Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jane Austen was a Poet...

Today I discovered Jane Austen wrote poetry. After browsing through half a dozen of her poems, it's clear to me this novelist loved to sharpen her poetic pen on victims who would recognize themselves in the satires.

If you're better acquainted with Austen than I have been, here's news for you: At long last, the Jane Austen Society of North America is appearing in a Vermont version. The first meeting of JASNA-VT is Sunday March 30, 2 to 4 p.m., in the Hauke Conference Center at Champlain College, 375 Maple Street, Burlington. Speaking will be Prof. Robyn Warhol-Down (Professor of English, UVM), on the topic: 'I quit such Odious Subjects': Austen's Narrative Refusals.

To attend, RSVP to bookseller and Austen devotee Deb Barnum, 802/864-0517, or to Kelly McDonald, -- and there are more planned events already (a dramatic reading; a talk on Turner's England; a birthday tea & English country dance).

Meanwhile, here's a taste of Jane's poetry:

Mock Panegyric on a Young Friend

In measured verse I'll now rehearse
The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined
Like any vast savannah.

Ontario's lake may fitly speak
Her fancy's ample bound:
Its circuit may, on strict survey
Five hundred miles be found.

Her wit descends on foes and friends
Like famed Niagara's fall;
And travellers gaze in wild amaze,
And listen, one and all.

Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,
Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade
To all that in it roves.

If thus her mind to be defined
America exhausts,
And all that's grand in that great land
In similes it costs --

Oh how can I her person try
To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace,
In which those virtues lay?

Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone.

Jane Austen

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Taste of Sprung Rhyme: Martha Zweig

[photo by Elinor Randall]
Hardwick, Vermont, is a hardscrabble town with amazing blazes of life, light, and poetry. Dave and I make regular trips to Galaxy Books there, stop at the diner for sandwiches, appreciate the rebuilding that the town keeps enduring as old buildings give way to new, often with some disaster as the provocation. David Budbill sets many of his poems there, calling the reimagined town Judevine. "Jeudivine" comes up often in town history and place names.

Not as well known is Harwick poet Martha Zweig, who swept through the MFA program at nearby Goddard College and has three published collections: Power (1976), Vinegar Bone (1999), and What Kind (2003).

She has the featured poem on Poetry Daily today -- click here to read it. I ran across one description of her work that claimed she was writing a blend of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Actually I think she's more original than that suggests! Here's a taste from What Kind:


End up whether under stones or
star-studded, either way your rags
patch rags, dearie, she chats
& dismantles my dead I submit
for the dreams in their heads & in the
torques & locks of their other bones.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Calendar Alert: Lit Programs at Great River Arts

Great River Arts Institute in Bellows Falls, VT, just announced five workshops with poets in mind. In addition to the e-mail given with each, the institute can be reached at and on the web site, Note that Patricia Fargnoli, who's presenting the fifth of these, is New Hampshire's Poet Laureate. And the fourth event is presented by the ever-traveling Wyn Cooper (see today's other post).

Wed-Sun, April 16-20: Great River Arts Institute, Bellows Falls. Taking Your Story Out of Your Head and Into the World: A Memoir Blogging Workshop With Kathe Izzo; 4-day workshop with evening introduction, limited to 10 participants, $600. Incorporating provocative exercises that stir the pot of memory and creativity, this workshop promises to take your poems & stories to the next juicy and intriguing level, pushing yourself beyond what you already know about yourself. Then, utilizing simple web design techniques, you will take these stories to the web, making them immediate and accessible to your friends, families and the world. A multi-media approach, with the possibilities of innovative layouts and graphic design, manipulation of photographs, simple videos and music if desired. For registration contact:

Sat-Sun, April 26-27: Great River Arts Institute, Bellows Falls. Call and Response: The Ekphrastic Impulse in Poetry with Nate Pritts; 2-day workshop, limited to 10 participants, $300. All people have a natural tendency to react to the happenings around themselves. This inspiration can sometimes take the form of ekphrastic writing – a fancy Greek term that is used today to indicate a work of art that has been generated in response to another work of art. In this intensive workshop, participants will interpret that term to mean a poem that is generated in direct response to something (anything) where those traces are still pronounced in the finished piece. Through studying models, exercises, and direct pairing with visual artists as they produce, participants will find themselves more open to the varied impulses, while encouraging a more open receptivity to all forms of “art." For registration contact:

Fri-Sat, May 9-11: Great River Arts Institute, Bellows Falls. Into the Woods: Poems from Nature with Linda Aldrich; three-day workshop, limited to 10 participants, $450. This poetry workshop will focus on the varied ways nature surrounds and inhabits our writing. Participants will read nature-based poems by well-known writers to study how natural images are used. Are they records of witness? Metaphors for human existence? Reflections of or triggers for the inner emotional state of the speaker? You will walk into natural landscapes to do some writing of your own and will let writing exercises further the discovery. New writing will be emphasized for workshop and discussion. For registration contact:

Thu-Fri, May 15-17: Great River Arts Institute, Bellows Falls. Advanced Poetry Workshop with Wyn Cooper; three-day workshop, afternoons, with evening readings, limited to 8 participants, $250. This poetry workshop will help students polish their poems for publication. Rather than mutual back-patting, honest criticism will be encouraged. It’s Wyn’s belief that you can’t improve as a poet unless your teacher and your fellow students are honest with you. Each student will submit one or two poems in advance of the workshop. The poems will be read aloud and critiqued during the workshop, with careful attention paid to the following questions: What is the poem trying to do? Is it successful? How can it be improved? New poems will be generated using writing exercises. Finally, Wyn will discuss how and where to send poems for possible publication. For registration contact:

Sat-Sun, July 12-13: Great River Arts Institute, Bellows Falls. Relationships with Space with Patricia Fargnoli; two–day workshop, limited to 8 participants, $350. This is a workshop for intermediate and advanced poets interested in the use of personal and public spaces in poems. Participants will explore the concept of spaces as symbolic and/or triggering landscapes, and read poems from several poets that illustrate the possibilities for the use of "place." The major emphasis will be on creating new poems/drafts based on a series of exercises and prompts. On one day, participants will explore some of the outdoor landscapes and public spaces in the area for their "poem potential," and, on the other, they will talk and write about domestic spaces such as our homes, gardens, and other interiors. In addition, participants should bring with them one of their own poems in which "place" plays a prominent role (along with enough copies for everyone in the workshop). For registration contact:

Calendar Alert: Poet Wyn Cooper and ...

[entrance to the Poetry Room at Kingdom Books]

Kingdom Books co-sponsors the Fireside Literary Series in St. Johnsbury, bringing nationally known poets to the Grace Stuart Orcutt Library at St. Johnsbury Academy. Wyn Cooper will read on March 28 and I'll post more details on his event later. But his events list is showing collaborations with other poets and I want to mention these in time for calendars to get marked:

Wednesday, March 26. 6:00 p.m. Reading with Karla van Vliet, Fleming Museum, 61 Colchester Ave., Burlington, VT. 802-656-0750. Co-sponsored by the University of Vermont.

Friday, March 28. 3:30 p.m. Reading at St. Johnsbury Academy's Grace Stuart Orcutt Library, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Sunday, March 30. 3:00 p.m. Reading with Alice B. Fogel at Del Rossi's Trattoria, Route 137, Dublin, NH.

June 22--27. Wyn will be teaching a poetry workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA. For more information,

Sunday, February 24, 2008

TOUCHSTONE: Laurie R. King Hunts the Heart

January's delight was the release of Laurie King's new stand-alone mystery, TOUCHSTONE. For me, February's pleasure was carving out time to read it: all 548 pages.

King has written three earlier stand-alone novels, but she is best known for her two powerful series: five crime novels featuring Kate Martinelli, solid police procedurals with a dash of horror, set in California; and eight Mary Russell mysteries, folded neatly into the genre of Sherlock Holmes additions. Clearly there's plenty of research behind each of those, including mining the rich vein of the Baker Street Irregulars and the mystique of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother. The Mary Russell books also tangle with British politics, as King's version of Mycroft is as a friend to royalty.

But for TOUCHSTONE, Laurie King must have practically moved to the English countryside in her mind -- the English countryside in the fragile years after World War I, then simply "the War." The plot opens in 1921 and reaches its intense climax in 1926, amid murder, mayhem, and terrorist bombing.

And King is a master at the neat, fast-moving, impeccable plot. More important, she tastes the sorrows, losses, and hungers of the human heart.

Harris Stuyvesant works for John Edgar Hoover in the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation. Leaving behind his notoriously difficult boss, and the swinging society of Prohibition in the States, he's in England looking for a bomber: one who's made three trips already across the ocean, sowing havoc in America's class war of labor versus industrialists. An incidental casualty of the English bomber's work is Harris's brother Tim -- and for of Harris's raw soul, battered by his service in France during the War and then the loss of his fiancée, to a bomb blast on the home front, the loss of his brother's capacity for life demands action. Harris will find and catch that bomber. In his thoughts, he calls the man The Bastard, and he already knows his real name. He just has to prove the connection.

If you're a Laurie King fan, you're already saying: Whoa! Where's the strong woman protagonist? So ... let go of expectations. King's creation in Stuyvesant is instead the man of a feminist's dreams: strong, good-humored (when not chasing killers), skilled with cars, cultured, quick to pick up on social cues -- and a sucker for anyone who bears their soul's wounds with courage. That's how he finds himself bonding to the fragile, shell-shocked Captain Grey, a tender-hearted hermit whose sense of other people and their truths and tensions has driving him half mad.

Through Harris's eyes, we encounter the elegant and honorable remains of a Great Family of the realm, along with their beautifully crafted country house. From the local pub to the intricacies of life around devoted family servants to the sweetness of the bluebell wood -- and of Captain Grey's sister -- Harris is falling for an England that's as wounded as he is. The isolated family home where much of the action takes place is part of the allure, and Harris shows us its magic, from galleries of remarkable paintings, to the Great Hall, to the testy caution of the Duke and Duchess, his hosts.

I like especially the descriptions that King places in her "country house," awash in light and history. She walks Harris into the guest room that's decorated in images of trees:

"I'm going to feel like I'm sleeping in a tree-house," he told Grey, and was surprised tohear the pleasure in his voice -- this was like some childhood hideaway, and it appealed to a boyish urge he'd have thought well buried. He was smiling as he studied the room, which fortunately was papered not in leaves, but an off-white and light green stripe. The south window showed the long view down the valley, the one on the left overlooked the house and the shady garden they had come through.

The complexity of the characters and their emotional awareness make this mystery about as distant from a formal Agatha Christie country house murder as possible. In American fiction of this century, being wounded at the heart is usually a guarantee that a character will make need-based, immature choices, and descend through a plot of noir and despair. So it's refreshing to be able to identify with characters who instead work hard at making wise decisions, and who balance loyalty and hope with some skill. Although there's darkness here, including political dirt, what Harris and Captain Grey provide is enough gleaming courage to face the added losses ahead.

Oh yes, for those who like to look ahead: Laurie King is indeed working on another Mary Russell mystery. After all that research in the British Isles, I can imagine the tale flowing more convincingly than ever. Check out her pleasantly conversational news at

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tracy K. Smith, ESSENCE Award in Poetry

Graywolf just announced that Tracy K. Smith, whose second collection, DUENDE, took the 2006 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, has now won the first annual ESSENCE Literary Award in poetry. Hurrah! While I wait for my copy, I've enjoyed the snippets on the Graywolf web site. Here's my fave, from the long title poem:



And not just them. Not just
The ramshackle family, the tios,
Primitos, not just the bailaor
Whose heels have notched
And hammered time
So the hours flow in place
Like a tin river, marking
Only what once was.

Not just the voices scraping
Against the river, nor the hands
Nudging them farther, fingers
Like blind birds, palms empty,
Echoing. Not just the women
With sober faces and flowers
In their hair, the ones who dance
As though they’re burying
Memory – one last time –
Beneath them.
And I hate to do it here.
To set myself heavily beside them.
Not now that they’ve proven
The body a myth, parable
For what not even language
Moves quickly enough to name.
If I call it pain, and try to touch it
With my hands, my own life,
It lies still and the music thins,
A pulse felt for through garments.
If I lean into the desire it starts from –
If I lean unbuttoned into the blow
Of loss after loss, love tossed
Into the ecstatic void –
It carries me with it farther,
To chords that stretch and bend
Like light through colored glass.
But it races on, toward shadows
Where the world I know
And the world I fear
Threaten to meet.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Small Sharp Jests: The Chuckwagon

A new little book of laughter arrived in January from The Chuckwagon. That's the Southampton, Mass., press of Sean Casey. This one, #13, is seven inches wide, eight and a half tall, stapled into off-white wraps decorated with a comical graphic from the pen of William (Wm.) Bolger, and titled SUPPOSITORY WRITING, by Loren Goodman.

There should be a pause here, while you search for the word you were expecting there -- expository, if you've plowed through college English classes -- and now review what's different about the meaning of "suppository." Got it? Good --

In fact, once you've caught the joke in the title, each page is a belly laugh in the making. There are "supposed" to be teacher evaluations of performance in a lit class. The first one evaluates the work by student Ophelia Montague-Capulet. Need I say more? Many of the others mention characteristics of classmates as well, most of whom could have had their own reality TV series named for them. I am still aching for some poor houseguest who will sit still long enough for me to read these all aloud, between wet chuckles and eye-watering guffaws.

Last I heard, Sean was charging "about a dollar" each for his books. Number 12 was a set of Henny Youngman-style riffs on marriage. Here's the list so far:

1. The Mystical Exercycle, Gerald Locklin
2. Assorted Fictions, Carso Cistulli
3. Cindi's Fur Coat, Michael Casey
4. Damon, Damon (out of print)
5. Glass Ceiling, Julie Lechevsky
6. Scalars Depths and Crackles, Isabelle Pelissier (trans. Bill Sylvester) (out of print)
7. Health Pack, Brad Flis
8. Midnight, Dave Newman
9. Did You Know That You Could Heal Yourself?, Sean O'Keefe
10. The Prostituesdays Anthology
11. Wonder of the World: Recite, Madeline ffitch & Donna Selinger
12. The Once Over
13. Suppository Writing

By way of background: Sean is the son of poet Michael Casey, took his MFA from U. Mass. Amherst last year, and issued his first book from The Chuckwagon in 2001 -- a "perfect-bound" volume of Gerald Locklin's poetry. His other books have been stapled into bright-colored wraps. Reasons he mentions for starting the press range from his love of the small press; to growing up in a house full of books and magazines; his father's influence; "a lecture by Amiri Baraka during which he called for more independent presses"; and "a desire to disseminate work I admire."

I've got two sets here of numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13 ($25 postpaid for the set). Or get in touch with Sean directly at -- this is a lively way to let a fresh gust of laughter clear out any lingering romantic leanings from earlier in the week!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ted Kooser's VALENTINES: Chocolates That Last

The flowers are dozing in their vase, the chocolates are half gone, and whatever meal you've shared with a dear companion is done -- and someone's doing the dishes (or they'll wait til morning). If you have a card with a sweet sentiment or tasty tease in it, the card will still be there in the morning. But by then, it will be out of date, because the moment to say "happy Valentine's Day" is over for the year.

That means that Ted Kooser's 2008 collection VALENTINES is one of the most lasting salutes to the season. And it's been more than 20 years in the making.


To make a perfect heart you take a sheet
of red construction paper of the type
that's rough as a cat's tongue, fold it once,
and crease it really hard, so it feels
as if your thumb might light up like a match,

then choose your scissors from the box ....

The story, in brief, is that in 1986 the insurance exec/Nebraska poet began saluting the occasion with a poem on a postcard, sent to each of 50 women friends. The first one, "Pocket Poem," was a nine-line scrap of neatly punctuated narrative, ending with a warm and sentimental line: one suggesting that the author of the poem might be very close to the person receiving it, so close that the paper is still "warm from me."

Cleaner in scope and sharper in images than the traditional holiday letter, the Kooser holiday postcard nevertheless gained circulation. In 2007, postage was way out of hand, as the little cards traveled to the welcoming mailboxes of more than 2500 women. So the former U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) pulled the collection together into a neat little book wrapped in white with a single red "foil" heart.

Critic Dana Gioia has tackled in "The Predicament of Popular Poetry" the putdown that "complicated" people sometimes assign to Kooser's easily accessible, finely honed poems: that they are simple, limited, lack depth. Simple on the page, in small, regular forms, yes: but lacking in depth, no. And Gioia points to the way Kooser perfected his miniatures, polishing them to such an intense "fitting" that often there's no way to change or replace a line -- it's just "right." Gioia invites us to value Kooser's work for the high percentage of "perfect" poems in it, as well as for the carefully achieved openness of the conversations they continue.

I especially like the variety of images here that outline love in fresh ways. The turtle burying its eggs, "her eyes like stars /fixed on the future"; the trash haulers salvaging roses from a florist's dumpster, where the poet sees a parallel with his poem of "used" words that in turn become a bouquet; the dark red oak leaf on the snow, as close to a heart in shape as is the footprint of the wide-eyed deer pausing in the night. And I would have enjoyed being one of the people on the mailing list, surprised one year with a poem that urges "think how they feel" -- the leftover bits of paper from the candy box, that is, whose bewilderment at their final neglect is an example of why we might chuckle ruefully at our own small losses and resentments.

So I've paired with this little entry an unusual photo of Kooser, one that's less like the insurance agent/grandpa image he often has in the press, and more full of the merriment and energy that underlie all that polishing, 30 to 40 revisions per jewel before they are mounted in their settings. I note, too, that Kooser's "poet laureate project," the newspaper columns called "American Life in Poetry," are still emerging on a weekly schedule. He's up to number 151. Here's the web site to look at the arvhive: It's a jewel box, a chocolate box, a Valentine that lasts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Life, Another Language: Leland Kinsey, THE IMMIGRANT'S CONTRACT

The Endangered Language Initiative lists some 700 languages that are in danger of extinction. That will be 700 fewer ways for Robert Browning to say "I love thee" -- and with the loss are 700 fewer ways to experience the landscape, remember the past, dream of what may yet come to be.

In his new work of poetry, THE IMMIGRANT'S CONTRACT, Vermonter Leland Kinsey explores and paints with a language known to fewer each year: the language of the most rural section of Vermont where French Canadians immigrated in the early 1900s. Seeking wages and education, they also came for ownership of a bit of land, a business, a home.

Kinsey's book may look like a conventional collection of poems -- and publisher David Godine's handsome presentation speaks for its rural and "old time" perspectives -- but the book is actually one long poem, interrupted much as a conversation might be. Imagine sitting down with your best friend's grandfather and asking the story of his life. Well, the stories, then. First he might tell you about how he came to this country. Then he might talk about his first job, or how he met his wife.

The "immigrant" narrating Kinsey's book-length tour of the early 1900s begins in the fearful resettling of a wagonload of family and possessions, descending from Canada at a time when a global war and a global pandemic -- the Spanish influenza -- focused everyone on survival. The young boy's father gets tossed in jail for a night, for abusing the family horse by having it pull "such a load / of family and furniture," and years later tells the grown boy "he wanted / to put a spade in the constable's temple, / but said frogs don't kill the hawk."

There it is: That taste of a tongue that's word-swollen from another time and another experience. "Frogs don't kill the hawk." It's not Aesop's fables; it's rural, French-Canadian seasoned, old-time Vermont. And Kinsey, who grew up hearing it but also storing it, offers it back in his lifetime narrative.

Of course, "Frog" is a common pejorative for "French," but in these pages it's also an animal you can catch for supper, and a relative of the awkward "land toad" that croaks like an adolescent's new voice toward the girls at school. Yet the immigrant youth doesn't have the long luxurious years of schooling we now find. Instead, for the sake of earning a living, he's soon on his way to wherever there's hard work to be done, particularly work that involves horses. To Canada to work in the enormous wheat field of Alberta and then further north to "the Badlands" he goes. On the pages, this is a journey of free verse, lines neatly taking off from the left but otherwise unpredictable as a landscape, interrupted by significant announcements that become the titles of subsequent segments. "Into the Badlands"; "The City of Geese"; "Cape Tormente." Is it Dante we're walking with, Virgil in the shadows and silent -- or Pilgrim, from "Pilgrim's Progress," crossing the Slough of Despond? Dinosaur bones emerge from the once verdant northern lands:

... driver said they needed experienced
hands with horses to haul dinosaur bones
out of the badlands. I didn't know from either,
but knew horses, and planting was ending.

You've caught it, of course: the phrase "I didn't know from either," a localism that brushes the mind's ear with a hint of strange as well as a certainty of meaning. The words and the work lay out the paths here. When the immigrant learns that a thickness of rock comparable to a thick book represents two million years, down to the fossilized bones, he too grasps the magic of such words:

I saw right then that the priest's stories
were just stories. I stood on rocks
older than Eden. I was looking at more years
than the priest knew existed, and giants sur le terre
had walked larger and longer than his mind
could travel. He said my sister was needed
in heaven, and I knew that wasn't so,
and his various versions of heaven
had seemed like torture to a boy.

Kinsey lets the language and the images (geese, more migration) lead the flow of the immigrant's tale back to New England, then south to the booming economy of Miami, where baseball, construction, and fast living created a countersurge to the war years. A young man's hungers could be assuaged at the nod of a slick gambler or a mysterious woman. Yet the ease of some solutions came with a bitter taste for this laborer, and the poet portrays his relief at returning to the cold north woods and taking up with a logging crew that's also stringing the region's first electrical wires.

In the forest work, Kinsey spins terms that have almost vanished from the landscape: cutters, tenders, cant-dog men. And then, like your friend's grandfather, he coughs and spits a pithy comment:

Full bellies kept us warm, but pork and beans left
a smog of smell, and sounds like the town
brass band warming up in a crowded hall.

Trust this storyteller to work in more of the local language through extra voices, like that of the timber cruiser -- the workman who heads out through the forest before the crews, finding and marking the best harvests of trees. He'd "plan landings and squirt dams," ways to move the big treetrunks down from the hills and into the rivers, and the immigrant hangs on those recollections of nearly unbelievable wildlife, as well as massive logs: "Those logs would be whipping / up and down and back and forth / like every shuttle in one of them mills, / but big as work if one hit you."

Woods language, horse language ("off horse," "swath board, "span in hand"), even the language of young men at the Girlie Shows at the summer fair ("I never went once I married, / but they often came to bed with me") -- Kinsey milks all this for the flavor and tang of being fully alive. And if there are no personal revelations, there are still moments of drama and power in this working life: "I held six reins in my hands / and barked commands at four outriders / as I rode the cradle and skids."

Here's what Philip Levine might sound like if he'd been raised among the water and wood mills of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, instead of finding his way in the factories of Detroit. I like the energy and flow, and the restraint of commentary -- so that when Kinsey's immigrant finally speaks of the miraculous, it's the thrum of electricity in the new power lines he's referring to. The cloistered monks up north are infected by jazz from the local dance halls; the earth moves and shakes from blasting, as the work crews build roads for the new age.

I confess that as I neared the end of the work, I dreaded the possibility that the "immigrant" might take his autobiography into a death scene. But that doesn't happen. After a vigorous exploration of a few more kinds of labor, including clearing for a ski resort, and a heavy taste of grieving for the losses age brings to the capacity to fix and help, there's a great closing scene sorting objects out of a dam's collapse, pieces of life and death that were driven by flood waters and jumbled together at last. It's a finale of language like a Fourth of July fireworks bonanza, fired in a great heaving cluster of memory and delight, a finish that proclaims what we build and make as humans.

This isn't the easiest book to read, because it really demands being taken as a whole, absorbed, and then being explored all over again in bright segments. It's as hard to make the time for that today as it was to plow a new field out of the Alberta prairie or carve a highway along the mountain ridges back then.

But worth it. It's a tale -- and a poem -- I wouldn't want to miss. Or in the words of the immigrant:

... the men I worked with
drank hard and their exploits grew
larger and larger till they might
as well have been digging across Panama.

[UVM image: Leland Kinsey, right, with his brother-in-law Tom Warnock]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Crime and Punishment: Leighton Gage, BLOOD OF THE WICKED

To acquire another language is to acquire another soul -- and Leighton Gage puts every inch of his on the line in BLOOD OF THE WICKED, his hot new mystery from Soho Crime. Gage makes his home in three countries -- the United States, the Netherlands, and São Paulo, Brazil -- and from the taste of his fiction, he really does mean LIVES.

Plunging into the underworld of Brazil's urban and rural crime and despair, Gage has spun a tour de force of police procedure and human lust and love. Mario Silva, Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters, wears an elegant gray suit each day and spends half his energy keeping himself and his work safe from the tangle of politics of the Brazilian Federal Police. His nephew Hector Costa is also in the force, handicapped by always being seen as the young relative of his noted uncle. Both have been forged as law enforcement in the flames of urban violence that affect residents of São Paolo, with its attendant family tragedies.

When a series of high-profile murders begins in a rural city of "only" a quarter million people, Silva and his nephew are dragged into the countryside version of the rich and powerful versus the poor and easily disposed of. Land wars pit thousands of landless peasants against the establishment that owns huge tracts of Brazil. And inevitably, the Church plays a role: as power monger, as wordsmith, as measurer of sin and atonement.

In fact, Silva's first reason for going to Cascatos do Pontal is the sniper killing of a visiting bishop -- and it turns out that the bishop provoked his death by taking on the cause of a slaughtered peasant. The bishop's surviving assistant fills in Silva's nephew Hector:

"All of us were outraged, the bishop in particular. Several weeks before he died he went to Cascatas and preached a sermon in the old church. He drew his inspiration from Psalm Fifty-eight, verse ten: The passage reads 'The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.' His thesis,in a nutshell, was that whoever spills innocent blood is evil and deserving of having their own blood spilled."

So the bishop unleashed a fresh round of violence with horrible repercussions.

In Gage's hands, innocence finds new definition on behalf of the downtrodden: a boy who has sold his body can still be pure and worth defending. Priests sometimes molest children, sometimes shelter them, sometimes offer their own lives as hostage for justice. There's more than a little of Graham Greene's "whiskey priest" in the heroes that Silva discovers, and if he and his nephew are to survive the carnage erupting around their presence, they'll have to quickly arrange protection for the good, before hell's own minions destroy the best of the region in a flood of very graphic blood and body parts.

This is a fast-paced, intense read, laced with dreadful scenes and terrible desperation, but also with surprising forms of redemption. Gage has crafted a stunning first novel (he's a seasoned writer in other fields), and Soho Crime already has three more in the series, ready to release at one-year intervals.

An extra plus for Kingdom Books: Gage offered to include our Northeast Kingdom Vermont shop in his book tour. He'll be here on February 29 for a "Limited Edition Author Dinner" -- e-mail us for details ( What a great chance to get in on the start of this new and top-notch career in crime fiction.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Calendar Alert: Poetry Readings at Dartmouth

We've had another foot of snow this week up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont -- so the photo here, taken at Dartmouth, is actually a pretty good approximation to the view around here. Frankly, I've shoveled enough of the white stuff for now (although we have more arriving tomorrow, groan). And that's why it's definitely time to get indoors for some poetry.

April Ossmann's recent collection ANXIOUS MUSIC was reviewed here January 27, so it's great to know that this Maine poet (and publisher! - Alice James Books) is headed to Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, for a reading on February 21.

In fact, Dartmouth is hosting two rounds of poetry this month:

Saturday February 9, 2-4 p.m., poetry reading as part of Winter Carnival, with the first hour poets Jim Schley, Gary Lenhart, and yours truly, Beth Kanell, followed by open reading time for another hour.

Thursday February 21, 4 p.m., April Ossmann reading from her debut poetry collection Anxious Music (Four Way Books, 2007), and Peter Campion reading from his debut collection Other People (University of Chicago Press, 2005). (Snow date 2/28.)

Both events are in the Wren Room at Sanborn Hall, at the north side of the green.

For more information on the 2/21 event, call 603-646-2316 (Dartmouth College).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Poets: Adams, Armantrout, Baraka, ... Corman, Creeley, ... Malanga, ... Snyder, ... Zamora: ORIGIN 6th Series on CD

Bob and Sue Arnold at LONGHOUSE (Guilford, Vermont) announced today that the multiple sequences of poetry that make up their Origin Sixth Series quartet & Coda (five issues in all), which they published as a series of PDF files, is now available as an e-book on CD "with nearly 250 contributors and a whalloping 1,700 colorful pages of poetry, prose, art and photographs."

The CD form is first being issued in a very limited edition of only 100 copies and can be ordered directly from Longhouse at for just $20 plus $2.50 first class postage.

Here's the explanation of this remarkable compilation:

To avoid confusion amongst the purists, we have prepared ORIGIN, Sixth Series as a tribute to Cid Corman. No one in his right mind is attempting to do Origin the way Cid would. Impossible. For a rousing history of Origin, please read A Gist of Origin edited by Cid Corman.

This sixth series is a four-issue Origin-set that leafed out during the Spring months of 2007, culminating with a 'coda' issue in December. It is the very last of Origin, ever.

A small part of this series had Cid Corman's personal touch ~ in particular, some of the feature poets names chosen. After Cid's passing, poets were then gathered by editor Bob Arnold as more a celebration to poetry and for Cid. It has became a leafy canopy of many poets from around the world ~ ancients to the remarkably young ~ and all of the set is published as a PDF file. It's meant to read on the screen, and more, to be now shared as an e-book on CD.

Longhouse, all during 2007-8, will release selected poet's titles from the sixth
series published in attractive printed booklets available from our press.

And here's the amazing list of the contents:


Dobree Adams ~ Rae Armantrout ~ Bob Arnold / Origin Feature 1~ Carson Arnold ~ Susan Arnold ~ Ed Baker ~ Amiri Baraka ~ Jeffery Beam ~ Franco Beltrametti ~ Jan Bender ~ John Bennett ~ Sophia Bentinck ~ Carol Berge ~ Romulo Bernardo / trans. Janine Pommy Vega ~ Guy Birchard ~ Kevin Bowen ~ John Bradley / Cheng Hui ~ Hanne Bramness ~ Alan Brilliant ~ Rolf Brinkmann ~ David Brinks ~ Maggie Brown ~ Pam Brown ~ David Budbill ~ Clifford Burke ~ Bobby Byrd ~ Alex Caldiero ~ Alvaro Cardona-Hine ~ Hayden Carruth ~ Sean Casey ~ Beth Chasse ~ David-Baptist Chirot ~ Cid Corman Letters to Judith Binder ~ Cid Corman Letters to Louise Landes Levi ~ Carson Cistulli ~ Laurie Clark ~ Thomas A. Clark ~ Andy Clausen ~ Steve Clay ~ Ira Cohen ~ Marcel Cohen / trans. Cid Corman ~ Jack Collom ~ Rita Corbin ~ Cid Corman ~ Shizumi Corman ~ Arlene Corwin ~ Robert Creeley ~ Simon Cutts ~ Rene Daumal ~ Tsering Wangmo Dhompa ~ Jim Dodge ~ Kim Dorman ~ Ray Drew ~ Reidar Ekner ~ Theodore Enslin / Origin Archive ~ Rita degli Esposti / trans. by Coco Gordon ~ George Evans ~ Clive Faust ~ Alec Finlay ~ Ian Hamilton Finlay / Origin Archive Feature ~ Dennis Formento ~ Walter Franceschi ~ Gloria Frym ~ Forrest Gander / translations of Marcos Canteli, Carlos Pardo & Elena Medel ~ Megan M. Garr ~ Jacqueline Gens ~ Sergio Geyda / trans. George Evans & Daisy Zamora ~ Man Giac / trans. Kevin Bowen ~ David Giannini ~ Michael Gizzi ~ Peter Gizzi ~ Jesse Glass ~ Lyle Glazier ~ Charles Goodrich ~ Kirpal Gordon ~ Elio Grasso / Franco Beltrametti ~ Sam Green ~ Jonathan Greene ~ Sam Grolmes ~ Sam Hamill ~ Marie Harris ~ Caroline Hartge ~ Terry Hauptman ~ Gerald Hausman ~ Kris Hemensley ~ David Hess ~ Michael Hettich ~ David Hinton / Wei Ying-wu ~ Mikhail Horowitz ~ Gary Hotham ~ Kuan Hsiu / trans. J. P. Seaton ~ Stefan Hyner ~ Brenda Iijima ~ Erling Inreeide ~ Lisa Jarnot ~ Tom Jay ~ Brooks Johnson ~ Kent Johnson ~ Greg Joly ~ Hettie Jones ~ George Kalamaras ~ Lenore Kandel ~ Yoshie Kaneiri ~ Eliot Katz ~ Judy Katz-Levine ~ Cralan Kelder ~ Miyazawa Kenji / trans. Gerald Hausman & Kenji Okuhira ~ Miyazawa Kenji / trans. Hiroaki Sato ~ Kit Kennedy ~ Bill Knott ~ James Koller ~ Richard Kostelanetz ~ Mark Kuniya ~ Joanne Kyger ~ John Latta ~ Alan Lau ~ Dudley Laufman ~ Gary Lawless ~ Ursula K. Le Guin ~ Joseph Lease ~ Louise Landes Levi ~ John Levy ~ Chung Ling ~ Khong Lo / trans. Kevin Bowen ~ Ron Loewinsohn ~ Gerard Malanga ~ Jerry Martien ~ Stephen-Paul Martin ~ John Martone / Origin Feature 3 ~ Joseph Massey ~ Sebastian Matthews ~ Farid Matuk ~ Michael Mauri ~ Howard McCord ~ Duncan McNaughton ~ Tim McNulty ~ Nora Mehrhoff ~ Charlie Mehrhoff / Origin Feature 2 ~ Yuan Mei / trans. J. P. Seaton ~ Richard Meltzer ~ Henri Michaux / trans. Cid Corman ~ David Miller ~ Sabine Miller ~ Billy Mills ~ Peter Money ~ Tom Montag ~ Barbara Moraff ~ Giuseppe Moretti ~ Sheila Murphy ~ Eileen Myles ~ Vivek Narayanan ~ Hoa Nguyen / Origin Feature 4 ~ Lorine Niedecker / Origin Archive ~ Mike O'Connor ~ Mike / Hermit-Sage Tradition O'Connor / Hermit-Sage Tradition ~ Josip Osti / trans. Barbara Subert ~ Maureen Owen ~ Richard Owens ~ Ron Padgett ~ Shin Yu Pai ~ Ethan Paquin ~ Jenny Penberthy ~ Omar Perez Lopez / trans. Kristin Dykstra & Nick Lawrence ~ John Perlman ~ Will Petersen ~ Stephen Petroff ~ Simon Pettet ~ Denis Philippe / trans. Cid Corman ~ Janos Pilinszky / trans. Cid Corman ~ Plucked Chicken / Origin Archive ~ Verandah Porche ~ Meredith Quartermain ~ Peter Quartermain ~ Jerry Reddan ~ Tangram ~ Peter Riley ~ Marcia Roberts ~ Elizabeth Robinson ~ Janet Rodney ~ Martin Jack Rosenblum ~ Ce Rosenow ~ Michael Rothenberg ~ Gail Roub ~ Philip Rowland ~ Eero Ruuttila ~ Albert Saijo ~ Nanao Sakaki ~ Frank Samperi ~ Edward Sanders ~ Charles Sandy ~ Steve Sanfield ~ Santoka / trans. Scott Watson ~ Aram Saroyan ~ Leslie Scalapino ~ Andrew Schelling ~ Silke Scheuermann ~ George Schneeman ~ Maurice Scully ~ J. P. Seaton ~ Jerome Seaton ~ Fred Jeremy (F. J.) Seligson ~ Sengai / trans. Cid Corman ~ Han Shan / trans. J. P. Seaton ~ David Shapiro ~ Gail Sher ~ Kazuko Shiraishi / trans. Yumiko Tsumura & Samuel Grolmes ~ Eleni Sikelianos ~ John Sinclair ~ Austin Smith ~ Daniel Smith ~ Patricia Smith ~ Dale Smith / Origin Feature 4 ~ Gary Snyder / Origin Archive Feature ~ Clemens Starck ~ Rose Styron ~ Nicomedes Suarez-Arauz ~ John Suiter ~ Robert Sund ~ Arthur Sze ~ John Taggart ~ Ishii Tatsuhiko / trans. Hiroaki Sato ~ Mark Terrill ~ Nguyen Quang Thieu / trans. Kevin Bowen ~ Sophia Thor ~ Tony Tost ~ John Tranter ~ Tree Hugger ~ Yumiko Tsumura ~ Gael Turnbull ~ Lars Amund / trans. Hanne Bramness Vaage ~ Blanca Varela / trans. Roberto Tejada ~ Laki Vazakas ~ Janine Pommy Vega ~ John Vieira ~ Anne Waldman ~ Catherine Walsh ~ Phyllis Walsh ~ Scott Watson ~ James L. Weil ~ Michael Dylan Welch ~ Robert West ~ Philip Whalen / Origin Archive ~ J. D. Whitney ~ Wild Hawthorn Press / Origin Archive ~ Peter Lamborn Wilson / Pir Zia Inayat-Khan ~ Laura Winter ~ Jane Wodening ~ Peter Yovu ~ Daisy Zamora ~

Who could resist the opportunity to have all this poety on one slim CD, all at once? Thanks, Bob and Susan and the ORIGIN team (including the shadow of Cid Corman himself), for making this available to all of us.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Poet Ted Kooser in Vermont, March 27

Lyndon State College will host former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser for a series of events on Thursday March 27:

Poetry Workshop for high school students, 10-11:30 a.m., Alexander Twilight Theatre -- reservations 802-626-6426.

Poetry Workshop open to the public, 1-4 p.m., Burke Mountain Room, $90 per person, or free with LSC ID; space limited, reservations 802-626-6426.

Public Poetry Workshop, 7 p.m., Alexander Twilight Theatre.

Kooser is noted for his weekly newspaper column American Life in Poetry; here's a taste of his work:

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Tibetan-Native American-Scottish Spirituality: Following Eliot Pattison into the New World

Impassioned admirers of Eliot Pattison's Shan detective series, set in Chinese-occupied Tibet, will understand why I hesitated to read the first volume of his new series: BONE RATTLER, a historical mystery set in 1759 in Colonial America. The change of genres seemed an abyss. I resisted.

But Kate Mattes at Kate's Mystery Books assured me it was worth the plunge, so I clipped a chunk of time off the calendar and waded into the first few chapters. And was I ever stunned: Pattison has created another lonely, angry, kind, and spiritually seeking protagonist, every bit as heart-piercing and compelling as Shan. And the issues that displaced Scottish Highlander Duncan McCallum wrestles with have as much command on his soul as the life-threatening mystery that surrounds him.

Virtually kidnapped via an English courtroom and an avaricious Army, McCallum sails to the New World as a prisoner. But his skills in medicine -- the field where he'd just been about to be credentialed -- and his pursuit of knowledge and truth pull him out of the cells after all. Unfortunately, the people doing the pulling are about as crooked and avaricious as possible. Deaths multiply, sacrilege erupts, and McCallum's own lost brother has reason to hate him -- despite the fact that the two brothers are the remnant of their persecuted clan.

McCallum's hunger for knowledge equips him with rudiments of Iroquois language, and soon with clues to the powerful mystic symbols and rituals that lie underneath the culture of the Six Tribes. On these, his life depends repeatedly. But it's the loyalty to the lost Highlanders around him, to friends, and to his own clan ancestors and traditions -- even his ability to play the bagpipes, the pibroch -- that are his strengths at the edge of the deep and frightening forests that face him.

As Pattison has done with Shan, straddling a Chinese heritage and a deep longing for the teachings and peace of the Tibetans around him, he does here with McCallum. One powerful scene unfolds after McCallum's been partially scalped, then rescued. In early recovery he doesn't quite put together the gentle English voice of his healer/rescuer and the Indian he sees near him when he regains vision, and he attacks the Indian, desperate to recover or avenge the presumed death of his tender caregiver:

Duncan stared at the man, his jaw agape, looking about the small clearing, then into the forest and back to the stranger again. The man's face was as worn as a river stone, and his bright, intelligent eyes fixed Duncan with a steady, if sad, gaze. Around his neck hung a necklace of glass beads from which hung a small fur-bound amulet. [...]

When the stranger lifted his hand, Duncan thought it was to make a gesture of warning. But instead he slowly extended one finger, first to his lips, then to a shrub at the edge of the clearing. Duncan followed the finger to a bird, with scarlet body and black wings, that burst into a light melody as it studied the two men. They listened without moving for over a minute, until the bird flitted away.

"In the tongue of my boyhood we called him Firecatcher. I have never heard an English name for it. You English have so few names for the important things."

Duncan looked back at the man with the same curious gaze the bird had used. "I am called Duncan McCallum. In the tongue of my boyhood I would be called ungrateful."

A small grin stirred on the man's face.

Though there are no references within BONE RATTLER to Pattison's "other world" of fiction, McCallum's authority in solving the mystery and bringing events to a satisfactory plateau draws on the same ground as Chan's:

"There are other motives to consider [...] And there is the science of their deaths. Science does not lie. [...] Science, like justice, instructs the truth."

I recommend the book highly. Don't think of it as a historical, if that's going to get in your way. Think of it instead, like the best of Tony Hillerman, as a seeker's mystery. And a book that follows knowledge toward wisdom, and loss toward hope.

Calendar Alert: Mystery Author Leighton Gage, BLOOD OF THE WICKED, Feb. 29 at Kingdom Books

Soho Crime contacted us last week, after the blog mention of Leighton Gage's debut crime fiction set in Brazil, BLOOD OF THE WICKED. Since the author is touring New England this month, he's offered spontaneously to come to Kingdom Books. Hurrah! We've accepted with delight, and we'll provide a "limited edition" author dinner on Friday February 29, starting at 5:30 p.m. Details later -- but please mark your calendar. We'll be able to seat 20 people for 3 hours of conversation and a meal with this powerful new fictional voice. There will also be some signed copies available by reservation for those who can't make the evening.

Reserve your seat and your signed copy of BLOOD OF THE WICKED by e-mailing us at (or phone 802-748-5488).