On My Nightstand

You mean besides Raising Your Spirited Child?
You mean besides How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk?
You mean besides Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child?

Why yes, in fact, I do have a few other books on my nightstand.  I have three books of poetry I've been reading, enjoying, and learning from.

But first, a disclaimer: I started writing this post last week when I was in the middle of a stresspile (this is a technical term I learned from Gerry; from what I can tell, it means too much stress all at the same time).  So if this post is jumpy and disjointed, all I can say is I was jumpy and disjointed.  Part two of the disclaimer is that I am never sure I am getting a book of poetry "right" -- what I present here are my impressions and interpretations of the book based on careful reading.  But as I always tell people who ask me what my poetry background is: I am just a hack trying to learn everything I can.  These are great books -- read them yourself to know for sure.


The first is Sandy Longhorn's Blood Almanac.  Sandy blogs at Myself The Only Kangaroo Among the Beauty, and shares the ups, downs, and in-betweens of the writing life there.  In Blood Almanac, she writes beautifully of the prairie landscape she grew up amidst, and the landscape of a soul becoming itself.  The landscape of both is by turns beautiful and desolate, as in the poem "Lover Say Prairie" which begins:

"Say prairie and mean an underground sea
watering the roots of tall grasses that sway
like the thin bodies of girls dressed in sackcloth."

then moves on to a "stunning silence" and "the lone woman / in her house made of dirt and sod, the one / window."  At the end of the poem, we have no great comfort or happy ending, only a "hazy, indistinct joining" between two bodies living out life on this prairie-sea.

The second section of the book is a series of poems called "Momentary Constellations: 12 Self-Portraits" each titled with the name of a month.  I especially love "May," which tells of a child throwing herself into water and being hauled out repeatedly, until at last the child "abandoned / the language of fish for the sound / of things that could be drowned."  For me, this poem (like others in the collection) speaks of the other-ness we sometimes feel even in the midst of family and community, or other familiar surroundings literal or figurative.

There is also plenty of plain-old-beautiful nature poetry in this book, as a poet who knows and loves a landscape lavishes her words and attention on the natural world: "the blue jays feed // in the fence-row under the shelter of neglected / brush, small tufts of porcelain blue revealed, // a frenzy of feather and seed and beak, / of hunger and need and the given feast." (from "The Brightening Hour")

Buy Blood Almanac here, and here's a bonus: if you need a poem to help get you through this long winter here is Sandy's poem "March Afternoon."


Next on the pile is Traci Brimhall's Rookery.  Reader, this book is part story, part book of spells.  You are just as apt to find crickets, and ants, and mice grinding their teeth as you are to find angels and saints making themselves known in daily life.  The book is in three sections, each starting with a poem drawn from three definitions for the word rookery.  The first section, "Colony of rooks," deals in betrayal and grief.  Rife with aubades, the poems of this section entangle humans and animals as if to point out we are not so very much different, as in "Concerning Cuttlefish and Ugolino":

"You knew that an animal, in its wildness,
          would chew through its tendons, snap
its own bones.  There are parts of ourselves

we can learn to live without."

The second section goes back to "a breeding place" and contains vivid poems of childhood and memory, where love and desire and danger are often close neighbors.  The third is "a crowded tenement house" where the poet works in the space of being in the world -- in the here and now, and in notable events from history such as the Triangle Shirt Factory fire:  "Women link hands, say goodbye // in six languages and fill their skirts with eighty feet / of air."

Throughout the book the diction often feels prayer-like and incantatory. Ultimately the poet presents us with a world that is imperfect and sometimes even brutal, but beautiful -- a world we don't want to leave too soon.  I think we all know this world, but if you want to see it through a new lens buy Rookery here.  And if you want to get the Ugolino reference from the poem quoted above, click here and scroll down to  "Ugolino in Dante's Inferno."


And last we have Jennifer Richter's Threshold.  I am just about stunned into silence on this one because it captures -- beautifully and accurately -- the experience of illness and motherhood and the sad, stark intersection of the two.  Because of my own experience of chronic illness, this book often had me crying quiet tears, and closing the cover for a few days at a time until I felt settled enough to read more.

There is the family portrait drawn by the child, in which "you all come close to holding / hands, though the fingers of your family never touch; you're in the middle of all this reaching." (from the title poem, "Threshold").

There is the mother standing behind glass seeing, and being seen, through the lens of illness:

"Sometimes a flash of wings will crash into your glass then slump, shitting 
and shivering, staring, standing, now opening its mouth, its throat.  The 
silence streaming out: a sound its loves aren't meant to hear.  They'd hurt.
You won't ever tell.  This will happen to you again."

(from "Recovery 2: Turn Away Your Eyes and It'll Fly").

There is the whale-watching trip, mother and son:  "You turn, your / son is watching you.  Has been watching all along you realize." Then later, as the poem ends:

                                                                                                         "Out there a mother
whale and her son begin their long swim north today.  You know it will
be slow, this mother leading her new life.  You'll tell him everything.  Why
now? your son will ask and you'll say Now the mother's strong enough."

(from "Recovery 6: The Last Word").

I am just wowed by the clarity and restraint this poet has as she approaches a difficult subject.  I'm intrigued by her use of the second-person "you" in her illness poems.  My sense is that it gives the reader enough distance from the subject character (the "you") of the poem so that it doesn't feel too close or confessional, but also helps us see ourselves in that same "you."  A sense of 'this could be you,' so to speak.

There are many other poems, too, not just of illness but of family, neighborhood, students and travel.  It is a wonderful book, and you can buy Threshold here and read it for yourself.  Many thanks to Drew who introduced me to this poet.


In closing, I feel I must say, as I have said many times before on this blog:  Yay, poetry!


Gerry said...

Poetry is dangerous, you know. Sometimes its sharp blade comes with its own healing medicine, slipping into the wound right behind the point. Still, scary stuff. And now a whole morning gone reading poems and a new (to me) blog with many, many, links . . . dangerous.

Molly said...

Yes, Gerry, I agree. The sharp blade, its healing medicine. Hope you enjoy the poems and the links. Thanks for reading.

drew said...

I think you underestimate your literary criticism skills. You have a wonderfully sharp, and seemingly natural, ability to zone and hone in on the many layers of a poem.

I'm loving Blood Almanac, too. And, I am so glad you have found a poetry companion in 'Threshold.'

And, and, thank you for linking to my blog. You are a dear.

Molly said...

Thanks, Drew. My comfort in both fires of my life -- motherhood and poetry -- is that, if nothing else, I try REALLY hard. :) Thanks, as always, for reading.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, thank you so much for that beautiful review. I'm humbled by your response to the book and so glad you've enjoyed the poems.

I've got Rookery on my bedside table right now!

Molly said...

Sandy, I really enjoyed your book. I forgot to mention in my write-up how much I loved your postcript poem -- the way it ushers the collection into its next moment.

I think you'll love Rookery!