Open Books: The Goods
If you see something you'd like, click place an order.
Books as 2013 Begins
Awards can be helpful nudges, moving an overlooked writer's book to the top of a reader's bedside stack. So it was for us with David Ferry, whose collection Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations ($18 University of Chicago Press) received this year's National Book Award. We understand why the judges chose it. This is a powerful, haunting collection, but subtly so (that's part of its power). Known for his translations of Gilgamesh, the Odes and Epistles of Horace, and Virgil's Georgics as well as for his original poetry, here Ferry draws on both his gifts, weaving excerpts of the Aeneid, an Anglo-Saxon version of the offering of Isaac, poems by Cavafy, and other translations with his own poignant work, the pieces speaking to each other, sometimes directly, echoing and amplifying their existential meditations. An unusual and striking section includes and comments on the poems of his deceased colleague Arthur Gold, each melding evocatively with the work in the other sections. Indeed, Bewilderment is a book of multiple voices that, as the pages pass, merge to sing as the human voice.
"In the Reading Room"
Alone in the library room, even when others
Are there in the room, alone, except for themselves,
There is the illusion of peace; the air in the room
Is stilled; there are reading lights on the tables,
Looking as if they're reading, looking as if
They're studying the text, and understanding,
Shedding light on what the words are saying;
But under their steady imbecile gaze the page
Is blank, patiently waiting not to be blank.
The page is blank until the mind that reads
Crosses the black river, seeking the Queen
Of the Underworld, Persephone, where she sits
By the side of the one who brought her there
Hades the mute, the deaf, king of the dead letter;
She is clothed in the beautiful garment of our thousand
Misunderstandings of the sacred text.
◊ ◊ ◊
Edward Dorn’s Collected Poems ($39.95 Carcanet) gathers his considerable body of work into a generous 995-page book. As well as poems both previously published and not, the volume includes a preface by his widow, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, afterwords by J.H. Prynne and Amiri Baraka, and Dorn's own "prefaces, jacket notes, and introductions.”
In his work Dorn often took a strong, iconoclastic stance vis-á-vis politics and society. He was rarely pleased with what he witnessed and expressed his displeasure with acidic wit, complex rhetorical structures, and a pitch-perfect awareness of the music of language.
Dorn’s early poetry was highly lyrical and often focused on rural and small-town life. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s his attention turned to a lengthy, somewhat psychedelic, dramatic-narrative poem, “Gunslinger,” which became a kind of signature piece for him and which this collection includes in its entirety. Later Dorn came to excel at writing short, caustic pieces aimed squarely at the culture of the day.
He was raised and lived his early adulthood in poverty, an experience that influenced his work. His devotion to the imagery and myth of the American West also imbued his poetry. A wry tip-of-cap to that fascination is evident in the title of his last book, a chapbook written through his experience of inoperable pancreatic cancer, called "Chemo Sábe."
Here is one of his early poems—
“Like a Message on Sunday”
the forlorn plumber
by the river
with his daughter
staring at the water
then, at her
his daughter closely.
Once World, he came
to our house to fix the stove
oh, we were arrogant and talked
about him in the next room, doesn't
a man know what he is doing?
Can't it be done right,
World of iron thorns.
Now they sit by the meager river
by the water... stare
into that plumber
so that I can see a daughter in the water
she thin and silent,
he, wearing a baseball cap
in a celebrating town this summer season
may they live on
on, may their failure be kindly, and come
in small, unnoticeable pieces.
In the note on the jacket of his book The North Atlantic Turbine (1967), Dorn wrote that, after attending to “place” in his prior books, "I think I can now see my way clear to a spiritual address... to an altogether direct plane of intensity I hope to find my place on." in a book this big, as you might expect, not every poem is a gem, but all the work in Edward Dorn’s Collected Poems is intense—at times flowing and graceful, at other times raw and biting, and always his own.
◊ ◊ ◊
The latest offering from Chicago's Flood Editions is Lobster Palaces by Ann Kim ($14.95). Her often spare, pared verse is nonetheless brimming with imagination. The book's three sections are each a rich and self-contained chapbook. Let us sample. From the first, "A Clean and Tropic Life" —
in the rain.
but not here.
Dead fly, crisp
on the windowsill,
And this in the third section, "From the Flower Discourses," which is indeed a gathering of such things—
The middle section, "From a Color Refractory," holds the poet's brief, upending contemplations of color (silver "struggles / through / a doorway // usurps / a glass / of water") and rounds out this inventive volume.
for a barbarian
for the gods
a thin hammer
◊ ◊ ◊
Charms Against Lightning ($16 Copper Canyon) by James Arthur is a remarkable first collection, containing a number of strong poems that move with a surprisingly direct and sad embrace of life—
Every sharp distinction cut.
I'd ride around on the bus.
I saw a fire truck in fallen flowers. So much mass
under so much nothing.
I was rattled by the sign, ELECTRIC MOTORS &
I'd walk a mile out of my way
to not cross a bridge,
wearing wool gloves on summer days.
When touch-me-nots waved, I felt sick.
I was cold in a madrona's shadow, shocked
by the wetness of a leaf.
A shouting in the brain, awake, asleep—
I saw a lawn chair reclining in the sun
and had to shield my eyes.
Much of the poetry here has bright music, music that sits firmly in the middle ground, not dominating either the sense or the scene of the poem, but audible with certainty, as in this portion of the poem “Vertigo”—
A white sail turns near Honorat
where monks murmur to their beads, and tour boats
land and leave like prying bees
since bees too turn orbits where they go,
spying into flower after flower, flying
their dizzy, hectic chores, making pollen move.
Most unexpected, perhaps, is Arthur's sharp and methodically expressed dark and compelling vision of the human situation. By way of example we'll leave you with—
"The Sympathy of Angels"
Being of tragic bent
we incline to the future
and the past. But we
see you. We
see how tired you are
as you lean on your rifle
or your shovel.
We see the fired shells
and the head they go into.
We too are shells,
you too are graves.
Equally to all men, we
having nothing to say.
Adore. We are just. We
serve a monarch
in a silk sarcophagus.
James Arthur will be reading at Open Books on Saturday, June 1, this year.
◊ ◊ ◊
Three ever-interesting Seattle poets have recently published full-length collections, and all of the them will be at our podium in the weeks to come. Deborah Woodard's new volume is Borrowed Tales, which you can learn more about here and from which she'll be reading on February 7, 2013. The Monarchs is the latest from Melanie Noel, whom you can hear on February 15 and read more about here. The third is Maged Zaher's sharp-witted and cogent Thank You for the Window Office ($15 Ugly Duckling Presse), which he'll be sharing with us on March 22. Zaher, who divides his time between Seattle and his native Egypt, is a software engineer as well as a poet. One might as rightly call him a cultural critic— a self-effacing one, though, whose astute observations of the corporate, politcal, sexual, aesthetic worlds include his own forays there. Below we offer one of the wry and skillful untitled poems that comprise this collection—
This is a poem for the IT martyrs:
The ocean doesn't save its creatures
The airport doesn't either
Okay—how to survive without a keyboard?
I lost my cold glass:
Denial, anger, depression, acceptance
To ask a question or not to ask a question
Ending up in a mass grave
This poem is my last kiss to the happy hour crowd
I am angry
But I am going to lunch
I am going to lunch and need your blessing
|-- * --