Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Calendar Alert: Marilyn Nelson, VSC, 10/30/08

Connecticut poet Marilyn Nelson gives a public reading at the Vermont Studio Center on Thursday October 30 at the lecture hall on Main Street, at 8 p.m.

Because the VSC often has schedule changes, and because it's snowing up this way already, it's best to call and confirm: 802-635-2727. Kingdom Books is planning to be there.

Nelson is a three-time National Book Award finalist.

Tony Hillerman, Mystery Author of the American West, Dies at Age 83

[photo by Janis Turk]
Honor to Tony Hillerman upon his death this week came Monday in the New York Times, as long-time mystery critic and reviewer Marilyn Stasio provided his obituary. In discussion groups all over the Net, readers marveled at his age, mourned his passing, and exchanged comments about his popular mystery series featuring Navajo police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn.

Here's a checklist of the Chee/Leaphorn series:

Leaphorn & Chee books

1. The Blessing Way (1970)
2. Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
3. Listening Woman (1978)
4. People Of Darkness (1980)
5. The Dark Wind (1982)
6. The Ghostway (1984)
7. Skinwalkers (1986)
8. A Thief of Time (1988)
9. Talking God (1989)
10. Coyote Waits (1990)
11. Sacred Clowns (1993)
12. The Fallen Man (1996)
13. The First Eagle (1998)
14. Hunting Badger (1999)
15. The Wailing Wind (2002)
16. The Sinister Pig (2003)
17. Skeleton Man (2004)
18. The Shape Shifter (2006)

Hillerman also wrote several off-series mysteries, saw at least four films made from his writing, and there are a number of critical and biographical volumes that discuss the author and his work.

I found the complex relationships between Chee and Leaphorn and the women in their lives to be a constant in the books, and combined with Hillerman's detailed exploration of Western Native American spirituality and life, these made the books deeper and more re-readable than for their plots alone. The emphasis on a harmony of one's spirit and one's life is best reflected in the greeting phrase that Hillerman's characters used so often: May you walk in beauty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Poetry of Love: Gary Metras, FRANCIS D'ASSISI 2008 (Finishing Line Press)

I'm a bit late getting this written -- but for the best of reasons: The new Gary Metras book moved me to multiple readings, and I've wrestled with how to present this.

Metras' name isn't at the top of the charts unless you treasure small press poetry. A gentle, well-read man who teaches at the local college and acts as a mentor to many a poet, Metras is the publisher of Adastra Press. He's brought out some eighty neatly crafted, carefully designed letterpress books, almost all of poetry, and a charming photo of him working with his type box recently ran in Poets & Writers.

I particularly like Metras' own work in DESTINY'S CALENDAR, which he printed at Adastra. It's an exploration, in fifteen poems, of what it is to be human. Many of the poems are long, with numbered sections. In "Five Yearnings," the first section, "I. Nature's Models," begins:

Burning inside,
the sun feeds on itself
and licks planets
with soft winds of fire.
In the third orbit
temples of fusion
are thrown together.
Everyone wants his own sun.

Then the poem moves to the speaker, and visits multiple settings, until it concludes with a trek up a mountain and a ramble alongside the ocean.

In other poems, Metras explores fatherhood, a woman's pregancy, aging, faith ... in simple language and loose forms.

But that collection came out in 1988. Now, twenty years later, Metras dares to create a book-length poem in FRANCIS D'ASSISI 2008. Beginning with an interior look at the life of the beloved saint, Metras outlines in short stanzas how Francis came to understand his life and his mission:


Because his thoughts could be unclean,
the young man built a stone chapel

in the wilderness of the Umbrian Plain
to pray and purge himself,

to contain that other wildness, that doubt,
within those short walls

of gathered stone and wood, earthen floor
to rest his head.

There are delicious sequences in the poetry's lyrical flow. I like this one: "Came Bernard of Quintaville. / Came Sabatinus and Moricus. / Came Ferdinand from Lisbon / who went for to convert the Muslims, / but got sick. Yet still he believed, and worked, / sacrificed, and became Saint Anthony. / Came John of Capella, who afterwards went away." And it keeps getting better, with the maidens, the jester, the companions. An outline of community emerges.

Then Metras elaborates on the history of Assisi's chapel, then church, then tourist destination.

And in the great age of global leisure,
tourists came, more and more each year,
and with them hotels, restaurants, laundries.

Came Coca Cola, Levis Jeans. Came iPod.

And somewhere in this story of faith
the hill of hell was made heaven
in the name of Francis.

Finally Metras reveals that he and his wife have made a pilgrimage to this site, "Because we honor the years of our love." They've taken time to feast together at a place that, in spite of the tourists, speaks to them of faith and humility and sweet love. And although Metras reports that "If you talk to animals they lock you up" -- well, he also can move to the child who ignores the tourists and sees the white stones on which to step in entering the cathedral, and then to sheep on the hillside, and to being loved by his wife.

At last, then, this is a poetry of love and faith. It comes in a shape that, like the recently concluded Days of Awe for Jews, may be unfamiliar to many. But the grace of Gary Metras is that after so many years of writing, he is willing to tell a story that's both simple and brightly decorated with hope.

Looking to purchase a copy? Finishing Line Press.

2008 National Book Award Finalists in Poetry

Just announced by Scott Turow, the finalists in poetry are:

Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)

Hurrah!~ And to see all the finalists for the four categories, visit the National Book Foundation web site, Winners will be announced on November 19 in NYC with Eric Bogosian as MC.

Hayden Carruth Poem, "The Cows at Night"

For me, a good start to the day can mean having enough caffeine or sunshine to be well awake by the time Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" airs on the local public radio station. I know there are people who don't care for Keillor's reading style, but I don't have a problem with it, and I like the way the program choices often point me toward poets that I wasn't aware of or had forgotten to keep up with. There's such a variety available! At any rate, if you happen to check today the GK web site, the poem is there -- and if you go to the site later, you can quickly look it up.

For another radio insight into Carruth and his life, try this: -- the plus is, if you click on the audio version ("hear this"), you'll hear Carruth himself reading "The Cows at Night."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Calendar Alert: Ravi Howard, New Voice in Fiction

Although Kingdom Books is mysteries & poetry, now and then I confess that literary fiction draws me in, especially when the topic is this close to my own writing interests. So here's a notice from Dartmouth for Ravi Howard:

Ravi Howard will read on October 16 at 4:00 pm in Sanborn Library at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH). Howard's first novel Like Trees, Walking was published in March 2007 and is a fictionalized account of the true story of the aftermath of a lynching of a black teenager in Mobile, Alabama. The novel was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for the best first fiction book for 2007.
"Like Trees, Walking is a not only a great novel by a talented writer, it's a book that will endure and adds to our knowledge the American story," said Ernest Hebert, Professor of English at Dartmouth and one of the judges for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
Howard is from Montgomery, Alabama, and graduated from Howard University in 1996 with a degree in journalism. He earned his MFA in creative writing at the University of Virginia. Howard is a former television producer for NFL Films and received a 2005 Sports Emmy for his work on HBO's Inside the NFL. He currently lives in Mobile with his wife.

For directions, use the college web site:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bouchercon Note: Laurie R. King Receives Jack Reacher Award

While the literary world rocked on Thursday with the news of the Nobel Prize in Literature (see previous entry), the community of mystery lovers gathered in Baltimore at this year's Bouchercon embraced Laure R. King with its Jack Reacher Award. King, who just finished her latest manuscript, described the result in her e-list MUTTERINGS: "it was an absolutely unexpected prize, and a considerable honor." Actually she had a lot more to say, and it was funny and fun -- so I'd suggest subscribing to her e-list ASAP! Sign up at her web site,

2008 Nobel Prize to J.M.G. Le Clézio Delights U.S. Independent Presses

Thursday morning's announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature to J.M.G. (Jean-Marie Gustave) Le Clézio is bringing American recognition to a novelist whose sense of wonder and delight is well known in Europe. Two small independent American publishers are especially exuberant about the award: Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), which published Le Clézio's most recent book, WANDERING STAR -- a pair of connected stories of two young girls, one Jewish, one Palestinian -- and David R. Godine (Boston), who published the author's novel THE PROSPECTOR in 1993.

Publisher's Weekly told Godine's story about finding the work, saying that Godine has consistently asked European publishers for the names of their great writers whose work hasn't been available in English. Le Clézio was one of the names he received from Anne-Marie Solange at Gallimard. Out of his 1993 print run of six thousand copies, Godine was delighted to find he still had five hundred in stock at the time of the award announcement. Since then, he's also announced that he'll issue a paperback edition of THE PROSPECTOR and will publish another Le Clézio novel, DÉSERT, in English.

A third publisher racing to fill orders this week is the University of Nebraska Press, which is even shipping orders to Europe for two Le Clézio titles: ONITSHA (1997) and THE ROUND & OTHER COLD HARD FACTS (2002).

Here's the Godine description of THE PROSPECTOR:

The Prospector is the crowning achievement from one of France's preeminent contemporary novelists and a work rich with sensuality and haunting resonance. It is the turn of the century on the island of Mauritius, and young Alexis L'Etang enjoys an idyllic existence with his parents and beloved sister: sampling the pleasures of privilege, exploring the constellations and tropical flora, and dreaming of treasure buried long ago by the legendary Unknown Corsair. But with his father's death, Alexis must leave his childhood paradise and enter the harsh world of privation and shame. Years later, Alexis has become obsessed with the idea of finding the Corsair's treasure and, through it, the lost magic and opulence of his youth. He abandons job and family, setting off on a quest that will take him from remote tropical islands to the hell of World War I, and from a love affair with the elusive Ouma to a momentous confrontation with the search that has consumed his life. By turns harsh and lyrical, pointed and nostalgic, The Prospector is "a parable of the human condition" (Le Mond) by one of the most significant literary figures in Europe today.

Congrats to the author, and to the publishers who added his work to their lists.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Think Spring" -- especially if you write picturebooks

Hard to believe that there are plans to be made for next spring already, but I suppose it's a bit like the vegetable garden outside, which I'm in the final stages of clearing and putting to bed for the winter ... pull out the finished material and think about seeds.

So this announcement from Pine Manor College, a snug and friendly haven for growing writers, just outside Boston, comes with thoughts of winter's freewheeling slide into a green and blossoming season, in that magical time After The Election and After the Economy Recovers! Here we go:

The application deadline for admission to the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program’s winter 2009 residency/spring semester is November 15, 2008 (not a postmark date; materials must be received by our offices before or on November 15). Spread the word!

We are pleased to welcome three new MFA faculty members:

Venise Berry is the author of four novels: So Good, An African American Love Story; All of Me, A Voluptuous Tale —recipient of a 2001 Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association— Colored Sugar Water, and the forthcoming Pockets of Sanity.

Writer and community activist Amy Hoffman is currently editor in chief of the Women’s Review of Books. She is author of two memoirs, Hospital Time —about taking care of friends with AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s— and An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News.

Children’s book writer and illustrator Grace Lin is the author of over a dozen books for young people, including The Ugly Vegetables —an American Booksellers Association’s “Pick of the List”— Dim Sum for Everyone!; Fortune Cookie Fortunes; Olvina Flies; and The Year of the Dog.

We are also pleased to announce that Donald Hall will be our commencement speaker at the January, 2009 residency. The celebrated author of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, and fifteen volumes of poetry, including the recent White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006, Donald Hall has been the recipient of numerous accolades, including The Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America and The National Book Critics Circle Award. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States in 2006, a position he held for one year.

More info:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Archer Mayor, THE CATCH: The Gang's All Here

It's October, and the leaves are red and gold here on the mountain (a lot of them are already on the ground), frosty nights have arrived, and so has this year's Archer Mayor police procedural, THE CATCH. The book is Mayor's 19th in his Joe Gunther series, and it's a gem for those who enjoy the characters that have kept Gunther company over the long haul: Sammy Martens, Willy Kunkle, and the later team member, Lester Spinney.

Starting with a traffic stop of a speeder on Route 7, at the west side of Vermont, the team and particularly Joe himself find themselves lured toward the distant seacoast, the rugged, cold ocean waters off Maine. Tracking down means and opportunity for the multiplying crimes then scatters the team members. But to find the motive for the first murder is tougher than expected, and Mayor leads a good chase through clues and pursuits.

... he felt a true weariness with the nature of this call. Murders in Vermont were few, averaging perhaps seven or eight a year -- rare enough to make it standing protocol that he be called to the scene regardless of time or location. But the killing of a cop? That was virtually unheard of -- a once-in-a-decade event, at least so far.
As a result, Gunther knew that the entire state would be watching every detail of this one...

There's good news for Joe personally in THE CATCH, and enough sweet solutions to counter the darkness of New England's crime network. It's a good, swift read, and -- it's an autumn tradition. I wouldn't miss it.

Unforgettable Moment: Robert Pinsky and Alan Cheuse, Reunion of Jersey Boys, at Brattleboro

It's the best literary festival around, because it's small enough for every author to be accessible, compact enough so you don't have more than one or two impossible choices between fabulous readings happening at the same moment -- and large enough of heart (thanks to great staff, authors, and supporters) to draw great established and new voices each autumn. It's the Brattleboro Literary Festival, and for 2008, it's now over.

But Dave and I will keep on talking with each other about the amazing first public event of the weekend: seeing Alan Cheuse and Robert Pinsky reconnect at the front of the room, in a reunion of New Jersey writers who were born there just two weeks apart, only 20 miles from each other -- and who have rarely met since then.

Cheuse presented his formidable fictionalized biography of Edward Curtis, TO CATCH THE LIGHTNING. But he preceded it with a witty short story, "Ben in Amboy," to honor the Jersey component. If you don't know Jersey, "Amboy" refers to Perth Amboy, where Cheuse was born.

And Pinsky, who arrived at the podium looking like a fresh-scrubbed boxer with a wide and crooked grin, tossed an amazing collection of poems and one-liners to the audience, reading especially from his 2008 collection, GULF MUSIC. Part of the collection is represented at his Academy of American Poets site. This is his ninth collection, and it's a keeper.

Pinsky is sometimes better known for his advocacy than for his poems, a situation that does him honor but also means people miss out on the bluesy, rhythmic treats that his work provides. He was especially on a roll on Saturday with both his humor and his confident proclamations like this one:

"If it's wearing sandals and looking up, it's not the sacred. If anything is sacred, dog sh*t is sacred, and jokes. Either everything is sacred, or nothing is."

And he made a darned good case for the "Everything" version. Watch for his upcoming readings: this Saturday Oct. 11 at 8:30 pm with Lucie Brock-Broido and Martín Espada at the first ever Massachusetts Poetry Festival ( - you need tickets, $10 each); and October 22 at the University of Cincinnati, with a 3 pm Q&A session at the Stratford Heights Grill and 8 pm reading at 427ERC.

Calendar Alert: Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, Oct. 9

This Thursday, October 9, Ellen Bryant Voigt will read her poetry at 4:00 pm in the Wren Room in Sanborn House on the campus of Dartmouth College.

Voigt will be reading from her most recent collection of poetry, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, published by Norton in 2007. Voigt is a resident of Cabot, Vermont, and was Vermont State Poet from 1999 to 2003.

There will be a small reception after the reading. For campus directions, click here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Farewell, Hayden Carruth

On Monday September 29, Vermont Poet Laureate Hayden Carruth died. The Washington Post offered an obituary that laid out the markers of his career.

But the greatest significance of Carruth's life here in the north country lies in his immense generosity of heart: Every recent gathering of poets around him has included many who told of being accepted, adopted, and nurtured by this powerful poet. His door and his life were open to people who hungered to write honest, rich poetry and who sought him out.

Dave and I traveled to Bennington earlier this year to attend Carruth's reading there, an event coordinated by Wyn Cooper as part of the college's anniversary celebration. Carruth's wife JoAnne McLaughlin, another poet, accompanied him, teased him gently, made sure he had the support he needed for the effort -- he was nearly blind and on oxygen; yet as poets and friends arrived and talked with him and hugged him, his voice and energy rose and inflated, and when he took the stage, he seized it and almost wouldn't let it go, offering poem after poem. And McLaughlin, in vivid silk garb, was a flaming presence in the room.

We already miss him. Thank goodness, he's given us a wide body of poetry to hold and repeatedly savor.