A Mid-Summer Night’s Reading List
At the end of the school year, a great English teacher once said, “What kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t give you a summer reading list?”
So too I echo, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t kick up a few summertime jewels?
Poetry: “Or Both. We Could Do Both.” by Martin Rock
The poem “Or Both. We Could Do Both.” appears in the Black Warrior Review 38.2 This is the first of Rock’s work that I’ve read, so I’m unsure if this piece is an example of his usual experiments. His poetry takes its time, meandering over a few pages. Segments of the poem are struck through with a line, only to be supplanted by one or more replacement lines:
The result is a pleasureful, slidey sort of reading experience, where the mind is free to oscillate between potential imagery and reflexive intentions. It’s fluid, dreamy, and surprisingly satisfying. I say surprisingly because sometimes it can be difficult to take to a poem on first read when the form is so willfully misdirecting. Rather than losing me, Rock’s poem redirects constantly, leads me on like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and invites me to try again for a different result.
I wonder how Rock prefers to read “Or Both.” aloud? With partners? Shifting voices and positions? Multiple readings? Maybe I’ll get bold, write to him and ask. I plan to experiment. (For all I know, this is an established poetic form and I’m in the dark. Feel free to kindly illuminate me and your three fellow readers at Brainripples.) I think I need to go play with this form, maybe chop up some old discards for a new life.
Short Fiction: “Us” by Raymond Philip Asaph
I’m new to Lascaux Review, but that’s because Lascaux is new! Edited by Stephen Parrish and Wendy Russ, Lascaux “provides a showcase for emerging and established writers and artists.” Asaph’s “Us” keeps you moving with clean language and dry wit, and in doing so clears the stage for much bigger topics like American society, mental health, and our heartfelt desire to make a true connection with other people.
Stick around, because Lascaux Review is hosting its first ever short fiction contest which opens this September 8, 2012 at noon Eastern Time. Here’s the 2012 photo prompt:
I’ll be submitting, and I’ll be making time to read (and time permitting, respond to) the other submissions. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, short fiction contests are a fun opportunity to glimpse a sparkly fresh batch of stories among comrades. I like these contests because they usually result in real-time readership and feedback. (I think it’s something about the group creative effort that takes me back to my OM days.)
Long-ass Fiction: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Every year I try to make time to read a couple of classics. Thanks to audio ebook downloads available from the Kitsap Regional Library, I am now free to ponder on-demand the chewiest of language whilst I scrub skillets, prep meals, and fold laundry. I’m glad to report that Great Expectations was not what I expected. First off, kudos to Mr. Simon Prebble, because his excellent reading with well-honed and lively character voices makes Great Expectations extra enjoyable. (I’ll also add that if you’re of the insomniac ilk, you might try this reading of Dickens as a bedtime snack. I found it does the trick.)
I was grateful to Dickens for sparing us a total crash and burn ending for the main character. Even with all the character miseries and drive-by morality whompings, I nonetheless savored Dickens’ skilled craft so much that I downloaded and listened to the book a few times more. My favorite takeaways from this story are first in Dickens’ excellent use of food and meals as metaphors for subjects like society, class, health, and relationships. His special skill is a humorous use of irony. As I explained to my mother, I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed Dickens quite so much in my teens as I do today. I had no idea that Dickens would make me laugh so much, and I’m pretty sure most of the jokes that get me now are imparted through his tactful expositions on the ironies of youth. Oh yes that, and the masterful run-on sentence.
Book of Poems: Water Witching by Kathleene West
The fun thing about unread books on the shelf, is that they’re always ready when you need them. I picked up Water Witching at an independent bookstore in Cedar City, Utah back in 2010. West’s book has been waiting quietly for me to be quiet enough to read it. The familiar language disarms you; no great expectations, so she can really surprise you. Reading West’s poetry is a little like swimming slowly out on a lake, lulled by comfortable confidence, not realizing how far you’ve strayed from the shore.
I haven’t finished her book yet. Not only am I a slow reader, but I find the most satisfaction in poetry when I read poems one at a time, with long pauses in between for thinking space. Among West’s poems, mundane objects found in the home and garden are tools for revealing the invisible and mystical. Try these lines from her introductory poem, “Pining Away as an Erotic Activity:”Nothing on hand, but a jar of relish, to whet and unsatisfy my hungering tongue. Weak and empty, I watch visions like late movies, turning to the restricted channels. How perfectly I can tune you.
A good poet can tantalize and teach in the same breath. Her piece “Celebrating Disaster, The Sinking of Hood Canal Bridge, February 13, 1979” reads a bit like someone’s private journal pages, with personal asides and hearsay woven through the memory. One of my favorite kinds of literature to collect when I travel are the self-published journals from the elders of yore, newly rediscovered by modern descendents. Here’s a great one from my neck of the woods: Tales of Hood Canal, by Ethel M. Dalby, edited by Valerie Johnson.
And speaking of poets who teach, I feel like this poem cannot be shared enough, so here it is again: Sonia Sanchez, “Peace.” Listen, then speak.
I’ll have some new work to share in September/October. Until then, please feel drop me a note in the comments, share what you’re reading or writing.
What I plan to do on my summer vacation
Blogging on all channels will be light until autumn. You’ve probably noticed the crickets around here, so I thought I’d pop in and offer a peek at what I’ve been up to, which is by extension what I plan to do with the approaching summer.
Perhaps you’ve noticed my tweets about South Park Seattle and other neighborhoods? That’s because one of my favorite projects right now involves writing for neighborhoods around South Seattle. For these projects I get the opportunity to meet with local merchants and learn their stories. Then I do my best to tell those stories for print and web use. Our goal is to help attract new customers from around the Puget Sound area by sharing the unique goods and services to be found in these communities. Did you know that there are over 30 languages spoken in homes throughout the Duwamish Valley? There’s a load of history surrounding the Duwamish River. I’ll try to share the best things I learn along the way.
If you’ve missed the tweets and want to learn more about South Park Seattle, I recommend these starting points:
King County: South Park Bridge
Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center
Poetry & Prose
The solstice is just a couple days off, and I feel good about staying on track with my writing goals for 2011. Sometimes it has been a challenge for me to set aside significant time for working my own creative material. Life happens. This year I’m spending more hours writing and editing my stories. I’m powering through spiral-bound journals with greater velocity. I’m also taking more time to submit one or two finished pieces—at least once a month.
For the poets in the audience: among my foci this year is prosody, and if you’re interested in honing the music of your poetry (or if you’re just among the curious who would like to learn ways to read and enjoy poetry) I suggest these reference materials as starting points (which I borrowed from Kitsap Regional Library bookmobile—love your library):
Rules for the Dance : a handbook for writing and reading metrical verse by Mary Oliver
The poem’s heartbeat : a manual of prosody by Alfred Corn
I also checked out this book, but had to return it before I had time to read: All the fun’s in how you say a thing : an explanation of meter and versification by Timothy Steele. If I get back to it I’ll let you know what I think.
It wasn’t the refresher course in the rules of scansion that excited me about these books. What I did enjoy was each author’s use of examples, philosophical musings, and allusions to the evolution of language. It’s always a good to be reminded of the intimate relationship between poetry and breath. (It’s also nice to remember that I’m not the only over-analyzer on the planet.) If I had one wish about these books, it would be for less emphasis on poets and poetic forms that I already know. I’m on the quest for similar books which address poetic traditions and forms from other regions. If you know me, you know I’m not much of a gal for tradition. But there is much to be gained from the careful study of those predecessors who had way, way more self-discipline than I do.
Reads & Critiques
So what else am I reading? The stack is tall, but my favorite interest this year is slipstream. I blame it on the folks at GUD (review here) and a cappella zoo (review here). Years ago someone told me I was writing magic realism, which was before I’d even heard that it was a genre folks wrote to. Now that I’m a more of an active reader, I’m curious to learn about the evolutions of speculative fiction and slipstream. What I know is that I love well-done specfic and slipstream, and I’d like to learn to write a story that’s as effective as it is ethereal. If you’re interested in slipstream, I recommend this title (originally recommended by a cappella zoo): Feeling very strange : the Slipstream anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel.
Part of the reason I’ve returned more than a few unread library books is that I’ve gone into critique partner overdrive. It started last winter when I wanted to add a couple people to my critique exchanges to help keep me active. May rolled around and I had somehow accrued 10 critique partners, including one full manuscript exchange (not a short story but a rather ambitious novel). What I love about critiquing is not just reading newly-forming work, and not just challenging myself to share feedback that’s useful, but the act of the exchange itself. I think it makes me feel alive as a writer to trade with someone else who’s hacking away at the same mountain, hoping to strike a vein. Just remember, all ye who venture to pursue the full-manuscript critique: it’s worthwhile work, but you must be prepared to donate a significant chunk of your life to get it done.
Do you love trees? Sure you do! Blog, pod, vid, whatever medium you like, share a tree, orchard, garden, or forest from your neck of the woods. Then send us the permalink at the Festival of the Trees. Our monthly blog carnival is hosted at a different blog each month and celebrates trees in all their forms. The upcoming issue is our fifth birthday! That’s right – we’ve been blogging trees with folks from around the world for five years. Join the party at Dave Bonta’s blog Via Negativa.
If you’ve been reading my blogs these past years you know that for me, health and garden are intimately connected. While I didn’t finish moving the compost pile (did I mention that life—and the occasional flood—happens?), I did stick with my other health goals from 2010. I don’t do my qigong every morning, but I’m pleased to be in much better health this year, most especially because it means I can stay productive in my work. My new 2011 health goals include restarting my yoga/dance routine. I’m renting the upstairs of a farmhouse with big open floors, so it’s a great time to dust off my books from the Evergreen days and get my form back. The rental is located on a short neighborhood street with lots of trees, so my other simple goal is short, daily walks. I love being a writer, but it does require a fair amount of sitting. My final word for you all this summer: make time for recess.