Monday, March 31, 2008

Calendar Alerts: Jeffrey Lent 4/6, Leland Kinsey 4/12

Vermont novelist Jeffrey Lent reads at Plymouth State University in Donald Hall's "Eagle Pond Authors' Series" on Sunday April 6 at 3 p.m. The event is free, but call ahead to reserve a set at 603-535-ARTS. Lent's dark and powerful series began with IN THE FALL in 200, then LOST NATION in 2002; the 2007 narrative, a long, lush exploration, is A PECULIAR GRACE. (If you mark your calendar well ahead of time: The final event in this year's series, which has focused on novels, will be a reading by Margot Livesey on May 4 at 3.)

Poet Leland Kinsey has been racing all over the state with his new book-length sequence THE IMMIGRANT'S CONTRACT (for our in-depth delight earlier on the blog, see February 12). But Kingdom Books will catch him for a very different kind of event on Saturday April 12 at 2 p.m.: our annual Poets' Tea. Picture a circle of a dozen people, gathered with the poet, conversing and questioning together -- and oh yes, tea/coffee and New England sweets. Let us know if you're coming, so we'll have your copy of Lee's book ready.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jodi Picoult, Norwich, VT, 4/5: 12 Seats Left

As of this morning, there were just a dozen seats left for Jodi Picoult's reading on April 5, sponsored by the Norwich (VT) bookstore. Here are the details:

Jodi Picoult
Change of Heart
Saturday, April 5, 9 am, Sands Room at King Arthur Flour
Jodi Picoult, Hanover resident and New York Times bestselling author, will read from Change of Heart at a special Saturday event. This spellbinding tale of a mother’s tragic loss and one man’s chance at gaining salvation is filled with searching questions about redemption, truth, and love. (Tickets will be required: $30 covers the cost of a book, coffee, and pastry. Books are available at the store if you wish to read the book before the event.)

Call the store right away at 802-649-1114 to reserve a seat ( Also, Picoult's web site,, gives details of her US and British tours for CHANGE OF HEART.

We'll post details of the book, after April 5. Check back with us for signed copies.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poetry, Jazz, Blues... Wyn Cooper, 3/28

Kingdom Books co-sponsors the Fireside Literary Series at St. Johnsbury Academy's Grace Stuart Orcutt Library. Reading his poetry on Friday March 28 at 3:30 p.m., and incidentally debuting both a new collection and a new CD, is poet/musician Wyn Cooper from Halifax, just outside Brattleboro, VT.

Wyn's always crossed over easily from poetry to music; an early poem of his became the lyrics for the Sheryl Crow song "All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun)." With Madison Smartt Bell, he brought out a dark edgy jazz CD, "Forty Words For Fear." Now his book POSTCARDS FROM THE INTERIOR becomes the text for much of a new collaborative CD, POSTCARDS OUT OF THE BLUE -- which is a bluesy and mostly mellow work touched with a hint of 1960s classic rock underneath. For a sample of the CD, go to

Confused? Come listen in person. It's great stuff.

BOA Editions just accepted Wyn's newest collection for publication, and he'll read some of those poems, too. They're "loose sonnets" -- here's the lead poem of the collection, fresh from its recent appearance in Poetry.

Chaos is the New Calm

Chaos is the new calm
violence the new balm
to be spread on lips
unused to a kiss.

Left is the new right
as I brace for a fight
with a man who stands
on his remaining hand.

Fetid harbor harbor me
until someone is free
to drive me away
from what happened today.

Don’t strand me standing here.
If you leave, leave beer.

Wyn Cooper, Poetry, 2007

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

L.A. Outlaws: T. Jefferson Parker Spins a Yarn

Were you ever torn between becoming a policeman/fireman, or becoming an outlaw?

The moment of choice for Charlie Hood, now a promising detective in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, happened long ago. He tried crime for an afternoon and scared himself sick, back onto the straight and narrow path.

But Charlie never figured on meeting a sex goddess turned serial armed robber in the form of Allison Murrieta -- a gorgeous and very competent athlete and hot car driver who's a direct descendant of notorious California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. The 19th-century armed robber was a Latino gone wrong, avenging wrongs done to his family. But Allison, well, that's a different story. In a lot of ways, Allison has a great life as Suzanne Jones, award-winning schoolteacher and serial lover of strong men and her sweet sons.

If all this sounds like a different T. Jefferson Parker than the one who wrote, say, LITTLE SAIGON or SILENT JOE, think again. The quirks of the characters, the tang of California history and mythos, and the great car chases are classic TJP.

But L.A. OUTLAWS, Parker's 2008 offering, takes a sweeter and more heroic tack than most of his other books. There are few moments of terror in the book -- although quite a few of risk! -- and although death stalks the territory with a sharp blade, it's death with a heart that's been hurt. Death that's, well, understandable.

Pick this up for a quick, fun read, a well-spun tall tale that's salted with just enough news reporters and twisted betrayals to keep the plot zipping. And oh, yes: Keep track of the fast cars. And keep your eyes on the diamonds, the ones that are putting Allison's Jesse James-style career and life on the line.

Here's a list of Parker's other books:

Laguna Heat (1985)
Little Saigon (1988)
Pacific Beat (1991)
Summer Of Fear (1993)
The Triggerman's Dance (1996)
Where Serpents Lie (1998)
The Blue Hour (1999) 1st in the Merci Rayborn series
Red Light (2000) 2nd Merci Rayborn novel
Silent Joe (2001)
Black Water (2002) 3rd Merci Rayborn novel
Cold Pursuit (2003)
California Girl (2004)
The Fallen (2006)
Storm Runners (2007)

And for more back-story on the "real" Murrieta, check out the author's web site,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

God on the Pages: Alice Notley's Poems

[photo by Lynne Saville]

Paris was five days behind her and three days ahead of her.

Alice Notley stood at the podium in the old-fashioned meetinghouse in Vermont on a cold winter night, a slight and wiry woman in black, with plans for a "traditional" three-part reading: from her amazing ALMA, OR THE DEAD WOMEN (much more than a response to 9/11), then from unpublished new work, and finally from her very current collection IN THE PINES.

But first she read aloud, in response to an audience request, "Little Egypt": a poem she wrote 32 years ago and that's included in the generous hardcover collected poems that Wesleyan brought out under the title GRAVE OF LIGHT. She gripped each word in her teeth and threw it outward, words clattering forth, frame of muscle and bone racked with each sound.

Crisp and strong, she swept quickly into reading "from this impossible book," ALMA, OR THE DEAD WOMEN, written in 2002-2003. "There's a character in it named Alma who is God, and she's a junkie," Notley announced before sweeping into "Oath": it cascades to the ending, "by every equal height we attained swearing by the tenants of our two souls."

She followed with "Against Their Death Wish," then another that evoked the owls that beat through so much of her writing, so many of her dreams. New York was her city for years, and now it's Paris, and the two are as different as can be, but the love she wraps them in is the same love. And when her poems moved her Monday night into speaking of loving the city, she choked with emotion.


... the real body is within the seen body,
essential star that never dissolves. ...
I have the spirit of my poetry.

When Notley offered her fresh unpublished work, she grappled with an introduction to it: "This is a sequence, I guess it's a sequence, called 'Above the Leaders,' and I guess it's about living in Paris." Then she braided time, light, and the rumble of the city, expecially its trains and the people who step in and out of the stations with her. "A man followed me this morning" on the train. She addresses Walt Whitman and "That little creep, Rimbaud." And she interrupts the scenes with poetics, with philosophy, with decisive pronouncements: "Any grief is stupid there's still so much theorizing to do between beats." She invoked aging, taking care, and neglect, spinning one after another into the air in a paean to "the goddess of difficult beginnings."

I love you brother
I am finally taller than our nation.
The poetic line is more rigorous than philosophy, I said.

Vampires ... who want to bring their mother
back to life... fear of being made to pray to
a god I despise. ... I've spent my whole life
healing -- fear of not being able to heal
anybody but myself...
People allow themselves to be ruled -- but not
to be healed.

When Notley set the last page aside, she proclaimed, "Thank you Walt Whitman. Have you every thought about Whitman in Paris? Maybe you know what I was doing."

Then she surged into her newest collection in print, IN THE PINES. If you're accustomed to Notley's noted style of stringing together artlessly random directions (until suddenly you realize they all add up to a declaration of independence), then the new collection will knock you sideways with its fresh approach. It's titled for the Leadbelly song "In the pines, in the pines, Where the sun never shines"). She wrote it while "doing the cure" for hepatitis C. "This title poem is all about pronouns and genes -- and healing."

I'm going to find you a soul,
I'm going to find you a soul,
this is the oldest song.

(I may have the line breaks wrong, because I only have my notes; every single one of the 10 copies of IN THE PINES that we brought to the reading went into readers's hands before the evening was done. People grabbed the hardcover collections, too. But we came home with the sweet rare early work, to place in our poetry room.)

Notley follows the silver of the train lines, the red thread of the "folkloric cure," the mysterious visits of jaguars and owls, of silver and turquoise, finding the "promised line," the "promised land." And it may have been Notley or it may have been my ears that evening, but I heard conversations with her mother and grandmother, and I heard her say in a voice of childlike determination, "Who needs angels? If they speak, I'm not going to listen."

Most of all, threaded into each surge of words was Notley's declaration of herself as The Poet -- and of her mother's gift of that certainty to her.

It was a good night to listen, in Johnson, Vermont, a few days away from Paris.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Coming Soon: The Edgar Awards

Up here in Vermont the snow is persistent -- arriving day after day, but at least in smaller amounts. Bright sunshine will defeat it yet... we hope!

At any rate, we do expect spring, and May 1 is actually just about six weeks away. That's the date for the banquet of the Mystery Writers of America, when Grand Master Bill Pronzini gets a fitting salute, and the 2008 Edgar Awards will be announced (and the Raven Awards, including one to fellow mystery bookseller Kate Mattes, will be given).

Here's the most significant list, the nominees lined up for the Best Novel Award:

* Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt and Company)
* Priest by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur)
* The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)
* Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House Books)
* Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur)

A challenge from us to you: Let's read them all before May 1. I've already posted a review of DOWN RIVER, and Dave has sold multiple copies of THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION through his unqualified enthusiasm. If you've read all five, drop us a line with your forecast of the award winner.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Alice Notley Reads in Vermont, Mon. March 24

[photo by Terry Pollack]

Kudos to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, for inviting Alice Notley to teach, and to read for the public on Monday March 24 at 8 p.m. at the lecture hall on Route 15 in Johnson village (east side).

Notley, born in 1945, is part of the "second generation" of the New York School of Poets, blossoming in the wake of O'Hara, Ginsberg, and above all William Carlos Williams. In addition to her wide body of work, she has collaborated in editing the work of her first husband, poet Ted Berrigan. She now lives in Paris as a permanent resident.

If you can't get to Johnson for Monday's reading, I'll do my best to fill you in afterward. Meanwhile, I recommend Notley's newest collection, IN THE PINES, which evokes a powerful conversation directly with the reader.

Her poetry includes:

* 165 Meeting House Lane, "C" Press (New York), 1971.
* Phoebe Light, Big Sky (Bolinas, CA), 1973.
* Incidentals in the Day World, Angel Hair (New York), 1973.
* For Frank O'Hara's Birthday, Street Editions (Cambridge), 1976.
* Alice Ordered Me to Be Made: Poems 1975, Yellow Press (Chicago, IL), 1976.
* A Diamond Necklace, Frontward (New York), 1977.
* Songs for the Unborn Second Baby, United Artists (Lenox, MA), 1979.
* When I Was Alive, Vehicle (New York), 1980.
* Waltzing Matilda, Kulchur (New York), 1981.
* How Spring Comes, Toothpaste Press (West Branch, IA), 1981.
* (With Andrei Codrescu) Three Zero, Turning Thirty, edited by Keith and Jeff Wright, Hard Press (New York), 1982.
* Sorrento, Sherwood Press (Los Angeles), 1984.
* Margaret and Dusty, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1985.
* Parts of a Wedding, Unimproved Editions Press (New York), 1986.
* At Night the States, Yellow Press, 1988.
* Selected Poems of Alice Notley, Talisman House (Hoboken, NJ), 1993.
* The Descent of Alette, Penguin, 1996.
* Mysteries of Small Houses, Viking Penguin, 1998.
* Disobedience, Penguin Books (New Yorks, NY), 2001.
* (Editor) Douglas Oliver, Arrondissements, Salt Publ. (Cambridge, United Kingdom), 2003.
* Coming After: Essays on Poetry, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2005.
* (Editor, with Anselm Berrigan and Edmund Berrigan) The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.

And yes, of course, we'll have some signed material available after Monday night, if the weather cooperates, the roads are open, and the usual muses of poetry readings shine on the evening. Check back in on Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thomas Lux Writing on Ilya Kaminksky: Poet/Poet

We can't reprint it here -- the article is long, wonderful, and is the cover story for the San Diego Reader.

But we can say: Read this!! It may be one of the best narratives on poet has ever written about another. And Kaminsky, like Lux before him, will be at the Frost Place this summer ( If you haven't yet heard him read, you have a treat ahead of you. And if you have heard him -- I bet you'll try to see him this summer. I know that I will put this ahead of everything else in my schedule.



If I speak for the dead, I must
leave this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over
for the empty page is a white flag of their surrender.

If I speak of them, I must walk
on the edge of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through the rooms without
touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking "What year
is it?"
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition and the darkest days
must I praise.

[taken from; also the opening poem in his chapbook MUSICA HUMANA]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jean Valentine Becomes New York State Poet

One of the last good things Eliot Spitzer did as governor of New York was name Jean Valentine as the new State Poet, a 2-year position that includes the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit. The governor's office described Valentine this way:

Ms. Valentine, a Chicago native, graduated from Radcliffe College and has lived most of her life in New York City. Her most recent book is “Little Boat” (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). Her previous collection of poems, “Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003,” was the winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Poetry. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

The Zen-like precision of the poems in LITTLE BOAT is a delight, and a satisfying further step from the wide sweep of Valentine's DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN collection.

Valentine's first collection was DREAM BARKER AND OTHER POEMS, which won the Yale Younger Poets award, volume 61 in the series (1965). The title poem, "Dream Barker," opens with a dinner date that begins in a flat-bottomed boat, under circumstances that recall Huck Finn's ally Jim. I still shiver at the last stanza:

And then I woke up: in a white dress:
Dry as a bone on dry land, Jim,
Bone dry, old, in a dry land, Jim, my Jim.

Explore her web site: And yes, we have some signed copies...

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Poetry That's Considered "Classic" by HBO

A news release from The Poetry Foundation came in today, revealing that the organization is working with an HBO show for children -- and it seems to me that the list of poems to be incorporated in the April 12 show gives a notion of what's now the "cannon." Note that Robert Frost tops the chart. Here it is:

Poetry Foundation Collaborates with HBO on
Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show
Latest installment of the Emmy-winning series debuts April 12

CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation, in collaboration with HBO, is pleased to announce the premiere of Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show, a television special for kids and their families about poetry. The latest installment of HBO's acclaimed Classical Baby series transports viewers into the world of literary arts, planting the seeds for a new generation to become lifelong lovers of poetry. Featuring classic poems by some of the world's greatest poets—including William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Christina Rossetti, and Federico García Lorca—the program premieres on Saturday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, exclusively on HBO.

"We're certain that young children—and their parents—who are introduced to poetry via this enchanting program will be captivated by the beauty and wonder of the art form," said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. "Our research confirms that a positive experience with poetry early in life is the best way to create a lifelong reader of poetry."

An HBO original program produced in association with the Poetry Foundation, Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show introduces audiences to timeless poetry through animation and song. Featuring the voices of performers Andy Garcia, John Lithgow, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Susan Sarandon, and Jeffrey Wright, and poets Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams, Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show consists of approximately a dozen short segments presenting well-known poems—and some surprises—in a delightful format. Between each segment, children—ranging in age from 4 to 9—offer commentary and muse on the meaning and mystery of poetry.

Poems featured in the program include the following:

* "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost; read by Susan Sarandon
* "The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevenson; sung by Beverly Gile and Frances Archer
* "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams; recited by Finn, age 7
* "Grassy Grass Grass" by Woody Guthrie; performed by Elizabeth Mitchell
* "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear; read by John Lithgow
* "Sonnet XVIII" by William Shakespeare; read by Jeffrey Wright
* "Mariposa" by Federico García Lorca; recited by Andy Garcia in Spanish with English subtitles
* "This Is Just to Say," written and read by William Carlos Williams
* "April Rain Song," written and read by Langston Hughes
* "A Very Valentine," written and read by Gertrude Stein
* "Who Has Seen the Wind?" by Christina Rossetti; read by child Maria Molloy
* "How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; read by Gwyneth Paltrow

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chosen by Robert Frost: Poet James Hayford

When James Hayford left Montpelier, Vermont, to begin attending Amherst College, his future looked like either a composer/musician's life, or the ministry. But that was before he met Robert Frost.

The occasion came in his sophomore year at Amherst. Delighted with Shakespeare, he was also writing poems. When he showed one to his professor, the honest and kind gentleman said he was "no judge of poetry" -- but would Jim like to meet Frost and show him the poem?

Unacquainted with Frost's poetry then, the student lucked out when his parents sent him a volume of the Collected Poems as a 19th birthday gift.

I started reading and couldn't stop. I cut classes. I barely ate and slept for three or four days. Here was a man talking about the very people and country that I knew, precisely and faithfully. Lovingly. making real literature of it! I was absolutely spellbound.

Hayford's visit with Frost, poem in hand, turned into a long exhilarating talk from Frost on all sorts of subjects -- but not about the proffered poem, until the end of the visit, when the great man said: "I say to you the opposite of what I say to most college poets. To most of 'em I say, 'You don't have much to say, but you say it pretty well.' To you I say, 'You have something to say, but you don't say it very well.' You'll learn."

When Hayford arrived at graduation (his tale is well worth reading, in the posthumously published RECOLLECTING WHO I WAS: MY LIFE AND WORK), he was amazed to receive a newly formed award: a fellowship in honor of Robert Frost, of $1,000! After commencement, when he tried to thank Frost, the grand poet warned him there were fierce conditions on the award: Hayford was to stay away from
1. Colleges and universities
2. Big cities
3. Art colonies
4. Europe.

Frost's intent in imposing the conditions was to ensure that the young man would continue to write poetry, rather than write "about" literature instead.

It's surely a quirk of the poetry press world that Hayford's volumes, often self-published, locally printed, or in small editions, are so little known today. Maybe there's also a reflection of an urge for verbal fireworks that Hayford's poems rarely pack. But he mastered an art of condensing image and meaning, honing each piece to its most intense. Here's an example, picked for the time of year, from the collection UPHILL HOME:

March Morning

I shoveled my last shovelful of deep snow
For this year when I broke up the remains
This morning of a solid seven-foot pile
At the conjunction of porch eaves and drive,
And threw it out to splotch the lifeless grass
For a few hours until the sun could work,
Stowing meanwhile the shovel in the loft
And finding the gathering pail to start the first
Round of my seven-maple sugar bush.


And I'll add another, from 1983:

To Earth

Earth, you still lack perfection:
Your quakes and hurricanes
And other growing pains
Await correction:

You puzzle our best brains
While keeping our affection.

Yes, there are longer Hayford poems, with more reflection of the rural narrative that Frost captured so well.

But those will wait for another Vermont afternoon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Malice Domestic Lifetime Acheivement: PETER LOVESEY

Malice Domestic, the "fun-fan" conference in the Washington, DC, area, that celebrates the "traditional mystery" (epitomized by Agatha Christie's books), is scheduled for April 25-27 this year. The conference will award its 2008 Lifetime Achievement honor to British author Peter Lovesey. Lovesey's 2007 mystery, THE SECRET HANGMAN, came out from Soho Press in the US and is the latest in the Peter Diamond series:

* The Last Detective (1991)(Anthony Award)
* Diamond Solitaire (1992)
* The Summons (1995) (Silver Dagger Award)
* Bloodhounds (1996) (Silver Dagger Award, Macavity Award, Barry Award)
* Upon a Dark Night (1997)
* The Vault (1999)
* Diamond Dust (2002)
* The House Sitter (2003)
* The Secret Hangman (2007)

Diamond is overweight, tangled in ordinary love of his wife (thank goodness), and all too human as he grapples with his own clumsy approach to life -- seasoned by dogged determination to see justice done. I just read DIAMOND SOLITAIRE, in which the CID detective has lost his job due to insubordination, then loses a second one thanks to an abandoned child. There are scenes in here I'll never forget, most especially what happens when a Japanese sumo wrestler takes an interest in the missing child. I'm headed into a self-imposed festival of Lovesey books, catching up with this author whose solid and engaging mysteries somehow escaped me until this winter.

On April 1, Soho Crime releases yet another Lovesey mystery, THE HEADHUNTERS, the second in a series featuring Chichester CID inspector Henrietta “Hen” Mallin. Collectors take note: The US edition will be the "true first," as the UK edition won't release until a month later. I'm pre-ordering my copy.

Oh yes, we just gathered a shelf of Lovesey. Check out our listings through the web site,

St. Patrick's Day, March 17 - Calendar and More

We recently heard about the poetry series at Del Rossi's Trattoria in Dublin, NH -- haven't been there yet, but the event for this weekend's Irish mood sounds like a good one, with Massachusetts/Celtic poet/singer Kate Chadbourne. From Chadbourne's web site,, here's the gist:

16 March 2008 ~ Poems, Songs, and Stories at Del Rossi's ~ I hear great things of Del Rossi's, both in terms of food and in terms of poems. I'm honored to be invited to share some of my own poetry, as well as some Irish songs and stories in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Come at 1:30 for free coffee and snacks; open reading starts at 2:00 and I perform for about 40 minutes sometime after that. And afterwards, I plan to sample some of Del Rossi's Italian delights. St. Patrick, I'm sure, would approve! Route 137N. Dublin, NH 03444 (603) 563-7195 .

Here's one of Kate's poems, as published in Wild Violet:

The Two Anns Help Me Make My Bed

By Kate Chadbourne

when I am wasted and gone beyond
unsnaking the sheets from the clean heap,
soul-stunned enough to tip onto
a blank mattress and tug
a skinned duvet up to my ears.

Sister to a quilting bee,
or a barn-raising, this moment —
all six hands stretching the cornered sheet
over the long tablet of the mattress,
all six hands evening out the top sheet
and pulling it over the foot so it stays,
all six hands steering the duvet
into its harbor and buttoning it to the mooring.

Then out they go, my two Ann friends —
Ann of the poems
and Anne who keeps stories —
and I fall into a charmed rest,
ferried through the night
by the particular blessing
each has imparted
on the sleepy skies
of the pillow cases, cool and blue.

If you're on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River, the Irish Heritage Festival in Burlington ( is a top-notch weekend-through-Monday draw. On Saturday, there's a pennywhistle workshop for all ages at 1 p.m. at the Fletcher FreeLibrary, an Irish fiddle workshop with Sarah Blair at the First United Methodist Church ($15) at 5 p.m., Blair's concert in the same location at 7 p.m. ($10), and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, the festival ceili at Contois Audistorium, followed there in the evening by the annual Burlington Irish Music Showcase -- this year featuring Patti Casey, James McGinniss and the Redeemers, Longford Row, O'hAnleigh, and many more ($15). Monday catch the St. Patrick's Day concert from traditional Irish-Canadian group LEAHY, at the Flynn Center ($27-39;

Monday of course is the actual date for St. Patrick's Day, and I vote for a start with a traditional Irish breakfast at the Ri Ra Irish Pub at 123 Church Street (802-860-9401) between 9 and 11 a.m. -- or hold that thought for later in the day, when offerings include fish and chips, lamb stew, and beef and Guinness stew.

This year's festival doesn't include a poetry event -- what a shame, for the region where poet Greg Delanty has been braiding Celtic with Vermont for years! -- but here's a wild tidbit from a 2003 investigation of Robert Frost's work that was held at Dartmouth College. What better celebration of the Green than combining New England's grand old man of poetry with the island's heritage?!

Rachel Buxton - Oxford University
'Structure and Serendipity': Affinities between Robert Frost and Paul Muldoon

Robert Frost is a vital figure for a number of contemporary Northern Irish writers. Poets such as Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Tom Paulin discuss him at length in interviews and in their criticism, and the Frostian influence permeates much of their poetry. This paper focuses on the ways in which Frost's attitudes towards form and play - on both aesthetic and metaphysical levels - have filtered into the poetry and various critical writings of Paul Muldoon.

Muldoon has long been attracted to Frost's studied slyness and wryness. As he perceives it, there are two areas in which this Frostian 'knowingness' operates. Firstly, there is the knowingness of a crafted, controlled and controlling, form. Secondly, there is the fact that many of Frost's poems have, built into them, an element of arbitrariness, of playful unpredictability - a quality Muldoon has termed Frost's 'calculated capriciousness'. Muldoon discusses Frost's 'The Silken Tent' as a pertinent example of the combination of these two qualities. Much of Muldoon's work displays the same fusion of structure and serendipity, of seemingly random behavior within systems of formal constraint.

Frost's and Muldoon's approach to metaphysical matters parallels their conviction that, in the composition of a poem, freedom is most often evident within, and indeed dependent upon, the constraint of a design. Both poets, when speaking or writing of cosmological or theological issues, profess a belief in external constraints - be they societal, genetic, or a 'fate' imposed by a deity - within which human free will might operate. Frost's poems 'Design' and 'Stars' are of particular significance in this regard, as are Muldoon's 'Blemish', 'White', and 'Incantata', all three of which demonstrate a marked, if tangential, relation to Frost.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Think Pink for Dzvinia Orlowsky

Hilda Raz brought breast cancer and its sequelae into mainstream poetry with her collection Divine Honors, and went on to edit more poems by others on the topic.

And in magazines and late-night television shows, there are women baring the fright, the humiliation, the pain, and the desperate hope of a "cure" or vaccination that will prevent breast cancer. In the supermarket this winter there was a week-long special with pink plastic coffee mugs, pink-ribboned potted plants, bouquets of cut flowers wrapped in pink plastic, and most bizarre, a tall and artfully stacked display of cans of soup, each label decorated with a neat pink ribbon.

So it is that CONVERTIBLE NIGHT, FLURRY OF STONES, the March 2008 collection from Dzvinia Orlowsky, opens with a scratchy and brief exposé called "Pink" and ending, "Blood disposed down a drain-- / my name, street, best time to be reached."

But after that, there's no predictable route from "hold me, I'm scared" to "all better." Instead, Orlowsky rakes sand and stones and harsh gravel across the pages. From one poem to the next, she sometimes probes the searing anger that the battle against her cancer enflames, and at other times plainly recounts the dying and death of her grandmother, the painful aging of her mother.

Within Part I (of IV) is "The Radiologist." I hope the sorry son-of-a-gun this may describe is forced to read the poem darned soon. In a powerfully crafted dance of alternating lines -- roman type, then italic; pressed to the left margin, then indented -- Orlowsky replays the callous chatter of an idiot doctor over the phone, bouncing it against a Kafka-esque set of bizarre orders. Here's a portion (the italicized lines are indented on the book page):

Everything's blessed and enlarged in his family's life:
Remain standing in your place and listen.

his daughter's gratitude for wildflowers, the easy country
Do not even listen, simply wait.

she grew up in, his immeasurable love for her.
Do not even wait.

All I want to ask again is just how big and if he's completely certain.
Be quiet, still and solitary.

But he's through talking and hangs up.
The world will freely offer itself to you

If it wasn't for my love of God, his mud-soft meadows,
To be unmasked.

I'd drive my green Ford through the doctor's brambles and dead ends,
It has no choice.

I'd find his blossoming daughter
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

and take her life.

More of the poems here are strings of simple-seeming couplets that puncture narrative along dotted lines of design. "Prayer to My Father" suggests that a long-ago wish to bear her father's pain for him has after all blossomed in what this daughter-as-patient now endures. I like the graphic images of her sisters quarreling during their mother's illness, who fed the prickles and thorns of dislike: "Bad thoughts / swarmed like fat, garbage-fed, // late-August flies." Later in this same poem, "Cheap," after arguments over who'll transport Mother's ashes, Orlowsky spares a rare moment for philosophy: "I don't know how in life we find // ourselves unrecognizable, how pain / pushes us to survive despite ourselves."

A first reading of this jagged terrain wasn't enough; I pushed back through the sequence a second time, then a third, looking for more signs of the push and pull of present and past. The collection became a set of doctor's charts marked in multiple colors. From the threat of a tiny opening in the skin in "Paper Cut" (immune system flaring and hissing), to her father's comparison of a perfect breast to the shape of a martini glass ("the nipple, a dark grape / or more like an olive ..."), disease and treatment morph into family, close enough to call, and often too far away to help.

I like the savage attack of "The Cop," as a cancer patient -- presumably Orlowsky -- strips off her wig and confronts a libidinous and tyrannic cop with the hairless face of despair. And my chest froze at the level of threat in the poem "All Gone," which imagines the new woman who could enter the bereaved family's life, a woman named "Not Mom" who "doesn't have to check her weight or blood." A Harley flame painted on a seashell, a confused aging mother stripping off a "diaper," the hard and acrid specifics of life tumble in these pages without ever smoothing their edges.

Although the collection closes with a gentle sequence of blessings that include a "flurry of stones" while walking with the dog, there's little softness here. When "soft" emerges in these poems, it's more like the rubbery give and heave of a blood-wet heart, flapping, squeezing, hot.

From this Pushcart Prize recipient, editor, translator, and poet, CONVERTIBLE NIGHT, FLURRY OF STONES is more than an affirmation of life. It's the thick sweating texture of life itself. And it's one heck of a good read.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Frost Place: Energy, Excitement, Enrollment

The board of trustees for The Frost Place (the Franconia, N.H., home of Robert Frost during the time when he wrote some of his most significant poems and moved from obscurity to blinding fame) met in New York City this weekend. I'm excited about the visions and potential long reaches that the board evoked during a three-hour strategic planning session. "Full disclosure": I've been on this board for two years, look forward to at least four more, and count the labor as part of what it takes to make life worthwhile.

While all this goes on behind the scenes, it's now time to enroll in order to participate in this year's Festival and Conference of Poetry, set for July 27-August 2 and featuring guest poets Cornelius Eady, Susan Howe, Chase Twichell, Jean Valentine, and David Wojahn -- as well as resident poet for the season James Hoch. The energy of the site, the people, and the determination to foster contemporary poetry become hugely vibrant. Applications are available at the web site: (and yes, there ARE some scholarship funds, so do apply even in this rocky economy and then talk with director Jim Schley about how to make this highlight of your summer -- of your passion? -- possible).

Sitting next to me at the meeting was longtime trustee Martha Rhodes, a poet and publisher of Four Way Books. As we looked into the future of The Frost Place, Martha and I also looked into the collaborations that all of us need to forge and nourish. So -- we decided to provide some links between the Kingdom Books blog and the electronic footprints of Four Way Books, to make it easy for guests at either site to explore the other. Hence I'm adding to the righthand column a link to the Four Way Books web site,, and I suggest a visit to the blog also,

Thanks, Martha, for all you do for contemporary poets and poetry.

Poetics as Art or as Taste?

Today's New York Times Book Review includes, on page 8, a probing review by James Longenbach of Mary Jo Salter's new collection, A PHONE CALL TO THE FUTURE: New and Selected Poems. From Longenbach's discussion, this is clearly a book to own, and I've ordered my copy. Meanwhile, though, the comments from this seasoned reviewer and author offered me quite a bit to chew over.

He notes that Salter "came of age as a poet in the 1970s when two tribes, the Language poets and the New Formalists, were sparring." Language poets aimed for edgy, experimental work; New Formalists, where Salter took her place, aimed to "resist the influence of modernism, re-energizing poetry's relationship not only to traditional form but to narrative." Longenbach articulates the ties of this group and of Salter to Elizabeth Bishop, and asserts that while Bishop's free and formal verse continues to earn readers, "the polemics associated with both the New Formalism and Language poetry feel dated, part of the niggling history of taste rather than the grand history of art."

Having thus packaged one of the fiercest debates of today's poetics, Longenbach opens discussion of different standard of comparison: work like Salter's that "asks eviscerating questions" and refuse to provide finished answers to those, versus poetry where emotion is "mastered" and "Questions are foreclosed; satisfaction sets in."

Longenbach's taste is clearly for work that uses its masterful poetry to frame the "unmasterable feelings," as Salter does in probing the death of her son.

I found his review provocative, and particularly enjoyed his final phrase of praise for Salter's poem "Elegies for Etsuko": "a disorienting work of art."

ELEGY Wins National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry

I've been on the road, so here come some brief posts to catch up. Reviews resume Monday.

The National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry winner for 2007 is ELEGY by Mary Jo Bang. The book speaks to the death of her son and Graywolf, its publisher, has the following to say about it:

ELEGY is a different kind of book for Mary Jo Bang, who wrote this collection while mourning the loss of her son. Ken Tucker writes for Entertainment Weekly, "Had the jacket not said Elegy chronicles the year following the death of her son, Bang's book would still move you for its grace, not its real-life poignancy." Chosen by Publishers Weekly and the St. Louis Post Dispatch as best books of 2007, this award further distinguishes ELEGY as one of the best books of 2007.

Jeff Shotts, poetry editor at Graywolf Press, was pleased to have two Graywolf poets nominated for the prestigious award, "To have two finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award is a rare and wonderful achievement for Graywolf's poetry list. And then to have one of them win is thrilling. Mary Jo Bang's ELEGY is such a deserving winner. It is an extraordinary feat to present language that is authentic and challenging enough that it is up to the real sorrow it describes. We're gratified to have this kind of affirmation from the National Book Critics Circle for such a humane and important book as ELEGY."

Mary Jo Bang is the author of four previous books of poetry, including Louise in Love and The Eye Like a Strange Balloon. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she is an associate professor of English and director of the creative Writing program at Washington University.

The National Book Critics Circle is a not-for-profit organization of book editors and critics with some 600 members nationwide. The organization was founded in 1974 to encourage and raise the quality of book criticism in all media and to create a way for critics to communicate with one another about their professional concerns (

Here are the other finalists:

Matthea Harvey, Modern Life
Michael O'Brien, Sleeping and Waking
Tom Pickard, The Ballad of Jamie Allan
Tadeusz Różewicz, New Poems, trans. by Bill Johnston

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Calendar Alert: Jodi Picoult in Norwich, Vermont

The Norwich Bookstore has put together an event with thriller writer Jody Picoult. Here are the details:

Jodi Picoult
Change of Heart
Saturday, April 5, 9 am, Sands Room at King Arthur Flour
Jodi Picoult, Hanover resident and New York Times bestselling author, will read from Change of Heart at a special Saturday event. This spellbinding tale of a mother’s tragic loss and one man’s chance at gaining salvation is filled with searching questions about redemption, truth, and love. (Tickets will be required: $30 covers the cost of a book, coffee, and pastry. Books will be available at the store on March 5th if you wish to read the book before the event.)

For a reservation, call the bookshop: 802-649-1114.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Write for Your Life!

It's high political season in Vermont, with our Presidential Primary scheduled for tomorrow -- along with an afternoon start to yet another ice storm, groan. The phone has been ringing all day, and when I pick up the receiver, there's an empty line: I presume it's a campaign auto-dialer, trying to get out the vote. Hey, I'll be out there voting. It's a Vermont tradition on Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday of March.

Vermont's often proud to lead, politically. It was an early state to outlaw slavery; began mainstreaming kids with learning disabilities way ahead of the crowd; and whipsaws back and forth between Republican conservative governors and left-wing radicals. (Senator Pat Leahy is one of our most centrist politicians.)

Now the state is leading in another direction: taking teen writers seriously, but with huge amounts of fun and challenge.

J. E. Ellefson's amazing Young Vermont Writers Conference at Champlain College happens over Memorial Day weekend each year -- for 2008, that will be May 30 to June 1. He literally spurs the youths with the cry "Write for your life!" and salts the days and evenings with open mics, a poetry jam, exuberance and heart.

This year's keynote author for the event is Sydney Lea, whose collection PURSUIT OF A WOUND was a Pulitzer prize finalist. Lea is also the best poet of Vermont winters -- which is good news especially now, as he'll read at Champlain College on March 6 as a great teaser for the program. Here are the details as announced:

Thurs. March 6: Champlain College, 262 S. Willard Street, IDX Center, Fireside Lounge, 7:00 p.m. Pulitzer Prize finalist Sydney Lea will read from his work. Syd has published two books of non-fiction, he's a novelist, he's the founding editor of The New England Review, he has seven collections of poetry, and we're going to have to raise the roof on the place if we intend to house his heart. Oh, yeah. Syd's a rare talent, and he's a wonderful man, too. So, don't stay home and listen to the ice moan. Come out and do some appropriately timed howling with one of our best American writers. Absolutely everyone is very cordially invited, and this event is free. That's right. However, if you want to underwrite our literary magazine and Young Vermont Writers' Conference, no one will stop you. For more info, 800-570-5858.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book

["Connect the Dots," Macy Chadwick, In Cahoots Press]
Dave and I have spent some effort this winter building a starter collection of the poetry of Lost Roads -- the press founded by poet Frank Stanford and now run by poet C. D. Wright. We're not quite ready to talk about our perceptions of the press and its work, but still gathering books, information, and background.

As a result, the conference being offered by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Arts of the Book Collection at Yale this month intrigues us: It's called METAPHOR TAKING SHAPE: Poetry, Art, and the Book, and meets at Yale on March 13 and 14. Utilizing blogging as a pre-conference tool for discussion, the organizers have asked the speakers -- who include a number of "livre d'artiste" ("artists' book") designer/printer/publishers, plus poets C. D. Wright and John Yau -- to discuss the field ahead of time.

To check out the conversation, click on

And to get more info on this free conference, visit