINATOWN BEAT).

Doubling this good news is: Soho is about to clone itself, adding a fresh imprint under the name Soho Constable -- which features mysteries by British authors.

I've already contacted a fine carpenter: Our three-case section of "Foreign and British" mysteries here is going to need a lot of expansion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mindfulness: The 50th Year of Poet Eric Pankey

Eric Pankey, born in 1959, is not quite 50. Yet the body of his work has grown through seven substantial collections, and Ausable Press is bringing out for him THE PEAR AS ONE EXAMPLE: NEW & SELECTED POEMS -- officially due out in April, but probably ready early in February. Hurrah!

Wrapping up a month of residency at the Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), Pankey assigned himself a career-spanning reading for yesterday's public event in the campus lecture hall. He chose to work backward: from the new poem "Between Wars," a grim narrative with a mass grave at its heart, all the way to the work he was doing in his twenties.

Pankey reads with a slow, quiet voice that leaves room for intense attention. He moves inexorably toward truth, though his paths and poems often ramble -- in RELIQUARIES he offered a set of poems where each was comprised of four sections, five lines in each, with connections among them that fuse into powerful conclusions. In effect, the sections create a table setting in which to center the offering. Or maybe I should say, an altar.

For Pankey's quests explore sacrifice, loss, anger, and faith. From the Buddhist "mudra" symbolic gestures to the difficulty in believing our own dead will rise again, he braids threads of spirit and soul into the poems.

Monday night, he offered two poems that included his college roommate George ("August Notes"; "The Back-Story"), then a potent pounding lyric work called "The Narration of Rain" (and I apologize for the formatting here, which can't give the indents that his pages do):

The Narration of Rain

Rain blows through the pines. Rain rattles water oak leaves. Rain on
the stone chime.
Rain quick in rivulets and gullies. Rain on the river's broad back.
Rain amid rain.
Rain fretting the rusty clay. Rain at a slant. Rain every which way but
Rain overflows the gutters. Rain marbles the picture window. Rain's
slips, stumbles, sluices.
Rain in the corn crib. Rain in the trough. Rain blows through the


The crow carries a bauble in its break—something dully reflective—
And drops it onto the path of leaf mulch ahead, caws once, and
lumbers up and low
Over the gauze of gnats, where wild blackberry overruns the unused
train tracks.
I will leave the trinket for another to find.
I sidestep the omen. Ignore
the oracle.
Having learned nothing from Sophocles as I put one foot in front of
the other.


"Assyrians," the husband said, "are the first to use images to narrate."
(I eavesdrop in museums, a bad habit, I know, but one I prefer not to
set aside.)
The wife—I have assumed they are married, long married—nods yes.
"In archaic art," he says, "human faces are a blank.
Emotion is given
to the hunted animals."
She furrows her brow and nods yes. Dubious. Holding back some


I have never heard the nightingale, nor beheld the manzanitas;
I know nothing of the gods; their tedium, their melancholy, their
blood's leaden sludge.
But I have made a narration of rain as it blows through the pines, as
it slips, stumbles, and sluices;
The rain as a scattered body; the rain as shape-shifter; the rain as
The rain on the face of the hunter and on the sorrowful face of the

He cruised through "Epitaph," which is an elegy for Hart Crane -- in Pankey's words, "a very troubled poet who wrote some of the most wonderful failed poems I have ever read" - then exposed his "History," his response when asked for a 9/11 poem a mere few weeks after American's traumatic invasion.

Here is "The Kingdom of God Likened to a Deer Carcass," which was printed with an epigraph from Bob Dylan. Pankey wrote it when in his thirties.

What the crow abandons, worms relish.

If I stare long enough at these remains
I will imagine a kingdom undone:

Surveyed. Staked off. Limestone and ivory.
A cathedral built upon a temple.

This bone a buttress. That one a crossbeam.
Every altar stone bloodless and sun-bleached.

Every chapel floor swept clean by the wind.
For now, wind shudders the collapsing ribs,

Swirls up a mote of fur like milkweed silk,
And touches the ruin intricately.

What the wind forsakes, dogs will drag away.

As Pankey pressed further through his early work for the engrossed audience of writers and visual artists, he noted the appearance of "dysfunctional family" in such elegiac pieces as "Lines in Memory of My Father" and "In Memory" [of his mother]. A sympathetic listener in the front row murmurred, "All poets have dysfunctional families." But as we notice here in rural Vermont, if you add some air and some time to a heap of manure, you end up with fabulous compost -- and Pankey brings from his loss the concluding lines, "The body apart from the spirit is dead, / but that does not mean the spirit is dead."

The further back his poems went, the more concrete Pankey's narratives seemed last night. Then, as if to wrap the circle back to its recent, more space-threaded work, he read a freshly drafted piece from his Vermont stay, titled "The Repeated Image." It began with fragments of thought and image, flicking gently over the surface of the winter's gray integument.

The thing is: There was a subtle, quiet magic in Pankey's reading. By the time he'd painted "gray" in lines and twists of narrative, it looked a lot more like silver: glistening, gleaming, rubbed to a soft tenderness that spoke of what can grow out of griefs and losses, after all.

[Pankey photo by Clare Atkinson-Pankey]

Sunday, January 27, 2008

As Cool as Hot Jazz: April Ossmann, ANXIOUS MUSIC

So much poetry passes through April Ossmann's hands each month. She's executive director of Alice James Books, and also has taught at the University of Maine in Farmington, as well as at Lebanon College. She says it makes her more serious, more determined in her own work.

Four Way Books just brought out Ossmann's first full-length collection, ANXIOUS MUSIC. The details of place that emerge in the poems are surely New England's: the raw wintry challenge of Maine, the long late drives through New Hampshire and Vermont. But mostly the setting is more interior: the room of lovers moving toward and away from each other, now clinging, now flinging. It's a dance, and Ossman evokes its music. Then she presses the forms on the page into two-steps, or the precise acrobatics of well-danced swing.

But all of her explorations are laid out in a clear light of intellect and appraisal. Although heartache and comfort take turns, they're marshaled into simile, neatness, precise clips of language that compel multiple readings. Here's a segment from "Y":

The more you know, the less you comprehend. Is this
where apprehension begins?

Today, we think we've found an answer
to this dreadful unending line, curve it

into a circle, stopping at this mountaintop
where we began our romance.

A perfect movie finish, at last, a tiny end
to all our questions. But near the hike's mid-point,

we've changed our mind about circles:
no further attempts at friendship.

Forty feet from the summit, we part,
tracing a "Y" on the mountain's furrowed brow.

There's a taste in this of Linda Pastan's philosophizing (Carnival Evening), and something too of the careful geometry that James Richardson framed in his Second Guesses. And though the terrain of the poems is riven with questions, Ossmann is the first to describe herself in them as always sure, always certain. When a poem drifts into a dream world of symbols, as in "Over My Head," Ossmann becomes also the mind that backs away for more perspective:

Falling, or flying?
I am still nor sure, not
like my waking self.

Then the tangles of passion embedded among these very cerebral poems erupt more musically and with texture. I especially like "Fog," a poem ostensibly discussing forgetting -- it opens and closes with the need for the brain to forget -- but also layered with sensory memory, like "the exact flavor of the canard a l'orange" or "the rough wings of your eyebrows under my lips," quickly moving toward "the café where I dined with a friend last summer-- / let me forget how she died; / let the curtain descend on that scene."

Ossmann uses the patterns of short lines and regular stanzas to weave insistent speculation into the scenes she sketches, too -- in "Red Glove," there's a glove in the morning in the road, then later, picked up perhaps by a passerby, it's hanging in a tree. It's a hand in a wave from a friend who has just died, while also turning absence into a question of "particle or wave."

If physics are right, you've
only been changed, not lost, if
we're whole in every part,

and all part of the whole--
you're everywhere.

So much of this poet's language is new and inquiring that I found myself reading often two or three times through a poem before turning the page. I loved comparison of explosive sudden death to being able to avoid the "gloved // hands, sex reduced to a dry rubbing, the indignant squeak / of new sneakers on tiled floor." Repeated appearance of a commitment-phobic lover leads into trying to be grateful for what is, instead of groaning over what's missing, but with a twist in "Satisfaction": "So you're grateful, / even if what you don't have // is more real / than what you do."

My favorite shapes in this collection turned out to be the two-line stanzas where each second line is tucked under, indented, like a second dance step that swings the body back into position. "A Kind of Music" pulls into this shape, opening with "Name the things / the body does fast naturally--" and wrapping up with "is a kind of music-- / the music we most desire // to dance to-- dance, dance / until our feet shall fail." Although the lines themselves wouldn't lie across each other snugly, the rhythms resonated for me like many of the poems in Mark Doty's School of the Arts -- narratives dancing through "first," "and then," "at last," but all the time stitching back toward the initial daring questions.

And as the collection reaches a crescendo in "Fusion," Ossmann offers a jazz riff that plays on words themselves, words like "solo" and "soul" -- "music in the shape / of a solo, solo, / the shape of a soul --" so that every question is the start of an unexpected and delicious answer.

I'll be reading this collection again. And again.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Literary Mystery: John Hart, DOWN RIVER

The recent attention to Nordic Noir has brought some marvelous literary mysteries to light -- literary in the sense that the authors illuminate a landscape in meticulous and moving detail, and their characters move through inner weather that's as powerful as outer. Henning Mankell's grimly lovely series comes to mind, as well as Håkan Nesser's series with Inspector Van Veeteren.

Similarly paced explorations have come from U.S. writers S. J. Rozan (In This Rain), Alan Furst (Kingdom of Shadows), even Charles McCarry (The Secret Lovers).

Now John Hart, in his second lyrical novel, blends a literary eye for the South with a finely honed sense of plot and pace. DOWN RIVER came out in October to wide acclaim; although it's not a sequel to Hart's first book, The King of Lies, it walks the same ground in his dark and aching Rowan County.

... I know the feel of that river even now: the slow churn of red clay, the back eddies under cut banks, the secrets it whispered to the hard, pink granite of Rowan County. Everything that shaped me happened near that river. I lost my mother in sight of it, fell in love on its banks. I could smell it on th day my father drove me out. It was part of my soul, and I thought I'd lost it forever.

When Adam Chase abruptly returns to his home town of Salisbury, where his father still owns a wide stretch of farmland along the river, he's quickly attacked under the label "murderer" that he wears for a crime he hadn't committed -- but couldn't dispel. Every person he cares about either can't stand him or gets wounded all over again by Adam's return. His father, his friends, even the woman who wishes she didn't still love him are bleeding from what he's done. Law enforcement professionals set him up for more hurt, more punishment. It's not long before he's in the very prison where he'd served time before, trying to talk his family friend Dolf Shepherd out of confessing to yet another murder in town. No use.. it's a setup by the sheriff. Here's a taste of Chase's reaction after being forced to leave Dolf in the prison:

I went to Dolf's house; it was empty and dark. I stripped off wet clothes and flung myself down onto his couch. Thoughts churned through my mind; speculation, theories, despair. Fifteen miles away Dolf would be lying on a hard, narrow bunk. Probably awake. Probably afraid. The cancer would be chewing through him, looking for that last vital bit. How long until it took him? Six months? Two months? One? I had no idea. But when my mother died, and my father, for years, had been lost to me in mourning, it was Dolf Shepherd who made the difference. I could still feel the strength of that heavy hand on my shoulder. Long years. hard years. And it was Dolf Shepherd who got me through.

If he was going to die, it should be with sunlight on his face.

Violent, grieving, but with a frail chance at redemption and a determination to make things right: that's Adam Chase. And it's an equally good description of the Rowan County that Hunt has created, painting it under a hot sun and in a bone-chilling storm. If Adam Chase can get to bedrock truths, he may be able to face his future again -- maybe, maybe, maybe.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

... and Signs of Spring

After a long wintry slow-down in author events here in northern New England, suddenly they are popping up again. Scheduled for Vermont Studio Center's evening reading (8 p.m.) on Monday January 28 is poet Eric Pankey -- although the VSC's schedule is often changed at the last minute, so before getting into the car, call to confirm that Pankey has arrived and will read (802-635-2727).

Notable for a string of just-announced author events is Montpelier's eclectic bookshop Bear Pond Books ( Coming right up is the shop's January 29 (Tuesday) event, at 7 p.m. -- a slide show and talk by world traveler and documentary photographer Ethan Hubbard of Chelsea. He's presenting his 2007 photo-essay collection GRANDFATHER'S GIFT: A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF THE WORLD.

Especially delighting me is the fact that this book is a publication of Heron Dance Press, a Vermont wonder. Heron Dance is a nonprofit art studio and literary journal as well, and was founded in 1995 by Roderick MacIver. There have been 54 issue of the beautifully crafted journal, of which the first volume is now entirely sold out (and entirely collectable). Visiting the web site,, will also give you an opportunity for this graceful way to dance through the rest of winter, as the days grow longer, the poets reappear, and the maple trees ache with rising sap. Here's what Heron Dance is offering:

A Pause For Beauty Described
Each week, Heron Dance sends out a free e-newsletter to about 25,000 people (as of the end of 2007), containing a new painting and either a poem or book excerpt and a letter from our founder and publisher Roderick MacIver. As with our print publication, themes include the human search for meaning, the human connection to the natural world, and art and creativity. All may be summed up as an exploration of differse, sometimes contrary, views on the gentle arts of a well-lived life.

Recently, much of the content of A Pause For Beauty has in some way had to do with techniques combining meditation and journaling as a way to access the deeper wisdom that exists inside ourselves, and to draw on that wisdom when considering the options that confront us in our lives. The basic premise is that friendship with oneself is crucial to a well-lived life, and is a relationship that requires nurturing. Part of that is our connection with our subconscious mind, which can be a source of inner power and resourcefulness.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Deep Winter at Kingdom Books

[our neighbor Lois snapped this photo last week of a winter-hungry owl who arrived in her yard just in time to snatch up a careless gray squirrel -- so she calls the photo "Grocery Shopping"]

Nights drift below zero, days drift with snow... but we keep the path to the door shoveled, and in this quiet season, we're preparing for a spring of poetry. Consider this a maple tree, with sap close to erupting up the trunk, waiting only for the bright sunny days of March.

And in March, Kingdom Books cosponsors WYN COOPER reading at the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library on the St. Johnsbury Academy campus, in the Fireside Literary Series there. Wyn comes north from the Brattleboro area on Friday March 29, and his event starts at 3:30 p.m. We'll bring his published books -- including POSTCARDS FROM THE INTERIOR -- and some music he's done with Madison Smartt Bell. Count on hearing some of his new sonnets from his latest collection. I don't have any copies of the new ones yet, but here's an earlier sonnet from Wyn:

American Violence

If I jumped from my chair, crossed the room
In three giant strides, fists clenched--
And on the third stride he began to rise,
The cigarette falling slowly from his fingers,
The most helpless man on earth--
It would not cross my mind to stop, just
As it would be wrong merely to scare him:
By my second stride he knows what's coming
And he knows he will take it.
There are people in the room and we can't let them down.
What would they think if I shrugged and walked away?
What would they say if he sat back down,
Picked up his cigarette and began to smoke?
He looks at me and there's no turning back.

("American Violence" appears in THE COUNTRY OF HERE BELOW)

Also ahead: Our noted Poets' Tea in April, celebrating National Poetry Month and more specifically celebrating publication of Barton, Vermont, poet Leland Kinsey's new collection THE IMMIGRANT'S CONTRACT:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Peeling the Fruit: Josh Rathkamp, SOME NIGHTS NO CARS AT ALL

When I was small, my father would peel an orange for me. He'd draw a line around the blossom end with a small sharp knife, then carefully draw the orange rind away from the fruit, laboring to retain the largest possible intact expanse of peel. Then, while I ate the fruit, with either the knife or a pair of sharp scissors he'd cut the shape of a monkey from the half-flattened peel. "Chimpo!" he'd announce with pride.

And from there, he'd move into telling us how his family and then his classmates called him "Chimpo" as a boy, for his long hairy arms. In her later years, his artistic mother even sculpted for him a long-armed orangutan, off by a bit taxonomically but still thinking of him.

Somehow this is the sense of play that wakes for me in reading and re-reading the poetry of Josh Rathkamp, who migrated from Michigan to Arizona before bringing out his first collection, SOME NIGHTS NO CARS AT ALL (Ausable, fall 2007). Rothkamp takes the simple situation -- driving cross country with a sleeping girlfriend who wakes and places a hand on his leg -- and peels the cover back gently, without tearing it, to reveal the fruit. He writes, "Because you ask, I lay down miles of myself / in front of you." And he continues, "How lucky I am, I say, for your body, // how it awakens on this road, / how it never wavers."

Yet love does waver, and it's not at all clear that the many intimate moments captured in these poems are with the same woman. They are clearly in different states, as Rothkamp drives himself and his words out of the "whirling whiteness above Illinois, Michigan, Indiana," to the moonlit deserts of the Southwest. Among images that have held in place for centuries, images of desert tribes long dead or of active admirers of the sun and moon, the flickering light of love can seem frail indeed. "Postcards I Should Send to You" opens with moonlight, lovers, roads, and anounces:

Once a woman and I made promises
and love in every state
between Michigan and Arizona.
Once in the car, once in a patch
of pines that grew crooked
and out of place, once I thought I was romantic,
taking her to the roof in the rain.

Now, if she asked about love, I'd say
I believe we made a mark.
However insignificant the things we build,
we build the thing.
We build and destroy, build and keep,
build and give away our streets.

These are gentle narratives that wind along edges of a landscape of hope. Some of them cluster under streetlamps, peering in the half darkness. I especially like the Missing City sequence, which concludes with:

... We have all loved
poorly. Along the street the bars
and their neon signs glow open.

The streets have names no one
here can pronounce. Some words
mean other things, some
just what they are.

The storytelling Greeks of ancient days used the road as the symbol of a man's life, and weaving as the symbol of a woman's (remember Penelope?). Rathkamp takes roads into most of his poems, one way or another. Yet he's not always journeying -- some of these roads are streets in a familar place, a town, a home. And in peeling open the scene within the car or under the streetlamp, he awards an attention that amounts to love. This tenderness resonates like, say, Cardinals in the Ice Age by John Engels. There are questions, and loss, and bewilderment -- but not fear, not anger. Even in this final poem, the comfort of a good network of friends winds through the piece:

Our Last Evening, after Launching from the Bottom of the Hoover Dam

for John, David and Lee

We play cards to drink
quicker than we would on our own.
The dearler'd say "drop"
and we'd slap the single card,
sweat-stuck against our foreheads,
down on the Coleman cooler
we brought to keep ice ice
five full days.

Now, after two, it all
went to water
warm enough to fish through in darkness.

The four women sit back behind us,
slouched in their seats
along the river's night rise,
and having made a small circle, talk
about the talk of us men.

How decency doesn't matter
on vacation; how nakedness is still
a surprise like the man in the hot spring,
completely hairless,
tucking his uncircumcised penis
between his legs and waving
with a nod while we walked
through the pools of thigh high water;
how screwed those young couples
we saw lugging kids.

No matter what
when someone clears the cards,
lifts the beach-stained lid,
he pulls out two. We refuse to believe
the other is done
so we wait to the end
drinking and cheersing whatever happens.
Tomorrow's sun on the river
will bite like a bug
and what little life we have left
we will spend.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

To Be an American Poet: Reed Whittemore

[photo from Reed Whittemore's first stint as US poet laureate ("Consultant in Poetry") 1964-1965]

Why did you start writing poetry? Did you begin in school? At home, in "greeting cards" to family or friends? Perhaps romance -- that is, Romance -- pressed you to the page in the struggle to win someone's undying attention.

Whatever the reason, by age 18, most of us either "leave it behind" or make a commitment to it, measuring what we write against what we've dreamed a poet's life should become. Before the era of MFA poetry programs, it was far more rare to either enter poetry late in life, or stay with the early determination to Be A Poet -- which is what Reed Whittemore managed to do. And still does, at nearly 90, with some 20 books of poetry, criticism, biography, and "literary journalism" to his credit.

Whittemore's memoir AGAINST THE GRAIN: THE LITERARY LIFE OF A POET was released a few months ago by his old friend and sometime publisher, Merrill Leffler of Dryad Press ( My copy arrived along with the holidays ... at 321 pages, plus gracious "front matter" and useful "back matter," the book is worth enjoying slowly. It rambles gently through Whittemore's New Haven, CT, childhood (he was born in 1919), then takes on friendships and literary collaborations and confrontations with the eagerness of a young man taking the world as his own.

The memoir's foreword comes from Garrison Keillor, and to the extent that Whittemore's poetry gets "discovered" by young poets and poetry readers today, it's often through Keillor's radio program, The Writer's Almanac. Keillor and Whittemore share Minnesota as long-time home, although for Whittemore the Minnesota years were from 1947 to 1966, as professor of English at Carleton College. And that's the part that sounds like a quintessential American-family-man-as-poet: steadily earning a living, taking care of his family, being part of the faculty.

Yet the before and the after make it clear that these years of "normal American life" became the tough, resilient central fiber for Whittemore's capacity to confront the world and insist on Poetry's mission as political rebel.

For his college years wrapped themselves around Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams; his invitation to Washington, DC, as U.S. poet laureate (in those days, "Consultant in Poetry" to the Library of Congress) enabled him to gather the other rebels he knew so well as editors of small literary magazines; and by his second term in the leading national poetry slot (he's one of only four who have served twice), his office had become central for welcoming poets from other nations as well.

AGAINST THE GRAIN is a charming memoir of a well-mannered man whose photos generally featured the expected suit and tie, as well as family and friends. It's diffident, wryly humorous, even in its telling, which Whittemore does in the third person, commenting on what "R" is up to. In fact, it's so gentle and smooth that the outline it draws together -- of 60 years of writing and publishing poetry and establishing bibliographies of others, notably the poet/doctor from Paterson, NJ (WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: POET FROM JERSEY, 1975) -- becomes a towering mountain of detail that you've walked up so slowly that each vista is startling.

That's a lot like Whittemore's poems, which taste like the most secure and educated second half of the twentieth century. Whittemore wasn't immune from tragedy -- he and his wife Helen lost their son Jack at age 37, for instance -- but poetry wasn't where he painted that. Poetry instead was where he rebeled: against boredom, against national follies like wars (yes, even the one in Iraq), against what seemed outmoded in form. Founding the literary magazine FURIOSO with his Yale roommate Jim Angleton before 1940, and later establishing THE CARLETON MISCELLANY, he reached out to America's poets and their work.

Much of the detail in the memoir gained from publisher Merrill Leffler's fascination with "R" and his life and work -- Leffler dug through archives, reminded Whittemore about poets, asked for explanations. I suspect multiple readings will continue to delight most who've plowed all the way through. The index is workable, mostly useful for names (look up Joseph Brodsky, Howard Nemerov, e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot) -- add your own side-notes for topics, though, in order to retrace things like the invention of the "Shaggy" poem.

I liked best the chapter on Whittemore's two-week visit to the Soviet Union, where he kept stumbling over his own sympathy with the literary rebels being silenced or ejected by the USSR at that time, like Solzhenitsyn. It's loaded with entries from his journal, as well as from the official report on how he'd done as an ambassador. Working on the memoir while agonizing about the war in Iraq, he retrieved some of his observations published in 1974:

Soviet defensiveness is hard for an American to understand because we this we have been defensively holding them off for three-quarters of a century. But it is obvious that they think they will not survive if they can't keep us out -- us in the form of our decadence, nihilism, immorality and anti-social individualism as much as our money and our prattling about the freedoms. Not just our soldiers and shekels but the whole capitalist "sickness" is what they fear, from modernism to Coca-Cola.

I've marked a dozen pages in the memoir that especially struck me, shed light on relationships of poets and politics, or revealed the "wry and deflating humor" that is Whittemore's (that's the phrase in his Wikipedia entry!). But let me wrap this up with one of R's most quoted poems, one that is sure to remain applicable to the nation's capital and its sense of self in the globe. Now that I've spent a couple of months immersed in this long tale of East Coast and nationalized American poetry, I'll be listening for more Whittemore material, and not just on Garrison Keillor's programs.


When Washington has been destroyed,
And the pollutants have been silting up for an age,
Then the old town will attract the world's Schliemanns.
What, they will say, a dig! as they uncover
The L'Enfant plan in the saxifrage.

So many plaques, so many figures in marble
With large shoulders and lawman lips
Will have to be pieced together and moved to the new
That the mere logistics will delight vips.

For how can one pass by a muchness? There will be fund drives
With uplifting glosses,
Teams of researchers will mass with massive machinery
At the Rayburn ruin
To outscoop Athens and Knossos.

Dusty Scholars will stumble in, looking nearsightedly
At gray facades
Of pillar and portal,
And at curious acres of asphalt,
For clues to the mystery of that culture's gods.

Money of course they will miss,
Since money is spoke not at all on the plaques there,
Nor will they shovel up evidence
That the occupants of the chambers and cloakrooms
Were strangers in town, protecting their deities elsewhere,

But sanctums they surely will guess at,
Where the real and true pieties were once expressed.
If the Greeks had their Elusinians,
Surely this tribe on the Potomac had mysteries too?
--Having to do, perhaps, with the "Wild West"?

Like most of us sitting here now beside the Potomac,
They will find the Potomac primitives hard to assess.
Oh, may their ignorance be, than ours,
At least less!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Summer Program, Pine Manor College

The film version of GONE, BABY, GONE by Dennis Lehane has taken a while to get up to northeastern Vermont, but we're looking forward to seeing it February 1. Coincidentally, Lehane's summer 2008 effort was just announced by Meg Kearney, director of the Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College:

The Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference

Recharge your creative energies with award-winning authors at the Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA, this June 22–28, 2008.

Offering workshops taught by our unbeatable faculty:

The Novel: Eric Gansworth & Julia Glass
Short Fiction: Lee Hope & Steven Huff
Poetry: Francisco Aragon, Stephen Dunn, Patricia Spears Jones, & Cleopatra Mathis
Creative Nonfiction: Richard Hoffman & Barbara Hurd
Writing for Children & Young Adults: Marina Budhos & Tor Seilder

…plus special guest Dennis Lehane — author of Mystic River & Gone, Baby, Gone

Panel discussions with agents, editors, and publishers will also enable students to learn about all aspects of the literary journey.
Details and applications for the 2008 Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference are available at
Pine Manor College, ranked #1 in the country for diversity,is five miles from downtown Boston.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Vincent Ferrini, a Living Poem

Well, that's what he called himself, this poet of the people, strolling the streets of Gloucester, Mass., in his trademark braod-brimmed hat. He died during the "holidays" (December 24), so if you missed the news, that's probably why. His 2004 book was THE WHOLE SONG; still to come this year, posthumously, will be INVISIBLE SKIN. His nephew, filmmaker Henry Ferrini, counted 31 of his books, and I have a list of most of them:

No Smoke, 1941 Falmouth Publishing House, Portland Maine
No Smoke, available in braille
Injunction , 1943 Sand Piper Press, Lynn, Massachusetts
Tidal Wave, 1945 Great Concord Publishers, New York, New York
Blood of the Tenement, 1945 Sand Piper Press, Lynn, Massachusetts
Plow in the Ruins, 1948 James Decker Press, Prairie City, Illinois
Sea Sprung, 1949 Cape Ann Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
The Infinite People, 1950 Great Concord Publishers, New York, New Your
The House of Time, 1952 Fortune Press, London, UK
In the Arriving, 1954 Heron Press, Liverpool UK
Mindscapes, 1955 Peter Pauper Press, Mt. Vernon, New York
Timeo Hominem Unius Mulieris, 1956 Heron Press, Liverpool, UK
The Garden, 1958 Heuretic Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
The Square Root of In, 1959 Heuretic Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Book of One, 1960 Heuretic Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Mirandum, 1963 Heuretic Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
I Have the World, 1967 Fortune Press, London, UK
The Hiding One, 1973 Me and Thee Press, Brookline, Massachusetts
Ten Pound Light , 1975 The Church Press, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Selected Poems, 1976 University of Connecticut Library, Storrs, Connecticut
Know Fish, Volumes I and II, 1979 University of Connecticut
Know Fish, Volume III, The Navigators 1984 University of Connecticut
Know Fish, Volumes IV and V, The Community of Self, 1986 University of Connecticut
Know Fish, Volumes VI and VII, This Other Ocean, 1991 University of Connecticut
A Tale of Psyche , 1991 Igneus Press, Bedford, New Hampshire
Magdalene Silences, 1992 Igneus Press, Bedford, New Hampshire
Deluxe Daring, 1994 Drawings by Jane Robbins and poetry of Vincent Ferrini, Bliss Publications, Boston, MA
The Magi Image, 1995 Igneus Press, New Hampshire
Preamble To Divinity, 1996 Published in cooperative venture by: JUXTA, Charlottesville, VA & 3300 Press, San Francisco CA

Not only was he a lifelong friend of Charles Olson, but he was the person to whom Olson addressed the "letters" of his Maximus Poems. Find him also in Larry Eigner's life. And in a sense, he was a model for the blossoming of the Beats.

I'm placing a recent photo of him here without knowing who took the picture -- everyone seems to have posted the same shot online recently -- but it's such a gem that I can't resist. (If you're the photographer, let me know please and I'll add the credit; thanks.)

Here's a taste of Ferrini's poetry from his first collection, NO SMOKE:

Tanney Bronson

Everything his protean brain touches he
breathes to life.
Rooted in the revolution of 1776.
Palms calloused by pick and shovel
On the pulse of the people
Are fists full of liberty.
Poetry spills from his lips
And his consciousness is a sleepless eye.
When he imitates people your stomach
knots with laughter.
His criticisms cut the legs under you.
Hammers the time as it happens into songs
for workers' ears.
Old clothes need him.
His head is a faun's.
Friend to square pegs in round holes.
Honest as the sting of truth
And suffers for it.
In his house there is free speech.
Wherever he is the air blossoms,
Exciting you with a drama of stories,
Unending jokes and anecdotes.
His rooms are splashed with paintings.
You are reborn when you hear him freeing music
And around his fireplace you chew a bit
of greatness.
With him you become an explorer,
The dormant universe electrified within you.
His blood throbs with the untaught American past,
Bringing it back to the people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Poetry Finalists, National Book Critics Circle Award

Here are the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, for books published in 2007. The book award winners will be announced on March 6.

Mary Jo Bang, Elegy, Graywolf
Matthea Harvey, Modern Life, Graywolf
Michael O'Brien, Sleeping and Waking, Flood
Tom Pickard, The Ballad of Jamie Allan, Flood
Tadeusz Rozewicz, New Poems, Archipelago

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New from Chris Bohjalian: SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, Novel of World War II

When Chris Bohjalian's family friends first shared with him the diary of their Prussian grandmother, with its day-to-day accounts from 1920 through 1945 of the blossoming and then scourge of World War II in a rural corner of Germany/Poland, the Vermont author was fascinated -- but didn't dream that he'd be drawing a novel from these bones.

But in 2006, he read Armageddon, by Max Hastings, a book he describes as a "remarkable history of the last year of the war in Germany." Reading this nonfiction account sent him back to a second reading of the diary of Eva Henatsch. And then his novel took root.

Due for release in May 2008, SKELETONS AT THE FEAST braids Bohjalian's gift for story and romance with his skill in painting suspense, terror, and tragedy. Though the tale unfolds far from his familiar New England landscapes, Bohjalian is a master in evoking the hearts and minds of young people who struggle with outer and inner conflict.

Eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich has grown up in relative luxury, daughter of a wealthy landowner whose "farm" is actually proof of his aristocratic ability to care for the people around him. Anna loves the horses, does her share of dreaming for the estate, and expects a mix of work and comfort in her life. The imminent arrival of brutal Russian troops in January 1945, as Germany slides into its devastating loss of the long war, drives Anna and her family from this golden reverie into panicked escape. Traveling with them is Callum, the Scottish prisoner of war who's been practically slave labor on the estate -- and who now may be the family's best chance of persuading the Allies to allow them to cross out of the war zone and into safety to the West.

But confusing everyone, especially Callum and sometimes Anna herself, is a 26-year-old German corporal who's jointed them on the journey. "Manfred" is actually a Jewish refugee in desperate disguise, seeking his lost sister Rebekah and struggling to survive among all the forces of violent death around him. What will he do to ensure his own survival? Will he betray the Emmerichs? Or Callum? Will Anna's heart sway toward this darker rival? What are the chances that any of them will be alive the next morning?

In parallel to this frightening adventure is the terrible life of Cecile, a Frenchwoman captured and living in a concentration camp, dodging evil-tempered, all-powerful guards and struggling to find enough food and warmth from day to day -- an effort so often fruitless that her teeth drop from her jaw "like acorns" from malnutrition, and only her determined clinging to a good pair of boots and her determination to save a friend keep her going. Cecile has no opportunity for the snippets of sweetness and comfort that trail Anna. Yet the courage that drives her forward is not so different from Anna's own. She hopes that the Russian troops, the ones whose brutality has chased the Emmerichs from their farming estate, will be her salvation.

Bohjalian's constant focus on the lives of these two women and the people around them makes the book a gripping page-turner. And when at last the journeys of Anna and Cecile come to a climax, there is further satisfaction in knowing that what has been salvaged is in fact a mirror of the lives of people with whom the author has connected -- by diary, by tremendous research, by an enthralling story, and by the pounding of hearts across the world and across the years.

Readers of Bohjalian's earlier work, such as MIDWIVES and WATER WITCHES, may be startled at his movement across the ocean and into the genre of historical fiction. But those who embraced his 2004 novel BEFORE YOU KNOW KINDNESS and then the 2007 novel THE DOUBLE BIND will recognize that his determination to have his characters ask and struggle with the questions, of truth, evil, guilt, and salvation have fitted him for this remarkable effort. Here is a sample of the book, from the thoughts of Anna's young and sweet brother Theo:

Theo watched Manfred seem to take this in. He thought the soldier was seething inside and working hard to maintain an even facade. And his sister? He could see anger on her face as well, but something else, too, and when he understood what is was he grew scared: It was guilt. Shame, as if she were responsible. He felt a small chill in the room, despite the heat from the stove, and for the first time he began to wonder: Was this -- those prisoners -- why the whole world seemed mad at his country?

Mark your calendar for early May, to watch for a copy as soon as SKELETONS OF THE FEAST is available as a Crown Publishing hardcover.

Translation of Poetry (and More): Cipher Journal

Lucas Klein, editor of the online literary "zine" CipherJournal (founded in 2003), weaves between English and Mandarin. Other authors in CipherJournal work from Japanese, Vietnamese, and European languages; from past to present; from far to near and back again. I especially enjoyed the journal's addition of some "blind translations" -- those delicious tongue-in-cheek creations done without actual knowledge of the other language.

The journal doesn't separate its material by date, but continues to swell as a single blossoming issue. Go to the Contents page and browse. What you perceive as "new since the last time" may in fact be a recent addition, or it may be something you've just developed eyes and ears to notice (which is what happens to me).

Here's a gem I recently savored from CipherJournal, although it looks even better on Klein's page than it does here:

ABC of Translating Poetry

by Willis Barnstone

It’s my delight to recite
my poems in the arms of

an intelligent girl and
to please her sweet ear

with what I have written.

Me iuvet in gremio doctae legisse puellae
auribus et puris scripta probasse mea.
Propertius II, xiii

And Goethe boasts that he
tapped out his hexameters

on the back of his Roman
girlfriend while she slept.

Und des Hexameters Mass leise mit fingern der Hand
Ihr auf den Rücken gezält. Sie atmet in lieblichem Schlummer.
Und es durchglühet ihr Hauch mir bis ins Tiefste die Brust.
Goethe, Römische Elegien V

James Laughlin, “The Happy Poets”

Friday, January 11, 2008

Zoë Sharp, Second Shot: Charlie Fox Thriller

[US cover]
Zoë Sharp isn't a new writer -- SECOND SHOT is her seventh book, and the second thriller featuring Charlie Fox, whose torpedoed career in the British Special Forces has dumped her into the personal protection field. Yep, bodyguard. And as a trim, slim woman with a pretty face and nice hair, her first issue is convincing clients she's really up to the job.

But in SECOND SHOT, Fox also faces a challenge to her career from her boss and lover, Sean, who's boosting her back up onto the figurative horse she's fallen from, daring her to prove she won't hold back when client protection requires her to be violent. Not only does Fox have a client from hell in new lottery winner Simone Kerse, but her long denied maternal instincts zap her emotions: Simone is a lightning rod for violence and cons, and Simone's darling four-year-old daughter is similarly attracting Charlie Fox's protective urges.

Don't let the maternal flag lure you into thinking this is a soft feminine version of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. (Child has put his praise on the front cover of Sharp's book.) Charlie Fox may hesitate to kill someone when the toddler's watching. But nobody around her is holding back. The tightly plotted story eventually reveals the very nasty moral, ethical, and self-stunning choice that Fox will face in terms of how she responds to attacks and risk. Set in winter and mostly in snowy, mountainous North Conway, New Hampshire, the book is flawlessly executed in terms of plot, dialogue, and crises. And if it's sometimes hard to fully identify with the defeats Fox is enduring, that's actually an echo of the character's own reluctance to admit she's caught in something she can't accept.

SECOND SHOT came out in US and British versions, and as often happens, the British cover is more disturbing -- the US one won't draw you to the book. So ignore the art and go for the interior. The predecessor in the series, FIRST DROP, was a Barry Award finalist; the sequel, THIRD STRIKE, is headed for release in summer 2008. There's still time to gather up signed copies of first editions of this series, before they inevitably escalate in value. You can't keep a good book down.
[UK cover]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

ORIGIN: The Sixth Wave -- Poetry

Cid Corman's small, fine presses and his literary magazine ORIGIN launched, sustained, and propelled poets with an eye for tight, precise work. Since Cid's death, Bob and Susan Arnold of Longhouse have taken on increasing responsibility for ORIGIN -- they had shared much of the labor with Cid during the past decades, and continue to keep his work and the work of "his" poets in press.

So I forward here with pleasure their announcement:

The Final Issue of Origin, Sixth
Series, the CODA ~

* Now Online :

Please visit the above webpage for information & to download the PDF
file format (Best viewed with Adobe Reader 7 ~ 5.5 MB ~ three color
text, art and photographs of 177 pages )

We only have dial-up service; so yes, we do understand the patience
it may take to download this PDF. We believe it will be worth your
while. Many thanks to all of you.

Already online Origin, Sixth Series, Issue 1 (March 12, 2007), Issue
2 (April 15, 2007), Issue 3 (May 20, 2007) and Issue 4 (June 2007)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Use of Poetry

[Hayden Carruth, Vermont's Poet Laureate; photo by Ted Rosenberg]
Here on the wall at Kingdom Books we have a spectacular Sam Hamill/Copper Canyon broadside (not for sale!) of a Hayden Carruth poem, splashed in red with Chinese characters. I quote the poem in English here:

Why speak of the use
of poetry? Poetry
is what uses us.

Good. Satisfying.

But just today I connected with the following, from the first National Poet of Wales (2005-2006), Gwyneth Lewis, who was asked to respond to C. P. Snow's famous "Two Cultures" lecture that decried the enormous divide between the Sciences and the Arts. Lewis' response is a poem, and she's asked us not to print it in full here, but my favorite line (and I wish I could see it with the original line breaks) reads:

Here’s to speech that costs the speaker. Here’s to formulae that rhyme like trialets; to poems that calculate nought to the power of infinity.

Please do explore her web site:

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

After that cabin in the woods... : Henrietta Goodman's debut collection, TAKE WHAT YOU WANT

When this North Carolina Piedmont poet migrated to Montana to earn her MFA, she quickly won an artist fellowship -- then was awarded in 2002 the Marjorie Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency. Short version: a cabin in the Oregon woods, without phone or close neighbors. What could be better for writing?

TAKE WHAT YOU WANT (Alice James Books, 2007) is proof that Goodman knew how to use the opportunity. But it wasn't as simple as it sounded, for a single mother who at one point even had her little son staying with her in that cabin. When she writes of her son, she's far from mushy, as the opening from "River Onto River" shows:

The baby has grown out of his newborn
clothes. He clamps my nipple in his gums
and tugs, shakes his head like a dog

with a bone. The day the mountain caught fire,
my husband stood in the street and watched
the plume of smoke grow, the red eye

of flame open.

The husband of the poem was no longer married to Goodman by the time she reached the woods. Her final line of this piece might have been prophecy, though it refers to the baby: "He still cries without tears."

Though the collection probes sensuality, death, the Western landscape and life -- one of my favorites is called "Truckstop Elegy" -- the most poignant pieces are the ones Goodman crafted with the tale of Hansel and Gretel in mind. Lost in the woods, she is at once Gretel and the witch, and the double voice renders depth:


It's true we were abandoned,
though I was older. My parents
were ignorance, propriety.
His were faith. I treated him
like a child at first, praised
his art, refused to let him pay.


we were naked but never innocent.
What did we think would happen?
The trail diverges here, dissolves.
We were not so different
from our parents after all --
so greedy, so willing to yield.

A brother figure haunts the Gretel poems, at times addressed clearly, at other moments notable for absence, as in the poem "Gretel Alone," which concludes, "I am half a story." Then in "Gretel in the Tunnel," Goodman asks, "Brother, why must we enter? / The mountain opens--in the night, / a blacker hole." In her panic, she clutches this "other half" tightly enough to leave nail marks on his arm. The admissions of fear and greed, though, are well balanced by the sensuality of the images and the resonance of song, dance, music. I like especially a non-Gretel piece called "Trees Near Water" that ends,

[...] All I know so far
is what that song wants to do. It wants
to strike you. It wants to give you

your own pain like a gift and make you
glad to take it. It's in accord with the tornado
forming above the fields on the other side

of the river. It wants you to forsake
all others and take this twisting dark body
in your arms and dance.

It's tempting to compare the collection to Sexton's Transformations, because of the Gretel poems, but actually the tang of evil's gloating is absent here; darkness in Goodman's collection comes not from the human heart or its lusts, but rather from tree shadow and mountain hollow. She writes a kinder world than many of us have explored -- may she continue to send forth such postcards from that side of life.