Well, on the top of the pile is a book called Bird Brains by Candace Savage, a picture book with text on the intelligence of crows, ravens, magpies, and jays. I’ve asked my workshop students this semester to focus on the making of images. We’ve agreed to think together about birds. In Bird Brains, I’ve just read where Savage cites the story of someone’s a pet crow named Gagee “who took on the task of feeding and caring for an injured fledgling. When the fledgling young bird died, the usually garrulous Gagee was stone silent for four days.” I can think of a couple of things wrong with those sentences, but what’s made (or unsaid) undoes me.
The marvelous poet Saskia Hamilton sent me Thomas Hardy’s ‘Poetical Matter’ Notebook (edited by Pamela Dalziel and Michael Millgate). I knitted (badly) a welcome sweater for her recently born son, Lucien, and she sent me this fine book. Opened randomly, I find this entry: “|| A mental refrain = refrain of idea, not a verbal repetition”, “Subjects known to the writer; unknown to the rest of the world.”, and “Xmas party at Lesnewth — Farm house: the clink of the locket. Wd this combine with “Burning the Holly?””
As for poems, I keep reaching between other things for Alfred Starr Hamilton’s A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind. Such a fresh, wide voice and mind. He makes me happy with all that repetition, makes me uncomfortable in the best ways, and then there’s his tenderness, his joy. Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems is always open facedown somewhere in my house. Sustenance ongoing, decades now.
I’ve left off at the beginning of the 14th chapter of César Aira’s crooked, clean The Mistress and the Wind, after reading this sentence: “Let’s suppose a man who, as a result of a mental disturbance (I can imagine this because yesterday I saw it), cannot walk, advance, or move at all, without the accompaniment or propulsion of very sonorous music, which he is obliged to provide for himself at the top of his lungs.” It was a good place to wind the reading into thinking. How about that crow?
I recently read, for my own edification and pleasure, Sarah Vap’s End of the Sentimental Journey: a Mystery Poem, which blew my mind and made me gasp and laugh and cry and put the book down over and over again in awe. If you are interested, as I am, in extremely non-traditional scholarship, in non-normative sexuality, in graphically explicit literature, in feminism, in Confessionalism, in honesty, and in love, I cannot more highly recommend this incredible, potent lyric essay.
And speaking of non-normative sexuality, the other stuff I’m reading right now are mostly nonfiction guides to or studies of about what gets called “alternative lifestyles.” Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Kink, a collection of short, energetic essays by experts and educators in various practices and predilections, is a pretty rad and varied anthology with everything from rather basic stuff to very advanced techniques and play…if you’re, you know, into that kind of thing.
In something of the same vein, I’m making my way, slowly and for the first time, through Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. It’s unbelievably provocative and so far ahead of its time: I imagined it would be “raunchy for its day” but no, its ideas about sex and sexuality and the way they intersect with class and gender politics, among other things, are still completely in front of the curve. It’s so complicated and rich that I can only take it in small doses, as much as I adore it and feel astonished by it, so I’m reading it in between very practical books like those above, which detail, say, how to safely engage in impact play or negotiate the polyamorous parameters with one’s partner’s new other partner. I think—I hope!—Lawrence would approve.
Poetry-wise, I’m mostly reading books that I’m thinking about or writing about for my column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review and for a new project around the theory of the Gurlesque. These “jobs” have led me, happily, to things like LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ wild and ambitious, polyglot collection TwERK and TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson’s hefty and important Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics…both of which also feed my insatiable appetite for writing “about” sexuality and gender.