On My Nightstand: December Edition


I am ensconced in my bedroom at my Saturday writing desk, which is a card table (weekdays I write at my real desk before anyone's awake, but on Saturdays I need to be Behind A Door if I want to get anything done).  Snow is falling, blowing, drifting -- we are supposed to get 9 to 16 inches yet today.  It seems like a perfect day for reading and writing.

And speaking of reading, here's what I've been reading since my last Nightstand post:

In poetry:

The Body Mutinies by Lucia Perillo
I bought this because I knew this poet has lived with a chronic and debilitating illness (MS), and wanted to see how she treated illness in her poetry.  I believe this is her first collection of poems, although she has had several since, including Inseminating the Elephant which won the Pulitzer.  These poems were hard for me.  Many are long, and I admit I don't have a lot of patience for long poems.  There's a little voice in my head that says "For heaven's sake, if you can't say it in one page, write prose!"  I consider this to be a defect of the reader, not the writer, and yet my bias did keep me from enjoying this collection as much as I enjoyed:

Loon Cry by Fleda Brown
Fleda Brown's family has summered in the same area of Northern Michigan that my family of origin calls home since 1918 (we are Johnny-come-latelys in comparison).  Loon Cry is a collection of her Michigan poems, which she put together as a fund raiser for a local watershed council.  Several of the poems are from her Reunion collection which I wrote about here, but they have found a beautiful new home in Loon Cry.  I love the arc of this collection, which for me weaves a story of family, place, and the self navigating the waters of family and place.  I'm impressed with Brown's startling metaphors, and her way of taking surprising turns from everyday scenes and subjects.  Here's an excerpt from what may be my favorite poem in the collection, "Letter Home":

"Grass River is a snake on the tongue.
You, love, a thousand miles down
the map, many turns.  Meanwhile,
I am plunging ahead here through
forget-me-nots, marsh marigolds,
Joe Pye weed, and underneath,
the bright fur of mosses,
moss over moss, tangled, unspoken,
this great green marsh bleeding

I must also mention Half Wild by Mary Rose O'Reilley, which won the Walt Whitman award in 2005.  We've been reading selected poems from this collection in my Monday group, and I am wild for Half Wild.  I've resisted buying it until after a certain holiday comes and goes, but this is top on my list for 2011.  Her poems are small, quiet, and penetrating.  Many are set in the natural world, which she uses to bring us to insight and spiritual truth.  I can't say much about the arc of the collection as a whole, since I've only read bits.  From "We Keep Asking the Prairie":

"Hawks circle,
abandoned to updraft,
river birch gather to practice jumps.

As if we all come here to fall
and take off again,
tumblers in love."

Abandoned to updraft!  Tumblers in love!  Sigh......

And on to other genres:

I've Heard the Vultures Singing:  Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature by Lucia Perillo, and Driving With Dvorak:  Essays on Memory and Identity by Fleda Brown.  Both are collections of personal essays.  It was interesting to read the essay collections alongside the poetry collections and to hear the echoes of the poet voice in the essays, and vice versa.  I enjoyed both collections.  They were well-written and brave.  By that I guess I mean both authors took on tender, difficult subjects and invited us (readers) into them.

Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen Hopp and Camille Kingsolver.  This is a story of the Kingsolver-Hopp family's quest to eat only locally-available food for one year.  They grow much of their food themselves, and procure the rest from nearby farmers/suppliers.  One thing I appreciate about the book is that the writing is clear and authoritative without being preachy.  In fact, the more I read, the more I wished this woman was my neighbor because I think she'd be really fun to talk to.  She almost lost me, though, when about two-thirds of the way into the book there had been no sibling arguments, complaints about sweet potatoes, ornery child-garden-weeders, or raised voices.  Then, blessedly, she devotes a few pages to the realities of family life amidst the local foods quest, and I can believe in her again.  The book really made me think about what food is: fuel for the body.  And also about the wisdom in the food ways of the past:  eat food (not chemicals, fillers, flavors), eat it while it's fresh, prepare it together, preserve what you can't use now for scarcer times, tread lightly on the earth in your growing and consuming of food.

In other news:
I think it's safe now to (at least temporarily) retire the fever-reducer and tympanic thermometer that are also on my nightstand.  Amen.

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