Hayden Carruth’s Poem “California”

scrambled-eggs-whiskey

I discovered American poet Hayden Carruth on subrosa here. The poem Sigrun posted was so poignant that I ordered one of Carruth’s collections Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey. I haven’t finished the collection yet and I can’t say that every poem speaks to me but some are stunning.

California is a poem he dedicated to Adrienne Rich. I particularly liked the third stanza. The poem was probably written in the 90s but what he expresses is just as valid today. Maybe even more so.

CALIFORNIA by Hayden Carruth

for Adrienne Rich

To come again into the place of revolutionary
thought after years in the wilderness
of complacency and hard-eyed greed
and brutality
is extraordinary. A’s kitchen
in Santa Cruz
isn’t greatly different from her kitchen in
West Barnet in the old days,
small interesting ornaments here and there,
many good things to eat
and how ideas flew from stove to table,
from corner to corner. In Santa Cruz
after twenty-odd years it was the same. Tolstoi said
the purpose of poetry is to provoke
feeling in the reader, to “infect” the reader,
he said,and so to induce a change,
a change of conscience
that may lead to a change in the world, that will
lead to a change in the world!
How can poetry be written by people who want no change?

To be reconciled after so long,
in sunshine, among Latino voices. A. showed me
where earthquake two years ago had changed Santa Cruz
and how the people were rebuilding, making it better. Had she
been frightened? Of course. Would she move away?
Never. Here earth itself gives us the paradigm.
And the great ocean hurling its might always thunderously against
the land at Half Moon Bay is our measure
of flux and courage
and eternity.

We drove among hills, redwood and eucalyptus,
dense growth, the richness and ramifying intricacy
of the world’s loveliness, and asked
what would be left
for our grandchildren, already born, when they are
as old as we? No longer do we
need an insane president to end us
by pushing a button. People
need only go on living as they are, without change,
the complacent and hard-eyed
everywhere. At the airport
after dark
among hard lights
with the massive proportions of human energy
surrounding them, two old people
embraced in love of the injured and poor, of poetry,
of the world in its still remaining remote possibilities,
which were themselves.

Svetlana Lilova: Metaphysical Dictionary (2016) A Collection of Poems with Illustrations by Graham Falk

metaphysical-dictionary

Some of you may remember that I participated in Thomas’ (MystwostotinkiBulgarian Literature Month in June. Right after the month was finished, I was offered a copy of Svetlana Lilova’s poetry collection Metaphysical Dictionary. Svetlana Lilova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and emigrated to Canada as a teenager. Language is one of the major preoccupations of any expat or immigrant. So it’s not surprising that Lilova’s collection is inspired by this experience and written in the form of a dictionary.

This is such a unique collection. It combines Lilova’s poems with drawings by Graham Falk. The result is as original as it is thought-provoking.

md-1

You can open it anywhere you want and you’ll find something that will surprise or delight you.

md3

It’s possible to read the book from beginning to end, but it’s equally rewarding to just open it at random and read an entry here and there.

If you click on the images, you can read a few of the entries. Here are some more:

nature      an endless song

a symphony of diversity and balance

inertia  outwardly;

a lot happening on the inside

demanding all attention

vital to attend

focus

inwardly;

not moving enough to produce

a reflection or substance

to focus on

sad      unknown

suffused with rose water

choice     what we all have

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This is the kind of book that would make an excellent gift. Not only for lovers of poetry and quirky texts, but also for those who enjoy the combination of words and drawings.md4

The collection has been published by Dumagrad Books, a Canadian publisher I wasn’t familiar with. For those who are interested in independent publishers, don’t miss visiting the website. They have a really appealing catalogue.

Linda Pastan’s The Happiest Day

Heroes in Disguise

I don’t read a lot of poetry. Maybe one or two books a year, often less. Last year, I discovered the poems of Linda Pastan. One of my favourites is The Happiest Day.

It’s from her collection Heroes in Disguise.

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day–
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere–
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Laura Kasischke: Mind of Winter (2014)

Mind Of Winter

I wonder sometimes whether authors prefer we read their books very slowly, savouring every word or whether they take it as a compliment if we devour a novel in one sitting. I don’t think Laura Kasischke’s going to pop in and let me know how she feels about the way I read her latest novel Mind of Winter. I bought it, started reading on the tram, kept on reading at home – resenting even the shortest interruptions – and finished it a couple of hours later. I don’t do that very often and if I do, it means that I found a book highly enthralling and couldn’t wait to find out what’s going on. Not a bad thing for a psychological thriller, right?

Mind of Winter (which I discovered on Tony’s Book World here) takes place on December 25, during one snowy day. Holly Judges, a poet, who has been suffering from writer’s block for decades, wakes late on Christmas morning. Her husband dashes out the door to get his parents at the airport, their daughter Tatty – Tatiana – is still sleeping. Holly, who woke from a nightmare, tries to make sense of a sentence that haunted her when she woke up “Something had followed them from Russia.”

Moving back and forth in time we hear about the adoption of Holly’s daughter, thirteen years ago, from a Russian orphanage and we witness how this Christmas day develops. It’s snowing constantly and after a few hours it’s obvious that neither friends nor family will make it and join Holly and Tatty for their traditional Christmas meal.

Inside of the house tensions rise. Tatiana not only displays the moodiness of a teenager but behaves more and more erratic.

There are many dark elements of the past mentioned – dead animals, neighbours who don’t speak to Holly anymore, a family history of hereditary cancer and much more. In the beginning there are just a couple of words that hint at something sinister but then, more information is added on every page, a fuller picture emerges and the reader is wondering constantly what really happened in the past and what is going on in the present.

Saying more would spoil this utterly compelling novel. There’s just one tiny thing that I feel I have to reveal—while the atmosphere is dark and brooding, and the book is more than a little creepy at times, there’s no supernatural explanation. As much as I love ghost stories, I really hate it when a psychological thriller takes the easy way out and uses some lame paranormal explanation for the things that go on.

This is a tightly woven novel, a real page-turner, but still a book that explores a huge amount of interesting themes like hereditary disease, writer’s block, poetry, motherhood, family  . . .  I know I’ll be returning to this author soon.

Laura Kasischke isn’t only a novelist, she’s also a poet. It’s not surprising that poetry is important in this book. I’m grateful that she introduce me to a whole bunch of poets I didn’t know and to the poem referred to in the title,  Wallace Stevens’  The Snow Man.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

 

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

 

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

 

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

 

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.