The New York Times Book Review started a feature called “By the Book” a year or two ago. Someone, usually an author, is interviewed about their reading habits. Several of the questions are repeated almost every week like; What is currently on your nightstand?, What book are you embarrassed that you have not read yet?, or What book was a great disappointment to you?
Another one of the recurring questions is: “You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?” I’ve noticed that Mark Twain and Charles Dickens get invited a lot.
In Stanley Plumly’s, The Immortal Evening, we learn about an actual dinner party involving three literary giants: William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb. The dinner took place on December 28, 1817 at Benjamin Robert Haydon’s house who was working on a painting called Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Interestingly, in the crowd around Jesus in the painting, Haydon included the likenesses of Wordsworth, Keats, and Lamb.
If you enjoy poetry and art history, this might be the one for you.
By the way, my answer to the New York Times Book Review question would be: Wallace Stegner, Lorrie Moore, and George Saunders. Who would you invite?
Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes is a short story told in poetic verse. The story is about a girl named Gabriella and, although her grade and age aren’t revealed, she’s probably in junior high. Each page is a poem with a one or two word title that captures a day in the life of Gabriella who was named after the Angel Gabriel. Her parents are now separated, she has moved to a new school, and Gabriella uses day dreaming as a way to escape life… separation from her father and being the shy new kid in class. She day dreams when she hears any particular word and her thoughts are carried away on wings. For example, the word Dragon takes her riding on a dragon across the sky till the sun dives into the sea. However, both her mother and her teacher, Mr. Spicer, tell her to quit day dreaming. “Mom names me for a creature with wings, then wonders what makes my thoughts fly.” When Gabriella finally does stop day dreaming her mom and Mr. Spicer know that she is unhappy. Will Gabriella ever return to day dreaming?
I like this book because it is an effective poetry story. It is interesting that Grimes uses two different fonts to categorize the moods of the poems. Nikki Grimes is an award winning author and this book received a 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award. Kalamazoo Public Library owns many books by Nikki Grimes.
How profound! That Maya Angelou’s last book would be His Day Is Done! Like Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, the “global renaissance woman”, has been a crusader for many. For me, her life has paralleled Mandela’s. She, too, has opened many doors and as she says in the book about Mandela she has enlarged many hearts with tears of pride.
Though this is a small book of poetry, it makes an awesome footprint
and melts a little bit of your heart. And now we can say Her Day is Done.
His Day is Done: a Nelson Mandela Tribute
According to Pew, there is a growing number of young Americans that are not affiliated with any particular religion, a.k.a. "nones." This book, a sort of spiritual memoir by Roger Housden, is one example of a "none" trying to keep his faith. Or rather redefine it.
A very short book, almost an extended poem, his faith amounts to this: beauty, nature, kindness and love. Read poetry; look at art; walk in the woods; love people. The book is more like a memoir, a Whitman nature poem, a reflection on faith as solitary, personal, open-ended - a life-journey.
Now, I sympathize with his faith and applaud his ideals, but we must admit that this kind of faith is drastically different from the faith of many other people. That's okay. (disclaimer: I didn't read the entire book so I have no room to comment, but yet here I am commenting). Is Housden merely describing his own happy, privileged, care-free life and calling it faith? Going to Starbucks, writing best sellers, enjoying art and peotry, watching the waves through his window. Sounds great to me! But what happens when you reduce faith into a few ideals? Is anything lost? Perhaps not. Where's the pot-lucks? Mr Housden has redefined faith into a solitary pursuit of truth and beauty (nothing wrong with that, he comes from a long tradition), but let’s be honest - he is getting rid of something here. Or, another way to put it: he probably got rid of his faith, kept a few things from it (truth, beauty, love, awe), and started something new and different.
If you are spiritual-but-not-religious, and you like poetry, you will like this book.
Keeping the faith without a religion
Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.
The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.
John Berryman is the kind of poet that has always interested me. He was an emotionally tormented soul for most of his life and whose complicated verse radiated both a deep intelligence and humane tenderness, sometimes within a single line. His most famous work, the epic Dream Songs series, is considered by many critics to be among the best written, if not some of the most highly influential poetry of the post-war period. Berryman’s work is difficult to describe but he’s often lumped in with the Confessional Poets (see: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton). One moment, Berryman’s voice is raw and revealing, the next, lyrically abstract but heartbreakingly profound. For those looking into his work, I recommend the Dream Songs, a masterful work that like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Pound's Cantos or Olson's Maximus Poems, possesses both variety and thematic continuity.
John Berryman: Collected Poems
What caught my eye was the cover . . . it looks like summer. Mielo So’s watercolor painting of a beach scene promises lovely things inside. Here are the first and last couplets of the poem called “What the Waves Say”:
“Shimmer and run, catch the sun.
Ripple thin, catch the wind.
Roll green, rise and lean—
wake and roar and strike the shore.”
Kate Coombs’ poems are a mix of playfulness and mystery; Water Sings Blue is a lovely collection that is just right for reading aloud with kids.
Water Sings Blue
Even though the cover of House Held Up By Trees has a melancholy look, the soft and gentle words tell a story that feels like a magical secret . . . an abandoned house that is lifted off its sterile foundation by the trees growing up around it. Poet Ted Kooser and illustrator Jon Klassen have created a quiet and thoughtful picture book that deserves to be seen beyond the walls of the Children’s Room.
House Held Up By Trees
As others on the library blog have written, April is National Poetry Month. While I was in college, one of my dearest friends introduced me to Mary Oliver, who became one of my favorite poets. Maxine Kumin, another of America’s great poets, described Oliver as an “indefatigable guide to the natural world.” Oliver is known to acquire much of her inspiration from walks near her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and writes almost exclusively about nature. KPL has a nice collection of her work.
This video features Oliver reading a few of her poems, including one of my favorites, “Wild Geese”.
Other poets I recommend include Anna Akhmatova, Fleur Adcock, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Dorothy Parker.
Why I Wake Early
Sally May Harrison is a slave. Pa learns that Master is planning to sell her and her brother, Abraham, so Pa plans for the whole family to run away from the plantation. They encounter many terrors and tragedy en route. Ultimately, Sally’s family finds and lives with a tribe of Seminole people.
I was moved by the poetry at the beginning of each chapter of My Name is Sally Little Song, by Brenda Woods. Sally makes up songs, like her Mama taught her to do. With very few words, her songs capture the essence of what she and her family experience.
Pa tells the family they are leaving “day after t’morrow afore sunrise,” and to keep it a secret…”send no one a farewell look with your eyes.” The following chapter starts with:
“Gotta look down
Into the dirt all day
Or my brown eyes
Is sure to give us away”
Sally’s family travels at night, in hopes of escaping notice. When they get to swampland, her poem both describes the feeling in the swamp and foreshadows danger:
Beneath my feet
Night bugs fly
Woods is the author of a 2003 Coretta Scott King Honor book, The Red Rose Box.
My Name is Sally Little Song