Now Reading: Paula Meehan

One of the reasons that I decided to spend this year reading women writers and/or people of color is to challenge myself in new ways. Dharmakaya by Irish poet Paula Meehan is a volume of poetry that does just that.

Something like fate led me to reading Meehan. She is Irish, of course, and Irish poetry remains my first love. But what is more, she lived for awhile in Cheney, Washington. I lived there too from age 6 to age 12 (1966-1972). It is the town where my mother was born and grew up. It is also the home of Eastern Washington University where Meehan attended graduate school.

I had read a few poems by Meehan before. Online and in some Irish journals and  anthologies. But this is the first extended time I have spent with her work.

There is much to like, and much that I find outside my comfort zone. But what more could you ask from any poet. It is the definition of successful poetry: comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Her language is “quintessentially Irish.” By that I mean tongue-playful in a way that American poetry can never be because American English is devoid of the essential musicality and consonant-lyricism  that are the stock and trade of the best Irish poets. Lovers of Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanaugh, and Paul Muldoon will recognize what I mean, I think, by the term consonant-lyricism.

What I find “challenging” about Meehan is the bodiness of many of her poems. It is the same discomfort I have felt reading Ginsburg. But in Meehan the “bodiness” is overtly female, which is of course a challenge for me as a male reader.  In this way, she is I think a perfect poet for me to be reading.

Here are some of my favorite lines so far:

the mason found the gesture
like the sky when dark finds a star.

* * * * *

my kingdom was as much land
as I could walk: the whole coast
of Leitrim – each rock and stone of it, each cloud,
each water-loving willow and every common herb, each blade
of grass, and even every shadow they cast.

* * * * *

the thock of the boat on the granite wall,
the insidious chunka of chains bumping.

* * * * *

with each falling leaf, a spark of god’s fire
singeing the earth where it falls.

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Now Reading: Jane Hirshfield

To read a haiku is to become its co-author, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the proteus-shapes of your own life.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single)

The Haiku form is something I return to often. Not as a writer necessarily, but as a reader. It is the quintessential poetic form, language at its most compressed and expressive. This appropriately small “Kindle Single” is the perfect introduction to the Haiku form and its greatest practitioner, Basho.

In addition to being a great poet herself, Jane Hirshfield has done a great deal of poetry translation over the years. Her translations of Basho are wonderful. And her ideas about the form are enlightening.

Hirshfield’s prose at times here is almost as wonderful and her poetry. Here are some of my favorite lines so far:

In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit, for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single) 

by taking a verse form of almost unfathomable brevity and transforming it into a near-weightless, durable instrument for exploring a single moment’s precise perception and resinous depths.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single).

When the space between poet and object disappears, Bashō taught, the object itself can begin to be fully perceived. Through this transparent seeing, our own existence is made larger. “Plants, stones, utensils, each thing has its individual feelings, similar to those of men,” Bashō wrote. The statement foreshadows by three centuries T.S. Eliot’s theory of the objective correlative: that the description of particular objects will evoke in us corresponding emotions. The imagist aesthetic introduced to Western poetry near the start of the 20th century by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, and Eliot is so deeply part of current poetics that few recognize its historical origins in Asia.
Hirshfield, Jane (2011-06-21). The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single)

 

Plot Summaries from GoodReads.com

(One of the things that has traditionally kept me from doing book reviews here is plot summaries. I hate writing them. I am solving that now by quoting from, and providing a link to, GoodReads.com. Follow the links to learn more about these books.)

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield
In seventeenth-century Japan, the wandering poet Basho developed haiku, a seventeen-syllable poetic form now perhaps the most widely written type of poetry in the world. Haiku are practiced by poets, lovers, and schoolchildren, by “political haiku” twitterers, by anyone who has the desire to pin preception and experience into a few quick phrases. This essay offers readers unparalleled insight into the living heart of haiku—how haiku work and what they hold, and how to read through and into their images to find a full expression of human life and perceptions, sometimes profound, sometimes playful.

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Now Reading: Ysra Sigurdardottir and Karen Fossum

I entitle this posting “Now Reading” even though I am referencing two books I read last weekend while in a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin: The Undesired by Ysra Sigurdardottir and Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum. The “Now Reading” title though remains appropriate because I liked both books and authors enough that I know I will be reading much more of them.

Scandinavian Noir has been my genre of choice for awhile now. They have in fact been practically the only fiction books I have been able to read from start to finish.

I have especially enjoyed Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason and Swedish legend Henning Mankell. Over the past year I have read the following of both:

Arnaldur Indridason
Jar City  (2004)
Silence of the Grave  (2005)
Voices  (2006)
The Draining Lake  (2007)
Arctic Chill  (2008)
Hypothermia  (2009)
Reykjavik Nights  (2014)
Into Oblivion  (2016)

Henning Mankell:
Faceless Killers (1991)
The Dogs of Riga (1992)
The White Lioness (1993)
The Fifth Woman (1996)
An Event in Autumn/The Hand (2004)

While I buy a lot of books, I do not purchase many mysteries. In part because I read them or abandon them so quickly. But mainly because I know they are not books I am going to want to read again. No matter how good the mystery is, once read, I am not going to pick it up again.

Hence, I read most of my mysteries as library books. EBooks downloaded onto my Kindle. It is what I enjoy in place of television or movies. But in the end it is the same. Something good and satisfying that takes my mind away from other things.

I will no doubt be mentioning other Sigurdardottir and Fossum books here over the next year because I will definitely be checking out more of their books from the library.

Check out both The Undesired and Don’t Look Back out. You’ll enjoy them both.

Plot Summaries from GoodReads.com

(One of the things that has traditionally kept me from doing book reviews here is plot summaries. I hate writing them. I am solving that now by quoting from, and providing a link to, GoodReads.com. Follow the links to learn more about these books.)

The Undesired by Ysra Sigurdardottir
Aldis is working in a juvenile detention centre in rural Iceland. She witnesses something deeply disturbing in the middle of the night; soon afterwards, two of the boys at the centre are dead.
Decades later, single father Odinn is looking into alleged abuse at the centre following the unexplained death of the colleague who was previously running the investigation. The more he finds out, though, the more it seems the odd events of the 1970s are linked to the accident that killed his ex-wife. Was her death something more sinister?

Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum
Meet Inspector Sejer: smart and enigmatic, tough but fair. At the foot of the imposing Kollen Mountain lies a small, idyllic village, where neighbors know neighbors and children play happily in the streets. But when the body of a teenage girl is found by the lake at the mountaintop, the town’s tranquility is shattered forever. Annie was strong, intelligent, and loved by everyone. What went so terribly wrong? Doggedly, yet subtly, Inspector Sejer uncovers layer upon layer of distrust and lies beneath the town’s seemingly perfect façade.

A New Journal

“A New Journal” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

In my long writing life (I am almost 58 years old after all), I have written poems on paper-pads, typewriters, bound journals, laptops, desktops, typewriters yet again… but now I am largely back to bound journals.

My preferred journal at this point in life is an inexpensive one I get Walgreens. A few times a year they have them on sale. If you buy one at regular price you get another at 50% off. I recently purchased two new journals and put them up on the shelf where they have been waiting patiently for me to finish my current one.

Last night I took a new journal off the shelf and got it ready. Setting up index pages and a page for the much-modified, Bullet-Journal key system I use.

Since I also feel compelled for some reason to customize a generic journal to make it my own, I also “blinged-it-up.” Pictures of favorite poets, writers, artists, and a few inspiring quotes, and it was ready for me to use this morning.

A new journal is a hopeful thing. Full of possibilities and potentialities. Like a new year or a new day.

A full journal is a satisfying thing. It is a physical reminder that, if nothing else, at the very least I tried. And in the end, that is what matters.

“Details of My Preferred Journal” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

 

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Now Reading: Denise Levertov

Over the years, I have returned quite often to Denise Levertov. Usually in small chunks. I had an early volume of her Collected Poems that I would dip into every now and then. But searching my shelves now, I cannot find it.

I found this small paperback, The Life Around Us, on Amazon.  It has a copyright of 1997, which means it would have been published in the last year of her life.

It is a collection of Nature poems, chosen by Levertov, with a very brief introduction explaining how she assembled the little volume.

In her introduction she says, “In the last few decades of the twentieth century it has become ever clearer to thinking people that although we humans are a part of nature ourselves, we have become, in multifarious ways, an increasingly destructive element within it, shaking and breaking the ‘great web’ – perhaps irremediably.”

They are then poems of many moods: wonder, anger, frustration, fear.  They are also, as you would expect from Denise Levertov, wonderful.

Here are some of my favorite lines so far:

the fierce, brilliant faith
that pierces the heart all summer

*  *  *  *  *  *

prairie subtleties, verbs
declined in gray,
green tones sustained, vast plainsong.

*  *  *  *  *  *

and each day one,
sometimes two, morning-glories,
faultless, blue, blue sometimes
flecked with magenta, each
lit from within with
the first sunlight.

 

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