Open Books: Readings
1 JAMES ARTHUR, NATALIE DIAZ, & TOMAS Q. MORIN
7 MARY SZYBIST
21 MICHAEL COLLIER
Saturday, June 01, 2013 at 07:30 PM
JAMES ARTHUR, NATALIE DIAZ,
& TOMAS Q. MORIN
This evening we welcome three poets who have recently seen the arrival of their first books and who all have a connection to beloved Copper Canyon Press. James Arthur's collection, Charms Against Lightning ($16), was published by Copper Canyon in 2012. A Hodder Fellow at Princeton University for 2012-2013, he has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry, a residency at the Amy Clampitt House, and a Discovery/The Nation Prize. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington. His work is crisply lyrical and quietly searing, and we offer you a sample here—
"Song of the Doppelgänger"
I was there, and saw the half-ton rope
of human hair coiled like a python,
glinting. I don’t know when the war was fought,
why, or where it stopped, but believe
in the mighty engine perspiring behind the screen
and as much as I can
in the notion of good. I find less to praise.
I’ve been to the Sinai, to Kiyomizu-dera.
I went to Hiroshima and didn’t cry. I know pretty well
what my promises are worth,
know the worth of material things.
Just this summer I heard a raven sing
and thought of a stone rebounding
down a bottomless jar.
When My Brother Was an Aztec ($16) is the title of Natalie Diaz's first full-length book, also published by Copper Canyon. A Mojave and Pima tribe member, she grew up on the banks of the Colorado River in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia for several years, she completed a poetry and fiction MFA at Old Dominion University. She lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, and directs a language revitalization program with the last Elder speakers of the Mojave language. Her poetry can be fierce, moving, and darkly comic, as shown here—
"Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination
of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation
of a Wild Indian Rezervation"
Angels don't come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven't seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named
he came through here one powwow and
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars.
Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women's bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I've ever heard of has ever been
or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John's wife. It's no wonder
Pastor John's son is the angel—everyone knows angels
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They're no good
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across
the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from
we're better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
'xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez.
If you do, they'll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they've
mapped out for us.
Tomás Q. Morín is the author of A Larger Country ($14), which was awarded the APR/Honickman First Book Prize and published by American Poetry Review, and is distributed by Copper Canyon Press. A Texas native, he received an MFA from Texas State University, and an MA from Johns Hopkins University. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. He teaches literature and writing at Texas State University. Tom Sleigh, who selected A Larger Country for the award, has described Morín as "a poet who has something to say, and who has found the odd and exact and new way of saying it." By example, we offer this—
It shouldn’t have surprised me while reading
Gorky’s remembrance of Tolstoy and
on a blanket in view of the muddy waters
that I should see a parakeet misnamed
the Quaker parrot
by some scientist poet with a sense of humor,
not to mention fashion, because he found modesty
in the way their lime color drapes over
their backs and down each wing in a way that
reminds one of a key-lime pie; though not
the one with the dome of meringue which resembles
the dress of a house finch, rather the wobbly
body of the sad supermarket doppelganger;
the impostor with the God-awful filling
tinted green by they of the white aprons
and soufflé hats who no doubt assume we
are all children
of Truth and would thus not know how to suffer
a yellow-white pie with lime in its name;
much less something important like the rapture
that came and went last week
for which the stores baked a special angel food cake
labeled Manna and stuffed with so many
mulberries it bled through; and no one I know
and perhaps it was a rapture that extinguished
the tribe of Attsurs from which the parrot came
that Tolstoy recounts to Gorky as possessing
the last traces of the history of its lost people
in its sickled tongue. And how long did it take
scholar after he took the bird home, fed it dates
and schnitzel from his own lips, to translate
the precious words for “mama” and “wine,”
“kitty” and “bye-bye,” and when the rapture
tomorrow and we finally vanish as predicted
what bird will speak for us if not our monkish
parakeet souring in the oak above us
like a cheap piece of pie
that calls out “hungry, hungry, hungry”?
|-- * --
Friday, June 07, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Mary Szybist joins us to read from her stunning new book, Incarnadine ($15 Graywolf Press). An associate professor of English at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon, she earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her first collection of poetry, Granted, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the recipient of a Witter Bynner Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The poetry in Incarnadine offers a startlingly fresh and elegant meditation on the twining of the spiritual and the physical. Threaded throughout the collection are poems reimagining the annunciation, examining the transformational glory and terror that must come with such a visitation. This is a book remarkable in its grace and fearlessness.
Mary who mattered to me, gone or asleep
among fruits, spilled
in ash, in dust, I did not
leave you. Even now I can't keep from
composing you, limbs and blue cloak
and soft hands. I sleep to the sound
of your name, I say there is no Mary
except the word Mary, no trace
on the dust of my pillowslip. I only
dream of your ankles brushed by dark violets,
of honeybees above you
murmuring into a crown. Antique queen,
the night dreams on: here are the pears
I have washed for you, here the heavy-winged doves,
asleep by the hyacinths. Here I am,
having bathed carefully in the syllables
of your name, in the air and the sea of them,
the sharp scent
of their sea foam. What is the matter with me?
Mary, what word, what dust
can I look behind? I carried you a long way
into my mirror, believing you would carry me
back out. Mary, I am still
for you, I am still a numbness for you.
|-- * --
Friday, June 21, 2013 at 07:30 PM
We're delighted to snare a reading by Michael Collier during his stop in Seattle. His most recent collection, An Individual History ($25.95), was published in 2012 by W.W. Norton. He is the author of five earlier volumes, including The Ledge, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He teaches at the University of Maryland and is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Intelligent, haunting, and laced with wit, the poetry of his new book is a graceful evocation of the individual within personal and public history.
"Days in Paradise"
The bird was on the wire and then it wasn’t,
though the wire still stretched from pole to pole.
You saw it perched and still, except for the defensive
tilt of head, the tail feather flickering alert
and silhouetted through the setting sun.
You saw the sun set the eucalyptus trees on fire
and burn the land that once was sea.
You saw the sea in tides of dust and sand
that swept across dry fields and vacant lots
and in flocks of gulls and stranded pelicans.
You saw it in the cloudless days, the house trailers
anchored in their parks
and palm trees, like massive tube worms,
waving in the sky.
You saw its shadow sweep across
the broad flat avenues
laid out in grids, in the bare mountains that
ringed the valley,
the citrus groves bulldozed for houses. You smelled it
in the irrigation ditches and canals, the flooded
and golf courses. The bird was on the wire, the land
had once been sea: Go ahead, I urged my friend,
who’d been showing off
his father’s pellet gun and knew exactly what I meant.
Go ahead! It felt good to say the thing that
to hear the barrel’s pfft of air, to see the pistol’s blur
as it recoiled.
The wire stretched from pole to pole, the sun
set everything on fire.
|-- * --