Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Books of Interest by Writers of Color--Linda Hogan's Rounding the Human Corners

This is a review of mine that first appeared in Galatea Resurrects. This is a wonderful online review magazine/blog focused solely on poetry that often looks at books that aren't reviewed anywhere else, including poets of color. Here's the link to check it out.

And as usual, Blogger has double-spaced the poetry and won't let me put it right. Sigh.

Rounding the Human Corners: Poems
by Linda Hogan (Coffee House Press, 2008)

Rounding the Human Corners demonstrates just why Linda Hogan is considered a major American writer. Its visionary imagery and lyrical language are only part of the reason Jim Harrison calls her “a significant figure in our literature,” and William Kittredge in his introduction calls her “one of those singular poets,” saying she offers us “Solace come through apprehending the material and holy world precisely as it is.”

Past winner of the American Book Award, Colorado Book Award, and Spirit of the West Literary Achievement Award, as well as a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Hogan is a Chickasaw poet, novelist and essayist, but she is also a dedicated volunteer and consultant for wildlife rehabilitation and endangered species programs. As such she writes often with the naturalist’s eye, the way she does in “The Heron” about her efforts to rescue an injured heron, which ends with:

“You could kill me or help me.

I know you and I have no choice

but to give myself up

and in whatever supremacy of this moment,

hold your human hand

with my bent claws.

In “Moving the Woodpile,” which could be her manifesto, she begins with “Never am I careless,/ yet when I lift the wood/ …the bark falls from the log…” as she tells of dislodging a wasps’ nest full of pupas and being unable to restore it to the disturbed wasp parents circling just out of reach, no matter how she tries.

“Maybe our sin is not enough

of us get on our knees and ever see

how everything small and nearly gone

is precious, the paper wasp nest,

made by the moment-by-moment creation of care.

… I’ve always wished

to hold the truly stolen, broken world together

but my every move is to break

by degrees, acres, even the smallest atom. ”

That sensibility of the naturalist and consultant on endangered species is also apparent in “The Night Constant,” where she writes of the lion that circles around and walks near her house at night.

..and we don’t even know

the animals that walk outside our sleep

yet we have traveled there so often

there are not so many of them now

where light falls across the hunting ground

we call a world that’s small

because we’ve matched it to ourselves.”

Though Rounding the Human Corners is suffused with this love and concern for the natural wild world and breathtakingly precise descriptions of it, the book lives up to its title in its constant concern with what it is to be truly human, what humans have given up of themselves in the process of damaging the world as they have, and how we can learn to be truly human, yet truly at home in and at one with the natural world around us. The second poem in the book and first in the section titled “Unlayering the Human,” “The Way In” is a small jewel of a poem that will, I think, be one of those rare poems that live on through the generations, the kind that takes your breath away with its music and its truth. “Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body,” it begins, before listing other ways and continuing with “…there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,/ and beauty…” Then she speaks of transformation: stone by water, hard earth by unfolding plant, dry fuel by fire. When she ends with “To enter life, be food,” the truth and pain of those words that humans have fought against and been a part of since their first appearance on this planet reverberates deep within the reader.

Yet Hogan always offers hope. “I know fear has come down to us/ from the first universe/ where the beginnings of stars are never tame,” she tells her granddaughter when asked if she is afraid, but she reminds the reader, “Paradise has always been just out of sight,” and “It may be, it may one day be/ this is a world haunted by happiness…/ …remember there is always something/ besides our own misery.” She urges us again and again to learn from and make our peace with the mysteries of the body, because “…the body remembers the fine animal/ that was lost/ some place in time.”

Sexuality is one of the key ways she highlights our pathway to this wholeness through the body. In “Mysteries of the Bed,” she points out that “Even in the coldest heart,/ we are mostly tender here…” The holy places of the body, she says, “…are the ones with the power/ of gentling the human.” Drawing on her Native American heritage, she encourages us to “…remember the forgotten language wild,/can you still call it?” Hogan can, and she is generous enough to share it with the rest of us, calling to us to join her in her intoxication with the beauty and power of the natural world. Still, she never makes this offer from some superior position, but from the humble place of one who has had to learn these truths in painful ways but counts them worth the cost. Instead she tells us, “I am still a beginner in this world/ without a hold, without money or love or tools./ I am down on my knees./ Maybe now I can begin to learn something.

Totally accessible as these poems are, this is a book that repays repeated rereading, in fact, almost demands it, because there are new treasures to be found in each poem every time you come to them. It is a major work by a major American writer.

Here's the link to Coffee House Press for her book. Small presses like Coffee House bring most of the writing by people of color to the world. Please patronize them.

This Friday, the series on Literary Mystery Writers begins, and next week, Writers of Color will feature Virgil Suarez, Sebha Sarwa, and Toni Margarita Plummer.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Literary Mystery Writers--Introduction

I have a funny habit. It probably comes from bridging so many different communities practically since birth. I like to bring people together, especially my friends.

I’m extremely fortunate in my friends. I have lots of them, and most of them are terribly gifted in one way or another. Since I have such stellar friends, I naturally want them to have the joy I have of knowing and appreciating them. So, I like to put my friends together. Sometimes, it doesn’t work, but most of the time, one talented person gets to know another talented person, and they become, if not friends themselves, at least appreciators of each other’s work.

I’ve been traveling in academic and literary circles for quite a while. All that time, I’ve found great pleasure in novels of high quality written by (gasp!) genre writers. Oh yes, I’ve found schlock, too, just as I have in literary fiction and poetry. There’s good and bad of everything. And I’m here to tell you that there’s a tremendous amount of exceptionally fine writing in some genre fiction. Mysteries are a prime example.

As many of you know, I have written my own mystery novel, Every Last Secret, which will be published April 24, 2012 by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. It’s the first in a series, and I’m working on the next one right now. I’ve had an odd reaction from some people. I had won awards for my poetry, and they wondered why I didn’t write a literary novel. They also assume, now that I’ve wandered off the literary path, I’ll stop writing poetry. These assumptions come from an unfortunate practice among lit folks of assigning all genre novels to the category of “trash” novels. I am truly glad to report that none of my friends came up with these assumptions, just acquaintances.

It leaves me wanting to set some things straight, however. I am a poet and a novelist. I still write—and intend to continue publishing—poetry. I have found the mystery field particularly open and welcoming, and I think it’s possible to write any novel I want to write within the mystery genre (with the possible exception of fantasy and science fiction, and that’s changing rapidly). I believe most of the novels about real matters of importance in our society are being written in the field of mystery.

Above all, this situation leaves me wanting to bring together my many great literary friends and my new mystery friends. Already on this blog, I do a series bringing to attention books of interest by writers of color. Now, I want to add to it another series bringing attention to beautifully written mysteries of literary quality. There are many writers producing these. I won’t put a list of them here since I’ve learned what atrocities Blogger wreaks on my lists, but I sat down and listed a few randomly off the top of my head and came up with 32 without really thinking about it.

Consequently, every week I’ll continue with my writers of color series, but now I’ll also add my literary mystery writers series, which will consist of an interview, book and author photos, bio, and a short summing-up of why that author’s on the list. There will, of course, be weeks when I miss one or the other because my life runs that way, but I intend to try to be as regular as possible. I’m just in the process of contacting writers for interviews right now, so I can’t list who’ll be on when. What I can say is that next week I will be posting the series manifesto, which is a wonderful essay by Margaret Maron, one of the finest literary mystery writers, called “Yes, I Am a Mystery Writer.” It originally ran on her blog, and she has kindly agreed to let me run it as the opening salvo of this series.

I hope you’ll all come along with me. This is my version of a huge party with lots of food and drink where I bring together all of my variously weird and gifted friends. Who knows what wonderful synergies will arise from it? And at the very least none of us will wake with a hangover.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Books of Interest by Writers of Color—Cornelius Eady, Brenda Cardenas, Kimberly Becker

Cornelius Eady Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam) Eady is an acclaimed poet and dramatist. His book of poetry, Brutal Imagination, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001. His libretto for the opera, Running Man, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. His six other books of poetry and three other works of drama have also received various major awards. His work is full of the music of the blues and jazz riffs, as well as clear-eyed, large-hearted consideration of his family and the African American community within which he grew up. He uses simple, deceptively clear language to deal with complex concepts and multiple stories simultaneously. His work contains layers and layers of clarity, truth, and paradox. Another major writer of color who has given back extensively to his community, Eady also made a name for himself as a teacher and mentor of young writers. In 1996, he and poet Toi Derricote co-founded Cave Canem, a writing community for African American writers with a first book prize, an anthology, a summer retreat, and workshops and events throughout the year and throughout the country. Eady is the Miller Professor of English and drama at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Normally, for a writer as successful and well-known as Eady, I’d link you to his website, but his is undergoing work right now. So, here is the link to Eady’s publisher—Putnam, one of the big guys, but show support for our authors and maybe we’ll see more of them at these big publishers soon.

Brenda Cárdenas Boomerang (Bilingual Review Press) Cárdenas is an activist/poet of the borders, the margins, the justapositions of languages, cultures, and forms. Yet underneath her fascination and experimentation with style, stories are her substance. She tells the stories of family, friends, herself growing up and adjusting or not to modern America. She tells the stories of who and what gets lost in translation and border-crossing. She shows how the multiplicity these give the culture and language of the country she loves and rails against enrich and enliven it beyond compare. Her two collections of poetry are just the beginning of what will be, I’m sure, a rich and acclaimed career. If you have a chance to hear this poet read in person, grasp it with both hands. She is an electric performer of her own work.

Here is the link to her book. As usual, I encourage you to patronize the small presses who make the work of so many writers of color available.

Kimberly Becker Words Facing East: Poems (WordTech Editions) Cherokee/Celtic/Teutonic, Becker has published her first book in 2011. This is a book of the difficulties and joys of homecoming after searching and wandering. Full of delicate and truthful observation of the natural world and the emotional world alike, her poems are full of rivers, stones, feathers, and tears “bumping up against the stories.” Becker has already been awarded several grants and fellowships and seems to be at the beginning of a significant career. This is a poet to keep an eye on as she further develops her art.

Here is the link to her book.

Coming up soon--an interview with Allison Hedge Coke, fine poet in her own right and editor of the forthcoming, Sing: Poetry From the Indigenous Americas. This long-awaited anthology will be published by University of Arizona Press in October. I'll also have a review of the book itself closer to its time of publication. This is the first anthology of Indigenous poetry to span the Americas from Alaska to Chile. I am going through this treasure now, savoring all of the wonderful diversity it represents. So, more fun in the Writers of Color series. Also, I hope to begin my Literary Mystery Writers series next week. If the creek don't rise, etc., etc.