Drunken Boat has nominated the following three stories for the 2013 storySouth Million Writers Award —
The book I’m reading right now is The Cineaste, by Van Jordan. It is “about” many things, but it is first and foremost a poetic manifestation of the author’s love affair with the movies. The centerpiece is a tour-de-force poem cycle centered around the life and work of the auteur Oscar Micheaux, which in the process ranges across a stunning array of subjects and in a virtuoso display of formal technique.
I just finished Sharon Olds’s Stag’s Leap—would have done so earlier, but waited to buy it when I knew I would have the chance to get her to sign it for me (yes, I’m still attracted to the poet’s signature). It’s a book about loss—the loss that comes with divorce after a long period of marriage—and, let me tell you, the husband is far from the only thing that has departed. I’ve been reading her work since grad school, and I’m glad the Pulitzer will give a new round of potential readers a nudge in Olds’s direction.
Another book I read this past week (tore through it in a single afternoon) was Jennifer Tamayo’s new chapbook, Poems Are the Only Real Bodies: E-Pistols for Hurryet Tubman. Tamayo hilariously and pointedly brings the historical figure into the same frame as the massive memorial sculpture of her in Harlem (and inserts letters to the similarly named, similarly fierce poet Harryette Mullen). This book fires words, full of Tamayo’s characteristic, playful misspellings, at some of the very targets one might imagine Harriet Tubman pointing her famous pistol at today, if she were still alive.
I had a cross-country flight several days ago, which was more than enough reason, in my world, to buy a new speculative fiction novel. To my delight, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night, was finally out in paperback, so I got to indulge my endless thirst for worlds less familiar to me than this one. But however strange, of course, Harkness’s alternative world has things in common with ours–especially insofar as certain rules—originally laid down for self-protection—have outlived their usefulness, while becoming all the more powerful. I’m now in post-Book-2/pre-Book-3 hell in two fabulous trilogies (the other is Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles), and hope I will be able to survive the wait for both Book 3s.
Last, but not least, I am still reading Joseph Jeon’s critical book, Racial Things, Racial Forms: Objecthood in Avant-Garde Asian American Poetry. I started it awhile back, got about halfway through and had to put it aside for a variety of reasons not relevant to how much I’m enjoying this book. Glad to return to it now. Jeon has discussions of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (not on Dictee, but other parts of her work, for a change), Myung Mi Kim, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, and John Yau—lovely readings of their poetry, usefully informed by the complicated cultural contexts in which they write.
Over the winter I read A.R. Ammons’ The Snow Poems. A couple poems each morning, with tea. I liked them a lot: friendly diaristic ramblings (writing just to write, it would seem) full of midlife anxiety, daily weather reports, and his signature goofball wordplay: “miltown can do more than / Milton can.” And enough profound moments to fill a commonplace book: “The perfect journey is / no need to go.”
At the same time, I read (am still reading) Hilda Morley’s Cloudless at First. After hearing her name for decades, I finally checked her out. Humane, painterly (her colors are amazing), rich in experience and conscience and tradition. I particularly love her tribute to D.H. Lawrence, “Nottingham Landscape,” and her memoir-esque poem about H.D., “A Voice Suspended.” At the end of her long poem about Lorca, “A Thread of Scarlet,” I burst into tears.
This led me to Lorca—another of my blind spots. I read “Suites,” translated by Jerome Rothenberg, and was utterly charmed by these short, magical poems: “in their gold caverns / the sirens / try out a song / that the water can sleep to.” Or: “I want to die where / it’s yesterday!” Or: “Singing / I will see the one star / that doesn’t exist.” Isn’t that the dream of every poet?
In the spring I reread (for the third or fourth time) James Schuyler’s The Crystal Lithium. And, for the first time, William Carlos Williams’ “Poems 1949-1953” (from volume two of his Collected Poems). You can’t do better than either of them.
Now it’s summer, and I’m actually going through a big book purge—deciding which to sell, which to give to students. In the midst of this divestiture, I’ve started reading, with a kind of glee, Lee Israel’s biography of Dorothy Kilgallen. Girl reporter, glamorous game show panelist (What’s My Line?), affair with gay singer Johnnie Ray, possibly murdered in connection with JFK conspiracy—what a life!