The Bookshop & CPS, Special Edition.

This Thursday, Oct. 30th, at 7:30 pm, we’ll be hosting a special edition of the Collected Poets Series, a partial fundraiser for the Mohawk Arts and Education Council. Baron Wormser, former poet laureate of Maine, will read from his latest collection of new and selected poems, Scattered Chapters; Jim Schley will read from his newest book, As When, In Season; and the MAEC high school poets will read from their work. To read more about the Collected Poets Series and the featured poets, please visit the Collected Poets website.

Between visits of customers distraught over the closing of the bookshop, and the exhausting motions of commiseration such visits bring, I’ve been reading Baron Wormser’s The Poetry Life: Ten Stories. Each story is narrated by a different fictional persona, who in turn is writing about a different poet. The stories aren’t especially plot-driven, but explore how poetry, in even small ways, can affect a wide array of ordinary lives. It’s simply uncanny how expertly Wormser creates these personas, entire lives encapsulated in a few pages, and then incorporates the poets as well.

And from the second story, narrated by a retired pharmacist who’s discovered William Carlos Williams through a local college class, comes this excerpt, which feels apropos to this weeks-long-wake we’re experiencing at the bookshop. For every sincere, weeping customer, there’s another beating around the bush, wondering when the liquidation sale will begin…

…when Helen died I started to hate words because they were so general: “Well, we got to be with each other for a lot of years. I’m not complaining.” Or “We had our ups and downs but we hung in there together.” You get my drift. You’re always summarizing because no one wants to listen to the details. People are willing to listen some but not too much. They want an idea of what something was like that they can nod their heads to.

Of course, a defunct bookstore is not the equivalent of a dead wife, but there are parallels. If you don’t believe me, you should come on down and work a spell behind the counter…

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And so it goes…

It’s official: the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop, my place of employment for the past 10+ years, will close its doors within the next few weeks. This economic climate became the perfect storm we couldn’t survive: with the confluence of the credit crunch (no financing for potential buyers), the changing paradigm of the book & textbook business, and of course the ever-present demons of B & N and Amazon… well, barring a White Knight arriving on the scene with a Big Fat Wad of Cold Hard Cash, we’re done.

Bookshop by tina1960.

Waterlight, by Kathleen Jamie.

One of the more inconvenient aspects of parenthood, for me, is that I can’t simply sit down and read a book whenever the mood strikes, which used to be pretty much all the time. But I did manage to carve out a fair amount of time this weekend to spend with the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie’s first book to be published in the U.S., Waterlight: Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2007).

Cover Image

Most of this collection is comprised of shorter poems, only a page or so; some are in dialect, but not especially difficult to decipher. They’re meditative, dealing primarily with the natural world, and while the weaker poems seem to merely skim a pretty surface, overall, I really enjoyed this introduction to Jamie.

One of my favorites, selected from Jizzen, to me the strongest section of the book:

St Bride’s

So this is women’s work: folding
and unfolding, be it linen or a selkie-
skin tucked behind a rock. Consider

the hare in jizzen: her leverets’ ears
flat as the mizzen of a ship
entering a bottle. A thread’s trick;

adders uncoil into spring. Feathers
of sunlight, glanced from a butterknife
quiver on the ceiling,

and a last sharp twist for the shoulders
delivers my daughter, the placenta
following, like a fist of purple kelp.

“Good job, Mommy!”

My life day to day was lived through ordinary actions and powerful emotions. But the more ordinary, actual, the more intense the day I lived. The more I lifted a child, conscious of nothing but the sweetness of a child’s skin, or the light behind an apple tree, or rain on slates, the more language and poetry came to my assistance. The words that had felt stilted, dutiful, and decorative when I was a young and anxious poet, now sang and flew. Finally, I had joined together my life as a woman and a poet. On the best days I lived as a poet, the language at the end of my day — when the children were asleep and the curtains drawn — was the language all through my day: it had waited for me.

— Eavan Boland, “Letters to a Young Woman Poet” (By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, ed. Molly McQuade. Graywolf Press, 2000.)

*

Our little hilltown was swarming with tourists today, with cars parked along all the side streets, and the Bridge of Flowers teemed with people and their cameras. Vincent usually loves to run down the Bridge, but there was just too many people. When we reached the other end, I so wished I’d brought our camera, because what did we come upon then but several troupes of Morris Dancers!

If you’ve never seen Morris Dancers, well, I don’t know how to describe them. Faintly ridiculous, maybe. The first time I ever saw this folk dance, I burst out laughing. But I’ve come to appreciate their energetic handkerchief-waving, their jangling legs and stick-whacking. And Vincent loved it, clapping and waving his hands and bobbing his head. We watched them for quite a long time, until my growling stomach forced me to sling Vincent (who did not want to go home by any means) over my shoulder and thread our way back through the tourists. When we finally managed to get to the front door of our apartment (“Is that my home, Mommy? What about that one?”), Vincent pet my shoulder and said, “Good job, Mommy!”

We’ve reached that stage where the child finds it necessary to give the parents positive reinforcement. Is my need for praise that obvious? And apparently I lack imagination, because when I look in on him during those suspiciously quiet moments in his room, he explains that he’s cooking pizza or shaking his booty (yes, truly, this is something he does) in a tone of voice I can only describe as professorial, with his hands raised and held out from his shoulders as he shakes them.

I can’t say for sure where he gets this from, but I have my suspicions…and it’s not me.

"This is <i>not</i> a crate, this is a <i>boat</i>, okay, Mommy?"
"This is not a crate. This is a boat. Okay, Mommy? A boat."

Not Us.

Usually I find Mark Halliday not my cup of tea, but this poem, especially when read aloud, is devastating. (This being WordPress, do I need to mention that the formatting is not quite right?)

Not Us


He had congestive heart failure with fluid in the lungs
and she had a tumorous kidney removed.
All this last month! But the thing is,
they are not us. That’s the whole thing.
They
are not us. Once this concept is grasped, the whole picture becomes
clear and makes good sense. Those four words say it all,
They are not us. It sounds simple yet it means so much.
To begin with, they
are at least twenty-three years older than us —
but that’s not the main point, that’s actually kind of a distraction
because the central essence of the matter is
THEY ARE NOT US
okay and it should just
stay that way stay that way it should
obviously I mean let’s keep I mean the lines have to be clear:

they just are not us
which seems a big mistake on their part but really it’s not their fault
it’s just —

in the hospital that’s them
and we are simply the ones who send them a soberly attractive card
saying “How awful”
so then we have sent them a card.
We sent them a card (because “How awful”) so that’s done

and there’s no reason
to think that card flies up into the night sky
and roars looping beyond sound among invisible clouds
looping in silent fury of speed till some year some day it flies down
soberly attractive and slips quietly how awful under your door my love
and my door.

–Mark Halliday, from Jab (University of Chicago, 2002)

CPS & the Brat Lit Fest

Not only did I have the great fortune to see and hear Carol Frost and Michael Waters at the Collected Poets Series reading this past Thursday, but then I was able repeat the experience as they both took part in the Brattleboro Literary Festival this weekend. In addition to the comedy duo of Alan Cheuse and Robert Pinsky (truly, these old friends really know how to riff together!), they were my favorite readings of the day.

Michael has a confident, dramatic delivery that really brings his poems alive, while Carol’s voice is softer. She read some new poems from a series she’s working on, which she describes as a collaboration with her mother, who has dementia.  I think of them as an expansion, a deepening of her “Apiary” poems included in The Queen’s Desertion.  Really moving work.  I can’t wait to see them all collected together in the pages of a book.

I love the picture of her below, how it captures her impish generosity. Between poems she told the briefest of stories, flashed that smile. In fact, both she and Michael showed the utmost consideration to their audience and fellow readers, taking not a minute longer than their allotted times, graciously sharing the stage and the spotlight. It always surprises me when poets showboat or try to upstage one another, but not a whit of it came from Carol or Michael.

And I really enjoyed meeting Richard Frost, Carol’s husband, and Mihaela Moscaliuc, Michael’s wife, who are also poets in their own rights — and just as generous and welcoming as their spouses. I hope we will all meet again before too longcarol-frost.jpg

This poem by Carol, which she read today and described as a sort of fractured pantoum, is from her collection, Love & Scorn: New and Collected Poems (2001):

Matins


I

I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory,
in the unleavened garden
disgorged the lies and scared away with a stick a snake.
What made me covet that which I could not have?

I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs,
I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory.
Even the falling leaves gesture their renunciation.
I disgorge the lies and abhor the serpent’s hiss.

I remember seasons, things I bring from far away,
and grieve. I walk in catacombs.
In gardens now, by the stone walls, sunlight closes,
the falling leaves gesture their renunciation.

I remember being in a field touching a man’s body.
I remember seasons, things I bring from far away
and things that hold their breath for shame.
His skin was soft as a girl’s and he closed his eyes.

I placed apple petals on his eyelids;
we were lying in a field and I touched his body.
Then there were clouds, an uncanny silence,
as when in a green place the air holds its breath for shame.

What made me covet what I could not have?
Ill with the power and glory, a thrashing in my chest,
I remember the unleavened gardens,
petals falling singly, the yellow snake disgorging lies.


II

I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs.
I’ve felt undeserving. I’ve made myself ill with the glory,
power and glory–
a thrashing in my rib cage.

I’ve gone into the unleavened spring garden,
disgorged the lies,
and scared away with a stick a snake.
I’ve grieved and walked in catacombs.

What made me covet that which I could not have?
I’ve felt undeserving. In this bright land
that changes from yellow to green and back to yellow,
I remember seasons, things I bring with me from far away

and things that hold their breath as if for shame.
I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.
I’ve gone into the unleavened garden
and startled a yellow snake

disgorging lies. A thrashing in my rib cage.
What made me covet what I could not have?
I remember seasons. Things that hold their breath for shame.
Things I bring with me from far away.


III

I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.
I’ve made myself ill with the power and glory.