Monday, February 27, 2006

pile of reading


poetry notebook

The M Word: writers on same-sex marriage

The Best Spiritual Writing 1998

issue of The New Yorker from 2005

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

The Best American Poetry 2005, guest editor Paul Muldoon, series editor David Lehman

Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall

my booklog which was supposed to / may someday provide the source material for this blog

The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson

Choteau Creek by Dudley

Song of Rita Joe: autobiography of a Mikmak poet by Rita Joe

Walden / Civil Disobedience by Thoreau

Bitter Fame: a life of Sylvia Plath by Anne Stevenson

Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

World Poetry edited by Washburn, Major, Fadiman

The X-Men, nos 1-10, a volume in the Marvel Masterworks reprint series

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Tedlocks

Dennis Tedlock and his wife Barbara Tedlock came to Black Oak Books last week. They both have new books. Dennis's is a translation of the Rabinal Achi, a Mayan text for performance. Not much Mayan literature survived the book burnings of the Spanish priests. The Rabinal Achi is a play depicting a sort of trial, said Dennis. A nobleman whose city & family have been traditional allies of the City of Rabinal has been captured. He led enemy armies against Rabinal and the trial is a dialog between him and his disappointed captors. Eventually the traitor is executed. "Europeans want him 'sacrified' by having his heart cut out," said Dennis. "That was the Aztecs. The Mayans typically used decapitation. Europeans don't find that exotic enough. Decapitation is too ordinary, too European. Capital punishment, after all, means cutting off the head."

Dennis spoke softly with many vocal pauses (uh, um), presented as the quiet academic, sincere and so full of knowledge that he couldn't say one thing without having to lead up to it from two or three directions.

Although I was very interested in what he was saying I found myself getting sleepy. Barbara Tedlock was much more dynamic, her excitement & delight bubbling out in her voice and gestures. Last year she published a book on women shamans, even finding out in her research that sources that had been represented in previous works as examples of male shamanism actually referred to women.

I'd planned only to buy the Mayan book but ended up getting both. Rabinal Achi: a Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice by Dennis Tedlock, 2003, Oxford University Press. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine by Barbara Tedlock, 2005, Bantam Dell/Random House.

Afterward I got both authors to sign their books. Both also dated them. The date was the first day of the Mayan New Year, 7 deer / 7 kiej.

In his presentation Dennis said last year was a wind year, which is a difficult year. This year ought to be a little bit better.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Best American

So the Best American Poetry series is not published by Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of Best American Short Stories, among other Bests. BAP is so obviously modeled after the 80s revival of BASS, when BASS instituted a series of guest editors after its longtime editor retired/died (although there remained a series editor who would lighten the burden for each year's famous author/guest editor). It was with BAP's success that Houghton Mifflin realized what a good brand they had going ... and by the late 90s they had started annuals for spiritual writing and science writing and sports writing.

I like the idea of these anthologies. One wants a convenient sampler of recent words. And now one can refine the choice to words on a certain thing. I worked my way through several BASS anthologies back in the 80s (plus some O. Henry Award annuals). When I discovered BAP in its second year I was thrilled as I had very little access to literary magazines in Sebastopol and there was no such thing as the internet. Here was my opportunity to read what was being written NOW. Being a baby poet I wanted to see who my contemporaries (or contemporary elders) were.

I don't think, even then, I was buying the notion that what was contained between any particular Best's covers was objectively the BEST poetry (or whatever) that had seen print that year. I did like the notion that I was being exposed to what that year's famous poet thought great. I've found poems I like in BAP. And poems I don't. BAPs are better than any single issue of your average literary magazine. And you get to know the well-published names.

Houghton Mifflin even registered Best American as a brand. I guess they didn't think of it till after BAP was a going concern at another house. But to anyone who rails about the imprimatur of Best that these anthologies confer I say only: Best American Nonrequired Reading?