Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What About the Moon?

I looked up and saw the full moon tonight and remembered this poem from the archives:

Postcard Written at Montrose Harbor

If God exists then God loves the crows; they gather like soldiers
around the flooded portions of the municipal golf course; and if
there’s a God, then God loves the black water

and the worms therein; and God might love the sweet
high notes on the violin, and the man, his violin case
a mouth and hungry on the sidewalk—although

I only allow for a God who loves what I love,
God loves the night because I love night, and the crows,
and the glint of dark water, my God loves broken voices,

an old woman sings a childhood hymn while she fishes for carp
in Montrose Harbor—rats in the garbage, I can imagine
a God who loves rats, for their tunneling, their stewardship:

sticks, refuse, crusts, a fierce attachment to the scraps
of the world—One might love an ash tree’s yellow leaves,
how they pave the sidewalk just after a storm, one might love

birds, or blood, screams, or explosions. God
loves the darkness, because
what about the moon?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Notes from The Book of Light

Exciting news!  The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton is coming out this fall. Ever since I discovered her work in the early 1990s, Clifton has been a major deity in my poetry pantheon. Denise Levertov said of Clifton's work:

"Poems after poem exhilarates and inspires awe at the manifestation of such artistic and spiritual power."

Even more than Levertov, Clifton could be so compact and succinct.  I don't know of another American poet who uses five and dime words--the vocabulary of the everyday--to build such palaces of language.


          was my first landscape
          red brown as the clay
          of her georgia.
          sweet attic of a woman,
          repository of old songs.
          there was such music in her;
          she would sit, shy as a wren
          humming alone and lonely
          amid broken promises,
          amid the sweet broken bodies
          of birds.

You can see Lucille Clifton read her work here.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

He lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled Missouri

I try, every summer, to take a break from all the reading of contemporary fiction I do.  As a bookseller, part of my job is to keep up on what's new, or what will be new soon.  Perhaps 80% of my reading is advance reading copies ("ARCS" in pub-speak) that publishers send out to booksellers in the hopes that we will fall in love with a book and promote it and hand-sell it when it is actually published.  I reached a point about a decade ago where I realized that other than a few poetry collections, all I ever, ever read (at my usual pace of 3-6 books a week) were books that were still three months away from being published.  Among other things, this makes it difficult to talk about books with friends, even book-loving friends:

"What are you reading these days?"
"Oh, this book called Emerald Snake in the Tall Dry Grass--It's a great novel about ghosts, and sisters, and how small town America is both a haven and  a trap...really great stuff, like Faulkner and J.D. Salinger had a baby."
"Sounds great, I bet I'd like it."
"You probably would.  But it doesn't come out until next March, and I already loaned my copy to a co-worker."   (Conversation ends here.)

To help combat ARC-only reading, and to help fill in some of the many gaps in my education and reading history, I decided to use the summer (later shortened to August) to read  works by an author I didn't know very well.  I've had summer romances with Dickens, with Edith Wharton, with Willa Cather, and with the entire New York Review Classics series--all sorts of excellent titles that had been out of print, until someone stood up and said, "Hey. This needs to be back in the world and on book shelves."  Well-known writers nominate books to be re-published and write introductions for them.    When I started at a new bookstore I got out of my summer classics habit. This summer I decided to not let the time slot slip by, and reluctantly, and with a great deal of hemming, delay, and trepidation, started to read Moby-Dick.  (It was either that or
cracking open my still wrapped-in-plastic editions of Proust.)

And I am loving it.  Somehow I had the impression it was a "difficult" work, dense, verbose, and, well, boring.  I didn't expect the short prose-poemy chapters, or humor, or a rolling and rollicking sea of delightful language.  Here, I am going to describe the town, Melville says, and he takes a chapter and does just that. Here's a church, here's a pastor, here's his sermon--each gets a chapter.

Maybe things will get muddier as Ahab and Company get further from land and as the Great White Whale himself first surfaces. Maybe I should not yet be proclaiming a very public love for Melville's masterpiece. It's only page 188, for Pete Squeaks.  But hear ye oh my friends and Fellow Sailors, my deckhands and lordlings and ladies of Ocean the Mighty--this so far is a delightful voyage out.  Maybe I was supposed to wait to read Melville until I myself had been out on the ocean and saw whales, glorious city buses, rising up, sleek and monstrous and beautiful, out of deep water mere feet from the (suddenly small) boat that carried me. Two summers ago off Provincetown I got to do that.

And while I heard it before, I never knew for sure what the word confabulations meant until today when I read it and had Mr. Google help me look it up. Thanks Herman, for that and so many other fine soundings:

"Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I wrote a poem on the train this morning. I'll wait a few days to look at it again, with new eyes. I have a feeling it's not very good. But that's ok. It felt right, to have my pen and notebook in front of me, and feel like the words were flowing out smoothly. The other day I taught a writing workshop with two little girls in the bookstore where I work. They were sisters, and the youngest wanted to write a story with chapters. I took dictation, each chapter was named for an animal and a sentence or two long. "Chapter Two. Tigers. The tiger is very pretty and wants to go to the store. His favorite food is pickles. His name is Pickles, too."

I had been talking about words, about falling in love with individual words; we wrote words down on post-its and put them on a word-tree. I think I knew right there, writing down the word "pickles" and smiling because who could not love that word, that I was back into poetry. Like swimming again, like water, like waves. It's been a while, and I felt great, diving back into the word pool.