Saturday, April 25, 2009

New from Bob Arnold and Longhouse

1. New Longhouse Titles Spring 2009 & Hiking Down From A Hillside Sky by Bob Arnold

Paul Celan translated by Cal Kinnear
Andy Clausen
Hanne Bramness
Bob Arnold
Dadu translated by Andrew Schelling
Stephen Lewandowski
Louise Landes Levi
Ryokan translated by Dennis Maloney

2. Bob Arnold's Hiking Down From A Hillside Sky, letterpress printed and published by Greg Joly at Bull Thistle Press in Jamaica, Vermont, has an interesting background... A page of the poety is shown above. For information and ordering:

Poets at Vermont Studio Center, May: Michael Harper, Eamon Grennan

April is National Poetry Month, and as it wraps up, it's great to see that the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson keeps the significance of poetry and poets thriving. I'm marking my calendar for two visiting lecturers in May:

Michael Harper (reading 5/14)
Eamon Grennan (reading 6/2)

Be sure to confirm at the web site,, as the reading date approaches; it's also best to call the day before, to make sure there are seats available and that the readings haven't been rescheduled (802-635-2727).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poetry Pulitzer Goes to W. S. Merwin

Here's the celebratory press release from Merwin's publisher, Copper Canyon Press:

W.S. Merwin Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius

Port Townsend, WA—W.S. Merwin has been awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his most recent book of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius, published by Copper Canyon Press. The $10,000 cash award honors the best book of poetry published by an American during the given year. The prizes were established in 1917 as an incentive to excellence in journalism and the arts.

“It is an honor to publish William Merwin’s poetry,” Said Michael Wiegers, Executive Director of Copper Canyon Press, “and we couldn’t do it without the support of the donors and other poets who make Copper Canyon Press possible. We are thrilled by the recognition another Pulitzer brings to the organization and are pleased that we’ve been a part of William’s most recent awards. This critical recognition helps to further our mission of fostering the work of poets at every stage in their career.”

The Shadow of Sirius, which was featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, is Merwin’s twenty-fifth book of poems. The book is divided into three sections engaging the reader in an exploration of memory’s time continuum: the first focuses on childhood, the center is written as a series of elegies to dogs, and a third centers on the later years of life. The poems comprise Merwin’s grief, pain, wonder, and awe; they are some of the most plainly biographical of his career.
A Codex

It was a late book given up for lost
again and again with its sentences

bare at last and phrases that seemed transparent
revealing what had been there the whole way

the poems of daylight after the day
lying open at last on the table

without explanation or emphasis
like sounds left when the syllables have gone

clarifying the whole grammar of waiting
not removing one question from the air

or closing the story although single lights
were beginning by then above and below

while the long twilight deepened its silence
from sapphire through opal to Athena’s iris

until shadow covered the gray pages
the comet words the book of presences

after which there was little left to say
but then it was night and everything was known

In reviewing the book, Helen Vendler wrote in the New York Review of Books, “The most salient aspect of the Merwin mind in meditation is its tenacity to its perplexity. Nothing can interrupt it once it has located its chosen difficulty.” Library Journal notes the poems “feel fresh and awake with a simplicity that can only be called wisdom.”

Over the last fifty years, Merwin’s muse has led him beyond the formal verse of his early years to revolutionary open forms that engage a vast array of influences and possibilities. He has received nearly every major literary award, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and, most recently, the 2005 National Book Award for his selected poems, Migration, and the 2007 Bobbitt Award from the Library of Congress for Present Company, both published by Copper Canyon Press.
[photo above by Michael Amsler]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Garry Disher's Fifth Australian Crime Novel: BLOOD MOON

What are the standards for the best crime fiction? Push that one degree further: the best international crime fiction.

Garry Disher's series unfolds on Australia's Mornington Peninsula. BLOOD MOON, released this month, is the fifth volume in the sequence, brought to US readers by Soho Crime. The jacket offers a subtitle of "An Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry Investigation." And that's the underlying issue for BLOOD MOON: how will Challis and Destry, who have paid an enormous cost before at last falling into each other's arms (two divorces and some nasty deaths), sort out their romance while working together during the high-stress vacation period when their region is overrun with partying teens, as well as the usual human conundrums of greed, envy, and lust that spark crime around them?

Disher ramps the tension very high, very quickly, with an assault on a priest, and an abused wife, and dark remnants of a previous vacation's crimes creeping out of the shadows. Inspector Challis -- Hal -- is hard-working, thoughtful, and willing to express affection. He's been through a lot, but he hasn't let it freeze his feelings. Disher paints the sweetness of the newly evident love that Hal and Ellen have, as well as the effort that Constable Scobie Sutton puts into trying to reclaim his wife from the talons of a twisted religious group that's taking her away from him and their young daughter. Scobie doesn't have Hal's instinctive grasp of how to handle things, though, and his fumbling will cost the investigative team in time and clarity.
He'd tried his hardest but she wouldn't listen. Scobie felt aggrieved, stuck between two uncomfortable forces: his boss and his wife. Neither one wanted or needed him, it seemed, yet they both held sway over him. ... He boiled inside.

Not as vivid in this volume is the sense of Australia as locale, although the battered wife is an environmental enforcement agent. Nor is there much human cost to the investigators from the violence they witness. I wish Disher had drawn out both these aspects. On the other hand, avoiding excessive gore has become one of the aspects many readers like about this series. Disher's challenge is to sustain and deepen the tensions of the volume without gore or terror. That means the pace is nuanced, the characters change quietly in small ways, and fidelity and acceptance become tools for redemption.

The political pressures and the lab delays in BLOOD MOON ring true; so does anti-women bias within the police department. The book is a good read, compelling and smoothly knit -- and if the good and bad sort out a bit more clearly than has been fashionable, the satisfactions of sleuthing and the sense of justice provide sustained appeal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Right Amount of Words: Savoring the Poetry of Laura Davies Foley [Coming to Kingdom Books, Sat. April 18, for our annual Poetry Party]


Let the April rains come in.
I am a sloping hill with new buds piercing.

So opens one of the poems in MAPPING THE FOURTH DIMENSION, the 2006 collection from Laura Davies Foley. And it's one of the gentler openings in the book, but it heads toward the final lines:

I have no skin.
My hair is gone.
The candle within draws deeper.

And that solemnity, that willingness to paint loss in its sorrows as well as its potential, rings with honesty. Wherever or whenever we'll have the chance to meet and hold our dead again, the time between now and then hurts. Foley says goodbye and "I miss you" repeatedly in this collection.

Yet each poem is as different from the others as one face is from the faces around us. The poem "Exiled," for instance, proclaims absence -- then paces through walking by a lake or through winter, and at last into summer:
And in this walking,
this movement away, I came to a clearing
and received the clearing light,
the clouds moving apart, and you,
like a footprint
filling now with sand,
and the wide shore stretching on.

It fascinates me that Foley's second collection, SYRINGA, published in 2007, seems to have overlapped the first collection in gestation time -- each book mentions the other. But SYRINGA, springing from contemplation of a wounded waterbird and from a parallel contemplation of self and spirit, gathers light in great, sweet-scented armfuls and proclaims joy and blessing from these roots. Consider "A Day":
I was watching the geese sleeping.
I was watching the one
with the broken wing.
The serene one, floating in her painful knowledge.

As Foley leads the lines through patterns and shifting light, she resolves the poem with:
The ordinary is always like that.
Always ready to reveal itself
as something other.

But it isn't other.
It's just the ordinary.
And isn't that
the extraordinary thing we come to know?

In SYRINGA there waits also the sea at dusk; a five-year-old child diving; a solstice sparrow; and moments from hospice caring. The lines are generally short, the poems a page more or less, and the images unforgettable.

It's a pleasure to open the door of Kingdom Books on Saturday April 18 at 11 a.m., so that we can gather with this poet and her careful work.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Poetry Tonight, Brattleboro, Vermont

National Poetry Month is blooming, even though in Vermont our spring is still in the very early stages! (Snow yesterday, but quick to melt; green tips of daffodils poking into the sun; I'm looking for pussywillows.)

Here's a last-minute invitation from poets Lea Banks and Wyn Cooper that promises a lot of fun:

Hey y'all...come on down/up/over/whathaveyou and have fun with Wyn and me tomorrow evening. We'll certainly be in the mood for fun and we know all each other's jokes. Cracking each other up isn't what it used to be...we want to share it. Of course there will also be poems of heartbreak, revenge, and gut-wrenching, for all you gloom and doom types...Hope to see you there...

Lea Banks and Wyn Cooper will read from their work at the Windham Wine Gallery, 30 Main Street, Brattleboro, on Thursday, April 9, at 7:00. The event is free. For more information, call 802-246-6400.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Good Marriages and Good Mysteries: Donna Leon, Alexander McCall Smith, Colin Cotterill

Many a powerful crime or espionage novel takes its dark force from both the plot's master criminal actions, and the despair of the protagonist. Alan Furst's lost and bitter Eastern Europeans, John Le Carré's George Smiley, and Michael Connelly's Bosch come to mind, as well as Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, whose bizarre personal life makes her an irresistible victim for the psychopaths that obsess around her.

And it's easy to cast aside books with happier characters as being soft, or cozy. Happy families are all alike? Happy protagonists are sweetly dull?

I've picked Leon, McCall Smith, and Cotterill as examples of different ways to defeat this conclusion.

The "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" as a series has reached the point where Mma. Precious Ramotswe and her neighboring business owner, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, have settled into the satisfying and affectionate marriage that the two of them earned during earlier volumes. One of the charms of these books is that detective problems for Mma. Ramotswe are human in dimension, and she solves them through a combination of hard work, study, persistence, friendship, and the quiet commonsense that she's banked over the years. But McCall Smith doesn't flinch from the darkness that sometimes emerges in crime, out of the all-too-human wounds of life. And when Ramotswe and her friends notice the danger threatening them, they see roots in their own darknesses as well -- including an abusive previous marriage, for one.

Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti has little chance for sweetness in his overworked Venetian police role; even his boss is out to get him, and the criminals he confronts emerge from the humiliations of poverty, the hunger of greed, the bloody spawn of violence and sexual horrors. Brunetti risks soul damage from the bitterness and filth that keep moving into his days and nights. He also risks harming his family by taking this home with him. Leon manages to weave into this pattern an astonishly real balance of two bright, capable people willing to sacrifice short-term power for the sake of realistic love. Here are Brunetti and his wife Paola at home:
She reached out and put her hand on his arm. "I've been listening to you talk about your work, Guido, for decades, and it seems to me that there are a lot of people who are ready to kill for a lot less than the noise of a television."

After the acknowledgment of the smallness of evil's roots, Paola points out a truth of human behavior to her husband, so that they can "see" what it happening from the same vantage point. Then Guido in return compliments his wife by seeing multiple sides of her:
Paola still had her eyes closed, and he studied her profile: straight nose, perhaps too long, a faint tracing of lines around her eyes, lines he knew had been put there by humour, and just the first faint sagging of the flesh under her chin.

He thought of the kids, how tired they had been at dinner, while his eyes travelled down her body. He set his glass on the table and leaned toward her.

The willingness to embrace and trust in his private life becomes the anchor for Guido to make good choices as he pursues a criminal and comes to understand the human nastiness driving the crimes. Although he'll sacrifice a great deal to see the crime to its solution, he'll bring home a relatively clean heart.

So here's Colin Cotterill, providing a series about an elderly coroner working on disrespected remains in his confused and often corrupt city of Vientiane, Laos. It's 1978 and the "novice socialist republic" is squeezing the fun and color out of life. Dr. Siri Paiboun and his assistants, Nurse Dtui and the tongue-tied Mr. Geung, become increasingly stubborn about seeking justice for the deceased. And readers of the series know that Dr. Siri and the noodle seller Madame Daeng are waking up to an affectionate and humorous relationship that lets each of them be whole, and give wholly.

Cotterill's newest volume, THE MERRY MISOGYNIST, comes out in August from Soho Crime (bless this hard-laboring publisher bringing crime novels from so many nations to us!). That's too far away from now to offer a review or even hints at the plot. But I want to mention that Cotterill too has found a way to position the caring and trust of his characters' relationships as a counterweight to the loss and fear that a coroner's office confronts daily. No, Cotterill's series won't scare you as much as Cornwell's. But it also won't drive you to drink, in imitation of forensics pro Kay Scarpetta. In fact, if life imitates art, I expect to enjoy the partnership of my husband all the more for having enjoyed an advance read of THE MERRY MISOGYNIST.

And I'll tell you all about it, later in the summer.

Mysteries, Quick Notes: Steve Oliver's Moody, and Christopher Fowler's "Peculiar Crimes Unit"

The only way I'm ever going to get out of the backlog of books-read-but-not-yet-reviewed is to say something brief about some, then check them off the list. So here's my two cents worth:

I picked up a paperback copy of Steve Oliver's 1996 mystery MOODY GETS THE BLUES, the first in a series -- Scott Moody is a 'Nam vet, with a lot still wrong in his head, but a brand new private investigator's license and a knack for stumbling into deadly situations in 1978's West Coast (Spokane). You know the bit about not judging a book by its cover? This one has a Michael Connelly blurb on the front, which is why I grabbed it. And I laughed, groaned, and laughed more, all the way through it. It was fun. Ya know, I needed that. I'll read another by Steve Oliver any time.

Christopher Fowler's series featuring London detectives Arthur Bryant and John May ranges in time from World War I to the 1950s -- and more so in the present (see Author's Comment!). Bryant and May have completely different ideas about investigation: Bryant's tendency to rely on psychics, networks of witches, and other unusual experts gives him a leg up in the Peculiar Crimes Unit, but May doesn't always want to follow those odd pathways. Again in paperback mode, maybe because I've been on the road so much this past winter, I picked up WHITE CORRIDOR. Dave can vouch for the fact that about once per chapter in the first half of the book, I said something like, "This is so preposterous that I'm not going to finish it." But after that halfway point, you couldn't even have distracted me from the book with chocolate. I'm looking forward to some snowstorm next winter, when I'll grab it and enjoy it all over again.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Poet Wesley McNair in Plymouth, NH, April 5

Professor emeritus and writer in residence at the University of Maine, Farmington, Wesley McNair ought to be well known for his poetry, editing, even broadcasting scripts -- but he's also a quiet Maine resident with a low-key, gentle presentation of himself. So it's a treat to mention that he's reading in the Eagle Pond Authors' Series at Plymouth State University on Sunday April 5 at 3 p.m. The reading is free, and McNair will sign books afterward. Here are multiple reasons to attend:

Books of poetry: The Faces of Americans of 1853 (University of Missouri Breakthrough Series, Devins Award, 1983); The Town of No (Godine, 1989); Twelve Journeys in Maine (Limited Edition, Romulus Editions, 1992); My Brother Running (Godine, 1994); The Town of No and My Brother Running (Godine dual reprint, 1997); The Dissonant Heart (Limited Edition, Romulus Editions, 1995: poetry with photocollages by Dozier Bell); Talking in the Dark (Godine, 1998); The Faces of Americans in 1853 (Carnegie Mellon University Press Classic Contemporaries Series reissue, 2001); Fire: Poems (Godine, 2002); The Ghosts of You and Me (Godine, 2006); Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems (Godine, 2009); The Words I Chose and Maine in Season (forthcoming from Godine and Down East, respectively, in 2010).

Other books: The Quotable Moose: A Contemporary Maine Reader (University Press of New England, 1994); Mapping the Heart: Reflections on Place and Poetry (Carnegie Mellon University Press as part of the CMU Prose on Poetry Series, 2002: memoir and essays); The Maine Poets (Down East Books, 2003); A Place On Water (essays, with Bill Roorbach and Robert Kimber, Tilbury House, 2004); Contemporary Maine Fiction (Down East Books, 2005); Fire (the narrative poem alone, in a limited deluxe edition, Forehand Press, forthcoming); A Place Called Maine (Down East Books, 2008); Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems (forthcoming from Godine, 2009).

For more information and a sampling of McNair's poetry, check his web site.