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.