I read a lot during the academic year. I read the assigned reading my creative writing and world lit classes read. I read essays, poems, short stories and plays that my students write. I read and comment and read and comment and read and comment some more. This is all to say that I don’t read much outside of my classes during the months of September through April. I do read individual poems that pop in my inbox or online and I may read a handful of short stories. If I’m really lucky, I may get in a novel or two over winter and/or spring break, but that’s about it. Most of the brain I have left after reading and commenting, I try to reserve for writing and revising my poems. Sometimes there isn’t much brain even for that task.
But guess what? It’s summer!
This means that I’ve been reading voraciously for the past few weeks and it’s like a breath of fresh air. While I am teaching summer school, it doesn’t start until June 9th and my summer classes are usually much smaller, which means the whole reading and commenting machine is far less consuming.
So what have I been reading?
A Life in Men by Gina Frangello
This is a brilliant book. I was hooked after the first chapter and by page 50 I was saying things like this to my husband, “You will not believe what has happened in this book! And I’m only on page 50!” Then I would proceed to outline the entire plot thus far complete with color commentary from yours truly. His reaction was underwhelming, but you should read this book. From the opening:
Pretend I’m not already dead. That isn’t important anyway. It’s just that, from here, I can see everything. There we are, see? Or should I say, There they are? Two girls sitting at a cafe off Taxi Square, eating anchovies lined up in a small puddle of oil on a white plate.
I’m on page 245 and I’m completely enraptured with the characters.
Tree Language by Marion McCready
I blogged about Marion McCready’s poems in an earlier post. I’ve been waiting for her book, Tree Language, since I read her poems in Poetry. This collection is beautifully lyric but also brooding and dark. I like poems that reimagine what we may typically see as beautiful and transfer those objects into something sinister. One of my favorite poems in the book, “Daffodil horns”, accomplishes this task:
mouths from the yellow bellies
of starfish flat and helpless
mouths unshuttable though mute
unstoppable culled from our garden
these lampshade-and-bulb trespasses
periscope from the bottom of a foreign vase
though we listen we do not hear
though we see we do not understand
and the daffodils they spread like cancer
Motherland Fatherland Homosexuals by Patricia Lockwood
I found Patricia Lockwood’s blog several years ago when I was working on a blog project for my MFA. This was before her first book and well before the publication of her poems in Poetry and The New Yorker. She’s blown up on the literary scene as of late with profiles in prestigious magazines and I believe someone called her “Poet laureate of the twitterverse.” I think it’s excellent. I liked her when I first stumbled across her blog and I like her now in her most recent poetry collection. Admittedly, Lockwood probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s probably just because she makes people feel stupid. She’s brilliant. She’s shocking. She pushes her audience. Hard. And isn’t that one of the reasons to read poetry? My favorite poem in this book is “List of Cross Dressing Soldiers:”
Someone thought long and hard how to best/make my brother blend into the sand. He came/back and he was heaped up himself like a dune,/he was twice the size of me, his sight glittered/deeper in the family head, he hid among himself,/and slid, and stormed, and looked the same as the next one, and was hot gold and some-/where else.
The Way Out by Lisa Sewell
I just started this collection and have not finished reading it yet, but the poems wound me. They’re carefully rendered in their composition and at the same time they are so raw in emotion. The opening poem, “Chorale,” I read three times:
Clearly I’m the volitional subject and though not violent
I am haunted. The lost, the never felts and unhinged voices
sing through me these insomniac nights of my own exile,
not theirs, like streaks that bank the rocks
and dirt slopes of disappointment. I thought was day
and every continuous week free, meant precious,
worth guarding. I’ve imagined their sleep, weight
on mattresses in rooms that don’t’ exist and who would protect,
who aid and abet them—but never the texture of their hair
or skin, eye color, limb. Their songs, like chalk
along asphalt, mark the boundaries of inclusion, the games
I won’t play, redrawing the line I stepped over one morning
one July. Blame the selfish gene, the animal planet
I was born to, the twist in my nature that stilled
each voice, and kept them in check, coveted, leashed,
a muffled chorus that accompanies me
along these bland vistas. Imagine, If I had freed
just one and let it carry across the water or alight
among the hawthorn’s strict branches. Imagine gestation
an then I’m someone’s mother, loved, hated or ignored.
If I have been mistaken, giving up life and more life
to safeguard mine, this humming din,
this ghost song of my own and another’s making
must be the all I have left.
In writing this post, I’m aware that all of these authors are female, which I didn’t plan but so it goes. I would encourage everyone to check out all four of these writers. They’re all very different from one another in style and subject but they’re also very talented and they offer up a unique view of the world, which is what good writing should attempt to do.