Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Limited Edition" Dinner with Mystery Author Leighton Gage -- Think Brazil!

Whether March is snowy or rainy, it's an exciting season at Kingdom Books, as we welcome back Brazilian crime author Leighton Gage with his second in the Inspector Mario Silva series: BURIED STRANGERS. Meet Leighton and his wife Eide here on Wed. March 18 at 5:30 p.m. for a "limited edition" Brazilian supper and exploration of the series -- set against the huge power gaps among Brazil's impoverished and wealthy, and featuring the uncle/nephew investigative team of Mario and Hector Silva. Our blog offers a review of BURIED STRANGERS (here), Leighton's own web site is, and a great description of a recent library visit that he made is here.

Please let us know right away that you're coming, because we only seat 20 for this evening of good food, great books, and amazing conversation. As always, dinner (Brazilian meat and veggie choices and yummy dessert) is a mere $5 per person, and the book is $24 per copy; you'll probably want more than one (thinking of that upcoming birthday or holiday to honor), and of course you'll be getting it signed. Pay when you get here. Call 802-751-8374 and talk with Dave for more information, or e-mail (Yes, on April 18th we'll have our annual poetry party, and noir author Dave Zeltserman will be here June 27.)

Hope to hear from you soon!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Soho Crime Releases Third Palestinian Mystery by Matt Beynon Rees: THE SAMARITAN'S SECRET

Thank heavens for Soho Crime, which is gradually drawing across the Atlantic the crime novels of Matt Beynon Rees. Five of them have been published in the UK; THE SAMARITAN'S SECRET, released this month, is the third in the United States, following THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM and A GRAVE IN GAZA.

All feature Omar Yussef, an aging teacher whose experience in a United Nations-sponsored school in Bethlehem has not equipped him well for his attempts to solve crimes. He's not being paid to do it -- he simply stumbles into situations, and in this volume, the situation emerges around the long-planned wedding of his police officer friend Sami Jaffari. When Sami is called to investigate a treasured antique scroll, perhaps the oldest in existence, he's only a few days from his own nuptials. Omar Yussef decides to help speed the investigation; Sami needs things solved so he can pay attention to the joy ahead of him.

But neither Omar Yussef nor Sami grasps right away how complex the crime truly is: There are three factions wrestling for control of information and money, and the continued success of the Palestinian Authority may depend on who wins. A mere schoolteacher can easily be tossed out of the action, since he'll be easy to murder. Or will he?

Omar Yussef's fumbling but persistent attempt to discover the criminals and their secrets draws him into acquaintance with a small but ancient community in Nablus, the Samaritans. He can't help wrestling with the issues of religion and religious authority that come with the territory: Allah's ways are not those of the infiltrating Christians, nor of the invasive Israelis. Yet all three groups have their fanatics. Omar Yussef is starting to think his own family houses one of these: his son Zuheir, who is casting a wet blanket over the family gathering for the wedding.
By the way Zuheir's lips puckered and his thick beard twitched, Omar Yussef sense that he was suppressing a powerful anger. The schoolteacher's second son was twenty-eight years old. He wore a white dress shirt buttoned to the neck, its tails falling outside white cotton pants. It was the clothing of a religious zealot and Omar Yussef searched beneath it for the excitable, curly-haired boy he had secretly favored over his other sons, when they were children. ... He was suspicious of Zuheir's newly devout demeanor, but he was happy that the boy's habitual truculence hadn't deserted him.

Instinct and stubbornness drive him into the dark pathways of the investigation, which all too often wind through the tunnels and dim alleyways of the oldest part of Nablus, from the souk to the casbah. Frail in comparison to the heavily disguised men who chase him, and without their willingness to become a martyr, Omar Yussef's advantages rest in his friendships. And eventually, his insistence on speaking aloud the secrets of the powerful will both threaten his life and unravel the mystery.

Rees's portrait of Palestinian life is as gritty and abrasive as the landscape he describes. But it also echoes the spice of the foods, the sweet honesty of good marriages, and the innocence of children like Nadia, observant granddaughter to Omar Yussef and sometimes the inspiration for his refreshed courage. I especially enjoyed the many twists and patterns that Rees crafts for the relationships of fathers and sons. The religion of Allah may forbid creating images of humans, but it encourages complex interweaving of line and form -- which Rees takes full advantage of, in this compelling novel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Calendar Alert: Burlington, Vermont, This Week, Poetry and Nonfiction: Delanty, Schley, Broyard

Poet Major Jackson at the University of Vermont sent us these alerts -- and if you're in or near the Burlington area, you'll get a rich treat. Matter of fact, I think it's worth quite a drive for both Wednesday (today) and Thursday (tomorrow):

The Fleming Museum presents a poetry series hosted by Major Jackson, associate professor, UVM Dept. of English. This reading series highlights established and emergent New England poets whose work represents significant explorations into language, song, and art. Co-sponsored with the English Department and funded in part by the James and Mary Buckham Fund.

Greg Delanty & Jim Schley

6:00 - 6:25 PM: Music by Christopher Barosky & Friends
6:30 - 7:30: Poetry Readings

Jim Schley is the author of As When, In Season (Marick Press, 2008). He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers and for many years worked as a literary editor and toured extensively with experimental and activist theater companies, including the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater, the Swiss ensemble Les Montreurs d’Images, and Flock Dance Troupe. He is former co-editor of New England Review and editor of the anthology Writing in a Nuclear Age and of more than a hundred books on a diversity of subjects. After a sudden change of fortune he became an extreme freelancer and had twenty-four part-time jobs in one year, an experience described in an essay written for Newsweek magazine. His poems and essays have been featured in Ironwood, Crazyhorse, Rivendell, and Orion, on Garrison Keillor’s radio show “The Writer’s Almanac,” in Best American Spiritual Writing, and in a chapbook, One Another (Chapiteau, 1999). An associate member of the journalists’ collective Homelands Productions, from 2006 through 2008 he was executive director of The Frost Place, a museum and poetry center based at Robert Frost’s historic farm in Franconia, New Hampshire. He lives with his wife and their daughter in a house they built themselves on an off-the-grid cooperative in Vermont.

Greg Delanty teaches at St. Michael’s College, Vermont. For a part of the year he lives in Derrynane, County Kerry. His recent books are The Ship of Birth (Carcanet Press 2003), The Blind Stitch (Carcanet) and The Hellbox (Oxford University Press 1998). His Collected Poems 1986-2006 is out from the Oxford Poet’s series of Carcanet Press. He has received many awards, most recently a Guggenheim for poetry. The Guggenheim is to assist him in with his next book of poems The Greek Anthology, Book XVII-- a selection of his owm poem using the template of the sixteen books of The Greek Anthology.

Non-fiction Reading

Thursday, February 26, 5:00 pm in Old Mill, John Dewey Lounge

Two months before he died of cancer, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown son and daughter to his side, intending to reveal a secret he had kept all their lives and most of his own: he was black. But even as he lay dying, the truth was too difficult for him to share, and it was his wife who told Bliss that her WASPy, privileged Connecticut childhood had come at a price. Ever since his own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and began to "pass" in order to get work, Anatole had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary elite, he maintained the façade. Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York and New Orleans, and considers the profound consequences of racial identity. With unsparing candor and nuanced insight, Broyard chronicles her evolution from sheltered WASP to a woman of mixed race ancestry.
About Author

Bliss Broyard is the author of the collection of stories, My Father, Dancing, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the year. Her fiction and essays have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthology and The Art of the Essay, and have appeared in Grand Street, Ploughshares, The New York Times, Elle Magazine and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Poetry That Seizes the Heart and the Funny Bone in a Single Gasp: Adrian Blevins

David Orr's article in today's New York Times bemoans the lack of (identifiable) "Great Poets" in today's writing pantheon. It's worth reading; my husband Dave and I heard Donald Hall and Liam Rector say much the same thing a couple of years ago at Plymouth State University (NH). I don't buy the premise -- I think that in 25 years, there will be a handful of today's poets that are consistently held up as the finest, deepest, most rewarding to read. But our vision of that time may be fuzzy.

While we're waiting for the short list, I have to confess that for the past three nights, I've been reading in bed THE BRASS GIRL BROUHAHA by Adrian Blevins -- and I alternated laughing and nodding (which isn't easy on a heap of pillows) and saying to Dave, "This is a GREAT book of poetry."

THE BRASS GIRL BROUHAHA won the 2004 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and with it, publication by Ausable. This fall, Wesleyan will bring out the next Blevins collection -- of which I can't write at the moment, but I confess I had a sneak peek and I loved it. So I had to read Blevins's first collection.

The first two poems grabbed my attention right away -- one that actually mentioned stretchmarks, and the next one, "Life and Art," begins with "This is the main story about how I hate my father. I tell you now in case I forget / or in case the stars plunge and he dies in an alley in Greece / or while licking the mongoose bristles of his brush / or while dipping their iota hairs into the thick yellow of an egg." Wow!

But it was the third one, "The Famous Men Who Made Me," that I knew I'd never forget, with its intense opener: "While I made love in the mental hospital with a boy who had a fine-looking face / but might have been psychotic, my father taught his protégées to be risqué." I'm not kidding: It gets wilder and more graphic from here. Now, just in case I've horrified you, let me remind you (and myself) that the "I" in a poem isn't always autobiographical. And the way the reader relates to the poem doesn't declare that the reader has the same experiences being described, either.

The thing is, Blevins can paint the situations with a clear bluntness that doesn't whine, doesn't shout, just shines a calm bright light on the confusions and catastrophes of life. Whether it's how we grow up or the mixed feelings around ardently raising our kids to be full adults, Blevins names the unspeakable and in so doing, says we're not as lost as we might otherwise fear.

She takes the personal to the universal in swift strokes, as at the end of "The Famous Men Who Made Me":
...I think of male accomplishment and lechery and loneliness

as if I'm sitting on a bar stool and all around me everyone is dying
from wanting to be noticed and loved and kissed and held and praised,

which is just wishing for wishing's own senseless sake, which is just wishing
for everything we think our fathers meant for us to know we would never get.

Blevins offers stunning openings, outrageous middles, and end lines that punch: "Are you the bird you know you are and is rage your middle name?"

She also paints "women's lib" as the gritty and necessary thing that it's become, without walking away from being enmeshed in a many-gendered world. Sex in her pages is a powerful force whose direction depends entirely on who and with what knowledge it's being wielded. In "The Magnificence of Rain," she writes, "I wanted men to beg me to take them back / even if I had not abandoned them yet. I wanted them to take me for a wife / so I could decorate their cabins with myself in the kitchen baking bread // or myself nude on the couch with my hair as fierce as slaughter."

Look also for the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, the PTSD of knowing a child who's been murdered, a long wrestling with what America is (or can be), and a hard clear look at the nature of evil -- and thus of goodness and strength.

For the next few months, this is the only Blevins collection available, so what better time to seize and enjoy it? And I'll let out one small hint for the next one: between her first book publication and her second, Blevins moved from Roanoke, Virginia, to the snowy state of Maine. Count on a fresh viewpoint -- best appreciated by savoring the one she's already presented in this winner of a first book.

Read Five Books Before April 30: The Edgar Nominees

Here are the Best Novel nominees:

* Missing by Karin Alvtegen (Felony & Mayhem Press)
* Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
* Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
* The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
* The Night Following by Morag Joss (Random House – Delacorte Press)
* Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)

And think about it ... the new president of the Mystery Writers of America is Lee Child. And the 2009 Grand Masters of Mystery are James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton. More details on MWA and the Edgars at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Think Spring? Books to Anticipate

We've got a snowstorm rolling in later today -- hard to believe with the bright blue sky of this morning! But a fresh blanket of white wonder isn't going to slow down the arrival of spring. You can smell it now, that subtle scent that the bare twigs give off as they start to breathe again in the sun's rays. The maples are getting ready to pump sap upward, too. Sugarmakers (what we call the folks to tap the trees and boil down the sap to maple syrup) are cleaning their gear, getting ready.

Bookseller and journalist Marvin Minkler of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, recently asked us what books we're looking forward to among the spring arrivals. He's pulling together an article for the next North Star Monthly. Here's what we said, from our alternate worlds of mystery (Dave) and poetry (Beth):

Dave says:
My first choice is this: Michael Connelly, who many consider the best American crime fiction author, will be publishing his next book "Scarecrow" in May. The book features crime reporter Jack McEvoy, who is near the end of his career. He reports on a 16-year-old drug dealer who confessed that he raped and strangled one of his crack clients. McEvoy delves into the story, only to find the confession to be false, and he is reunited with FBI Agent Rachel Walling, who also appeared with him in another Connelly stand-alone book, "The Poet." McEvoy and Agent Walling try to find the real killer. For my second choice: Garry Disher's next book "Blood Moon" will be on sale April 1, published by Soho Press Crime. The setting is Australia and this is in the Inspector Hal Challis series, of which there are five titles. A fundamentalist chaplain is beaten whose brother runs a racist blog, and a local woman who is in charge of punishing local use violations turns up dead. So Inspector Challis and his Sergeant Ellen Destry have their hands full in Australia's Morington Peninsula.

Beth says:
My first is "Rooms and Their Airs" by Calais poet Jody Gladding. I've enjoyed all the innovations that Gladding brings to her poetry, as well as the awareness of her life in northern Vermont and her "second soul" in France. Her first collection, "Stone Crop," won the Yale Younger Poets prize. The second is by Kevin Goodan, who's been a Massachusetts professor (and farmed sheep there) but whose roots are in western Montana; Alice James Books is bringing out his second full-length collection, "Winter Tenor." Knowing how Goodan wrestles with long winters, the presence of God, and love, I expect to re-read this several times in the first few weeks of owning it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

When Is the "New American Poetry" Global?

Answer: When it's represented by the selections of Coyote Journal. A paper-published poetry journal through 2007, it's now online; the February 2009 issue features 28 poems and two interviews with Bob Arnold, the poet/publisher of southern Vermont who has gathered a powerfully outspoken community of poets and activists over the decades. Do take a look -- the poems are spare and often sweet, and the interviews are complex and rich.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Coming in April: A Supernatural Mystery Set in Inida -- Shilpa Agarwal's HAUNTING BOMBAY

Soho Crime is a favorite here at Kingdom Books, for its steady commitment to publishing both new and classic mysteries written is settings outside America. That includes Leighton Gage's police procedurals set in Brazil; Eliot Pattison's Inspector Shan series in Chinese-occupied Tibet; Garry Disher's Australian crime novels; the French detective series by Cara Black; and books set in Laos, Thailand, Korea, and more. It also includes Henry Chang's Chinatown (New York) mysteries.

This April, Soho Press -- not the crime group, but the enfolding larger organization -- brings out a thick and satisfying first novel from Shilpa Agarwal, set in Bombay, India, in 1960. Is HAUNTING BOMBAY a mystery? It's certainly a ghost story, and it includes deaths, disappearances, dramatic moments of courage and shame. Thirteen-year-old Pinky, growing up in her grandmother's home after the death of her mother, lacks control or power over most aspects of her life. In some ways, she's content to leave decisions and choices in the hands of her beloved Maji, who embraces and adores her, telling her stories of India, teaching her to pray to the gods, feeding and cosseting her. But there are shadows in this paradise within the upper-class bungalow: jealousy from her aunt and cousins, a dark remnant of a missing child, tensions among the live-in servants that reflect terrifying mistakes that have been firmly put away without discussion. Pinky's insecurity and the pivotal space she occupies in the three-generation household lead to a Garden-of-Eden style struggle toward knowledge. And then there is the Fall, the ejection from Eden, the fierce hauntings that try to steal the very breath from her small body on the verge of womanhood.

Sustained tension and risk alternate with the freshness of exploring another culture, from food to toilet to clothing and then to family structures and loyalty. At moments in the book, when Pinky and her sensitive cousin Dheer caught the scent of fenugreek or other spices symbolic in the Bombay household, I swore I could savor a whiff of that haunting myself. And some of the aromas are not so welcome. Here is the sensory moment that announces one of the more ominous moments in the early part of the book, when a parade of hermaphrodites threatens to curse and offers to bless babies along its route:
The double-decker bus, reeking of stale urine and undigested fried lunch, now contemplated a full shutdown in front of the Empress Café while the enraged driver coaxed it back to life, with a solid beating by a rusted pipe. After the engine finally sputtered to ignite, the driver blared the bulb horn and veered onto the road, where he overtook a contingent of Fiats and narrowly missed three lunching cows.

Although nearly every character in Pinky's snug world grows and changes in this novel, their moments of bravery are mostly small ones, quick sharp efforts to exert themselves in the face of the ghosts in their lives. I enjoyed especially the way Agarwal paints the values of the Bombay family and the attitudes around love in its varied forms. I wish the book's ending were a bit richer in terms of Pinky's ability to seize and savor the life she carves out -- but that's a small quibble for a book of wide sweeping imagery and unforgettable characters. Pinky in particular is the child in most of us: not quite ready to leave home or the arms of the one person she's sure really loves her.

So yes, this is a literary novel, not a conventional mystery -- but in its parallels to the hauntings of Poe's stories and to the hot pulse of today's vampire narratives, HAUNTING BOMBAY earns a place within the genre, and I'm glad to have it appearing on our shelves. Watch for copies in April.
So it vanished.
Along with a million other stories that haunt Bombay in its darkest, deepest, more naked core.

Word Play on the Pages: Kevin McFadden, HARDSCRABBLE

Kevin McFadden's 2008 collection, HARDSCRABBLE, is an inaugural selection of the VQR Poetry Series from the University of Georgia Press. It's a slow, delicious read, complex and funny and provocative. Nearly every one of the hundred pages of poems is a tangle of word play, anagrams, puns, and etymology. Many of them root in the irony of small-town names in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere that echo the names of great historic European cities -- Rome and Athens, among others! Another important strand is the set of one-letter-error Bible versions that McFadden savors: the Murderers Bible, for instance, "an 1801 edition in which Jude 16 reads "these are murderers" instead of murmurers." In "Drift," inspired by that misprint, McFadden ties together horses drowning, the nature of death, the double meaning of "mare" in this context (horse; night dream), and the thrill of language on the tongue.

I have two nominations for "most likely to be reprinted" here. The first is "Meditate Sea to Sea," which opens, "Let America be America again. / Ice age ambiance. Later a Mira- / cle air: a meat mania, ice-barge, / ice-amble. A tie. Agrarian came / later, Inca came, a bare image I / bear. An Eric came, agile at aim / (let America be a maniac, I rage)." From one line borrowed from Langston Hughes, McFadden spins a political and tongue-twisting tour of a nation's history.

My second (later in the book -- but stuck in my thoughts, at the level where I want to corner strangers and say "read this!") -- is the twenty-stanza "Famed Cities," which opens with a segment titled "Ohio Welcomes You!" and roams through Rootstown, Richfield, Oxford, Rome, Solon, and more. Each unfolds another twist, so that in the eighth one, for instance, "Brothers, Dayton," we reach "An aviator's code of collusion; words that smirk, / beg the stewardesses to sit, prepare for a take-off. / We grew up in a kind of cockpit." If you suspect there's something seductive in there, you're right.

The complexities in here are mind-boggling. "Another Untied Shoe" not only plays with words that differ in only one letter (wind/mind; flash/flesh) and with "The ungulfed gap between / the poem and the idea" but also grapples with truth, wisdom, and the Greek myths, until:
What we hold
on the tongue a moment we
do not do now
(it leaves us
and is ours)

I spent an entire evening reading, very slowly, the 29 pages of "Tarmac." It's built of prose poetry chunks, all dipping into words and their histories, ideas and their girths/births, and America as a culture, a history, and an inventor's paradise. Here's a double chunk:
Beaver River. Adam was given the job of naming the beasts. Nouns are our business. Rats are chosen for clinical experiments because they don't vomit. Tar for roads because everything sticks to it. Rat. Tar. Art.
JORDAN RUN. In 1775, the Indians were assured that the Ohio would remain a boundary. "In perpetuity," as the phrase went -- and we know how that phrase went. God gave the Hebrews land where they never toiled, towns they never built, vineyards they never planted. Most nations I know have expulsion myths to temper their conquests. Mine's about a mean, old king who lived in a big castle and demanded horrible taxes from a persecuted people. Mine's about humble origins. Perhaps you've heard it. Peasant stock.

When the poem reaches it final crescendo, it offers:
Saturn. Decay and dissolution, especially before a period of rebirth. A lapse is not the Fall. Lapse makes leaps. A lapse is a sepal. Be fruitful, multiply. Who is how.

I have other favorites already, too, like "Media" (which tangles with meat eating), and "Ears." I confess, though, what this book makes me long for is someone willing to sit still and listen, while I read the poems aloud, uhh-loud, and interrupt myself with giggles and moments of rolling on the floor -- and pauses to think about Creation and death.

Yep, it's that kind of book. Right on, err, write on, Kevin McFadden.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Calendar Alert: Brazilian Mystery Author Leighton Gage, Kingdom Books, Wed. March 18

More about this later, but do mark your calendar to save the date: Leighton Gage is coming back to Kingdom Books with his wife Eide, and we'll celebrate with a Brazilian supper on Wednesday March 18. This is one of our "limited edition" mystery dinners. Don't miss the chance to meet and talk (for 3 hours!) with this outstanding crime fiction author -- his first book, BLOOD OF THE WICKED, seized a place for him in contemporary police procedurals, and the sequel, BURIED STRANGERS, is the second featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva. Nobody else paints the dark side of the sleeping giant of Brazil the way Gage does... brace for it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Calendar Alert: Poet Michael Waters, Vermont Studio Center, February 23

The public reading by poet Michael Waters at the Vermont Studio Center is scheduled for February 23 at 8 p.m. -- winter readings are usually in the cafeteria in the Red Mill building. Be sure to call the VSC on the day of the reading to confirm, as there are often schedule changes: 802-635-2727.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Khaled Mattawa, AMORISCO: To Enter Another World

Narrative, whether as prose or poetry, can paint another world in vivid colors, and can transport the emotions into new places, new situations. But how can a writer perform the complex alchemy of assisting the reader to let go of the existing self, in order to sample another tongue entirely?

Rarely leaving the English language, but twisting the verse forms and the continuities and jumps of imagery, Libyan-born Khaled Mattawa calls forth an edgily foreign experience in the poems of AMORISCO (Ausable Press). The opening poem, "Against Ether," scrambles for sense:

With my certainties, I assemble the elements.

A burned suit, the earth's gloved hand
a book made of petals.

Daylight evaporates before our eyes.

From there, the poem moves in and out of person and place, even alphabet and vowel. And the final stanza is deceptively neat:

In his farm my father grows what the seasons let him.

This is how he plants his crops:

He takes off his hat
and lets the rain talk to him.
He holds a fistful of dirt
and pleads with it.

Much later in the collection, Mattawa speaks more directly, in "The In-Between":

I don't want either side of this river.
I don't want my life to be the ferry
bridging its banks.

The jagged clashes of matter-of-fact language with phrases torn and collaged into the work evenutally, for me, painted a clarity around what it is to transpose from one culture into another: You leave behind significant pieces of yourself in the "other place" and you suffer whiplash of the soul, repeatedly.


The relative who wronged you
you've already mistreated twice.
Say now the alkaline words of forgiveness,
and yes, go ahead and weep out the blows
you've received and recklesssly thrown
until supplication is all that pegs you to life.

And when you rise, know that you are not
worthy of disdain or affection, but that
from now on you'll have to tighten your fists
on the last embers of love.

After such dark fire in so many of the poems, the pair that are addressed to a missing child in one's life sit in the later part of the book like unexpectedly tender fruit; here is a passage I particularly like from "Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child":

Night girl, night girl
your book is full now.
You have drawn all the pictures.
You have seen many weepers.
Stars held your sky in place and moons
floated on your lakes and washed them.

Mattawa's careful paintings balloon into massive murals in the concluding piece, a 14-page sequence of long-lined stanzas called "East of Carthage: An Idyll." It's addressed to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, and sizzles with embers, smoke, and sensuous extensions into the present. A burnt-sand odyssey of risk and regret, it's worth reading multiple times, especially aloud, for the woven rhythms and tastes:

The deserts they crossed, the plains east
or north of here fall like sands from my hands.

Um Bsisi, I want to call them, citizens of a protracted destiny,
native and stranger, prodigal and peasant --

And finally, the words reach the distant waters of the sea:

At last they set to sail. They slaughter a rooster,
douse blood on the Dido figurehead adorning the prow,
The seadog opens a canvas bag and pulls out a hookah.

There is much of love in this slim volume -- and much also of longing and of the soreness of the journey.

Jane Austen was a Poet... So Here's the Vermont Update

The Vermont Chapter of JASNA presents
Prof. Mary Ellen Bertolini (Middlebury College)
“The Grace to Deserve: Weighing Merit in Jane Austen’s Persuasion”

Following Waterloo, rich naval officers vied with impoverished aristocrats for position and importance. Against this political drama, Jane Austen unfolds her story of 27-year-old Anne Elliot, who pines for Frederick Wentworth, the Naval Captain she rejected eight years before. Wentworth’s final words in the novel, “I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve” are no coincidence, for the idea of deserving, of earning one’s blessings, is at the very core of Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel.
Sunday, 1 March 2009, 2–4 pm, Champlain College, Burlington, Vermont
Hauke Family Campus Center, 375 Maple Street
~ free and open to the public ~

for more information:

Next Event, 7 June 2009: Hope Greenberg, “Jane Austen & Fashion” (Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

American Zen: The Poetry of Seido Ray Ronci

On a lifetime journey that led to the Naropa Institute and the metaphorical feet of Allen Ginsburg, and later to his present position as director of Hokoku-an Zendo in Columbia, Missouri, Seido Ray Ronci has shaped a trail of poetry and poetics as markers along the road. With the Ausable Press publication of THE SKELETON OF THE CROW: New & Selected Poems, 1978-2008, comes a map to that territory ... or at least a wide selection of those markers.

Boston poet/publisher William Corbett wrote for the back of the book that reading it from first poem to last shows Ronci's process of "shedding the impulse to tell stories while skillfully paring his poems to that he comes to say in the fewest words what is his to say."

For me, the effect of working from first to last gave a sense of reflections in a river: at first, reflections of loss, departure, grief, and pain. Here's a fragment from an early poem, "Sweet Homecoming":
Whatever is starved and looking
can never be filled
by a bullet in the head. I'm sorry.
I know people who want to change the world,
people for whom I have only respect
and great pity.

In a later poem, "For Mary," the poet writes that his sister phones "and asks if I'm getting anywhere." After lunging in several directions, he admits:
Outside, the light breaks up into clouds.
The smoke-like rain fills the eyes and windows,
glazes the empty eyes of alleys and streets
held open and stiff. Mary,
it is five o'clock in the morning,
and I am definitely

Paradoxes of body and spirit, presence and absence, follow in thick narrative blocks of poems -- that gradually thin and allow more space as the collection proceeds.

I like especially the "Versions of Ryokan," which sweeten and ring lightly:
I made this cane
from the horns of the wild hare.

I wove this robe
from particles of air.

I made these sandals
from the wool of a tortoise.

With my silent voice I sing these poems
so that everyone can hear.

When the selected poems come from the 2001 volume "The World of Difference," joy bubbles into the words and teases away a lingering self-importance. Soon aging becomes a bodily change that leans into the Buddha's shape; shoes have tunes; insects sing. In "Homage to Issa,"
My bed is a bed,
not a grave.

My hands are just hands,
not wings.

The book's final section is new poems, grouped as "The Skeleton of the Crow: Homage to Ikkyu." Rather than read it in sequence after the other surges of words and forms, it's a delight to hold separate, to sample slowly.
Afternoons spent
playing jazz and blues piano.

My fingers, my arms
are feathers falling--

the price of admission:
as always, this body.


The body tells
its own story:

the wind
in the trees

a crow.

The spare, clear phrases form a crescendo of release from blame, from expectations, from argument, into a willingness to merge into the flow of life's river. All this, in one volume. Ausable and Ronci have crafted a gem of slow growth and the warm smile of a loving life.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Calendar Alert: Poets at Shelburne Falls, Mass., Thursday February 5

Here's a warm invitation courtesy of Leah Banks -- if I lived just a little closer, I'd be headed to Shelburne Falls for the Collected Poets Series myself!
Come if you're near to hear pitch perfect poetry. If you can't, that's okay...did you say the next round of drinks is on you? Stay warm …

On Thursday, Feb. 5th, at 7:30 pm, the Collected Poets Series presents Mary Clare Powell, a Greenfield, MA native and author of several books, and Diane Lockward, a New Jersey native < ! > whose latest collection is What Feeds Us. They both will read from their work. Free. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible. See or for more information.

Dr. Mary Clare Powell is a professor at Lesley University, formerly Director of the Creative Arts in Learning Division. She is now an adjunct professor who teaches poetry to teachers across the country. She has published several books, including This Way Daybreak Comes: Women's Values and the Future, The Widow, Arts, Education and Social Change (editor). She is also the author of several books of poetry, including Things Owls Ate, Academic Scat, and In the Living Room. She lives in Greenfield, MA where she works on the Franklin County Arts and Culture Partnership, and is on the Board of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley. She writes articles on integrated arts in education, and poetry.

Just a little taste of Dr. Powell:

“Making a fashion statement,/ refusing to wear sackcloth and black./ Everyday the sock queen delights your eyes,/ drawing them down/ to where foundations rot,/ exalting dying toes.” ~ from “Celebrating What Remains”

Diane Lockward is the author of What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2006) which was awarded the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize. She is also the author of Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003), and a chapbook, Against Perfection (Poets Forum Press, 1998). Her poems have been published in several anthologies, including Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times. Her poems have appeared in such journals as the Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and read by Garrison Keillor on NPR's The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of a 2003 Poetry Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. A former high school English teacher, Diane now works as poet-in-the-schools.

A little taste also of Ms. Lockward:

“I’m the screech of tires, slam of brakes,/ skateboard in front of wheels./Creaks/ in dark stairwells,/ a rock stuck in your cheek,/ I’m the bone that won’t heal.” ~ from “Fear”

Monday, February 02, 2009

"A Painter Among Poets": Farewell to George Schneeman

It's a tell-all title: "A Painter Among Poets" is the Granary Books salute to George Schneeman, whose collaborations gave a vivid palette to the New York School poets. Among these have been:
With Bill Berkson: approximately 25 mixed media works on illustration board
With Ted Berrigan: approximately 50 mixed media works on illustration board, three silkscreen prints, and three handmade books
With Michael Brownstein: six mixed media works on illustration board
With Ron Padgett: approximately 100 works on paper, illustration board, and canvas, eight silkscreens, two handmade books, 10 ceramic pieces, and a slide show of his poem "Cufflinks" with 80 drawings
With Anne Waldman: 20 mixed media works on illustration board
Many other mixed media works with Peter Schjeldahl, Tom Clark, Dick Gallup, Larry Fagin, Lewis MacAdams, Alice Notley, Elio Schneeman, and Tom Veitch

Here is Tom Veitch's salute to the artist:
George Schneeman, an artist long associated with the New York School of poets, passed away early in the morning of January 27. He was 75 years old.

In 2004 Granary Books published "Painter Among Poets: The Collaborative Art of George Schneeman", a retrospective of his work with poets. The book was edited by Ron Padgett, with essays by Bill Berkson, Tom Clark, Dick Gallup, Ted Greenwald, Steve Katz, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Peter Schjeldahl, Carter Ratcliff, and others.

I knew George in the 1960s and on into the '80s. He was a family man, and being around him and his family made the literary scene feel like one great big happy family. I also remember him as being grouchy and having a great sense of humor, usually at the same time. I could say more...a lot more. But right now I need to go and contemplate my own mortality. Friends passing away will do that for you.

No obituary has appeared yet in the newspapers, but there is a good one by Michael Lally here.

Tom later added:
There is an excellent obituary of George Schneeman in the New York Times today. It summarizes in generous terms what he was up to as an artist who enjoyed collaborating with poets, as well as his peripheral connection to the "real money" art world of the City.

The article includes a slide show of his work which demonstrates both the authenticity and the diversity of his talent. (Click on the little picture of George that accompanies the article.)

And I want to add a link for his Italian landscapes, too.

Kingdom Books has a handful of work by Schneeman in stock; order through our listing at ABE books, or take advantage of our winter sale (25% off unsigned, 10% off signed work -- ONLY if you order directly from us, e-mail

We'll miss the feeling that something new and bright and funny is about to appear in the next Scheeman collaborative.

Recession? O'Connell Says in MALLORY'S ORACLE:

Can't put the book back on the shelf without sharing this from Carol O'Connell's first book, MALLORY'S ORACLE (1994):

"How does insider trading impact on society?"
"It's potentially devastating," said Gaynor. "In the worst possible scenario, Wall Street loses the trust of the investors. Who wants to risk their savings in a rigged game? Think of the small investors who suffer the most when they're cheated. Investments fall off across the board, from mutual funds to city bonds and blue-chip stock. Then the market collapses, and we all line up with a bowl at the local soup kitchen. That pack of thieves in the 1980 scandal shook a lot of people's faith. The soup kitchen was a near thing."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mysteries in and out of Series: Cornwell (SCARPETTA), O'Connnell (BONE BY BONE), and Connelly (THE BRASS VERDICT)

We really should have terms that differentiate a linked series, where knowledge of previous volumes is expected, and one that instead simply features the same solver of mysteries: The latter category is snugly occupied by Agatha Christie's work, and trickling into the former are the Sherlock Holmes stories and Dorothy Sayers's novels that keep crimes independent, but carry an emotional thread for Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane from one part of their slow romance to the next.

At the far extreme of "read the precursors" are the brutal and disturbing Burke novels by Andrew Vachss; earlier volumes explain the mountain of grief that Burke carries, as well as the crescendo of anger and brutality that surrounds him (but also, and crucially, his network of inalienable and brilliant friends). Patricia Cornwell's series featuring Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta is best read from first volume to last, although there's little frustration in picking one up without recent recollection of its predecessor. The exception to this is surely Cornwell's most recent work, SCARPETTA.

If you read SCARPETTA without any of the others, the confusing emotions -- like Kay's maternal ties to her niece Lucy, her ambivalence toward former team player Pete Marino, and her bizarre entanglement with Benton Wesley -- accrete into painful distractions in a psychological twist of murder and foulest play. But Lucy's anger at the other players, and Pete's reluctance to collaborate, and Benton's unhappy self-knowledge, are as significant as the cruel machinations around Kay. And by the halfway point of the book, it's clear that everything, even the existence of the crimes here, centers on the forensic investigator and her overwhelming fame. Hence the book's title -- because everything revolves around her and around her past.

The plot is complex, the movement compelling, the characters only a hair more bizarre than believable. I found the book worth reading, although I have my doubts about the finale, which I'll only say appears to be an attempt to end the series. But it may have about the same long-term success as what Arthur Conan Doyle did to Holmes at Reichenbach Falls.

Michael Connelly's THE BRASS VERDICT is the second in his later series, the one that starts with THE LINCOLN LAWYER and features defense attorney Mickey Haller. After a painful sabbatical from his legal career, Haller is just about ready to resume practice -- when the sudden murder of a colleague drops an entire set of colleagues and cases into his lap. Like Connelly's other featured protagonist, Harry Bosch, whose series began with The Black Echo, Haller's attentiveness to each case depends on how vehemently he chooses to assert himself against injustice for the people involved (or the people chasing him). Bosch enters THE BRASS VERDICT early in the action, but as a relatively flat character whose actions challenge Haller's. This isn't unexpected -- THE LINCOLN LAWYER included a cameo appearance from Bosch. Haller's inner demons cause him nearly as much danger as his clients' criminal connections, and if you didn't read the Bosch series, you'll actually have more pleasure here; Bosch is more complex than Haller, endures more pain, carries darker friends with him. Haller's associates are mostly well intentioned and let in quite a bit of light. I'm not going into plot details here, except to say that the book is clearly laying the ground for its sequel. I want to read the next one -- but even more, I want to go back to the Bosch series to savor the shadows.

And that takes me to Carol O'Connell. Her newly released BONE BY BONE is a stand-alone psychological thriller, where disorders and diseases of the mind weave a frightening set of threats for Oren Hobbs, home at last after a nearly 20-year career in military law enforcement, summoned to deal with his father's infirmity and the unsolved disappearance of his brother. The title has multiple layers of significance: As Oren arrives home in northern California, the bones of his brother's body are being gradually returned, one at a time, to his father's house. Similarly, he'll sort the old neighborhood and its inhabitants as he builds a skeleton of the past and present evils, going through suspicions "one by one." And last of all, for me, is the resonance with the noted Anne Lamott "writing guide" BIRD BY BIRD -- because birds and their flying hungers add to the level of threat around Oren. Disturbing, violent, and erupting in unexpected revelations, the book fits the thriller genre immaculately.

And yet I found myself hungry for the character complexity that O'Connell wove, book by book, in her Mallory series, which begins with MALLORY'S ORACLE, O'Connell's first published volume. And that's an unfair comparison, to take the complexity of an entire series and pit it against a stand-alone. So I re-read MALLORY'S ORACLE this week, looking for the "how" of the characterization and tension. I discovered that O'Connell actually did the same thing with Mallory that she does with Oren Hobbs: keeps the protagonist well surrounded by walls of necessary mental privacy, which the other characters barely breach. Only in the sure-footed action of solving the crimes do the secrets of Mallory's and Oren's minds get reflected. And even then, as readers, we see as through a glass darkly, without the direct emotion that, say, Dennis Lehane or S. J. Rozan will reveal in the writing.

Do I like these? Yes.

Complexity, realistic threat, the necessity of allies, the long-term regrets that bedevil us all, and glimpses of redemption. To me, those are the ingredients of the modern mystery or crime novel that I'll re-read. Hey, in today's economy, if a book's not good enough to read twice, why would I purchase it?

I'm glad we purchased these.

[P.S.: To search the Kingdom Books shelves for books by these authors, go to and click on "Browse and Buy," then type the author name into our ABE search box.]