Let’s see, where did I leave off? Or start where I am and work my way back?
Among the books finished this month.
- Works and Days by Edward Kleinschmidt Mayes (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999)
This was a quick but absorbing read. He had organized his poems as an abcedarian, only so far as subject of the poem (Ago (needle), Buii, Campo, Dove, Erbaccia, Fabbro, Giorni, Io, Lavoro, Macchina, Notizia, Oliveto, Porca Miseria, Qua, Raccolta, Sfuso, Terreno, Uva, Verita and Zappa, which means hoe. Who knew.) Towards the end of each, if not on the last word, is a pass over of to the next subject. The poems all surround running his vineyard in Italy. Italian is mixed in freely with English, but in italics with footnotes. Each poem is 1-4 pages long which says little except indicates my knuckle’s reluctance to retype that length.
It continues in part,
“One can have passion only
for the moment, and the moment
passes. But then we go,
we catch up, and then, more passion.
The poems have a lovely cadence and sense of immediacy. They sample all kinds of local expressions. I read a goodly portion of it aloud for the pleasure of sound.
This is his fifth book but also most recent still. What happened to him? (googling deeper) Oh, he married Frances Mayes who wrote Under Tuscan Sun and they wrote a cookbook together from the Cortona area. Ah, guess he’s too content for poetry now. He’s 63 and living the ex-pat dream.
- James Whitcomb Riley‘s Riley Love-Lyrics with Life Pictures (Braunworth & Co Bookbinders & Printers, Brookley, NY, 1899)
His is one of the first poets I read. As a child I loved his transcribing the dialect. It slowed down the reading but made it more real. There’s a lot of names named so I wonder if it is commissioned poems or he was a skirt chaser.
When she comes home again! A thousand ways
I fashion, to myself, the tenderness
Of my glad welcome: I shall tremble — yes;
And touch her, as when first in the old days
I touched her girlish hand, nor dared upraise
Mine eyes, such was my faint heart’s sweet distress
Then silence: And the perfume of her dress:
The room will sway a little, and a haze
Cloy eyesight– soulsight, even– for a space
Interesting mix of modern and old. Quite a preoccupation with eyes, hair and hands untouched but that was the audience appropriateness of the era of pang I suppose.
Some are plot-driven such as Farmer Whipple-Bachelor who tells the story of meeting his step-sister and the journey to finally marry her at age 54 and adopt the kids she had before being widowed. Quite the point of view for a story. Some of them made me laugh aloud but which at what, I can’t quite sort just now. Wait, it was this:
I am tired of this !
Noting else but loving !
Nothing else but kiss and kiss,
Coo, and turtle-doving!
Can’t you change the order some?
Hate me just a little—come !
Many of them are reminiscing on people long dead and treasuring the few that remain like from a 6-pager of smokes and drinks and fireside
Tom Van Arden, my old friend,
All the pleasures we have known
Thrill me now as I extend
This old hand and grasp your own—
Feeling, in the ride caress,
All affection’s tenderness;
Feeling, though the touch be rough,
Our old souls are soft enough.[…]
Tom Van Arden, my old friend,
I grow prosy, and you tire
Fill the glasses while I bend
To prod up the failing fire.
- David W McFadden’s Shouting Your Name Down the Well: Tankas and Haiku (Mansfield, 2014)
Elegant, deceivingly simple. Good eye. Reading the book was something of an education. Let me back up the train. It was akin to the anonymous haiku workshop at Haiku Canada Weekend where one of the haiku was utterly shred to bits. People started wincing. Nick Avis did the big reveal at the end. This “obvious newbie” of a poet does a checklist of how not to haiku, tells, not shows, explicitly names emotion, uses personal pronoun, and both I and my, and writes a baggy poem with too much punctation, and having too much material, so it should perhaps be a tanka. And that first line, or two, could go. And maybe she or he got the species of bird wrong…Who was it? Basho. And then Nick explained this is why it is a good poem. People were embarrassed and laughing and chastised. To comply with rules are not the objective. Once we start to learn something, we get a kneejerk response that there is a right to be doing. At the same time McFadden’s haiku reads (p. 121) “Form is the signal/That the content is worthy/To be cared about.”
Funny the things we think that matter. I am insistent on not caring about upper vs. lower case except in haiku. These haiku use upper case at the start of each line and periods at the end and 5-7-5 which frustrated me. As well as the word “haikus” in the book.
That is short-visioned. What is essential to haiku isn’t syllabics but vision. Where haiku fail most often is in vision. These have the vision but the syllable count as well. Many of his poems are epigrams, anecdotes but by any standard well-made and many succeed as haiku despite the 5-7-5 because they are alert, observant, pivot, an have a clarity and humour in succinctness, being aware of foibles of human perception.
or p. 75
Why am I climbing
Because they’re not there.
Why do we worry?
We’re merely leaves on a tree.
Let the tree worry.
Big mind is the fog
That socks us in and the light
Guiding us from grief.
Little mind doesn’t notice
Any fog or light-just grief.
Not to give the impression that these are typical. The tone and subjects range a lot
from traditional, p. 101
Come quickly! I have
in my hand a flower that
Blossoms and then fades.
to winky humour p. 62
Strange that fish don’t sleep.
Must be all those coffee grounds
Going down the sink.
I had the pleasure of hearing from the book twice, once at Versefest, once at the Mansfield Press spring launch in Ottawa. A video of poems from that. Reading and rereading the book aloud was worthwhile.
- Gary Barwin’s moon baboon canoe (Mansfield Press, 2014)
- Jane Munro’s Blue Sonoma (Brick Books, 2014)
My favorite of these were the chapter of ones on the couple aging. They have complexity played simply. The dream poems I wasn’t so taken by except for one about a red doll dress floating on water and the pov of being disturbed by how a man looked at it.
- Leonard Cohen’s The Energy of Slaves
from way back when. On one hand, juvenilia where he mostly sexually boasts of being better in the cloakroom with a girl, than as a writer. Girl literally. An awful lot of poems of sex with the 12-15 year old set. The rest are about the violence of war. So something of a blunt hard slog and snog.
Here and there you can see the density he develops “to make love with the tooth of a saw” or “gone back into the world/to be with the ones/who labour with their total bodies/who have no plans for the world/They were never entertainers”.
- Jane Yolen’s The Radiation Sonnets
The book was written, one sonnet at a time at night after her husband had radiation treatment. It was published in 2003 by Algonquin Books in North Carolina and sold by the Chapel Hill cancer clinic as a fundraiser.
The sonnets move thru the journey sometimes poignantly, sometimes buoyantly such as one in which the encouraging the patient to eat is likened to the wife dominmatrix.
- Joseph Jurman’s My Journey (self-published, undated).
In the universal nature of self-published memoirs everywhere salient details are skipped because that is known to the family who are the intended audience. Or to the author, leaving off I’ll never forget my school teacher’s face. I can see it as clearly as if it were in front of me now. And then he moves on without a detail for us.
This summary page covers a lot. It is a fascinating look into one person’s perspective and the details that stick as pre-Nazi era becomes the Nazi sweep. He talks with a lot of verve of training as an army cook, of being on an illicit refugee ship, of receiving his last ever letter from his family who all disappeared.
There are small details such as arriving in the “Promised Land” to find out the Jewish people call Jewish people sneaky dismissive names just like he endured living among Poles. Or the life hidden with the ballast, running out of food and water as they try to sneak past patrols. Finally fishing boats come out for them that are so decrepit that by the time the patrols catch them, they determine it would be murder to not let the small boats land.
- Peg Bresnaham’s In a Country None of Us Called Home (Press 53, 2014)
But for hours I would have made it to her reading in North Carolina. It’s in the memoir school of poetry where they are all sentences and one subject anecdotes. Which is not to say inarticulate. In her mother’s home mom sings along with the tv “hymns so pumped/with radiance they gild the plaques//and crystal sculptures of eagles”
In writing anything there’s a glossiness that can come once we try to head hop into our ancestors, like the difference between drawing out of our head or drawing a still life before us. So much detail is lost when the story isn’t or own, or when it is. What you fill back in and assemble takes as much of an eye as when it is direct experience to pull salient element. She does it in, for example, “Decoding my Mother’s Ledger from July 20, 1940” the carnival has come to town with its diverting lightness
a pitcher of beer, the news:
fore pouring from the Spitfires
and Heinkels in the Battle of Britain,
yellow stars swallowed in clusters
by German and Polish
black holes, while Mother
wheels in in white wicker
around Twelfth Street, stops
at Schmidler Drugs, Gustav’s
Butcher Shop, our lives nearly normal.
The carnival comes to town.
Long wands of light scour the sky,
pull people from porch swings
and couches. The calliope’s whistle
pulses the leaves of chestnuts
and elms like a callithumpian band[…7 lines…]
Midgets snake charmers, a tattooed
king with continents stitched
to his skin. He flexes his muscles,
countries rise and fall.
callithumpian. isn’t that a wonderful word.
She curates a moment “At the Jordan Street Café” where a woman by the boot tray begins to sing Puccini’ “Vissie D’arte” from Tosca. A worker turned off the CD player.
every face translated its grief.
The aria froze us like a tableau— forks
in midair, a waiter with a full tray held high,
the bartender in front of the mirrored wall
of bottles and glass about to pour a draft.
Everyone heard her music.
Some from cages. Some winged.
Some tethered to a fire, to ropes of ash.
I can’t access her voice, but a transcendent music that stops time and bumps all other programming. It is universal in its particulars.
Once I figure out what time signatures are in music, if indeed I’ve just used the right term, I have to try to the tip from “The Ballerina at Ninety” (p. 20) “If you walk/in waltz time/you won’t limp, she instructs./ I fall in meter/beside her,/,my own hitch/vanishing.” If that works, we can erase the claim that poetry never did something useful.
Such striking poems thruout. Did that really happen? Person beside her at the funeral slumping onto her, also dead. She told it well or maybe I should say, sang it well.
The title poem:
- Philomene Kocher’s Singing in the Silo (Catkin Press, 2014)
Despite it gathering together 25 years of her tanka, haibun and haiku she seems to not call it her collected. p. 53
prime of life
I hear the bitterness
in my voice
of spilled sugar
on a white couter
I gather the sweetness
I missed before
She was recently on Literary Landscape. Listen: The first interview (starts at 04:27 minutes) is with Philomene Kocher whose new book of haiku poetry, Singing in the Silo, has just been published by catkin press. The second interview (at 18:27 minutes) is with Stanford M. Forrester, a haiku poet and publisher of bottle rockets press. Both poets gave readings at the recent Haiku Canada conference in Ottawa.
- Nelson Ball’s You must look hard to see what is there (press-press-pull, portland oregon, 2014)
A slim but beautifully made chapbook the poems are characteristically straight forward but not superficial with a good eye for interesting bits. For exmaple
“Do you have a book by William Guy Carr
titled Games in the Pond?”
Sixteen minuts later
a second e-mail:
“Sorry, the name of the book
is Pawn in the Game.“
Keen observant eye for the place and out of place.
His poems are fun. Sonnet, for example. Or differently fun, psalm which is the 24th psalm hijacked by the sheep “they led me down garden paths that were not ironic/or filled with worrisome garden gnomes/but lit upon the shed of happiness”. The video of the title poem was up 4 years ago. Here’s a video from Wally in Cobourg of the reading tour for the book so you can see it directly: