Category Archives: Today’s Poem

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.

bookdiary1

I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …

bookdiary2

Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

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  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

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  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

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In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

700 poets … and me

weddynge-breakfaste-punch


A little postscript …

A little over a year ago, my lively poetry-inspired virtual table welcomed 500 poets and translators. Now, 200 more poets and translators have joined a festive gathering that now verges on … well, the possibilities (revelations, touching civility, mayhem …) are breathtaking. As you scan through the list below, you’ll see pairings of poet guests that are poetry unto themselves.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other generous and eclectic #todayspoem contributors. While I continue to imagine what this 700 poets and translators I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … again, I’m fantasizing about the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The following are links to more information about each of the unique poets, lyricists, writers who stray into the poetic and translators from whose work I’ve tweeted in just over three years. I’ve highlighted new additions in bold, but in fact, I’ve done my best to check every link in this post to ensure that each provides something interesting, useful – or in the case of a few souls that have managed to elude the all-seeing eye of the interwebs, at least something identifying – timely, whimsical and so on. The links include personal and professional web sites, blogs, journals, articles, interviews, reviews, essays, biographies, obituaries, appreciations and bibliographies.

I kind of hope that these might be starting points for others to explore these artists, too. The excerpts from their work that I incorporated into #todayspoem tweets are also saved as part of the Today’s Poem Pinterest board.

Image from Project Gutenberg’s Manners & Cvftoms of ye Englyfhe, by Richard Doyle

The collective effect of all the todayspoem contributors is warm, powerful, inspiring, too. steviehowl, I love what others share every day.

Back to top

Spending time most gloriously with 500 poets and poetry translators

Gathered at another table

A year ago, the table welcomed 300 poets and translators. A year later, 200 more poets and translators have joined the festive gathering, making for some interesting shuffling in the seating arrangements, to say the least. Are Helen Adam and Fleur Adcock having a surprising meeting of minds? How about ee cummings and Nancy Jo Cullen … or Edna St Vincent Millay and Joe Strummer? Anselm Berrigan is now next to his father, Ted, and his mother Alice Notley is further down on the other side, engrossed in conversation with Idra Novey. We trust Helen Guri and Jason Guriel will have no mishaps with wine glasses or cutlery …

I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other generous and eclectic #todayspoem contributors. While I continue to imagine what this 500 poets and translators I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … again, I’m fantasizing about the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The following are links to more information about each of the unique poets and translators from whose work I’ve tweeted in a little over two years – personal web sites, articles, interviews, essays, biographies and bibliographies. I kind of hope that these might be starting points for others to explore these artists, too. The excerpts from their work that I incorporated into #todayspoem tweets are saved as part of the Today’s Poem Pinterest board.

Tea table image from chestofbooks.com

Small acts of poetry

Louise Gluck

Even in the afterglow of the Griffin Poetry Prize festivities, which are about as close as you’re going to elevate poetry and poets to a combination of Nobel Prize veneration and rock star status … loving poetry still feels like a rarified pursuit. It touches you, excites you and jazzes you – and yet the eyes of your colleagues, friends and loved ones might still glaze over when you start to rhapsodize about Don McKay, Tomas Transtromer or Louise Glück.

It isn’t enough to try to defend and promote a somewhat misunderstood or underappreciated art form by insisting that those song lyrics your sister can’t get out of her head, even that clever advertising slogan that resonates for your co-worker … well, just might have an element of poetry to it. No, poetry should not be the spinach hidden in the brownie recipe. And no, the benefits of poetry should not be a clinical Yahoo Answers entry, complete with crowd-sourced ratings, right in there with how to remove grass stains from silk or how to configure your web site’s htaccess file.

You want to see that light in your doubting loved ones’ eyes sparked by a whimsical or startling insight from John Ashbery or Kathleen Jamie or Dina Del Bucchia or Lorna Crozier or Phil Hall or … And if you can create that illumination while supporting the poets and publishers and curators of collections and readings events who make it all possible, all the better. Some small acts of poetry are in order.

You can start with something modest and fleeting (but still thoughtful and tailored to the recipient) like this …

Facebook stealth poem

With so much poetry offered online in delicious treasure troves and repositories, from Poetry Foundation to The Academy of American Poets to The Poetry Archive to the Griffin Poetry Prize to countless journals and publications (Arc Poetry Magazine, ditch, Forget Magazine, Jacket2 … and … and …) … well, it’s easy to find and post the perfect stealth poem on the appropriate subject, in the ideal style, striking just the right tone, for someone who needs it … or doesn’t yet know he or she needs it.

Poems in the Waiting room

Feeling adventurous? Want to kick that stealth poetry thing up a notch? How about trying it in real life, easing some poetry into unexpected locations where people might need it more than they realize?

My own forays into real life stealth poetry have been inspired by Poems in the Waiting Room, a UK-based initiative spearheaded by the Arts in Health charity, which publishes and supplies short collections of poems for patients to read while waiting to see their doctor and to take away with them. There is no charge to the patient or to the National Health Service. What a receptive setting into which they’re introducing poetry – one where people are seeking comfort or at very least some distraction or diversion. With that in mind, I left this in my dentist’s office …

Stealth poetry by Roo Borson

… and this in my doctor’s office, where I was thrilled to see someone actually pick it up as I was departing after my appointment.

Stealth poetry by Jennifer Still

Oh, and then there’s #todayspoem, the daily small act of giving and receiving poetry that many of us have been practicing on Twitter for a year and a half. I’ve described and discussed (gone on about it?) it enough on this blog that it warrants its own category. More than 250 individuals on Twitter have contributed at least once and usually much more frequently to daily tweeted poetry excerpts that – a mere hashtag away – run the gamut of the art form and range from earliest days to the freshest, newest voices. Simply look at the gorgeous book covers and radiant faces shining out here.

The Argossey, by Ben Ladouceur

I was inspired to think about small acts of poetry (and lifted the phrase, which I hope she won’t mind) from a quietly moving piece by poet Amanda Earl recently posted in the ottawa poetry newsletter.

I am the last person to rabbit on about the therapeutic value of poetry. I don’t really need poetry to have some kind of function in society. I don’t really know what my point is here except to say that these small acts of poetry helped me through a very difficult time.

What were those small acts of poetry that had such powerful and healing effects? Read Amanda’s story here.

The elegance and grandeur of the Griffin Poetry Prize events and the relatively substantial media attention they garner, combined with the diversity of poetry and poets the prize showcases, needs as its counterpoint the small acts of poetry that bring it home, by virtue of the personal and trusted recommendation, the hand-delivered physical book object, the intimate connection when it’s most needed … to bring it all swiftly, soundly and beautifully to heart.

What are the small acts of poetry you’re going to give and that you’re going to look forward to receiving?

See also:

being Bogey, a poem by Leslie Greentree

go-go dancing for Elvis, by Leslie Greentree

My #todayspoem choice yesterday was an excerpt from the poem “being Bogey” by Canadian writer Leslie Greentree. She has kindly granted permission for me to post the complete poem here.

being Bogey

by Leslie Greentree

ever since you told me Casablanca was your favourite movie
I knew you would leave eventually     could see how the appeal
of sacrificing yourself to a higher good would be stronger than
anything I could offer you     how you were one of those men
who had to do what was right and honourable

you be Bogart then     lay yourself at the altar of an old empty
promise     at the feet of the children who will eventually scorn
your sacrifice as weakness spit I hate you when you won’t buy
them a car or this season’s green Capri pants whenever they
turn those practised pouting eyes on your stricken face

who shall I be then     Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember
she too must have always secretly known that love could never
conquer all the pissy details of reality     that’s why she couldn’t
offer him her flawed self     shall I sit here now with a blanket
over my legs pretending I’m not crippled

the worst part is that even though I’ve been hit by a truck there
is still a part of me that knows that this is the best way to make you
love me     if you had stayed eventually I would have driven you
away in tiny increments with my sharp tongue and my clawing
need

now you will pine for me always and I for you     absence and loss
the only guarantees of a great and lasting love     the ideal and
torment of what’s lost somehow more real than making supper
washing dishes taking out the garbage     but I’m still crippled
still sitting under this blanket and I’m not as drawn to the
romance of this movie as you

From go-go dancing for Elvis, by Leslie Greentree
Copyright © 2003

Leslie Greentree’s go-go dancing for Elvis was shortlisted for the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize. Learn more here.

300 poets and poetry translators at a table

Gathered at a table

William Blake and Robin Blaser have a meeting of minds over appetizers, and the rest of the vibrant, clattering table of poets fades into the background. Lucy Maud Montgomery drops her napkin and Jacob Arthur Mooney gallantly picks it up and returns it to her. Kimmy Beach and Brendan Behan plot postprandial mayhem over dessert, and convince Milton Acorn, Helen Adam, Al Purdy and Paul Quarrington to join them. Suzanne Buffam flirts with Charles Bukowski. Margaret Avison has reassuring words for Ken Babstock. Billy Collins and John Cooper Clarke swiftly find they have much in common; Warren Zevon and Jan Zwicky are less certain of that, but are cordial and collegial nonetheless.

I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other #todayspoem contributors. So, while I’m imagining what this first 300 poets I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … I’m also imagining the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The illustration, added with good-humoured respect for all fine poets and translators, is Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party — Illustration to the fifth chapter of Alice in Wonderland by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel (from www.victorianweb.org).

What I read in 2012

The Yips, by Nicola Barker

Here are the books I read in 2012, with links to reviews (here on this blog or on Goodreads) where I have them. As I’ve done in previous years, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

In addition to the interesting and often challenging complement of books I enjoyed this year, 2012 was the year I committed to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as more and more friends on Twitter began to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. It’s been a truly revelatory experience. In a little over a year, I’ve pondered the works of over 260 unique poets, writers, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often surprising hashtag. I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2013, and I hope many will continue or join anew.

I also celebrated some beautifully built books, including:

That list, then …

  1. The Game
    by Ken Dryden (reread)
  2. The Money Tree
    by Sarah Stewart and David Small
  3. The Antagonist
    by Lynn Coady (reread)
  4. The Marriage Plot
    by Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Something Fierce – Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
    by Carmen Aguirre
  6. Expressway
    by Sina Queyras
  7. Algoma
    by Dani Couture
  8. Autobiography of Childhood
    by Sina Queyras
  9. I’m Starved For You
    by Margaret Atwood
  10. Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell and Know
    by Alexandra Horowitz (read aloud)
  11. On a Cold Road
    by Dave Bidini (reread)
  12. Believing Cedric
    by Mark Lavorato
  13. Audio Obscura
    by Lavinia Greenlaw, photographs by Julian Abrams
  14. Why Men Lie
    by Linden MacIntyre
  15. Methodist Hatchet
    by Ken Babstock
  16. The Love Monster
    by Missy Marston
  17. Detroit Disassembled
    by Andrew Moore, essay by Philip Levine
  18. The Sisters Brothers
    by Patrick DeWitt
    (guest review by Barbara McVeigh)
  19. Night Street
    by Kristel Thornell
  20. The Juliet Stories
    by Carrie Snyder
  21. Killdeer
    by Phil Hall
  22. The Blue Book
    by A.L. Kennedy
  23. Whiteout
    by George Murray
  24. The Forrests
    by Emily Perkins
  25. Seen Reading
    by Julie Wilson
  26. Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend
    by Larry Tye (read aloud)
  27. Personals
    by Ian Williams
  28. The Art of Fielding
    by Chad Harbach
  29. The Yips
    by Nicola Barker
  30. Swallow
    by Theanna Bischoff
  31. Everything, now
    by Jessica Moore
  32. A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy
    by Peggy Iris Thomas (read aloud)
  33. The Deleted World
    by Tomas Transtromer, versions by Robin Robertson
  34. Swimming Home
    by Deborah Levy
  35. The Essential Tom Marshall
    selected by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje
  36. Autobiography of Red
    by Anne Carson
  37. The Little Shadows
    by Marina Endicott
  38. Inside
    by Alix Ohlin
  39. NW
    by Zadie Smith
  40. Dear Life
    by Alice Munro
  41. Copernicus Avenue
    by Andrew J. Borkowski
  42. Two Solitudes
    by Hugh MacLennan (reread)
  43. Indian Horse
    by Richard Wagamese

Currently in progress, heading into 2013:

  • The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis
  • Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, by Jesse Jarnow (read aloud)
  • The Age of Hope, by David Bergen

Looking back fondly on my 2012 reading, looking forward eagerly to my 2013 reading, I’ll simply conclude …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Book of Books, page from 2012

Revisiting poets on #todayspoem

Some Trees, by John Ashbery

Well, I’m closing in on 10 months (211 poets in 288 days, to be exact) of #todayspoem. Yep, and so far, I haven’t missed a day. As I’ve mused before, did I have any idea I’d be this far along a journey through poetry when a bunch of us bookish Twitter friends had the first #todayspoem discussion back in late 2011? I knew I would commit to it, and I did. What I didn’t know was how far-ranging a journey it would be, and how much I’d learn from both my own explorations, and from the discoveries I’d make through the generosity and creativity of other #todayspoem contributors (who I hope I’ve accurately captured in this Twitter list).

As far afield as I’ve gone at times with #todayspoem, I notice from keeping track of my choices that there are poets I’ve returned to more than once. The following is a list of the poets I’ve visited and revisited for #todayspoem inspiration, with links (where available) to some of their poems that I’ve chosen, read, enjoyed and derived inspiration or solace from early in the morning.

 

Celebrating Anne Carson Every Day In August

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.

July 12: “Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea./Susie Asado.” Gertrude Stein

Short Talks, by Anne Carson

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)

The Beauty of the Husband, by Anne Carson

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:

  • the Blaney lecture from October, 2010

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)

Six months of #todayspoem

Poets Linda Besner, Robin Blaser, Lavinia Greenlaw, Ko Un, P.K. Page and Ian Williams

or 147 poets in 184 days (or so)

Did I have any idea I’d be this far along a journey through poetry when a bunch of us bookish Twitter friends had the first #todayspoem discussion back in late 2011? What I did know is that I felt very committed from the outset to giving it a concerted try. I would do my best to read and share via Twitter every single day an excerpt from a poem to which I’d given some consideration and reflection. So far, so good. I was still enthusiastic when I checked in after two months, and six months in, I’m still interested, motivated, intrigued, jazzed … and have yet to miss a day.

What I didn’t know when I sent my first #todayspoem tweet on December 25, 2011 was where my poetry explorations would take me. What I also didn’t realize is how many others would be along for the adventure, and how their contributions, comments and insights would send me off on new side trips along the way.

Overall, the exercise (which has never felt like an exercise, actually) has compelled me to revisit and go deeper in my own library. It has also inspired me to go further afield in print and online, with poets with whom I was already familiar, but also very excitingly with poets old and new I was encountering for the first time.

And what of the daily poetry excerpts and selections themselves – my own and those of other #todayspoem contributors? Well, every day is a fresh intersection with where I am and how I’m feeling and what that day’s poem provokes, evinces or confirms. Not a day goes by that those simple tweets and where they lead have amused, amazed, surprised, touched, agitated, intrigued and more. Try it for yourself.

So, without (much) further ado, here is a list of the poets whose work I’ve read and incorporated in #todayspoem tweets since December 25, 2011. For each name, I’m going to link to a biography, article, interview, review or some other resource that might inspire you to go off on a few poetry side trips yourself. Thank you to the poets, publishers, #todayspoem contributors and poetry lovers in general who have filled and enriched the first six months of this venture, and are likely to help me turn this into a lifelong habit.

“How often I look back
for the moment my footprints
fade from sight

the dew undisturbed and the moss – “
Emily McGiffin, As Air from Between Dusk and Night (2012, Brick Books)

“To crow
would have been
out of place;
and besides
this rooster
wanted to be different.”
Irving Layton, The Laughing Rooster (1964, McClelland and Stewart)

“The paper’s still empty, the poem unwritten.
You would have done better to have talked to your mother.”
PK Page, How to Write a Poem from Coal and Roses (2009, Porcupines Quill)

“For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.”
Christopher Smart, from Jubilate Agno (written 1759-1763)

“Kevin Costner stayed in this hotel
Babe Ruth and Calvin Coolidge too
This is a sacred place”
August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“I started spelling my name backwards,
retreating from the space a name makes.”
Rosemary Sullivan, Sisters from The Space a Name Makes (1986, Black Moss Press)

“and the wind began to blow and all the trees began to bend
and the world in its cold way started coming alive.”
John Darnielle, Woke Up New from Get Lonely (2006)

“It’s the spot where the dogs
always stop overlong, then look at me as if to say,
Explain this, please.”
Chase Twichell, The Park From Above (2012, Plume Poetry)

“And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Peace from Poems (1918)

“It was the last conversation I ever had with her.
I told her I liked baseball, to make her happy.”
Dave McGimpsey, What Was That Poem? (2011, Walrus Magazine)

“Outside there are sirens.
Someone’s been run over.
The century grinds on.”
Margaret Atwood, Secular Night from Morning in the Burned House (1995, McClelland and Stewart)

 

See also: