Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
For the last few winters, I’ve found myself, in between semesters, reading a lot of mystery novels. I think I remember reading somewhere that the lot of us is pulled towards mystery books around the holidays because that’s when Agatha Christie novels were first released: our movement towards murder writing apparently a new kind of collective holiday memory. I could, of course, be remembering all of this wrong. Maybe, Christie released most of her books in the summer, which somehow and strangely accounts for why we all might want to go read about European trains while sipping Mai Tais on some American beach. In any case, I’m going with the former, because, in winter, there are just too many bleak landscapes or the fireplace I once knew/ I wish I had. Last winter, in a fell swoop, I pretty much read all of Judy Blume’s Ramona Series (another trend of mine in winter: to reread and catch up on children’s lit). Still, this January, it’s a mystery novel I’m really wanting to read, and I find myself finally getting to a book I was several-times recommended and finally gifted over a year ago: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The hype, if you’ve heard it, is deserved. The language is awesome and the relationships believable. The complications (even in the first few chapters, as far as I have read) make me, pretty much, want to continue reading the book instead of writing this bit piece about it.
Megan Kaminski’s Desiring Map
I’m new to Kaminski’s poetry, but I’m enjoying the quiet accumulations of her first book Desiring Map. Most of the poems in this collection are untitled, and all are free of punctuation. The result is a kind of opening up of landscape, sometimes even to the point of erasure or, at least, to a distancing or softening of place. This is especially true in her section, “the prairie opens wide,” but it’s also prevalent throughout the book and often coupled with the same field-of-vision orientation in relation to the personal: the I-as-eye filter that processes the see-able, knowable world and one’s place in it. Let’s just say, I appreciate that: I feel like there’s room for me to breathe as a reader and real person. Two lines that particularly strike/stick with me in this way: “We fence livestock close to house walls for warmth/ leaving little space for strangers”
Gregory Orr’s The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems
Right now, I’m also rereading a lot of poetry books for some workshops I’m teaching at UCA this spring. Gregory Orr’s Selected is one I return to often. Even with its publication date coming in at a good twelve years ago, this book is generous, both in depth of coverage and the range of work it showcases. Right now, I’m reading the book’s selections from Burning the Empty Nests and Gathering the Bones Together, two of my favorite poetry collections, all-time, period. I think what continues to draw me in, and even surprise me as a reader, is the way in which imagery and sound unfold in Orr’s poetry. There are these lines from the poem “Transients Welcome”: “Frying pan in hand/ padding down the hall, you turn a corner/ and find an old woman asleep on the stove (ln 6-8). I think it can be incredibly difficult to turn a real, let alone figurative, corner in a poem, to have a reader truly experience the startle of the poem in a genuine way. Orr does this time and time again—he morphs images in a way that feels both absolutely and unexpectedly necessary. One of my favorite poems from Burning the Empty Nests is “Making Beasts.” About this poem, let me say this: 1. I believe everyone should go (!) and read it & 2. To quote even a line or two of the poem would be a disservice to how well “Making Beasts” makes beasts. I mean, it really, really does.
Jericho Brown’s Please
Jericho Brown’s Please starts with a section of poems called “Repeat.” If I can be a little too cutesy-clumsy with my noting of it, this section of the book really does make you/me read and reread it for its musicality and musculature. Right now, my poetry workshop and I are on our third day of reading the book entire in class— we haven’t made it much past this first section. Why? That first day— well, we were supposed to look at the first half of the book, and I wanted to start with the first poem, and so we did. Then a student wanted to look at the third poem, because we had used its opening line for an in-class writing exercise (and that line, by the way, is fantastic: “Dangerous men park carefully”). And then, as we supposedly moved on through the book, another student wanted to go back and look at the second poem “Prayer of the Backhanded,” and so on and so forth: too much goodness. By day 2, this class and me, we had read near-exactly 5 poems because the book really does make you “pause” on each and every poem. There has, of course, been a lot written about how startling and needed Brown’s treatment of identity and violence is— violence against family and self, between lovers and about sexual orientation, from received culture and social norms and the church. I don’t have much more to add to this, really: the book is simply and beautifully constructed, an urgent text. Or, I do have something to add: today, when my class finally got to “My Name is Jericho”— that poem at the end of Brown’s book— well, it was all chills: gorgeous, earned, questioning-of-voice-and-autonomy: chills.
Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading and (sorta) Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred
I realize this last entry is a bit of a cheat (or maybe a two-for-the-price-of-one tell?), but I am rereading both books in tandem for a graduate course I’m teaching for the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. The class is in the form and theory of poetry, and to start with Pound, I don’t have a lot to say: his is such an integral work. I think I’ve returned to it now, a book on reading especially, because so much of my identity as a teacher, while not always happy with my life as a writer, has come down to “Read, read, read. Read closer” and “It’s a conversation” and “We’re all writers together here.” ABC is one of the books that absolutely articulates this necessity. With Rothenberg— well, in my head these two books are talking to one another, but my history with this book is specific.
Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred
A friend during my MFA days really did just lend me Technicians of the Sacred. This was without request but undoubtedly with warrant: the book suddenly appeared in my mailbox and that happenstance struck a chord, it was necessary. That’s one of the things I continue to appreciate about my own grad school experience and just how spot-on, in the most unassuming of ways, dedicating oneself to writing, with other writers, can be at times (but man, not all times) in graduate school. In any case, Technicians was immediately, a game-on, game-changing text for me: it changed the way I read or even knew how to read a poem. Viscerally, gutterly, even intuitively, etc. there was/is this one poem in Rothenberg’s anthology I immediately reacted to, one before I really started looking at all the ways in which poems might translate spiritual and communal experience, one that made me a goner for poetry et al. It’s the Cherokee poem “The Killer” which starts like this:
“Careful: my knife drills your soul/ listen, whatever-your-name-is/ One of the wolf people/ Listen I’ll grind your saliva into the earth.” That, still, pretty much says it all for me.
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