Thursday, May 19, 2011

pile of reading

Because I can keep one book going for a long time I checked my last pile post to see if I was still working on one I’d listed then. I am. Another of them isn’t in the pile anymore but I’m not quite done with it. The 1000+ page anthology Voices Within the Ark: the modern Jewish poets edited by Howard Schwartz and Anthony Rudolf is leaning against my personal anthology binder, the poems I’ve copied out by hand over the years. There are still four or five placemarks where poems wait on my decision. Well, let’s get to the list:

Wishbone poems by Priscilla Lee
This was the fifth volume in an ambitious poetry series Heyday Books began back at the turn of the millennium. “The California Poetry Series celebrates the great diversity of aesthetics, culture, geography, and ethnicity of the state by publishing work by poets with strong ties to California. Books within this series are published quarterly.” I bought this copy at a slashed price from Joyce Jenkins, the editor of the series (& of Poetry Flash), when she had a table at last fall’s small press event at Berkeley City College. When I asked what killed the series Joyce said the publishers didn’t want to compete with themselves. Small press publishing often does not pay for itself. Poetry more rarely than most. Putting a book together often involves applying for grants, it seems. Joyce said Heyday Books wanted to apply for the same grants for other titles that Joyce was applying to for the poetry books. Despite all the gushing over poetry I remember at the series launch, when it came down to a book of poems or a book of something else – a guide to California trees? a memoir of Paris in the early years of the twentieth century? – the poems didn’t have the upper hand. Anyway. Wishbone is a mix of family & personal history and odd, fantastic characters. Lee doesn’t offer an easy dividing line between the real and the unreal. “There are stories / about people making love in empty houses, / but this isn’t about that. We stand awkward, / the emptiness all around us.”

In Southern Light: trekking through Zaire and the Amazon by Alex Shoumatoff
Written in the early 80s. The author goes to the Amazon to try to track down the truth behind the story (& legend?) that gave the river its name. Was there really a tribe of female warriors? Probably not. But there seem to have been indigenous myths about women-rejecting men that came close enough to European legends that the two versions of the warrior woman story reinforced each other even across the cultual and language divides. In Zaire Shoumatoff visits a friend who is studying and living among African pygmies. Shoumatoff finds the pygmies so shy they won’t make eye contact, but when he records some of their singing they laugh, delighted, and will sing in response to the playback.

The World Split Open: four centuries of women poets in England and America, 1552-1950 edited by Louise Bernikow
The anthology was published in 1974 and Bernikow’s introductory essay partakes of the period’s angry feminist critique. Fine with me. I like that sort of unapologetic anger at injustice. The demand was that an educated lady be modest, Bernikow says of the English Renaissance. “Her virtue was to be praised and therein lies the problem, for more poets have been lost to ‘virtue’ than to death in childbirth or early starvation or disease in factories and mines. … Women knew quite well that if one woman signed her work … she opened herself to moral and social abuse.” I’m just to the poets who span the divide between the 17th and 18th centuries. This sort of strictly formed verse rarely interests me, unfortunately. Written by man or woman, it hardly matters. I want to expose myself to (force myself through) some older poetry in order to have a better grounding in the history of poetry. My favorite bit so far is probably this passage from a “A Nocturnal Reverie” by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720): “When the loos’d horse now, as his pasture leads, / Comes slowly grazing thro’ th’ adjoining meads, / Whose stealing pace, and lengthened shade we fear, / Till torn-up forage in his teeth we hear …” Stomping sounds in the dark, scary, until the listener identifies the horsy munching of weeds and feels relieved.

This Is Reggae Music: the story of Jamaica’s music by Lloyd Bradley
The book was originally published in the UK as Bass Culture: when reggae was king. This spring I went through several CDs of reggae music from the 60s and early 70s and really enjoyed the experience so I wanted to read more about what made the music. Bradley’s writing has a casual feel and I often lose interest. I can only make it through a few pages at a sitting.

The End of Major Combat Operations by Nick McDonell
Published by Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s Press, I was hoping McDonell would have something new to say a war that was winding down. If he does, I haven’t gotten to it. He pretty much offers up the usual depressing stuff – people telling you stories you’re not sure you can believe, the interpreters (“terps”) who were essential to the success of the mission (which is what?) but who the U.S. abandons, etc.

Kundalini: the evolutionary energy in man by Gopi Krishna
This is the book that was in the pile on January first. I’m now about halfway. Gopi Krishna meditated so much and so long he released the Kundalini energy coiled in the lowest chakra – and it almost drove him mad!

Quarterly Review of Literature, Poetry Series IV edited by T. & R. Weiss
This is a hardcover that contains book-length sections by five poets, including the Polish Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska, and the first book by Jane Hirshfield. I like both of those poets. I’ve gone on to the next, Christopher Bursk. “I was hurt deep back into history, / and timed my torture. / It took ten minutes to make Zarthor appear / in the body of Richard Ainsbruck, / a boy held back twice. / I borrowed the long brown hair / and merciful eyes of a girl … / I could make the pain from one lash / endure for twenty minutes …”

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
I started reading Bechdel’s self-syndicated Dykes to Watch Out for in a local gay free paper not long after it began, apparently. I’ve looked forward to being able to reread the whole thing. I think this collection includes all the strips since it became a narrative.

La Perdida a graphic novel by Jessica Abel
There are some library books that aren’t in today’s pile of reading because I’ve barely begun them or haven’t begun them at all. La Perdida is one I’m a few pages into. I like the idea of reading an American expat’s account of living in Mexico City.

Cometbus #54: In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus
Aaron Cometbus knew the Green Day boys when he was an elder – he was 24? And they were just pushing out of their teens? One notes that his daughter is the same age he was when he met Aaron. Having just reread Jon Ginoli’s Deflowered: my life in Pansy Division which includes tour diaries from the time PD supported Green Day, just as Green Day’s major label debut is making them Big, I was curious to read more about where GD was today. Aaron is a cranky purist and had a falling out with Green Day over their stardom (“selling out” in punk DIY parlance). But they recently reconnected and Green Day invited Cometbus along on their Asia tour. Aaron seems to have gained some perspective over the difference between pursuing your dreams (and stepping over some ethical lines) and giving up your dreams altogether (is it really better to be so uncompromising you stop creating?) …

The New Yorker, November 19, 2007.
Just finished an article about how low birthweight predicts heart disease later in life. Makes me wonder how skinny a baby I was.

Mojo, August 2009
A music magazine out of Britain. Comes with a free compilation CD, usually thematic. I’ve been working my way through the issues the library owns. Just finished an interview with Bob Dylan, the last pages of which have been torn out. “The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I’m more at home in the vacant lots.”

The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware
Most of the work in this is excerpted from longer stories. Which is not entirely satisfying. Not that different, I suppose, from the ever unfinished story you get when you read a regular comic series. I’ve even read some of this before, the pages from Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the Adrian Tomine. Still, it’s a handsome book and it was remaindered so I feel like I got a deal.

3 comments:

Art Durkee said...

Nice list.

I like Jane Hirshfield's poems very much. I have I think all but one of her books.

"The World Split Open" sounds terrific. I have a pretty large collection of gay male poetry from that first wave of it from the late 60s and into the 70s. I also have some lesbian anthologies from that period, but not this one. I'm all for anger against injustice. I've been both an activist and an artist-activist. This is the kind of political poetry that doesn't get stale with time, in my opinion.

David Lee said...

Ugh. I don't even have a pile right now. There are a couple of books that have been unfinished for months (years) - The Unredeemed Captive and Ravenous Dusk - but mostly it's just textbooks. Without my bus commute to work I've lost my designated reading time. The school commute is a drive and my attention needs to be on the road not a page :)

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Hirshfield doesn't seem to have published a Selected yet so I guess the poems in Alaya, the book included in that Quarterly Review of Modern Literature anthology, are only available if you find the QRML. I own some of Hirshfield's other books, Art, but Alaya is the first I've read all the way through!

I like the look of The Unredeemed Captive, David. I'll keep an eye out for it. The other book gets some wild reviews at Amazon.