Monday, July 28, 2008

Inside a Poet's Notebook: Charles Simic, THE MONSTER LOVES HIS LABYRINTH

Yes, there is a difference between a relaxed writer of poetry and a poet who resolutely hones his work to the finest standard. And it's not just in the number of books sold.

THE MONSTER LOVES HIS LABYRINTH, just released by Ausable, is a startling, stunning, exhilarating look at Charles Simic's own notebooks of memories, comments, in turn cynical, amazing, and funny. Some of these fragments -- rarely more than three paragraphs long, and many just a sentence or two -- have appeared earlier. But now there are 109 pages of them. Some are tight little anecdotes, like the one that opens the book:

Late night on McDougal Street. An old fellow comes up to me and says: "Sir, I'm writing the book of my life and I need a dime to complete it." I gave him a dollar.

But the swing of the second half of this anecdote, whether true or not, is pure Simic, because it moves to the woman who proclaims herself Esther, the goddess of love, and who threatens to put a curse on the giver if there is no gift forthcoming. Want to guess how much she received for her words? ...

There are snippets of childhood in wartorn Europe here too, vivid enough to each spawn a story, a poem, a novel. How the boy ended up with a German helmet infested with lice. What it was like to have the maid offer a feel under her skirt. Bits of father and grandfather stories.

This is a book to keep handy for repeated readings. With so many surprises interleaved in its pages, it's never going to grow "too familiar." Here's a final sample, two separate entries from page 99:

They were cutting someone's throat in a field across the road. "Can I go and watch?" I asked my mother, God forgive me.

A poem is like a bank robbery. The idea is to get in, get their attention, get the money and get out.

What good fortune for us that Simic has slipped away from the distractions of being U.S. poet laureate, and has returned to his writing, with its delicious combinations of America and Europe, love and war, tongue in cheek and lifted eyebrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

And with the darkening evening, a deeper darkness: James Hoch, Grief and Love

The lights in Robert Frost's small sturdy barn glowed softly as James Hoch took the podium this evening. From his first laughing interchange with one of the poet faculty members, he crashed forward into lively poems in which he often paused to tease himself and the audience -- holding everyone's attention, so that even though the chorus of bird calls slowly vanished and night settled around the barn, only the golden light and the laughing poet mattered.

Like Bruce Springsteen, Hoch grew up in New Jersey, and like "The Boss," he paints the rough and troubled lives he's seen. He read a handful of poems from his first book, PARADE OF HANDS, then segued into MISCREANTS. And with a poem that he said took him 12 years to get around to writing -- "The Court of Forgetting" -- he moved swiftly away from even the smallest jokes, into the tangle of death and loss. Son of a long-time whiskey drinker, and father now of two sons himself, Hoch's aching affection for seven Pueblo juvenile delinquents, to whom he saw himself as foster father, tore open his heart and sent him back to school for writing. Forty people's silence hung thickly as the poem moved from its pickup basketball opening, into the lives that the boy players were able to set aside while leaping after the ball:

The one who pries his mother's fingers
from beer cans, the one who wires pickups
and ditches them in canyons, one who
swaggers and stares stone-inducing stares
before crossing over and diving to the hole,
they have the sweet, easy hands, and pray,
if only briefly, for the clean, wet sound
of ball swishing net. The one who has taken
his uncle's prick in his mouth, the one
who showers with his sister, who lie in bunks
and weep as orphans and convicts must,
they are silence in the backcourt, deadly
from the perimeter.

From here through the end of the poem, and on through "Late Autumn Wasp," "Morphine," and "All Things End in Fragrance," Hoch rode the wave of stillness and attention that the listeners provided. Then he swept into a handful of noir-brushed love poems and, in manuscript, a long exploration of his father, his son, history as dust: "Disgrace and Oblivion in Ancient Rome."

Wrapped within the poetry he read this evening was the long poetry sequence that he did not repeat, but had explored earlier in the day with the Frost Place participants, in the safety of daylight: "Bobby Almand," Hoch's extraordinary 41-page centerpiece work from MISCREANTS that plumbs the abduction, rape, and death of a boy he knew. Gently telling the listeners that he'd talk about it again some other time, he walked only as far as death, only as far as the regret that grown son and father share -- not into the deeper darkness of horror that he's faced so profoundly.

As I turned to walk back through the night, down Frost's mountain to the car, I heard someone behind me murmur, "He really knows how to read his poems." I turned to the young man who'd just spoken and said, "Wouldn't you love to be in his classroom at Ramapo College?" A pause, and indrawn breath ... "Yeah," the younger poet sighed. "Yeah."

Free Public Poetry Readings This Week at the Frost Place, Franconia, NH, 8 p.m.

I'm hurrying to head over there myself. Just in case you've forgotten, though, here's the list for the week. What a week indeed it will be! For more info on The Frost Place, go to And that fine poet shown above is James Hoch, this season's poet in residence. Hurrah!

Tonight is James Hoch plus the Cook Fellow from Dartmouth; Monday, Maxine Kumin plus Linda Susan Jackson; Tuesday, Jean Valentine plus Jim Schley; Wednesday, participants; Thursday, Susan Howe plus Ilya Kaminsky; Friday, Baron Wormser plus Patrick Donnelly; Saturday Cornelius Eady and Ellen Doré Watson.

What a variety of contemporary poets, reading in Robert Frost's Barn!

Friday, July 25, 2008


High culture and low. Stuff you learn in a college classroom, stuff you bring with you from the street or the latest music tracks. Odysseus and Elvis -- will that be a good enough example?

David Kirby's ninth collection of poems (he's done far more than 20 books, crossing genres) is THE TEMPLE GATE CALLED BEAUTIFUL (Alice James Books, 2008) and the cover offers part of an Italian fresco titled "The Resurrection of the Dead." If that sounds like a class in the classics, yes, that's surely the intent -- but the first poem in the book is "Elvis, Be My Psychopomp." I kept misreading the "pomp" for "poop" or "pop," which I guess is a partial effect of my eyes on my brains. First thought after the word "Elvis" is? No, you get no points for saying "Graceland." That would suggest a book about forgiveness and heaven -- rather than one drenched in versions, aromas, and quips of the underworld. Kirby lists at the back of the book some of his sources, including the predictable like The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Inferno, The Odyssey ... but he adds, "I also watched Bubba Ho-Tep, the documentary about Elvis and JFK battling an ancient Egyptian mummy for the souls of the rest of us." Whiplash of vision here: Did he just say "documentary"?

The entire collection splashes like this, a wild ocean in a bottle with a pirate ship hurling cannonballs and sponges toward a watcher's wide and startled eyes. One minute the poet's writing home from London, or visiting an Islamic shrine jammed with tourist trinkets that support terrorism through their sales; the next, he's fumbling through a conversation with his dead parents that recalls Eliot, cynical and loving in the same moment.

When I cracked up during "Dogs Who Are Poets and Movie Stars" and began reading aloud to my husband, he stopped me after a mere two stanzas and exclaimed, "That's not poetry!" Indeed, read aloud, it's hard to realize that this isn't the comic monologue of a Renaissance-trained professor drenched in Monty Python reruns. But there is indeed a strong sense of form -- long lines in carefully shaped stanzas -- and the underlying rhythms evoke marvelous late-night conversations. Sure, one-sided ones, but with someone whose mind is so stuffed that every quip becomes a set of metaphors feeding into an Escher staircase that's headed back to the opening of the poem in spite of racing away from it.

Gosh, I had fun reading this.

Here's a sample, the first two-plus stanzas of a 13-stanza reflection on ... well, Italy, secrets, dogs, what happens to people who've died... See what I mean? [Caution: the actual page has much more interesting line indents than I can show here. This blog template wasn't built with contemporary forms in mind, sigh.]

The Secret Room

A poster of two handsome Renaissance gents
catches my eye with the words Stanze Segrete, and I think,
Yeah, but whose secret rooms? and then, Who cares,
as long as they're secret? Because almost anyone's
secret room is superior to anyone else's public room.
Even a dog's—-especially a dog's-—secret room,
though not a dog's secrets. When somebody says

secret room to me, I think of the ones you get to
magically: your car breaks down outside an old castle,
and it's pouring, but the butler lets you in, and while
you're drying off in the library and having a brandy
as you wait for the master, you take an old book
off the shelf, but it's the wrong one, or maybe the right,
because just then the wall opens and you find yourself

in a laboratory full of bubbling retorts and cages filled
with the master's sworn enemies, one of whom is now you.

Get the book -- it's too much fun to postpone. But while you're waiting for it to arrive in the mail (or scheduling a trip to the bookshop), do visit this wild-hearted poet's web site,

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jane Shore, A YES-OR-NO ANSWER: Five Years of Meticulous Poetry

When poet Jane Shore greeted high school teachers today at the Advanced Placement Institute in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, she found at least one who had attended in an earlier year, eager to hear her read from the new collection she's just brought out: THE YES-OR-NO ANSWER. The book includes material she's been working on for at least five years -- and, in an unusual twist, a note at the back recognizes the summer teacher institute for its efforts and enthusiasm in helping her move forward in revisions of one of the poems, "The Streak."

The poem began with her (then) 12-year-old daughter's persistent request for a colorful streak in her hair. Shore and husband Howard Norman (yes, the novelist) finally agreed, but retained veto power over the color. The lines of the poem move from the relative safety of a rural beauty salon that sells "Manic Panic" hair dyes, to the terror and grief of Persephone's capture and retreat into the underworld for half of each year -- perhaps an extreme version of what it's like to let your daughter grow up, but one that the poem justifies in several ways.

Shore pointed out, "The minute you put words on paper, you're changing the experience, and then it's a matter of getting at what the deeper significance of the truth might be." She reflected on having brought an early draft to the teacher group five years ago and said, "The first time I brought it in, the poem was very much like wet clay."

Leading the high school teachers into further discussion of issues like "are poems overanalyzed?" and "don't you feel vulnerable?" Shore emphasized the separation that takes place during the publication process: "It's art -- it's not you. It started with you. I think that's a good thing to tell your students, [the poem] is not them."

Another selection from the new collection is called "Keys" and lets Shore tell her own side of the shocking interruption of violence into her life, when a death occurred in her urban home in the Washington, DC, area. But it didn't disturb the teachers as deeply as her images in "The Streak." She took them into more comfortable terrain with her classic "Shit Soup" (a remembrance of her mother), and the gently mournful "The Blue Address Book" -- and then, with the title poem of the collection, rocked them once again with how risky and intensely personal she can make her work.

At the end of her reading, a shaky silence spread among the teachers -- and most of them then lined up at the front of the room, eager to gain Shore's signature on their copies of the collection, and to pause for a moment of not-so-poetic conversation that brought the afternoon back to familiar safety.

Shore's words, though, hung in the air: "It becomes necessary to separate the self away from the poem, because it generates its own questions."

Here's the version of "The Streak" that she brought to last year's teacher gathering:


Because she wanted it so much, because
she'd campaigned all spring and half the summer,
because she was twelve and old enough,
because she would be responsible and pay for it herself,
because it was her mantra, breakfast, lunch and dinner,
because she would do it even if we said no --

her father and I argued until we finally said
okay, just a little one in the front
and don't ask for any more, and, also,
no double pierces in the future, is that a deal?

She couldn't wait, we drove straight to town,
not to our regular beauty parlor, but the freaky one --
half halfway house, half community center --
where they showed her the sample card of swatches,
each silky hank a flame-tipped paintbrush dipped in dye.

I said no to Deadly Nightshade. No to Purple Haze.
No to Atomic Turquoise. To Green Envy. To Electric Lava
that glows neon orange under black light.
No to Fuschsia Shock. To Black-and-Blue.
To Pomegranate Punk. I vetoed Virgin Snow.
And so she pulled a five out of her wallet, plus the tax,
and chose the bottle of dye she carried carefully
all the ride home, like a little glass vial
of blood drawn warm from her arm.

Oh she was hurrying me! Darting up the stairs,
double-locking the bathroom door,
opening it an hour later, sidling up to me, saying, "Well?"
For a second, I thought she'd somehow
gashed her scalp. But it was only her streak, Vampire Red.

Later, brushing my teeth, I saw her mess --
the splotches where dye splashed
and stained the porcelain, and in the waste bin,
Kleenex wadded up like bloodied sanitary napkins.
I saw my girl -- Persephone carried off to Hell,
who left behind a mash of petals on trampled soil.

CALENDAR ALERT: Jane Shore will read with Julie Agoos at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum on Wednesday July 30, at 7:30 p.m. -- the event is free and open to the public, and a book signing will follow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lee Child, NOTHING TO LOSE: Jack Reacher Goes West

Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel is a gem of a thriller, intense, probing, and classic. The title NOTHING TO LOSE suggests the condition Reacher's in at this point in his post-military-police life: carrying only a handful of possessions, rootless, unconnected. And if you're about my age ("mid-life") it's also an echo of a Janis Joplin lyric: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Reacher is about as free as a human can be. Except -- well, he's tied to his moral code. And when he sniffs the wrongness in the air in the Western town of Despair -- a few miles from the town of Hope -- he can't leave it alone.

Why is there an Army post guarding a metals recycling plant? What brings young women and their quickly vanished husbands to the little motel in Hope? Does a belief in the Rapture cause people to act in irrational ways that endanger others?

Child's pace is rapid, and his skills are highly honed. Dark though Reacher's life is and frightening though the mystery of the two towns can be, there are glimmers of gold dust in how some people treat Reacher, and in how he chooses to help out. A town cop in Hope, a woman with secrets, reluctantly joins him in investigating the disappearances and the bizarre behavior that emanates from living in Despair. How does he convince her?

Files full of dead people and missing people. Some mourned, some not.

He thought of Lucy Anderson, called Lucky by her friends. The night before, in the diner. He recalled the way she had wrung her hands. He looked across at Vaughn and said, "It is our problem, kind of. The kid might have people worried about him.

Vaughn nodded.

Parable? Yes, I suppose it is. But depending on where you choose to tell your own story, that too could be a parable. In the hands of Lee Child, life and death are choices, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Last-Minute Vermont Poetry Vacation, Evenings Only, July 21-25

I can't quite believe the notice for this workshop arrived so late in my e-mail box. But because it features two impassioned poets of northern Vermont who have forged a delicious teaching team, I'm passing along word here anyway. Maybe someone has an easier calendar than mine! Even if you can only attend for part of the week, Julia Shipley and Peggy Sapphire may remind you why you're a poet or poetry reader at heart.

River Arts | PO Box 829 | 74 Pleasant Street | Morrisville, Vermont 05661 | (802) 888-1261 -

Join us for a poetry workshop Monday through Thursday, July 21-24. Peggy Sapphire and Julia Shipley will lead this workshop from 6-8pm at the River Arts Center. There will be an Open reading Friday, July 25. Come to one evening or come to them all.

This workshop is for anyone who loves to write poetry, who knows well the places where they have lived, where they live now, who dreams perhaps of where they'd like to live, who treasures a place they may return to in, their memories, their imaginations, their dreams. Poetry of Place can take us anywhere, from a room to a road, miles from here or Here.

Bring all this, and paper & pen, and, if possible, copies of a favorite poem of place you've found in your reading , to share with fellow travelers in this workshop.

This workshop is intended for those 15 and up. There is a suggested donation of $7 per evening. For more information or to sign up: 888-1261

Thanks to the Vermont Arts Council for making this and other summer residencies possible.

I’ve sworn I’ll leave this place when you are gone. Let me be clear: when I must survive without you, climb our stairs, walk our floor, when my hands must close our front door, or open it with unnatural hope, they will hold your hands. When I look up, it will be as if you reside in the hemlock beams sanded free of splinters, chamfered and lamb-tongued. I will remember wood shavings, wood-dusting your beard and my long hair, neither of us able to see past our glasses. Through the many windows whose light I had to have, I’ll see our blue spruce, doubled, even tripled, but never enough to give shade, another wild hope. So what, we shrugged, we’ve got our old wild apple trees, generous with Mac reds each September, ready for applesaucing, peel and all, your day of coring, cutting and stirring, of portioning, labeling and freezing. In Winter, the season of water falling like stones upon my lips, finches & nuthatches will be longing too, awaiting your faithful replenishing of black-oil seeds and suet. I won’t manage their grief and mine. Upstairs, in the library you invented, our shelves cut from local kingdom pine, I would have to face titles of volumes lugged from borrowed basements, our former homes, rented rooms, one last time. There will always be mornings of southeast sun, honey-light in the afternoons, lupines will seed themselves, our rosa rugosas will never need pampering, that was our plan, lilies on their own, clustered and weathering with masses of mallow, daisies and black-eyeds. Our stone path hemmed in every space by creeping thyme and myrtle, as if we’d known they’d also find their way. Best to leave them to their destinies, as I will be, all promises kept, circles fully rounded.

-Peggy Sapphire

A Little Story of Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton

Maxine Kumin's current collection of poetry, STILL TO MOW, includes a poem that tells part of the story of her close friend Anne Sexton's self-imposed death, in "The Revisionist Dream."

When Kumin read at St. Johnsbury Academy last week, she focused on her "Selected Poems" and on STILL TO MOW and its predecessor, JACK. Most of the pieces she chose to read captured human frailty within the context of horses, dogs, the land; some grappled with G-d and Messiah; STILL TO MOW is also rich with poems of protest that argue forcefully against the conduct of the Iraq war.

She didn't explore the Sexton connection this time. But Galway Kinnell, introducing her reading, re-told the tender tidbit that Kumin has mentioned in earlier interviews: that the two young women were so devoted to each other and their work that they invested in a separate phone line, only to use for each other. They would place the call that tied them together and then each would lay down the receiver without disconnecting, so the rustle and tapping and scribbling would softly be conveyed over the open line. If one reached a point where she wanted to share her writing with the other, she'd whistle into the phone.

Galway Kinnell concluded his story with thanks to Maxine for responding to a "whistle" to come over to Vermont for the evening, from her New Hampshire farm. Judging by the response of the audience - which applauded after almost every poem, and continued long enough to earn an encore ("Seven Caveats in May") - the whole theater agreed: Thanks, Maxine Kumin!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New U.S. Poet Laureate: Kay Ryan, Californian

The Library of Congress announced today that Californian Kay Ryan is the next Poet Laureate, succeeding Charles Simic.

Ryan is the author of six collections of poems: Dragon Acts to Dragon Friends (1983, privately printed by a subscription of her friends); Strangely Marked Metal (1985); Flamingo Watching (1995); Elephant Rocks (1996); Say Uncle (2000); and The Niagara River (2005). Flamingo Watching shot her to the notice of readers and poets alike, and Dana Gioia later wrote that he could never quite set the book aside. Her poetry packs twists, irony, and beauty into small packets of precisely chosen words, often in very short lines, often a single stanza.

Her PBS interview is now being widely aired; she says clearly in the program that silence means a great deal to her, and she explores its forms. As an introduction to the poet and her work, I also like very much Dana Gioia's essay that appeared first in Dark Horse in the winter 1998/99 issue.

Here's one of her poems, drawn from the web site of Blue Flower Arts, which has represented her:

Extreme exertion
isolates a person
from help,
discovered Atlas.
Once a certain
ratio collapses,
there is so little
others can do:
they can't
lend a hand
with Brazil
and not stand
on Peru.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who Will Teach the Teachers? A Poet: Baron Wormser Steps Forward

With three books released this year, Baron Wormser is very much in demand -- which made it especially nice that he could speak today with the high school teachers at the Advanced Placement Institute in St. Johnsbury. He just completed his annual session at the Frost Place, where he directs the unique Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Today's session gave a taste of what he delivered on Frost's mountain earlier in the summer.

Long a Maine poet and now a Vermont resident, Wormser served as a K-12 librarian in rural Maine while also writing poetry and building, then living in, a one-room cabin "off the grid" with his family. One of his books this year is the softcover edition of his memoir of that life, THE ROAD WASHES OUT IN SPRING, which AP instructor Tim Averill calls "our contemporary Walden."

The teachers today were most sstruck by Wormser's readings from his book THE POETRY LIFE, in which ten fictional narrators talk about the influence of poetry in their lives -- part of the process that Wormser calls "the most important gift you can give your students." Each narrator has a special reason for being drawn to the poem and poet presented; for instance, a teenage girl offers her connection to Elinor Wylie's poem "Address to My Soul." After reading an excerpt, Wormser added, "So that's one way in." He had three more to offer in his challenge to teachers to connect their students with poetry.

For A SURGE OF LANGUAGE: TEACHING POETRY DAY BY DAY, Wormser and his co-author David Cappella made up a teacher, Mr. P., based on their wn teaching practice and opening with Randall Jarrell's poem "Big Daddy," about the football player Big Daddy Lipscomb. The book illustrates how to lead a discussion of the poem, beginning with syntax: "We always keepour eyes on how the poem works.... how the sentences are constructed -- poetry asks for that kind of attention and I think it carries over into how the students write prose."

Third came the memoir, THE ROAD WASHES OUT IN SPRING, where among other strands, Wormser follows his attraction to Robert Frost and to Frost's poem "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things." Wormser said, "That's a poem that's haunted me forever. I think one reason Imoved to the country was I wanted to be with the phoebes and find out who they were." He believed that writing poetry and living in the country were somehow the same tihing.

"Frost's example is an important one in our poetry because Frost is really the only American poet who is both popular and a great artist," he assered. He added that teaching poetry includes communicating who the poet was, in terms of the poet's spirit.

At last, Wormser read from his own poems in SCATTERED CHAPTERS: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, which covers 30 years of his writing. Again referring to the demand for paying attention in poetry, he suggested: "Whatis that? -- that's the question poetry asks." Poetry tries to experience that questioning, through language. "That means that really the sources of poetry are in awe and wonder."

Between reading the poems "Falling" and "Shakespeare in Mud," Wormser reflected: "I think most poets have a totem from the natural world, because poetry comes to us from our feet, it doesn't come from our heads. It comes from the living earth." His own, he said, is snow -- as painted with words in "Falling."

Wormser's main teaching method is to dictate poems to his students -- he reads it, and the students write it down. He describes the result as "Better even than reading, because they experience the poem word by word, the wayit was written. ... How do you incite kids to ask you about the placement of a comma in a poem? That's one way. How do you get kids to ask you about word choice? -- By writing it down!"

The audience question that received the most intense reply from this "teacher of teachers" was, "Do we have to write poetry to be in the culture of poetry?" Wormser responded that the Greeks saw writing poetry as crucial to being human. "Almost everyone has written a poem in their life. Typically love and death produce poems. You go to one of those places, and that's all that's left standing." Poetry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Janwillem van de Wetering, author of the Grijpstra and Gier mysteries

We were sorry to hear from Soho Crime last week that Janwillem van de Wetering, author of the Grijpstra and Gier mysteries, had passed away near his home in Maine. The Dutch-born author (Rotterdam, 1931) not only created a memorable investigative team, but translated his mysteries himself, writing them first in Dutch, then in English. This unusual arrangement allowed the actual texts to vary widely from each other, something an independent translator might not feel the freedom to do.

Van de Wetering arrived in Maine in 1975, to link with a Zen Buddhist community there; it folded, but he stayed. His earlier experiences with this spiritual discipline are retold in his first book (THE EMPTY MIRROR: EXPERIENCES IN A JAPANESE ZEN MONASTERY) and at least two others -- they make good reading, frank and descriptive and unflinchingly clear-sighted. Then he mined his own police experience for his mysteries.

I like the New York Times obituary, which says that his interests also included motorcycles and jazz -- good reasons for settling on this side of the Atlantic!

I won't try to review his work just now, but here's a good listing of the mysteries. Summer is a delicious season for re-reading an entire series, isn't it?

Note that in 1984, van de Wetering won the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policiere for THE MAINE MASSACRE, which placed his police team in Maine!

Farewell to one of the most distinctive voices of the police procedural scene.

Grijpstra and de Gier novels

* Outsider in Amsterdam, 1975
* Tumbleweed, 1976
* The Corpse on the Dike, 1976
* Death of a Hawker, 1977
* The Japanese Corpse, 1977
* The Blond Baboon, 1978
* The Maine Massacre, 1979
* The Mind-Murders, 1981
* The Streetbird, 1983
* The Rattle-Rat, 1985
* Hard Rain, 1986
* Just A Corpse at Twilight, 1994
* The Hollow-Eyed Angel, 1996
* The Perfidious Parrot, 1997
* The Amsterdam Cops: Collected Stories, 1999 (anthology)
o replaces the anthology The Sergeant's Cat and Other Stories

SPECIAL NEWS: Soho Press also announced that the press will reissue all of van de Wetering's Soho Crime novels in paperback, starting this fall. What a nice salute to this author's work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Patrick Donnelly, THE CHARGE -- Poetry of the Unexpected

I don't know how I managed to shelve this book when it came out in 2003, without exploring it first. But I rediscovered it last month, and have been prowling through Patrick Donnelly's rich and surprising poems ever since.

THE CHARGE (Ausable, 2003) is Donnelly's first collection. A poet and teacher of poetry with a well-rounded career, Donnelly is also an associate editor at Four Way Books and at the time of publication was curating and assisting at two different reading series. I mention this as background because THE CHARGE doesn't read like a "first book." It's drenched with cries and prayers to God, mostly the Islamic version but also the Jesus sort. Woven across these outcries are the hard residue of a father who couldn't show his love ("My father gave me a stone / and I ate it."), the continuous shadow of illness and death from HIV within one's own body and among one's friends and lovers, and, fresh green miracle springing here, amazing poems of love and of the bewilderingly beautiful discoveries of young passion.

Here are images that dance in a delight that I don't think I've ever seen in man/man love poems before. From "His Café Con Leche Hands":

Immaculate white apron, tied low
around his supple Little Cuba hips,
like the Guadalupe over the counter
without stain or spot of any kind
(though God knows I long to spill
something of myself across that almost-altar,
stumble into the snowfield of his sheets)--

Yes, this is why it's so hard to draw a line around Love and make it into something holy, when its roots are so often in the teasing pleasures of the flesh. In the Sixties, before the HIV epidemic, there was a short sweet time when sexual liberty seemed safe and delicious and almost accepted. And then... Ah, wait a bit, let's not move so quickly into the shadows. Donnelly takes his time getting there; he offers "Prayer After the Baths" in celebration of another lover, one who takes off his baseball cap "to rub his buzzcut along my belly, / murmuring under his breath a baritonal 'Sweet,'" -- a moment of intimacy that Donnelly braids directly to God, to worship, and to martyrdom.

There are also tender explorations of prayer in Muslim form. From "Baba":

Baba has three small moles
on the left side of his face.
When he prays, we see
the bottom of his socks are dirty.
He says if you're very quiet
you can hear a sound inside
like crickets singing, then sleeps
with his head in my lap.
a circle always gathers to ask the hard questions:
what about abortion, what about gay people,
what happens when you die?
In the silence before he answers
I know the stories about Jesus are true:

but Baba, Baba, I can hardly keep up--
my heart runs after you
with my soul in its hands.

There is an expression that we use here in Vermont, where green-furred ridges rise deceptively softly around us, undergirded with granite. It's a saying that came from "out of state" with some of the visitors who bought little farms and hung prayer flags and contributed chocolate cake to the church dinners: "One mountain, many paths." Donnelly's paths are peopled by both Jesus and Baba, by casual one-night flings and gratefully held long-term partner, by "amen" in a sigh, and "Bismillah," Arabic term for "in the name of God (Allah)," in the same breath as it returns.

The book's title comes from its centerpiece poem, "Consummatum Est" -- the Latin phrase translated as "it is finished" from Jesus on the cross, but equally a description of the final portion of a sexual interlude. In this case, Donnelly plays against the mythic certainty of knowing you're "with child" -- a gathering in of Mary giving herself to God's plan -- and he places with great care against this image a similar certainty: of the moment when, being cared for by a lover, the infection of the deadly virus of HIV/AIDS moved into his life:

Yes--certainly I felt it--and broke
into a sweat, the exact moment
the charge leapt from him to me.

Blessings to the book designer, who also took the erotic electricity of "the charge" and issued a cover with a dark green thunderous sky broken by jagged lightning.

The mingling of lover/brother/life/death in this collection is scented with humor as well as sweat. I need more copies, for the dear friends I want to share the book with.

As an added pleasure, I found a more recent set of poems Donnelly is forming into work on and around his mother: Also in the online version of The Drunken Boat are some Buddhist poems that Donnelly with Stephen Miller translated from the Japanese imperial anthologies (

I thought I came to taste a bit of bread, a cup; I found an exceptional meal.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Charles Todd, A PALE HORSE

A PALE HORSE, the tenth mystery featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, focuses on a cluster of "leper cottages" where a handful of privacy seekers reside in the English countryside, holding their secrets within the cottage walls. Haunted by his own potent secret -- the cynical and sometimes terrified voice of his dead friend and wartime comrade Hamish -- Rutledge attempts to peel back the reasons surrounding a gruesome death, where the body is discovered wearing a postmortem gas mask and cloak. A manipulative government agency, a painful shame in his sister's life, and the confusion that erupts from insistent sleep deprivation make Ian's pursuit of justice harder than ever.

This is a deceptively quiet book, framed by the white horse inscribed on a rock face, dating back to England's speechless early inhabitants. Rutledge endures less of the fierce confusion and threats that dogged him in earlier volumes in the series -- while at the same time, he loses the camouflage that protected him then. In the Yorkshire countryside, one person after another seems capable of looking in his face and naming the anguish there: the residue of a far more gruesome battle against death, in the trenches in France. Moreover, Meredith Channing, the perceptive psychic from Ian's sister's world, appears repeatedly within this search. What will it mean for the way Hamish sits in his mind?

He cranked the motorcar and got in, sitting there shaking. It had nothing to do with the rain.

Hamish said roughly, "Aye, that was the heart of it. You wanted to die. I wanted to live. And we neither of us got our wish."

"And so we're damned, both of us, because God got it wrong. I wish you had lived and I had died. I would have come to haunt you, and when you married your Fiona, I would have been the skeleton at the feast."

"No," Hamish said, his voice cold. "I would ha' forgotten you, and left you rotting in France."

Some of the deepest questions of the series arise here; some are answered -- some will ride with the death-haunted inspector into the next volume from Charles Todd, the American Anglophile mother-son writing duo.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Calendar Alert: Maxine Kumin, Wed. July 16; and our Poets' Brunch with April Ossmann

The day before an author event is always a long one here at Kingdom Books. We pull out books by the author -- tomorrow, April Ossmann reads here at 11 a.m. from her collection ANXIOUS MUSIC, a debut but far from a beginning for this accomplished poet and long-time editor (she's the executive director of Alice James Books). We also draw forward onto the tables books by poets whose work may strike similarly. In April's case, I reached for Mary Kinzie, as well as for the early Alice James poets like Jean Pedrick. And I added Gregory Orr and Mary Oliver to the table, one for emotion, the other for meticulous detail. Plus there are another couple dozen books of poetry that have just come in, including a first edition of Frost's NEW HAMPSHIRE. There'll be plenty for the eyes and spirit to feast on.

Oh yes, feasting: This is the last of our 2009 Poets' Brunch events. So there's a feast to prepare and assemble, along with flowers from the garden, and of course the circle of comfortable seats.

I've also pulled out books by Maxine Kumin, but I have them set aside in my own office for the moment -- Kumin is reading on Wednesday July 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater on the campus of St. Johnsbury Academy, part of the St. J. Athenaeum's summer poetry series but held this time in a larger, "climate controlled" room. (I sympathize; I spent a chunk of today installing an air conditioner in our event space, after listening to the weather forecast!) At any rate, I've promised to bring Kumin's books on Wednesday; I suppose if someone really wants one or two tomorrow, I'll pull them back out, but for the moment they are boxed.

I'm re-reading Patrick Donnelly's magnificent work THE CHARGE -- more on that, later this weekend.

And a quick note to mystery readers: Yes, the new Charles Todd post-World War I mystery, A PALE HORSE, is another compelling exploration of love, loneliness, and trust. And Dave wants me to remind you all that we have just ONE last copy, with laid-in signed bookplate, of DEVIL MAY CARE by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Teaching the Teachers Who Teach Poetry: RACHEL HADAS, Laws

Are there "laws" for how to teach poetry in high school classrooms? That's not what Rachel Hadas means by the title of her collection LAWS, which has become a hit for Advanced Placement teachers wrestling with how to light poetic flames in their students. But Hadas, guest lecturer at the Advanced Placement Institute in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, this week, offered specific guidance, her precepts for how to write good poetry and thus how to study it -- especially considering that Advanced Placement students will be tested on their ability to write about poetry:

* Think of the poem as a gesture [she raised a hand to illustrate a couple of gestures] -- something that has a beginning and an end.
* The reader cannot read your mind.
* The HOW trumps the WHAT. [Teaching this "might prevent the student from treating the poem as if it were a Chinese fortune cookie, where you peel it away and only keep the fortune hidden inside."]
* Pay attention to the beginning.
* Pay attention to the ending.
* Pay attention to how the poem gets there.
* Make syntax work for you. [She quoed Randall Jarrell as saying, "a great poet is one who after many years of standing in the rain in thunderstorms, gets struck by lightning once."]
* Poetry includes inspiration, interpretation, and revision. ["The poet's job is to squeeze out the excess water from the wet washcloth or sponge."]

Hadas recommends the book IN THE FRAME, in which she has an essay that references her poem "Two Paintings Seen Again" (from LAWS) and others -- the collection is on ekphrastic poems and poetry by women, and is now in press; she also suggested an anthology edited by John Hollander, THE GAZER'S SPIRIT.

Teachers asked Hadas about the classical allusions in most of her poems, as in the one titled "Hermes," seeking her advice "to us, who teach audiences who are largely illiterate to classical allusions."

Hadas in turn pointed to the presence of the Internet and the post-9/11 world in her work, and said that technology gets out of date, but classical mythology doesn't. She explained, "When I write about mythology I like to bring it up to date in some way. This is a poetic impulse that has existed since antiquity."

The teachers also inquired about Hadas' experience as a translator from the Greek. "I enjoy translation," she pointed out. "It makes me pay attention. I do think it's good for poets to enter the minds of other people." She recommended the translations by F. D. Reeve of Robert Frost's poetry into Russian, and the work of Rena Espaya bringing Frost into Spanish.

Hadas brought some new work too, mostly very short poems, where she's looking to pare down the language. Her poem "Loneliness" begins,

Love costs anxiety, joy has a price:
the fragile edge and smoky smell of limits.

The poem concludes:

Nor do we need to doubt that anyone
who once has tasted loneliness will ever
forget its special savor.

Finally, she predicted a fresh trend in upcoming poems: that we'll all see more Milton in poetry, one way and another, due to the drenching in allusion that fits his work to a post-9/11 world where, as she paints it in her poem "The Fork in the Road," "I am not afraid, / and yet I don't feel safe."

Hadas is guest lecturer also later this summer, on August 8, at the Frost Place Seminar in Franconia, NH (

Monday, July 07, 2008

Calendar Alert: Eliot Pattison at Kingdom Books, Aug. 3

At 7 p.m. on Sunday August 3, author Eliot Pattison hopes to stop at Kingdom Books for tea and nibbles with fans of his Inspector Shan mysteries, set in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and his new American historical series that began this year with BONE RATTLER. Both series are strongly rooted in the spiritual searches of the protagonists, whether it be through prayer and mudra, or through Iroquois concepts of the universe.

And both provide intense reading and character-driven plotting.

Mr. Pattison warned us that his ongoing career as an attorney could derail his plans, which is why we're saying he "hopes" to be here. We'll provide updates as the date gets closer.

Finding the Founder at the Frost Place

[in Frost's barn, David and Patty Schaffer greet guests]
[left, Syd Lea]
Frost Day, by declaration of the Governor of New Hampshire, is the first Sunday of July each year, and today's celebration at The Frost Place in Franconia brought together the poetry center's founder David Schaffer; the long-time board leader and esteemed poet Sydney Lea; the current executive director (also a poet) Jim Schley; and nearly a hundred summer celebrants ready to listen, laugh together, and appreciate.

For David Schaffer, the transition from moderator of Franconia's annual town meeting to presenter of an outrageous plan to purchase Robert Frost's hillside farmhouse and turn it into an annual residence for a poet, plus the site of a festival and conference of poetry, came as unexpectedly as a mountain storm. He took clear pleasure in sharing anecdotes of his first few years as founder of The Frost Place, including revealing what had badly frightened the first resident poet there, Katha Pollitt -- not a bear or a moose, but the booming above the roof that turned out to be the neighboring town's Fourth of July fireworks!

Sydney Lea, whose work PURSUIT OF A WOUND was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and who now has eight books of poetry -- the latest is GHOST PAIN -- worked with Schaffer for all those years, since 1976. In addition to saluting Schaffer, Lea read from his latest work, which in turn honors his first granddaughter. Here's a snippet of the poem that he presented today as "Young of the Year" and which can also be found, in full, on his web site

A small hare’s stride displays itself in snowdust up on this knob
we call The Lookout. Young of the year.
I whisper the term our old folks use to describe
last spring’s wild things -- or the year itself, young year.

Have I a right to the phrase, new grandfather now? I speak it
no matter. Its assonance appeals;
its heft of optimism and forward-seeking
corrects a mood. It's a counter-cry to my vain appeals ...

One appreciative listener, admiring the deft way that Jim Schley stitched together these presentations and another from former trustee and poet Parker Towle, plus announcements of a grant, progress in preserving the house, poets to come... whispered to me, "And how did he find time to write this, too?" The listener tapped a copy of Schley's spring collection, AS WHEN, IN SEASON.

From the cookies and conversation to the sense of heritage and home, it was an amazing day. And oh, yes: This year's resident poet for the summer, James Hoch, had a fully valid reason for not attending the event that would otherwise be saluting his own poetry, too: He and his wife are in the midst of having a baby. We wish them a healthy birth, and a swift return to the mountain, with sunny days and crisp clear starry nights to come.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Adultery, Lust, Guilt, Joy: GOMER'S SONG by Kwame Dawes

How can a man be born again, once he is a man? How can a man live within a whale and be carried from one land to another? How can the dead rise again?

There are dozens of books that enfold these questions, and more that embellish the wanderings of the Chosen People for forty years, or even such small details as the use of a scapegoat to take away sins.

But GOMER'S SONG, the 13th book of poems from Ghanaian-born, Jamaican-raised, South Carolina poet Kwame Dawes dares a more complicated story: that of Gomer, whose name is almost unknown. She was a harlot that the prophet Hosea took as his wife -- so says the Scriptural tale. And more often than not, in the studies of these stories and histories of the people's relationship to their G-d, harlots are symbols of deviating from the G-d/human relationship.

In Dawes's poems, Gomer lives instead today,in Canada, in South Carolina, in Jamaica, as a woman whose adulterous past clings to her even as she marries, even as she settles into a one-on-one relationship. And though that past is rife with sex, with whoring, with "hooking up" for pay of various sorts, it's not a portion of the anatomy that can be cut off and discarded. Nor is it only a tale of shame -- Dawes speaks with the tongue of Gomer herself, and we hear love, delight, excitement, adventure. In the poem "Skin," the "narrative of contradictory omens" that Gomer tells has a cost even in the words:

... it does not come
easy -- I am horny today, and I brush
against him every chance I get. [...]
I shiver at his touch. We are listening
to the music of lost things, the things
I would rather forget, which I breathe
to the tracing of his fingers along my back.

This is a dangerous music that carries with it the potential for slave-keeping, for ownership of body, for urgency that gambles desire against risk.

Reading the three sections of "song," I flipped back often to the title page, the author photo, trying to comprehend the drive behind a man who would enchant himself into woman's mouth. It's not just her skin of romance he evokes; it's also the skin of shame. And it's the body of menstrual cycles that bleed and ache, as well as the body of salt and longing. In "Translating Love," Gomer sings, "I will smell of blood; I will weep more, / the taut muscle of my desire will grow liquid; I will take long baths to soothe the weary nerves. // I know seasons, the come and go of need."

The bruising effort of this transformation from man to woman voice renders a smoky hope that writers and readers can and will cross barbed wire to comprehend and speak for each other. The brown skins of Gomer's songs glisten and melt; the division between man and woman is as enormous, and as small, as the division between skin colors -- where comfort and wealth depend so often on the ability or willingness to pass for "other," or to manipulate the loser's position to take advantage of the one who thinks he is the winner, the conqueror.

From "What We Have Learned":

and we have learned to speak them
in those dark moments when our needs
overwhelm us: You too will hurt
me,and I will let you hurt me,
and you will think you have ruled me,
but you will never understand
that I have forgotten the rituals
of hurt -- now they come as ordinary
paths to my peace.
We have learned
to carry in us the bloom of desire,
a kind of perverse daring that we break
loose in dark rooms, frightening
our lovers with the unfolding
of ourselves.

Adultery, lust, betrayal: we have almost all known them in some form, most often in longing and desire, even celebration. Is it wrong to remember our past? How shall we construct the future if we deny that knowledge? How shall wisdom grow in us without pain and confusion to feed its root?

There is good news here for feminism, that a man's voice can speak of women who "make even the most wayward / of women understand that the longing / in them, the taste for sweetness on those days / when the blood is gathered deep in them, / is the promise of God, and laughter / is the healing, and memories lengthen days / when they are warm with such thick / pleasures."

Scattered with infidelities and secrets, GOMER'S SONG is also a portrait of our daughters and nieces and even granddaughters, in a world where "hooking up" is a common term, and girls in a high school play with the idea of getting pregnant all at once, to enjoy baby showers and attention and the life-death drama of childbirth. I found here, also, the dangerous longing for submersion into someone else's dominance, the willingness to endure bondage as long as it doesn't scar too terribly, doesn't spoil a pretty face or backside.

Last week a twelve-year-old Vermont girl died, and her story resonates with the possibility that she was lured toward Gomer's dark choices and losses. Poetry makes something happen; Kwame Dawes's poetry makes a reckoning of cost, a calling of truth, a weighing of freedom and commitment and power. Give the book to the girls and women in your life. Give it also to their men.

Friday, July 04, 2008

WINTER STUDY, Nevada Barr's New Anna Pigeon Mystery

It is not necessary to begin reading Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series at the beginning -- and this fourteenth featuring the National Park Ranger is perfect as a stand-alone summer read. Even though we're cruising into true sun-blazing summer here in Vermont, WINTER STUDY stole me away to a snowy, ice-bound, subzero island at the Canada border and had me shivering in tension.

Pigeon's arrival in January at Isle Royale in Lake Superior is part of an attempt to balance the impact of a threatened Homeland Security takeover of priorities on the island, where a study of three interacting packs of wolves has benefited from the annual tourist-free season. Homeland Security, it seems, would prefer to have the science disappear, in favor of plenty of onlookers to watch the border area instead. Anna's sympathies are with the team investigating the wolves, even if some of them are maybe a tad more passionate than seems healthy.

The book has classic Nevada Barr pacing: layer upon layer of threat moves into place like glaciers sliding forward, and if Anna ignores some of the reasons to worry, she's at least noticing the changes around her, stacking them up to assess later. By the time "later" arrives, her quick choices to help out people in trouble dump her into situations that range from the killing effect of cold water when it's subzero above the ice, to concern over a possibly human-tormented animal that might be ready to take its revenge, to Anna's usual range of broken bones, sprains, and terror. Good thing the previous volumes have included a life partner whose image can warm her while she's hiding from a killer.

For a dizzying second, she saw the ice patch flipping like a coin, her feet going from under her, hands scrabbling uselessly, as she slid into the black death waiting below the ice, the patch of ice rocking back level, shutting her away from the promise of life and light. Iron-clawed terror gripped her insides. Courage drained out as blood from a severed artery.

Barr's statements about wolves come off a bit too facile, but they're good positions for Anna to take as she weighs what the animal investigators believe is going on. The plot is tight, all too believable, and proves that you can bring a strong character back to a scene where she has visited and labored before -- but in a whole new world, outside and in, so the new book is fresh, vivid, and intense. Keep an extra light on if you stay up late reading this one.

For more on Barr's series:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

FIRE TO FIRE: new and selected poems, Mark Doty

With seven books of poetry to select from, the latest book from Mark Doty carries a treasury of favorites -- and an opening section of 23 new poems that can steal your breath. I already have a favorite for the evening: "Theory of Marriage." But that's the second time today that I've chosen one ... Doty read from his work this afternoon at Goddard College, where he and his partner Paul Lisicky have taught this week.

A polished entertainer, Doty offers precise diction and carefully timed pauses to deliver the sting and humor of his poems. He opened today with a classic 1970s-style tale of life on the Goddard campus on the day when he accepted a full-time teaching slot there -- complete with a man whose poem of the day was "I Love an Electric Snake" and a group of students tramping past the window garbed "only in mud." Ah, the good old days! He moved smoothly from a poem capturing a moment "back then" when children brought a wood turtle into the cafeteria ("No"), into more current work, such as "Pipistrelle" from the new section of FIRE TO FIRE, then into some of the Apparition poems from the same section: poems in which ghosts or poems of the past make an intrusion into now, he noted.

Although Doty does write some short poems, the most enjoyable for his audience were clearly the ones that told a good long story, and his swing from poetry into prose as he read from his most recent memoir DOG YEARS drew the narratives into longer, more flowing form. In response to an audience question later, he commented that he'd been hungry for the more elastic form of prose in the first year after the death of his partner Wally. Now he and Lisicky have settled into the comfort of a long-term partnership, more than a dozen years already, and the audience, or the reader of FIRE TO FIRE, follows the thread of work into this latter happiness, from which the poet seizes the landscape of vista and of desire, molding it into shapes. "An attempt to look at the physical world and to give it shape in the language is very much a part of this poem," Doty commented about his final choice today, "A Crippled King," during which quite a few people must have held their breath at the tension -- you could hear the joint sigh at the poem's end.

FIRE TO FIRE is a collection worth lingering with and lounging through, whether in Vermont's green summer or the thick air of the city that Doty paints so well. Coming next year: THE ART OF DESCRIPTION, from Graywolf: "how we reveal ourselves through saying what we see."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Calendar Alerts: Poetry Around New England

Good news: You can attend readings by award-winning poets Galway Kinnell and Maxine Kumin this month. And if you've got some gasoline in the tank, there's an amazing number of poetry events coming up. Listen to those who are already recognized, and sample the poetry that will claim its honored place for years to come.

Sunday July 6 is Frost Day in Franconia, NH, at Robert Frost's farmhouse home up on the hill -- Pulitzer Prize finalist Sydney Lea of Newbury, VT, will read from his work, and there's a celebration of the Franconia selectman who thought to capture the property and dedicate it to poetry, David Schaffer. Events start at 2 p.m.; come early, because you'll park at the bottom of the hill and stroll one third of a mile up (handicap parking up at the site, though). See for more info.

Then you'll need to drive quickly and deliberately to make the next event:

The Galway Kinnell reading is also Sunday July 6, at 7 p.m., part of the Collected Poets Series at Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA (413-625-6292; wheelchair accessible; free). The Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College announces its July Reading Series. The following writers will read from their work at 7:30 p.m. (unless otherwise noted) in the Founder’s Room of Pine Manor College, located at 400 Heath Street in Chestnut Hill. All readings are free and open to the public; copies of the authors’ books will be available for sale and signing before and after the readings. Plenty of free parking!

Think ahead for Maxine Kumin in the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum's reading series: Wednesday July 16 at 7:30 p.m. At this point, plans are to stage the reading in the Black Box theatre on the nearby St. Johnsbury Academy campus, to take advantage of more seating and also air conditioning. Free, with books on hand to purchase from Kingdom Books (that's us), including much of Kumin's early work, as well as her political and personal gem of a current collection, STILL TO MOW.

Jane Shore and Julie Agoos follow in the St. J. Athenaeum series, on Wed. July 30; more on that, in a later post.

Don't miss the extraordinarily generous benefit reading that Patrick Donnelly and friends, with the Amherst College Creative Writing Program, have pulled together on behalf of The Frost Place: Saturday, July 19, at 2 p.m. in the Pruyne Lecture Hall (Fayerweather Hall 115), at Amherst College, Amherst, MA; admission: $5. Readers will include:
Patrick Donnelly
Ellen Dudley
Daniel Hall
Henry Lyman
Cleopatra Mathis
Martha Rhodes
Ellen Doré Watson

plus master-of-ceremony Jim Schley, Executive Director of The Frost Place. Each reader will offer a favorite poem by Robert Frost as well as a short selection from his or her own work. Directions to Amherst College:

Finally, there's a mix of poetry and fiction at the Pine Manor College Solstice MFA Program's summer reading series, held at this small college campus just outside Boston:

Friday, July 11: Fiction & nonfiction writer Randall Kenan (The Fire This Time, Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Century and Let the Dead Bury Their Dead), & novelist Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, and the forthcoming The Given Day).

Saturday, July 12: Graduating MFA student Kirsten Blocker, plus poet Kathleen Aguero (author of Daughter Of, The Real Weather, and Thirsty Day), & novelist Sterling Watson (author of Sweet Dream, Baby, The Calling, and Weep No More, My Brother).

Sunday, July 13: Graduating MFA student Adam Eisenson, Program Administrator and fiction writer Tanya Whiton (published in Crazyhorse and Northwest Review), plus novelist & young people’s writer Laban Carrick Hill (author of America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60s, A Brush With Napoleon, and Casa Azul).

Tuesday, July 15: Graduating MFA student Maryann Jacob, MFA Program Director and poet Meg Kearney (An Unkindness of Ravens, The Secret of Me, and the forthcoming Home By Now), and poet, essayist, & short-story writer Ray Gonzalez (The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande, The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape, and the forthcoming Faith Run: Lyrical Poems and Cool Auditor: Prose Poems).

Wednesday, July 16: Graduating MFA student John Theo, Jr., YA novelist Laura Williams McCaffrey (author of Alia Waking and Water Shaper), and special guest novelist & nonfiction writer Roland Merullo (author of In Revere, In Those Days, Golfing With God, A Little Love Story, and the forthcoming American Savior).

Thursday, July 17: Poet & fiction writer Steven Huff (A Pig In Paris, The Water We Came From, and More Daring Escapes), fiction & nonfiction writer Joy Castro (The Truth Book), & novelist Helen Elaine Lee (Water Marked, The Serpent’s Gift, and the forthcoming Life Without).

Friday, July 18: poet Laure-Anne Bosselaar (author of A New Hunger, Small Gods of Grief, and The Hour Between Dog and Wolf), YA novelist An Na (author of The Fold, A Step From Heaven, and Wait for Me), and essayist & memoirist Michael Steinberg (editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction and author of Still Pitching).

Directions to Pine Manor College, complete bios of our authors, and more information about the Solstice MFA Program can be found at