Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 books

I had a good year of reading, with a number of terrific books rolling through in December alone. I've been putting off making my list with the notion I might be able to stuff just one more in, but with 14 hours of 2016 left, it's not going to happen.

It wasn't a great year as politics goes, but Bob Dylan did win the Nobel Prize and I will never forget sitting at my desk flushed with surprise and delight, then spending days rebutting the naysayers. I found out I don't like Elena Ferrante, nor do I care who she is *in real life.* There were a number of books that underwhelmed, including Half a Life and Blood Will Out, which was very disappointing. Where did I get that book? 

Here are my favorite reads pretty much, though it is terribly difficult to make choices. I bolded 10 highlights below, but there are some others of course that almost made it.  

Best fiction: So Much For That Winter by Dorthe Nors, A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Best poetry: Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon, The End of the West by Michael Dickman, Death Tractates by Brenda Hillman 
Best non-fiction: The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach
Other: The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano

1. The Dinner by Herman Koch (Jan 3)
2. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Jan 7)
3. What the Truth Tastes Like by Martha Silano (Jan 16)
4. Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (Jan)
5. Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich (Jan 27)
6. Chocky by John Wyndham (Jan 29)
7. Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon (Feb 6)
8. Hotel World by Ali Smith (Feb 7)
9. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Feb 18)
10. Swoop by Hailey Leithauser (Feb 20)
11. Shockwave by Stephen Walker (Feb 22)
12. The Scented Fox by Laynie Browne (Feb 29)
13. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach (Feb 29)
14. Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn (Mar 3)
15. Kindred by Octavia Butler (Mar 17)
16. The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart by Deborah Digges (Mar 19)
17. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Mar 27)
18. Heartsnatcher by Boris Vian (April 6)
19. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (April 21)
20. There Was An Old Woman by Jessy Randall (May 2)
21. Five Days At Memorial by Sherry Fink (May 17)
22. Selected Translations by WS Merwin (May 28)
23. Universal Themes in Literature by Howie Good (online chap, May 29)
24. The Vegetarian by Kang Han (June 3)
25. The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano (June)
26. The Possessed by Elif Batuman (June 25)
27. Half a Life by Darin Strauss (Jul 1)
28. The End of the West by Michael Dickman (Jul 3)
29. Small Boat by Lesle Lewis (Jul 5)
30. Sight Lines by Sandra Marchetti (online chap, Jul 5)
31. drip, drip by Lizi Gilad (online chap, Aug 1)
32. Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett (Aug 11)
33. Death Tractates by Brenda Hillman (Aug 11)
34. Where There’s Smoke by Simon Beckett (Aug 13)
35. It Is Such a Good Thing to Be in Love With You by David Welch (Sep 2)
36. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (Sep 16)
37. Ochre by Gla4 (online chap, Sep 18)
38. 102 Minutes: Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers - Jim Dwyer (Sep 27)
39. Misery by Stephen King (Sep 29)
40. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden (Oct 25)
41. Seven Years by Peter Stamm (Oct 17)
42. Crash by JG Ballard (Nov 1)
43. Chinoiserie by Karen Rigby (Nov 1)
44. The hows and why of my failures by Dan Nowak (chapbook, Nov 5)
45. Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig (Nov 12)
46. Pigeons in the Grass by Wolfgang Koeppen (Nov 23)
47. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (Nov 27)
48. Mislaid by Nell Zink (Dec 5)
49. So Much For That Winter by Dorthe Nors (Dec 9)
50. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes (Dec 16)
51. The Immortality of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Dec 25)
52. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Dec 27)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holiday poems

We had a lovely Christmas with my mother here. As usual, everyone got many presents and if anyone complains they will be duly smacked. A highlight was driving up the Rhine on Monday to a restaurant overlooking the vineyards and river. There was a sun shower and lots of wind and our brunch was horrendously expensive but I’d do it again. 

In writing news, I’ve got two poems up at Ghost Proposal: “Gestures in a Landscape” and “Rome Postcard.” I really enjoyed the issue and hope you’ll spend some time there. “Gestures” is aphoristic, moving through war, landscapes and air. “Rome” is a travel fragment. 

Barnstorm, where I had a poem a couple or three years ago, also published my poem “Rue Musette” mid-month. I wrote this mostly at the end of last year after visiting Dijon and visiting the beautiful Fontenay Abbey in France. I usually decline to record a reading but I went ahead this time. When I sent it I said “if it sounds terrible just toss it” but the very kind editor said it was beautiful and I felt happy about that for a long time! 

Three more of my Misery poems have been accepted, and I’m looking forward to seeing them out in the world soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

death tractates

This year, so far, I’ve read three really outstanding poetry books. Forced to pick a favorite I’m going with Brenda Hillman’s “Death Tractates.” It wasn’t written this year —it’s rare I read books the year they come out— but in 1992.

It has a dullsville cover, and the title makes it sound like some kind of plodding, ancient tome. I didn’t have high expectations, though I’d loved Hillman’s “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire” a year ago. (That one I bought that on a whim and after opening it was like, ugh, I’m going to hate this. But I ended up loving it.) 

“Death Tractates” is certainly about death, and suffused with grief, but Hillman puts suffering off to one side to ask questions about existence. The poems convey death’s mystery, and treat the deceased as if she were still present, only separated a little, and unreachable. The dead woman is often referred to as a bride and she is nowhere and everywhere. The poems aren’t filled with tears or wailing, but with questions and thoughtful wondering.

Here’s the start of ”Seated Bride” -

She had died without warning in early spring.
Which seemed right.
Now that which was far off could become intimate.

I said to the guides, let’s stand
very close to the mystery
and see how far she’s gone…

One of the best poems is “Much Hurrying,” which begins:

—So much hurrying right after a death:
as if a bride were waiting!

Crocuses sliced themselves out
with their penknives. Everything well made
seemed dead to them: Camelias. Their butcher-
paper pink. The well-made poems

seemed dead to you …. 

The other two outstanding books of poetry I read this year were Ada Limon’s “Bright Dead Things,” which WAS published this year, and Michael Dickman’s “The End of the West.” Of course I read a lot of very good poetry books this year, but I'm being really strict with myself here. So: 3.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Black chair

My husband and daughter went to Italy for a long weekend. My son has school, and I’ve taken the day off to lounge around and stare at the walls.

Ha, I wish. I have to paint a wall, buy the paint, finish a story for work (get back to me, people), and pick up a small chair that’s been reupholstered. Black. 

My first Misery poem is up at concis. It’s simply called “Misery 31.” 

I think a recorded reading of a poem can ruin it. The poem on the page is expansive and porous. A voice pierces it. It’s like illustrating a book. You drew a character in your mind, and suddenly a different image barges in.

This is not always so. Some poets are great readers. 

If the department of transportation decides phone calls are OK on board airplanes I will really start reading aloud aloft. I have done this on the subway when someone would not shut up. 

The day before a day off is always the better day. 

Going to put on my paint-splattered pants and bike to the DIY store. At some point. Today.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

more on misery

Since my trip to the states I’ve been on a writing hiatus. I did poke around in poems in progress but haven’t started anything new. Fall was dominated by the Misery project. I haven’t abandoned it yet, but I know when I pick it up again I’ll be leaving this peaceful period, whether it’s Misery or another book.

This wasn’t my first time doing found poetry but I did spend more time with Misery, and my approach made creation feel very intimate - sewing paper with thread, cutting and dissecting pages, pasting them with confetti and magazine cut-outs. It was one of the more tactile relationships I’ve had with a book. I cursed a lot about glue. 

A lot of the poems I came up with were failures as poems go, but I dressed them up and managed to give them some charm. The ones that worked both as poems and visuals I’m happy with and am submitting. Others are going nowhere. Nothing I did was elaborate. I didn’t set out thinking I’d do visuals every day, but then I couldn’t drop it once I started.

Misery is an entertaining book. It’s well-written, it’s got plenty of gruesome moments and a wound-up villain. But it isn’t a masterpiece of literature. You don’t want to start with a masterpiece when you’re doing found poetry, in my opinion. You find too much unearned gorgeousness.

I also forgot to post these recent poems from The Baltimore Review: Industry Lap Dog and The Quiet Car

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Goldfish Sitter

I’ve been remiss! I had a rich October doing the Stephen King found poetry project. I had more energy than I expected, turning each daily poem into a little creature with various kinds of collage and drawing, which motivated me. I ended up submitting lots of poems in November, without much payoff so far - a few rejections, a stray acceptance.

I also visited the states last month to help my mother prepare to move and to enjoy a rare Thanksgiving, a holiday I always loved because of the food (and family). The family has scattered I’m afraid, and my mother, our last New Jersey stalwart, picks up stakes in January, too.

I did have one poem published last month, Goldfish Sitter, in the National Poetry Review. It’s a poem I wrote after Christmas last year, when I was indeed assigned to babysit a neighbor’s goldfish over the holidays.

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