Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gary Snyder Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

[photo courtesy of Shoemaker Hoard Publishing]

News just in from the Poetry Foundation -- here's the press release in full. Hurrah for a salute to this poet of the heart and the earth.

$100,000 lifetime achievement award is one of largest to poets

CHICAGO — Poet Gary Snyder is the winner of the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation's largest literary awards. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at the Arts Club of Chicago on Thursday, May 29.

In announcing the award, Wiman said: "Gary Snyder is in essence a contemporary devotional poet, though he is not devoted to any one god or way of being so much as to Being itself. His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation."

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder began writing in the 1950s as a member—with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac—of the Beat movement. For most of the 1960s he lived in Japan and studied formally in a Zen monastery. Blending physical reality—precise observations of nature—with insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism, Snyder has explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose.

The judges issued the following statement in making the selection: "Gary Snyder is a true nature poet: there's no sentimentalism to his work, and he never uses the natural world simply to celebrate his own sensibility. A deeply learned and meditative artist, an impassioned ecologist, and a poet of great scope as well as intense focus, Snyder has written poems that we will be reading for as long as we've been reading Robert Frost."

"The selection of Gary Snyder as this year's winner of the Lilly Prize does honor to the tradition of excellence and importance that the prize has stood for since it was established over 20 years ago," said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation.

Snyder is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. His poetry collections include Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, The Back Country, Regarding Wave, No Nature, Mountains and Rivers Without End, and Danger on Peaks. His essays are collected in Earth House Hold, The Real Work, A Place in Space, and Back on the Fire.

A committed environmental activist who has received the John Hay Award for Nature Writing, Snyder has also been recognized for his contributions to the theory and practice of Buddhism. His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Turtle Island, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Bollingen Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry, the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times, and the Shelley Memorial Award.

Snyder was born on May 8, 1930, in San Francisco. He is professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Davis, and lives in northern California.

Judges for the 2008 prize were poets Eavan Boland, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Christian Wiman.


The Rabbit
A grizzled black-eyed rabbit showed me

irrigation ditches, open paved highway,
white line
to the hill.
bell chill blue jewel sky
Banner clouds flying,
The mountains all gathered,
juniper trees on the flanks
cone buds,
the snug bark scale
in thin powder snow
over rock scrabble, pricklers, boulders,
pines and junipers,
The trees all singing.

The mountains are singing
To gather the sky and the mist
to bring it down snow-breath
and gather it water
Sent from the singing peaks
flanks and folds
Down arroyos and ditches by highways the water
The people to use it, the
mountains and juniper
Do it for men,

Said the rabbit.

First published in Poetry, March 1968. © Gary Snyder


About the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
American poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly. Over many years and in many ways, it has been blessed by her personal generosity. In 1985 she endowed the Ruth Lilly Professorship in Poetry at Indiana University. In 1989 she created Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, for $15,000 each, given annually by the Poetry Foundation to undergraduate or graduate students selected through a national competition. In 2002 her lifetime engagement with poetry culminated in a magnificent bequest that will enable the Poetry Foundation to promote, in perpetuity, a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.

The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly, the annual prize is sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. Over the last 20 years, the Lilly Prize has awarded more than $1,000,000. The previous recipients are Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Anthony Hecht, Mona Van Duyn, Hayden Carruth, David Wagoner, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, Donald Hall, A.R. Ammons, Gerald Stern, William Matthews, W.S. Merwin, Maxine Kumin, Carl Dennis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lisel Mueller, Linda Pastan, Kay Ryan, C.K. Williams, Richard Wilbur, and Lucille Clifton.

About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine and one of the largest literary organizations in the world, exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit www.poetryfoundation.org.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Calendar Alert: Hayden Carruth, May 4, Vermont

[photo by Ted Rosenberg]
Just in from poet Wyn Cooper, this invitation to a poetry event worth hours and hours of travel:

Dear Friends,

I wanted to let you know that Hayden Carruth will be reading in the Whittemore Theater at Marlboro College this Sunday, May 4, at 3:00. The reading is free.

This is a rare occasion to hear one of our very best poets read. He's 86, and is looking forward to it very much. Please spread the word.



If nobody likes you, will you be a suspect? Susan Choi, A PERSON OF INTEREST

Suppose you've always felt like the outcast, the person who doesn't belong -- and instead of working every social occasion to project, make friends, fit in, you gave up and built a wall of distance around yourself, a visible absence of warmth. Now suppose the person in the next office, clearly better liked and more successful, is suddenly killed by a letter bomb and there are clues to the crime that point toward you. How will you defend yourself when the FBI comes to the door?

Susan Choi takes the chilling situation and frames it around Asian-born Professor Lee, a man whose mathematical gifts have long given him an excuse for reticence and the awkwardness that is part of his personality. In A PERSON OF INTEREST, she weaves a desperately emotional trap around this man of few visible emotions, a lonely near-retirement mathematics professor whose losses and griefs loom so enormous that he's practically shut himself off from the rest of his life.

Choi's an expert in pace and atmosphere; this is her third novel, and the first, American Woman, took a 2004 Pulitzer prize. A PERSON OF INTEREST is a potent literary exploration, careful and methodical with an obsession with inner life that makes its opening deceptively quiet. Yet from the first smoky threat of suspicion, new threats blossom around Lee, and all the quiet corpses of his past seem to walk back into the FBI investigation, pointing their fingers at him.

Here's a sample from early in the book:

Jealousy had stained much of Lee's life, yet he'd never seen himself as prone to it, perhaps because he'd first become jealous surprisingly late. ... Lee felt fierce love for the naïve and arrogant young man he'd been, and sometimes, in his immigrant life, this love almost seemed to reanimate that former self, so that to outsiders he seemed both arrogant and remarkably blind to his own circumstances.

And here's another piece from later, as the trap of Lee's life tightens its teeth during the investigation:

These words hung in the air with a weird singularity. In the course of their whispered and hissed conversation, and outside Lee's notice, the dense percolation of engines and voices had diminished by steady degrees. Now all that remained was a last van door slamming, and then a last acceleration down Fearrington Way.

"It can't be true," Lee whispered, almost to himself.

Combine the inner terror of shame and despair with the outer of being hunted, both by a killer and by the FBI, and Lee's situation develops in nearly unbearable tension. Choi's quick deft resolution of the book offers multiple surprises, and painful opportunities for change.

It's tempting to compare this work to the writing of Henning Mankell, for the portrayal of inner and outer bleakness as well as threat. But by setting this inverted police procedural within a victim and on and around an American college campus, Choi dodges Mankell's association with a specific outer landscape (Scandinavia) and instead drives home the parallels to all the moments when we feel powerless, trapped. The moment in the overheated car with the scowling police officer demanding your license and registration. The dark echo of the empty parking garage broken by a scuffed shoe. The ringing phone with the empty line and a hint of someone breathing.

If Alfred Hitchcock still filmed, he'd be mulling this one over for the next dizzying and revealing long shot of the lens. Highly recommended, but lock the doors and keep some music on as you read, or whatever steps are your best protection from fear.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Michelle Gagnon's Second Police Procedural: A Serial Killer on the Trail, BONEYARD

When Michelle Gagnon's first crime novel, THE TUNNELS, came out in 2007 from MIRA (the mysteries branch of Canada's Harlequin), I flagged it as potentially worth collecting -- a promising start for a career. Her second book, BONEYARD, comes out in July, also as a paperback original. Let's admit it, the PBO is a tough call for collectors, as you can't read it and still have it be in prime condition. Plus it's a caution signal: If a publisher won't go for a hardcover launch, that's a worry.

But sometimes a softcover launch is just ... a softcover launch. And I still think, based on the second book, that Gagnon will be as hot someday as the authors who give her cover blurbs: Jeffrey Deaver in particular for this one.

FBI agent Kelly Jones slogged her way through a set of messy and frankly terrifying campus ritual murders in THE TUNNELS, and she's back in BONEYARD. Tying the two books together is the way Jones struggles to hold command, not just of the crime scenes but of the crime teams. Far too believable is the constant tension she faces of trying to be a "partner" without getting boxed out of the action for being a woman.

This time, Gagnon places Jones in a consultant role on behalf of the Behavior Science Unit from Quantico: There's been a "boneyard" (the place where a serial killer leaves the bodies) discovered along the Vermont/Massachusetts border where the Appalachian Trail runs along the mountain ridge, and someone's got to go hold the competing police forces together. It's a jurisdiction nightmare that Jones can't control until or unless the kills can be linked to both sides of the state line. And it feels all too realistic when another police team swings into the group, with a corpse found in New York State.

While the jurisdiction tangles and the crime teams multiply, Gagnon takes periodic forays into the mind of the killer -- and the oddly angry copycat who tangles the threads further. Chapters skip from inside the crimes to inside the police offices and of course back onto the nearby Appalachian Trail. Gagnon handles the ramping tension fluidly, writing a compelling page-turner. The arrival of Agent Jones's would-be lover, a tough independent character introduced in THE TUNNELS, salts the action with even more gender issues, as rugged Jake Riley calls for the feminine side of Jones, while complicating the jurisdictions even further.

Missing from BONEYARD's many strands of tension is one that made THE TUNNELS interesting, the peeling back of the psychological layers of Jones as agent and as victim. As a result, this book doesn't pack as much threat and pain as its predecessor. I was sorry, because I liked that complexity; I'm also a sucker for dark situations that are cracked open through powerful friendships, but the friendships in BONEYARD are a bit more casual, a bit too easy, not tortured or stressed. On the other hand, once I got about three chapters into the book, I wasn't putting it down for much of anything. There's no doubt that Gagnon is getting into her stride, spinning a smooth, plot-driven police procedural with the lab and psych details neatly stitched in place. And although the final chapter had a couple of aspects that I wanted to argue with, it's clearly a set-up for a sequel. Next year, maybe?

So here's a "buy it" recommendation for Gagnon's second book. One of these days, she'll break into hardcover and the readers will say "How can this be her first book when it's so good?"

But of course, it won't be. And only those who looked beyond the softcover format will have the early work of this promising crime fiction author already on their bookshelves. Just remember what happened to, say, Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark and what it costs to get your hands on one of his early paperbacks now...

Mystery Reviews Coming Up ...

[Michelle Gagnon]
April is National Poetry Month, and recent reviews here have done justice to the genre -- but I do have some mysteries to mention, and tomorrow's review will be for Michelle Gagnon's July 2008 release, BONEYARD -- which is a sequel to her FBI special agent's first appearance last year in THE TUNNELS.

Next on the list: a sample of Australian mystery pro Garry Disher, then a look at two imports from Europa. I'm also hoping to get to the new Jesse Kellerman.

Poetry reviews coming up: Charles Simic's SIXTY POEMS, and the newest Adrienne Rich collection, TELEPHONE RINGING IN THE LABYRINTH.

And then there's some fine press work to mention. I need more hours in each day!

Friday, April 25, 2008

From Mystery to Romance: Sarah Strohmeyer

Vermont mystery writer Sarah Strohmeyer, whose Bubble Yablonsky series (set in Pennsylvania) could be a distaff version of Donald Westlake's caper mysteries, dropped off the mystery scene a couple of years ago. The author of BUBBLES UNBOUND, BUBBLES IN TROUBLE, and eventually BUBBLES BETROTHED found another genre in which to shine: Romance.

And while Kingdom Books isn't a Romance shop (except for the fact that Dave and I started the shop and wound up marrying each other), it's kinda fun to keep track of what Strohmeyer is up to. Now living in the Burlington area, she's come up with her fourth in this sweet genre (the others are CINDERELLA PACT and SLEEPING BEAUTY and the somewhat darker SECRET LIVES), and it sounds like it will join her others in being nominated for the best awards in Romance. Here's her description of SWEET LOVE:

Like other well-meaning mothers, Julie Mueller's believed she did the right thing when she secretly ended her teenage daughter's crush on Michael Slayton, a wild older neighborhood heartthrob with a penchant for Shakespeare and the pedigree of trailer trash.

Twenty years later, Betty Mueller has come to realize that was a big mistake. Her daughter Julie - divorced and raising a teenage daughter alone - is a workaholic obsessed with her career. And Michael, the one man who could make her happy, is the one man to whom she won't speak.

Now dying and determined to make amends, Betty stages her last great feat of motherhood by reuniting the couple in a dessert class where she hopes the sweetness of a chocolate almond Torta Caprese will erase the bitterness of a wretched misunderstanding.

"Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said thy edge should blunter be than appetite," Shakespeare once pleaded - though it will require more than poetry and passion fruit for Julie and Michael to renew their love.

It will, in fact, require the sweetest sacrifice of all.

To read a sample chapter and check out a recipe (!), visit www.sarahstrohmeyer.com.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Calendar Alert: Brattleboro Poetry Event, 4/24

Just in from Dede Cummings, this info:

Poetry Series at the Dianich Gallery: A Poetry/Prose Reading to Benefit Brattleboro Climate Protection
at the Dianich Gallery
6:00-7:30 p.m.
Refreshments will be served

The “Poetry Series” at the Dianich will continue in April, and to honor National Poetry Month, with poet, and Dartmouth College professor, Cleopatra Mathis on Thursday, April 24th from 6:00-7:30, in the gallery surrounded by the artwork of Brattleboro-based artist, Myles Danaher. In addition to Mathis’s reading, local writer, David Blistein, will read from his novel in progress.

Cleopatra Mathis was born and raised in Ruston, Louisiana, of Greek and Cherokee descent.. Her first five books of poems were published by Sheep Meadow Press. A sixth collection, White Sea, was published by Sarabande Books in 2005.
Cleopatra Mathis’ work has appeared widely in anthologies, textbooks, magazines and journals, including The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tri-Quarterly, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry, The Extraordinary Tide: Poetry by American Women, and The Practice of Poetry. Various prizes for her work include two National Endowment for the Arts grants, in 1984 and 2003; the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poems in 2001; the Peter Lavin Award for Younger Poets from the Academy of American Poets; two Pushcart Prizes: 1980 and 2006; The Robert Frost Resident Poet Award; a 1981-82 Fellowship in Poetry at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts; The May Sarton Award; and Individual Artist Fellowships in Poetry from both the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey State Arts Council.
Cleopatra Mathis is the Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor of the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where she has directed the Creative Writing Program since 1982.

David Blistein graduated from Amherst College where he studied under the novelist Robert Stone. Realizing he actually had to make money as a writer, he began a career as a freelance copywriter, eventually owning Church & Main, a regional advertising agency in Keene, NH. Since leaving the business in 2005, he has been writing an extended novel in which historical characters walk into (and, in most cases, out of) his everyday life.

Dede Cummings is a graduate of Middlebury College where she received the Mary Dunning Thwing award for creative writing and attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop as a poetry contributor. She will read a few sections of poems (Chaucer and Elliot) in honor of National Poetry Month and serve as “poetic mistress of ceremonies.” Refreshments will be served and the artist, Myles Danaher, will be on hand to discuss his work. $5.00 suggested donation will benefit the “green” work of BCP.

Hosted by the Dianich Gallery in Brattleboro at 139 Main Street (down the side alley and through the glass doors), the reading is made possible by curator and gallery owner, Catherine Dianich and with thanks to Hooker Dunham building owner, Simi Berman (herself and artist and loyal patron of the arts in Brattleboro). Information: 802-254-9076.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mary Oliver, RED BIRD (Beacon, 2008)

What we learn from love: It may be the strongest of the posts and beams that become our frames, the most potent of the routes on our personal maps. Surely it is how we cross the chasm from one person to another -- guessing at and identifying with the passions and loyalties that present within the life we gently explore.

Poet Donald Hall moved most powerfully as he confronted the illness and then death of his beloved, the amazing poet Jane Kenyon. Mark Doty drew us into the fierce parting from his beloved within a close network of friends on Cape Cod. And in the hands of Mary Oliver, poet of the garden, the woodland, the ocean and its rose-strewn surroundings, we have also felt the pulse of Molly Malone Cook, Oliver's partner and agent. RED BIRD, Oliver's 2008 collection, emerges from loss, following Cook's death in 2005.

Yet this is not a book of elegy, nor even one of missing the absent beloved. Rather, poem after poem entwine the observer and the natural world, alternating the eye of the beholder and the voice of the singer. The red bird "firing up the landscape / as nothing else can do" opens the collection, a warm heart aflame; it closes the book also, speaking to the poet as muse:

And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul.

Muse and liturgist, the bird draws the beholder into relationship with its surrounding flowers and trees, "bringing sticks to the nest."

Beyond this characteristic braid of bird, heart, and home, Oliver asserts a self able to walk as one whole, one healed, on Cape Cod. Many of the poems begin with the walking, literally -- then pick up the self again, like a yarn carried behind the knitted stitches, emerging as pattern when the needles flash back again. The enchanting poem "Luke" follows the tenderness of a dog among flowers and then dips in this pattern back to the human heart: "but the way // we long to be-- / that happy / in the heven of earth-- / that wild, that loving."

New England humor pushes forth like mushrooms from damp ground in some of the poems, as in "Self-Portrait" where Oliver declares herself "still / full of beans." It's a brave bright counterpoint to the mystic along the river or oceanfront. And if the mystic's voice is sometimes wrapped in thick layers of Christian liturgy and scripture ("Every day / I consider / the lilies-- / how they are dressed--"), this blunt humor pulls it back out of the church and into the merry heart that sees even death as part of the sweet cycle:

and the ripeness
of the apple
is its downfall.
("The Orchard")

Well represented among the poems is Oliver's most classic form, the short-lined four-part stanzas with their sequential indents and sharp interruptions of dashes and breaks. Among these is the poem "The Teachers," which places the stair-steps of the lines around the notion of one who labors "with the mind-steps of language." Poised against their orderly presentations are the quick chuckles shared as poems to Percy, Oliver's grinning and bouncing dog. In the eighth poem to Percy (some have been in earlier collections), Oliver offers: "Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough. / Let's go."

But this is also a collection that moves from the personal to the political, challenging the American empire and its "President who loves blood." And so it happens that the most poignant piece here is not one of missing Molly Malone Cook (ah, New England restraint!), but rather one titled "Iraq":

I think, whoever he was,
of whatever country,
he might have been my brother,
were the world different.

In this, Oliver seizes the opportunity, like Maxine Kumin, to be an outspoken and wise woman who calls out like a prophet, or even, in "We Should Be Well Prepared," like one ready to pronounce upon the persistent shadow of death and loss even in the garden of Eden.

Arthur Sze has commented that the poetic sequence is the potent discovery of our time, and Oliver gives good evidence for the notion as she adds to this collection the sequence "Sometimes" and the longer "Eleven Versions of the Same Poem": sequences that take advantage of rougher, less hemmed in language to wrestle with God like Jacob with the angel. She gives us a glimpse of what it is to be "a woman whose love has vanished," thinking not just of sun on the leaves but of darkness and roots.

"I came, like red bird, to sing. / But I'm not red bird," she admits. For a moment, disaster hesitates at the open doorway. Then Oliver cocks her head to listen again, and finds her own inner singing, after all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Adieu, Aimé Césaire

[photo credit: Parti Progressiste Martiniquals (PPM), Ville de Fort-de-France]
In America, race belongs on the table of dialogue and the itinerary of change, and always has. From the horror and shame of the Middle Passage and centuries of race-based slavery, to racial profiling, to the Obama/Clinton campaign, the demand for equality of rights, opportunity, and inner and outer wealth must continue.

Within poetry, one of the significant changes in the dialogue of race came through the voice of Aimé Césaire, who in 1939 completed the first version of his Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (Cahier d'un retour au pays natal). Amid his detailed observations of his land, Martinique, Césaire brought forth the concept of negritude -- not simply pride but joy in being black.

His death on April 17 in Fort-de-France, Martinique, where he served as mayor for some fifty years, is saluted with a brief obituary in the International Herald Tribune. But I like best the (French-language) tribute to him at www.hommage-cesaire.net and I recommend a visit to the site, even if you don't speak French; make sure to leave the sound on.

There are a number of editions of the Cahier; also of great value is Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, translated and introduced by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith (U. California Press, Berkeley, 1983).

Calendar Alert: Poetry from Jim Schley, April 23

I've just begun enjoying AS WHEN, IN SEASON by Jim Schley, who also wears the hat of director of The Frost Place, and the shoes of a dancer. But "Poet" is probably what's inked on his heart. The fact that he could pull together this powerful collection while also doing a job-and-a-half for The Frost Place is good evidence of how he is compelled to write, revise, frame, craft, even while life demands other skills and endeavors.

Jim will read from the book on Wednesday April 23 at the Franconia Heritage Museum (Main Street, Franconia, NH -- when taking the exit from I-93, go to Main Street/Route 18 and turn left, and the museum is on the left in about a third of a mile), at 7 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the museum and Abbie Greenleaf Library.

A quick introduction to Jim's new collection: Its four sections are "Borne Out," "In Compass: Nine Odes," "Dwelling," and "In Season." Each has a particular flavor to it, and "In Compass: Nine Odes" is likely to draw immediate attention, as each of its poems salutes one of the Greek Muses. Most likely to be repeatedly published, anthologized, savored, is the ode "For Clio," the Muse of history -- framed as a birthday greeting to the much-loved poet of protest and love, Grace Paley. It opens with:

How many do you greet, Grace,
with Darling, with Sweetheart?
All your fledglings


Jim's often quiet demeanor hides a wide experience in the arts. I'll quote the entire press release from his publisher, which I think gives an active snapshot of this Vermont/New Hampshire poet.

“As When, In Season” by Jim Schley is one of the publisher’s new books
for Spring 2008. The first full-length collection of poems by Jim Schley displays an imagination both steady and bold.

Schley is author of poems featured on Garrison Keillor’s radio show The Writers Almanac, in Keillor’s book Good Poems (Viking, 2002), and in the annual Best American Spiritual Writing, interdisciplinary magazines such as Orion, Rivendell, and Northern Woodlands, and a widely praised chapbook, One Another (Chapiteau, 1999). He is executive director of The Frost Place, a museum and poetry center based at Robert Frost’s former homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Multiple award-winning American poet Hayden Carruth has greeted Schley’s new book with praise: “I like these poems immensely. What Schley has done is to reinvent the ode, especially in the nine poems for the muses. Prosodically he’s discovered an odic tone, grave but graceful, imaginatively objective. It’s extremely effective, and it tokens a very large degree of literary depth and experience.”

Martha Collins, author most recently of Blue Front, has said, “I can't think of another male poet who has written so generously of so many women.”

Schley was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to New England in the mid-1970s to attend Dartmouth College, where he majored in Creative Writing and Native American Studies. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers and for many years worked as a literary editor with the quarterly New England Review and the book publishers University Press of New England and Chelsea Green, editing more than a hundred books on a wide diversity of subjects, including poetry, fiction, critical essays, environmental journalism and practical ecology, Women’s Studies, Native American Studies, history, and art history. Under his own name he edited the anthology Writing in a Nuclear Age (University Press of New England, 1984).

Schley has also toured and performed across the U.S., Canada and Europe with experimental “movement” theater companies, including the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater, the Swiss ensemble Les Montreurs d’Images, and Flock Dance Troupe. He has special expertise in choreographies for dancing on stilts, and he was featured performer at the inauguration of Czech president Vaclav Havel.

In 2002, after being laid off by a publishing company, he became an extreme freelancer and worked at twenty-four part-time jobs in one year, an experience described in an essay written for Newsweek magazine.

Schley’s new book has been edited by acclaimed poet Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004).

As When, In Season comprises four sequences that turn upon phases of living — child and young traveler; apprentice; homesteader and husband; then deeply troubled but engaged citizen of a village and a world. The book’s formal variety is remarkable, incorporating compressed lyrics and ample verse essays, a suite of lullabies and a series of complex odes that pay homage to nine of the poet’s crucial teachers, using the iconography of the mythic Greek muses. In Schley’s odes, the conventional relationship of female muses to male artist is decisively reversed, as these muses are masters in their own right, virtuosos of creation and survival.

In addition to his work as curator of The Frost Place museum and coordinator of four annual poetry conferences there, Schley is an associate member of the journalist’s collective Homelands Productions. He lives with his family in an off-the-grid cooperative in the Upper Valley region of north-central Vermont.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Irish Poet John F. Deane in Vermont, May 2

Irish Poet John F. Deane will read at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum (Main Street, St. Johnsbury, VT) on Friday May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Deane, known as both poet and editor as well as novelist, was born on Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland in 1943. After working as a teacher at St. Aidan's Secondary School, Whitehall, Dublin, for 10 years, in 1978, he founded the national poetry society, Poetry Ireland, and resigned from teaching in 1979 to develop the society and write full-time.
In 1979, Deane launched the poetry magazine The Poetry Ireland Review. Then in 1985, he founded The Dedalus Press, which he continues to edit and direct.
Noted in his work are collections of poetry and fiction. He has won the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry, the Marten Toonder Award for Literature and poetry and prizes from Italy and Romania. In 1996 he was elected Secretary-General of the European Academy of Poetry.
Deane’s latest publications include a poetry collection “The Instruments of Art” (2005); “In Dogged Loyalty”, essays on religious poetry (2006); and “The Heather Fields and Other Stories” (2007). His forthcoming poetry collection, “A Little Book of Hours,” will be published in 2008. He is a member of Aosdána, the body established by the Irish Arts Council to honor artists “whose work had made an outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland”. In 2007 the French Government honored him by making him “Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres”.
The program is free and handicapped accessible. For information call 802-748-8291.

CAMINO REAL: The Least Liked, Most Controversial Tennessee Williams Play

Want to see the play that brought Tennessee Williams the thickest, richest waves of dislike and dismay? There are still two performances available on Saturday April 19 (2 pm matinée and 8 pm evening) of CAMINO REAL, a lush, intense, surreal drama staged at the Theater in Riverside Church and directed by Tony Speciale. I caught the opening night on Wednesday and am still amazed. A deceptively ordinary stage setting evokes a Spanish village square; from there, the complications multiply.

A pre-curtain conversation with dramaturge Heather Denyer clued me in to some of the complexity that would unfold but didn't really prepare me for how stunned I'd feel by the first intermission. Denyer noted that it's the most personal of the Williams plays and took seven years to write, then was endlessly revised; with Speciale and the rest of the directing and acting team, Denyer tried to track down some of the reasons for the revisions, in order to settle on which version to stage. She wrote for the program, "More than anything, the play dealt frankly with the reality of the time when he was writing, between his conception of it in 1945, to its Broadway premiere in 1953: not long after the American soldiers returned or didn't from World War II; shortly after Kinsey shook the nation with his sexual study findings, and in the year after director Elia Kazan testified at the McCarthy Trials." Denyer emphasized that the production is especially vivid when placed in our own time of war and terror. I agree. If I lived closer, I'd go see this version again.

Tickets are a mere $15 each (seniors $5, students with ID free) for this Actors Equity Showcase production. Info and tickets: www.ColumbiaStages.com

Monday, April 14, 2008

Read Five Books Quickly -- Christopher Fowler's Sixth Bryant & May Mystery Is Coming!

'A suitably Gothic building in which to begin a murder investigation,' said Bryant, relishing the throught. 'But our duty is to the innocent. For that reason we must enter the realm of darkness.'

When the "sixth and final" Bryant & May mystery from Christopher Fowler is published in the US this October (the "true first" will release in the United Kingdom on June 30), readers of this madcap series will realize there have been clues laid for the finale, all the way from the first book, FULL DARK HOUSE. That's what Fowler promises on his web site, www.christopherfowler.co.uk, where he also clears up some wild rumors and reveals his upcoming author events. Somebody bring that author over to this side of the Atlantic, quick!

Better yet, now is the time to buckle down to reading the first five books in the series (the fifth and latest was WHITE CORRIDOR, which came out last May). The series opens during the Blitz, the years of bombing that London endured during World War II; it's a great setting for disappearances, violence, shell shock, all the confusion and loss of warfare within a congested city. And Arthur Bryant and John May, as members of the London Police Department's Peculiar Crimes Unit, get the wierdest of the city's crimes dumped in their laps. Solve 'em or see your job vanish, that's the situation.

Dave and I had missed out on this series, but heard about it when we visited Vermont's newest bookshop, Mystery on Main Street (119 Main St, Brattleboro, VT 05301, 802-258-2211, www.mysteryonmain.com). The shop is in some ways our mirror image: designed to sell new books, mainly paperbacks, whereas we work from the wide range of mysteries from 1900 forward (more than half, of course, after 1980). So conversation was dandy, ranging from Australian author Arthur Upfield and his Bonaparte series (why on earth aren't these in print? here at Kingdom Books, we've even gathered softcovers and shipped them back to the eager market in New Zealand and Australia!), to the hot new Brazil-set work of Leighton Gage, to the substantial established authors we all "must read" (Michael Connelly, S. J. Rozan, the Kellermans, Laurie King). No question about it, more mystery bookshops mean more delight for all of us.

At any rate, M-on-M's owner, David, popped the softcover version of FULL DARK HOUSE into our hands, and ... boy, am I glad! Let's see, if I plan one more Christopher Fowler for each month, I should be ready for October. Or, hmm, could I read them all quickly enough to make it worth ordering a British copy at the end of June? Could be!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith Tours USA

With the April 15 release of his newest in the series of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS, Alexander McCall Smith begins a US tour this spring. I have two reasons for noticing: first, I got a friendly e-mail from the Harvard Book Store, which hosts the Scottish author on April 16; and second, I just took a mini-vacation by reading its 2007 predecessor, THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE. It was worth every minute -- McCall Smith is a master of spinning a gentle tale with just enough tension to make a sweet release in the solution to each crumb of mystery and crime. Mma Ramotswe, better known as Precious, and her "good husband" Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni have settled into matrimonial harmony, but it turns out they're not immune from change.

The author tour schedule is at www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk, and here's a list of this favorite of McCall Smith's several series:

• The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
• Tears of the Giraffe
• Morality for Beautiful Girls
• The Kalahari Typing School for Men
• The Full Cupboard of Life
• In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
• Blue Shoes and Happiness
• The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
• The Miracle at Speedy Motors

I think the books are a great antidote to high-pressure adult life, but at least one of our clients has discovered this is also a good series to offer to teens -- something to giggle about, together. Plus, it's a comfortably homespun introduction to Botswana, a land that few Americans are likely to visit in person.

The author tour rambles across the US, then comes back East for a May 1 finale in Hartford, CT. Pretty darn handy, all things considered! And oh yes: There IS a No. 1 film coming, courtesy of BBC. There are "stills" from the film, on the author's web site.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Linton Kwesi Johnson in Vermont 4/12

THIS MESSAGE just arrived -- exciting!!

Did you know that Linton is coming to Club Metronome in Burlington, VT this Saturday to read from and sign his book...
Tickets are available at flynntix.org...hope to see you there.


Check out the club's writeup on the poet of Reggae.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The OTHER Poetry Pulitzer News

Here's the short version of the just announced Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, quoted directly from the New York Times and its web site:

"Time and Materials," by Robert Hass and "Failure," by Philip Schultz

In his sixth volume of poetry, Mr. Hass, 67, a former poet laureate, wrote about large subjects of international import, like global warming, as well as more personal verse in an exploration of the role of public and private life. Mr. Hass also won the National Book Award for poetry last year.

Mr. Schultz, 63, found inspiration for his fifth volume of poetry in finally discussing the death of his father when Mr. Schultz was 18 and the family business fell apart. “It was a hole that I was digging myself out of the rest of my life,” he said. Mr. Schultz runs the Writers Studio in New York.

FINALIST "Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006" by Ellen Bryant Voigt.

* Review for "Time and Materials" (Oct. 7, 2007)
* Times Topics: Robert Hass

Note two significant aspects: One, for those of us in Vermont who've already become passionate fans of Ellen Bryant Voigt and her demanding and intelligent teaching of poetry, the FINALIST hasn't been mentioned much in the news -- so congratulations, Professor Voigt, and hurrah for your comprehensive "new and selected" that came so close to taking this year's top laurels.

Second, oh gosh, where are the links to Philip Schultz's book FAILURE? Everyone is headlining their commentaries with Hass; well, of course, he's already well known and took a National Book Award as well.

But if you're curious about Schultz and his book -- as I have been -- here's a start:

Schultz's poem "Failure" in SLATE, with Schultz reading it: click here.

A 2006 Garrison Keillor interview with Schultz, partly about the preceding collection, LIVING IN THE PAST, but mostly about his writing and growth: click here.

And perhaps most significant of all, a profile of Schultz from The Writers Studio, which he founded in 1987.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Heart With a Hole in It: ELEGY, Mary Jo Bang

There are poems about life. And there is life. Pick one.

But what can we do with death? Even to write about it -- when it's already happened to a person whose voice and presence are part of us -- threatens to separate us from our own grief. The distance and perspective that writing demands can blunt the pain and the point. How many poems have you read that said goodbye to a beloved grandmother or a parent?

Mary Jo Bang's son died as a young man, from an overdose of prescribed medication. Whether the overdose was deliberate or accidental couldn't be determined. The certainty instead was in the result: a parent remaining "on earth" without her only child.

To write poems during the first terrible year after such a death (there is no subsequent year that is not terrible, but the first one may be the most shocking one): that's what Bang, already author of four previous collections, chose to do. Her son Michael died in June 2004, and ELEGY, the collection of poems written within his death, was published at the end of 2007 and early this year won the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. Every single poem in the book walks into and toward this death.

At first the awareness Bang presents is simple, even ordinary: In "We Took Our Places" she writes,

We're remembering to set an alarm
On tomorrow. We're forgetting the bad
Days of crumbling rocks in our stockings at x-mas.

Someone shook her
Awake and she went on.

But I have five friends right now who live on as parents of a dead "young adult child." And walking into the mornings and afternoons after the funeral is the least of what lies ahead after such a death. In fact, as one friend told me, "The empty place grows larger all the time. With each year, there are more things that your child would have done -- married, had children, celebrated a thirtieth birthday. You've lost it all, and the all just keeps growing."

So the poems in ELEGY probe, like tongue in the gap of the missing tooth, and the horror expands. In "Utopian Longing Becomes More Absurd," Bang says,"Here is the tormented / Arithmetic of one minus one. The zero // In one now hides the other."

Of course, we seek explanations. My friend says she always knew her daughter held the possibility of suicide. Bang doesn't suggest that -- can't even be sure suicide is what happened -- but in "A Place" she reflects on what preceded her son's death:

He'd already slid
Into a depression. Into the state of wishing
To be all he had been which was now a blur.
Haze on the way to becoming a cloud.

Elegy as a mode of poetry came to us in a specific form from the Ancient Greeks. The Renaissance poets -- Ben Jonson, John Donne -- broke it out of that mold. And when Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Whitman seized the mode, it moved even further from prescription and toward the passionate new formations that Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, and Emily Dickinson crafted. Apart from these one-person, one-death narratives (even if the death be echoing other losses) is Paul Celan's "Death Fugue," embracing a grief comprised of face after face, name after name, so large that life begins to vanish under the mound of losses.

Bang insists on a different balance: one in which the daily wrestling is "Intractable and Irreversible":

A dream bell begins to toll, to tell
Of the intolerable end that keeps going on.

The forms in ELEGY twist and writhe. From strings of tercets, to lines stacked in thick blocks, to neatly shuffled decks of couplets, they become mirrors of the pierced soul and of the missing. I am haunted by one poem where the title feeds directly to the opening couplet: "What If // Fate always had this waiting / In the middle of the road we were riding toward."

What Bang particularly achieves is painting after painting, all different, all linked, and none of them closing off the opening into the cave of death and loss. To the extent that the "end keeps going on," Bang also forges links and chains of a real person, a real relationship, that has no end.

But time does, and a poem near the end of ELEGY is titled "A Year Ends." Bang retraces the questions we ask ourselves, the guilt of survivors: "If she had only done X, / When instead she'd done Y. / Then he would see this / Sun, this rain, this whatever // Light bulb blink as it was / About to go out. Define a day /
For me, someone said to her. / Tragic from beginning to end."

Worth reading? No question: Yes. An assembly of vision, reflections, arguments, mourning -- a living pyramid. Something is indeed going onward, into the next day.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Jodi Picoult: Two Hundred Fans in Vermont

More than 200 people turned out to hear and meet best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult in Norwich, Vermont, this morning. Dave felt a bit out of place -- he counted three other men in the audience. Women drove from New York City, Buffalo, even Montreal. And this well-prepared and likeable author had the whole group waiting for each new anecdote she'd offer. Best of all was her relaxed presence, as she was truly in her own backyard, completing the last scheduled stop of her US tour for CHANGE OF HEART.

After a reading from the chapter in CHANGE OF HEART where Lucius discovers a fellow prison inmate who'll change everything for him, Picoult answered questions that ranged from her process of creating a book -- "What I usually want to write about are what I'm worried about the most, as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, as an American" -- to the research behind this latest novel. She summarized her concern after the research as, "We all know it's wrong to execute an innocent man. But is it wrong to execute somebody guilty?" After explaining that she listens as much to parents of murdered children as to prisoners on death row, she offered the book as a summary of what she concluded.

Interested in seeing Picoult's work on screen? Watch the TV schedule for June 28 for the LifeTime presentation of THE TENTH CIRCLE. And Nick Cassavetes is directing the Hollywood film for MY SISTER'S KEEPER, which has a great line-up of actors; the author shocked the audience in to groaning in unison over the possibility that the director may change the ending, though!

Picoult has already completed her 2009 novel and is well into the one for 2010; for details, check her web site, www.jodipicoult.com -- and yes, we'll list some signed books of hers. Check our listings Sunday evening.

We'd surely drive as far as the Montreal ladies did, to meet this dynamic author in action again.

PS: Dave asked Jodi Picoult whether he'd earned a prize for being one of the few men on hand today. Smiling, she shook her head and explained that women are simply more likely than men to want to come out to one of her readings -- but that 46 percent of her fan mail is from men. So ... don't call her book women's literature!! Call it good reading, or, like one fan on her web site, call it the kind of book you want to finish in 24 hours, because you can't put it down.

Looking for a Summer Writing Program? PMC.

Full disclosure: I'm one of the trustees for The Frost Place, the great poetry site at Robert Frost's significant home in Franconia, NH, where four poetry-related programs per year take place (five, if you count the residency; www.frostplace.org). But from time to time I hear about other programs that sound terrific, and I like the mix of writers at Pine Manor College, just outside of Boston. If you're making summer plans (and the rather lost robins up here have clearly arrived with that in mind, despite icy mounds of old snow all over the landscape), here's some info to consider:

Pine Manor College is now accepting applications for the 4th Annual Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference, June 22-28 at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, featuring:

Writing for Children & Young Adults:
Tor Seidler & Marina Budhos
Writing the Novel:
Julia Glass & Eric Gansworth
Writing the Short Story:
Steven Huff & Lee Hope
Writing Poetry, Section I:
Francisco Aragón & Patricia Spears Jones
Writing Poetry, Section II:
Cleopatra Mathis & Stephen Dunn
Writing Creative Nonfiction:
Richard Hoffman & Barbara Hurd
Special Guest:
Dennis Lehane

For detailed faculty bios and an application, go to www.pmc.edu/solstice

Friday, April 04, 2008

Cid Corman Lives! See the Latest from Longhouse

Bob and Susan Arnold, owners and publishers of Longhouse, have made available six volumes of the poetry and poets that Cid Corman drew together, including a CD version to hold all of them. Now available as the crown of the collection: Cid Corman, The Next One Thousand Years ~ The Selected Poems edited by Ce Rosenow & Bob Arnold, Longhouse, 2008. 224 pages. Retail $16.95 (plus s/h). Please order directly through Longhouse at the web site, www.longhousepoetry.com (poetry@sover.net). As an extra sweetener in this season of maple sugaring, Bob and Susan are offering a discount for all orders from the web site. Irresistible!

More contact info:Bob & Susan Arnold, Longhouse, Publishers & Booksellers, 1604 River Road, Guilford, VT 05301; 802-254-4242.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Time to Register: Poets' & Writers' Weekend

Poets' and Writers' Weekend to bring creative energy
to historic Main Street in Manchester, Vermont

Emerging poets and writers will be in for a rare treat when they gather
together at Peter Palmer’s 18th century compound in Manchester Center, Vermont from April 25-27 for the 1st Annual Manchester and the Mountains Poets' and Writers' Weekend: The Emerging Writer.

In addition to participating in workshops and interactive sessions designed to get the creative juices flowing, attendees will gain inspiration from the buildings themselves – carefully sited to be in harmony with the natural environment. Palmer has donated the weekend use of this exceptionally beautiful property to the Greater Manchester Arts Council (GMAC) and the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce, which are sponsoring this
event in collaboration with area businesses and organizations.

“Each of the four buildings in the complex is a case study in dynamic
balance”, explains Peter Palmer, an expert in historic building restorations, who lived with his wife Susan in the Oliver Rice House for 17 years until they moved to E. Dorset in 2000. “For example, if you look carefully at the chimney on the Wheelwright Blacksmith House, you’ll notice that it was placed slightly to the side. While asymmetrical, the chimney is balanced by the two dormers that give the building architectural interest. In essence, the builder’s unexpected design really works.”

Beginning in 1975 when he purchased Ye Olde Tavern on Main Street, Palmer began to find other structures that were worth saving. Starting with the Oliver Rice House, he then bought, carefully dismantled, transported (from Bennington and S. Shaftsbury), and reassembled the Rice Barn, the Parker-Cole Barn, and the Weir Wheelwright Shop on the 5-acres behind the tavern, just off the commercial district. As emerging poets and writers explore their “home” for the weekend, they will also notice how Palmer thoughtfully placed the structures to be in harmony with nature.

“Because part of the site is a reclaimed gravel pit, I had to bank two of
the buildings into the slope of the land”, Palmer continued as he showed Rosalie Fox (owner of Fox Communication) and Beth Meachem (wearing her dual GMAC and Chamber of Commerce hats) around the rolling meadow and recontoured land. This labor of love has been what Palmer calls “a real creative adventure”, similar to what poets and writers experience when they put pen to paper.

“This a wonderful place to hold a weekend gathering for poets and writers”, adds Palmer who realizes the role that his dynamic property can play in inspiring creative thought. “Old buildings are like gems. You dig them up. You clean them up. You find them a good home. When they shine – as these buildings do – people notice what you’ve brought to life and they too get excited.” With the complex on the market, Palmer hopes that a prospective buyer will also be excited about its potential future use, ideally to be preserved as a community resource.

Inspiration is what motivated Peter Palmer to nurture his “no-plan place” which, like the writing process, evolved in to something wonderful. He invites the public to drive under the yellow barn openings to the right of Ye Olde Tavern to see his “gem” near the center of town.

The 1st Annual Manchester and the Mountains Poets' and Writers' Weekend: The Emerging Writer will be held from Friday, April 25th to Sunday, April 27th. This weekend of learning, collaboration, and sharing will bring emerging poets and writers together with professional writers, poets, agents, and book publishers in intimate workshops and interactive discussion sessions. Based at the Palmer property, special events will also be held throughout the Manchester, Vermont community. In addition to the Greater Manchester Arts Council and the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce, literary partners include the Northshire Bookstore, Tupelo Press, The Mountain Goat, the Reluctant Panther, Fox Communication, and other local businesses.

For registration information, call the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce at 362-6313, ext. 15 or email gmarts06@verizon.net. Visit www.manchestervermont.net to download a registration form. Early birds: register now and receive a 10% discount!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Crime in Korea's DMZ: Martin Limón, THE WANDERING GHOST (Soho Crime)

The editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Linda Lee Landrigan, mentioned about a month ago that it brings her great pleasure to see a story author from the magazine making a splash as a novelist in the Soho Crime list -- Martin Limón. So I started keeping an eye out, and soon found a copy of THE WANDERING GHOST, Limón's 2007 offering featuring Sergeants Sueño and Bascom -- a pair of agents for the 8th US Army Criminal Investigation Division in Seoul, Korea. Here's the summary from the Soho Crime web site:

The only female MP assigned to a base in the DMZ is missing. Has she been abducted, killed or, possibly, gone AWOL? Eighth Army cops George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, sent to find her, discover a murder that has been concealed, rampant black marketeering and corruption, crooked officers, rioting Korean civilians, and the wandering ghost of a schoolgirl run down by a speeding army truck. It is up to them to right egregious wrongs while being pursued by criminals who want to kill them.

I've got to say, my husband was feeling a bit lonely this past weekend, since I took every spare minute I could find and spent it chasing through Korean alleys, teahouses, and more dangerous locales with Sueño and Bascom. The action is in the 1970s, a far different time in terms of protest, danger, and the US relationship with North and South Korea. Sueño is smart and vulnerable, as well as darned good with martial arts and with basic Korean language; his partner Ernie Bascom is half crazy, but in mostly good ways, if you can stop him from taking out his rage on the next person that aggravates him.

Tight plotting, neatly posed insights, strong narrative: This is no amateur's book for sure. In fact, when Limón moved from stories to crime novels, his first one, JADE LADY BURNING (Soho Press 1992), turned out to be an award winner. Since then, he's also written SLICKY BOYS, BUDDHA'S MONEY, and THE DOOR TO BITTERNESS. Guess I'll have to find all of them for my shelf.

Oh yes, I also found a great interview with Limón, a 1993 piece from Over My Dead Body! Read it with a click here.

And Dave's likely to take his turn with THE WANDERING GHOST next. So don't worry. We're doing fine.