As I mentioned recently, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier, published in 1996 by McClelland & Stewart.
The book’s dust jacket has a cutout window which reveals a prairie farmland picture underneath.
Separating the book’s dust jacket with the cutout window from the rest of the book reveals that the prairie farmland picture is embossed directly onto the hardcover book board.
Lorna Crozier’s signature appears on the book’s front cover. When you can recall the moment when you received the signature from the author, doesn’t it lend the book object a special glow forever after? Even if a book is pre-signed, doesn’t it lend the book an additional bit of warmth?
As part of my daily #todayspoem tweeting routine, I recently accompanied my selection of an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s poem “Spelling” with some pictures of the treasured limited edition chapbook from which the poem came, entitled Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written (published in 1981 by The Nightshade Press). It’s a slim, striking, verging on unwieldy, utterly unlikely rendition of a chapbook. Its somewhat thorny but beautiful physical demeanour, complete with stitched string binding that just might be sending some kind of a message unto itself, almost seems to echo the acerbic, urgent poems contained within. (Hmm, let’s think about writing book reviews that include a review of how well the physical book supports the book’s thesis, themes, tone, etc. Yes, I know that will be a challenge, but perhaps a healthy one, in this increasingly digital world.)
Inspired by interested comments about the Atwood chapbook pictures from Twitter book friend @barbhowson, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration.
Today, I dipped into Charles Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems (1992, Black Sparrow Press). Many of not most of the works comprising Bukowski’s prodigious output were published by fabled Black Sparrow Press in handsome, well-crafted editions that gave to his and the works of other avant-garde writers of the 1960s and 70s a reverence that was often a long time coming from a broader audience and readership. That was due in large part to the vision of Black Sparrow founder John Martin, whose literary legacy is described here and has still been kept alive today. As David R. Godine, the licensed distributor who took over the Black Sparrow backlist when John Martin retired in 2002, points out:
These are not reprints: they are the original publisher’s editions, trucked direct from John Martin’s former Santa Rosa warehouse to ours. Most of the books are hand-sewn, on creamy, heavy, acid-free paper, with distinctive cover and text designs by Barbara Martin. Most of the books, once they are sold out, will not be reprinted.
Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems is a fine example of Martin’s publishing care and craft.
This limited edition of Charles Bukowski’s The Last Night of the Earth Poems includes tipped-in doodles from the poet himself.
Swallow by Theanna Bischoff is a lush exercise in pairings, forged and broken, and multiplicities, often layers and layers of them. That this rich layering doesn’t become affected or overpowering is testament to Bischoff’s ability to keep the effects balanced against the clear, emotionally resonant account of a young woman coping with the sudden loss of a beloved sister and the unravelling around her of other relationships and support.
The story of Darcy and her younger sister Carly is as unsettling yet infectious as Carly’s bubbly, off-kilter personality. Separated by six years, older Darcy moves steadily towards comparative maturity and security from high school to moving away to university and career, establishing connections outside her family. Carly tries to embark on her life’s path, but it’s an uneven and fraught start, to say the least. Carly’s youthful wackiness and unpredictability – endearing to some, infuriating to others, such as Darcy and Carly’s stepfather – grows into recklessness and to behaviours possibly indicative of clinical attention deficit and bipolar issues. Darcy is wrenched between her love and concern for her sister and her desire to forge her own life – until she is abruptly and cruelly relieved of that dilemma by her sister’s suicide.
Of what, then, is Swallow so lavishly composed to both frame and cushion this harsh central tale? The matryoshka doll conceit of the old nursery rhyme “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” not only contributes to the book’s multi-faceted title, but stitches the book together structurally and thematically (who is swallowing whom at each unhappy turn?) as well as hearkening to a childhood whimsy that Darcy and Carly perhaps never really enjoyed.
Recurring images of and references to broken and injured bodies, lost or possibly stolen children, abandoned children and families, absent and surrogate fathers and most pervasively, twins and partners – some potential matches, some comfortably or uneasily together, others sadly separated – all echo the troubled and troubling lives that Darcy, Carly and their frustratingly enigmatic mother navigate with diverging degrees of success. Darcy and Carly’s surrogate father, a gentle widower nicknamed Papi, rescues stray cats to which he gives the names of Toronto subway stations. The subway is the literal and figurative undercurrent of Swallow, acting as both a connector and a dramatic element of disconnection. (And again, that title … Darcy reclaims the subway but doesn’t allow it to swallow her in the end.)
The most potent symbol playing on that ever-present title is only mentioned once:
“Did you know, Darcy, that swallows mate for life?” … “Maybe you’ve seen people with tattoos of swallows before. It actually dates back to sailors, who often had to go away for a long journey. Swallows symbolized hope for their safe return home, back to those they loved. And if someone didn’t survive, if a person drowned at sea, legend said that swallows would find the person’s soul and carry it up to Heaven.”
In the end, the dizzying multiplicities are stripped down to simple singulars – the most poignant that of one parent and one child, soldiering on. That ultimate resolution perhaps seem all the more stark, but also simple, courageous and even hopeful, because it emerges from so many complex, almost suffocating layers to get there.
Thank you to NeWest Press for providing a review copy of Swallow, by Theanna Bischoff.
I’m thrilled to introduce Bookgaga blog visitors to a very special guest book reviewer. Amanda Earl is an eloquent and prolific literary supporter, and writer and artist in her own right. I suspect many of you reading this blog already know her and perhaps have met her in person at one of the many arts events in which she takes part.Amanda’s most recent poetry chapbooks and e-books are “Sex First and Then A Sandwich” (above/ground press, Ottawa, Ontario, 2012), “me, Medusa” (the red ceiling press, UK, 2012). Her poems appeared recently or are forthcoming in Rampike, fillingStation and In/Words Magazine. Amanda is the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal, and the (fallen) angel of AngelHousePress. Follow her on Twitter @KikiFolle or Pinterest pinterest.com/kikifolle/. For more information, please visit amandaearl.com.
If I understand correctly, the object of Today’s Poem (#todayspoem) is to expose the general tweeting public (the Tweetosphere) to a daily dose of poetry in 140 characters or less. These poem bits are also posted by ardent poetry enthusiasts or Internet junkies, take your pick, on Pinterest, along with a photo of the author or book cover. Today’s Poem is the brainchild of Vicki Ziegler, who I know as @Bookgaga on Twitter, but haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. I am trying to lure her to the Ottawa International Writers Festival this fall for tea and book mayhem.
I began taking part in Today’s Poem this year, most likely in January. At first, I simply opened a book of poems at random and tried to find an excerpt that was compelling and brief enough to post. I had some trepidations about this exercise. What if I wasn’t representing the poet’s work properly by excerpting those 140 characters? I found I often had to exclude parts of lines to fit within the 140-character limit or I could choose to continue in another tweet, thereby breaking the line with the noise from the traffic of other tweets. But the thought of the goal of the exercise, to help people (and myself!) rediscover or discover exciting poetry, motivated me to dive in. I think this is a very creative use of Twitter, which is often just a place for narcissistic self-promotion and the repetition of sweet homilies. I commend @BookGaga for her altruism and initiative.
My most recent month-long ritual has been to post lines from the work of Anne Carson, not just her poetry, but also her translations of Greek and Latin plays, her essays and her novellas in poem form. I am fascinated by Carson’s exploration of form, the tension between formal elements and the everyday. As a former translator myself, though never a literary translator, I am interested in Carson’s take on the translation, both in the essays she writes about a single word, such as “bittersweet” and the translations themselves in the way in which they enliven and create their own new spaces, much in the way Erín Moure, another literary hero of mine, does with her translations from the Galician or invented personas.
I think of Anne Carson as a model of literary exploration, my older poetic sister. She is eclectic and daring, willing to try anything to explore the limits of her craft, and I respect that, aspire to it for my own writing. Not to mention that she didn’t have her first book published until she was 42 when Brick Books published Short Talks, probably the most treasured of her books on my shelves. While I’m past 42 by many years, Carson demonstrates that there is hope for the spineless.
Starting August 1, 2012, I posted a line from the most recent collection of her work I own, Nox. I don’t have Antigonick yet, Carson’s update of Antigone in a form similar to that of a graphic novel.
My poetry shelves are arranged for the most part alphabetically, and for the most part, according to the order that the work was published, but books have a tendency to unsort themselves for the avid reader. I posted lines from Carson’s work in approximately publishing order with most recent first.
August 1: “The phoenix mourns by shaping, weighing, testing, hollowing, plugging and carrying towards the light.” Nox (New Directions, 2010)
I am intrigued by Carson’s focus on the retelling of myth and the reanimation of Greek and Latin literature to present day. I wasn’t educated in the classics, alas. Carson’s writing is a way to learn about them, a way in.
I love Carson’s wit and sense of humour:
August 8, 2012: “Always planning ahead that’s me, practical as purgatory my mom used to say.” Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (Knopf, 2005)
Am astounded by the beauty of her lines, which aren’t sentimental, but visual and memorable, often with an edge:
August 12, 2012: “A fell dark pink February heaven/Was/Pulling the clouds home, balancing massacre/On the rips.” Men in the Off Hours (Knopf, 2001)
August 18, 2012: “Hotel gardens at dusk are a place where the laws governing matter/get pulled inside out,/like the black keys and the white keys on Mozart’s piano.” The Beauty of the Husband (Knopf, 2001)
Carson deals with concerns such as death, anger, youth, beauty in ways that resonate and strike a universal chord.
August 23, 2012: “Youth is a dream where I go every night/and wake up with just this little jumping bunch of arteries/in my hand.” Plainwater (Knopf, 1995)
For a very good overview of Carson’s work and insightful interviews, I heartily recommend:
I have been gratified by the responses of others on Twitter and Pinterest. Carson’s lines from Today’s Poem have been retweeted and repinned by people from all over Canada and the UK, possibly from the States too. One of the goals of this exercise for me is to spread the good word about poets whose work excites me.
August 31: “Sappho begins with a sweet apple and ends in infinite hunger.” Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986)