Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking for a New Year resolution? Try Jezebel's List

Jezebel's blog, which is more like an ongoing twitter pump of fascinating news items, starred an ace with this list, compiled by readers in reaction to a men's magazine list of the top 75 books every guy must read (and almost all written by white males of course). The list is based on readers of the website, and with only a few respectable exceptions the authors are all female, and (thank you) not all white. How many from this list have you already read? Finishing the list should keep you busy for 2009.

And, uh, would anyone like to send Jezebel some suggestions for poetry?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow, from local Bluestem Press, presents poetry by Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark and Marilyn Probe. It is available locally at Left Bank Books, 314.367.6731.

The volume is nicely printed, with cover art based on a photograph by Cissie Lacks.

I have worked with all four of these writers in various poetry workshops, and have published Niki Nymark (A Stranger Here Myself), so come to this new collection as something less than a stranger. Nymark and Probe have both published in numerous anthologies and are always welcome presences in any work of poetry. Kelly and Miller have been harder to find in print and this excellent anthology corrects the deficit.

Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly's best poems have a quality of spareness to them. My favorite here, "Continental Divide," is set against a western landscape and a psychological background equally dry, sharply dileneated, and breathtaking. The poem won a prize in the St. Louis Poetry Center's James H. Nash Contest earlier, and I've been waiting to see it achieve a permanent place in print since then.

Marlene Miller's work is well known in St. Louis but is not well-printed. She's one of those rare poets who prefers, simply, to write. So far that's meant the publishing end doesn't always happen. Let's hope this volume stays in print a long time, then.

Although many of Miller's poems are delightfully airy and beautiful, or sly and humorous, I'll quote here from a very somber one about two young girls who were murdered and thrown from a bridge, one of them never found. This elegy is a beautiful gift to them...

from Mississippi Passing

When the dead pass through locks
no one knows.
No one touches their lips with a lily
or wipes night from their eyes
                with a soft handkerchief. . . .

Niki Nymark has included old and new favorites here. One of the favorites, When the Old Folks Make Love, includes this:

When the old folks make love,
they frame each other's faces
with their hands
like a favorite photograph.
They touch each other's lips and cheeks,
melt together, not
with the raging, aching burst of summer,
but with a deep, slow sob
like the sound of a temple bell
coming up from Atlantis.

Top that if you can. Well, you can't. So buy the book, read the entire poem, and you'll be a happier person.

The anthology ends with selections from Marilyn Probe. She ends her set, and the book, with a poem that says what it says perfectly, in carefully crafted art, and needs no other comment.

Holding the Lion Within

            Lambs that learn to walk in snow
                        -Phillip Larkin

Dodging dizziness as winter closes,
I am as vulnerable as a lamb
that learns to walk in snow.

The lion within must pause as I do
to see a cardinal blend into a bough
Only flickers of crimson peek through,

the way my red-hot tempo needs to ease
to discern a distant sparrow in the slant light
of faint fog, steady in a tight wire freeze.

Unlike aging that does not stop or slow,
the lion in me is tamed by the lamb
that stumbles, as I stand, walking as if in snow.

Landing on both feet: Stacey Lynn Brown

I have watched from afar (well, not too far -- Brown lives and works about 5 miles from Cherry Pie Press) the unfolding of Stacey Lynn Brown's battle with small press publisher Cider Review Press after author and publisher moved to polar positions over differences regarding the production of the book. You can easily come up to speed by checking out Brown's blog (check the linked entry, and read backwards through the end of August 2007) and the counter opinion posted, surprisingly, on Poets and Writers (soon to be renamed Publishers and Publishers).

The story has a happy ending, of sorts -- Brown's book is being published by another press, and Cider Review has spiffed up their Terms and Conditions to clarify what authors may and may not talk about. (Huh?)

The real happy ending, though, is that Stacey Lynn Brown's evolving blog is a pleasure of clear writing and interesting opinions, and in addition to waiting for her book of poetry to hit the stands, I'm hoping and waiting for a collection of essays. Her blog, Ten Fingers Typing, moves to my "Blogs to watch" list (see right panel).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weaving the Light, by Mary Ruth Donnelly

Mary Ruth Donnelly's new chapbook is looking for readers! Weaving the Light is a pleasure to read, and to re-read.

Donnelly's poetry is informed by both the organic world and the composition / recomposition of art within that world. Many of her poems are a simple walk through a natural setting that opens a reflection on so much more. Others are responses to artistic pieces and tell their own complex and inviting stories. Some are explorations of deep griefs faced, explored and fully encountered, often through nature or art or simply the experience of moving down a road, through the city.

A poem from her Tea Journals series uses a decaying city and a journey, the physical world and the small but brilliant comfort of taste, to locate a purpose for moving forward:

Rooibos Tropica

St. Mary of Victories

Wet, heavy clouds
crowd the ramp to the bridge.
Rain has washed away the morning's snow.
Concrete arches, rust stained,
hoist a precarious railroad bridge
over the river, the bottoms,
and the highway I drive on.
The old Powell Building,
its huge windows shattered,
its red bricks graffitied,
abuts the bridge's entry ramp.
The tower of an old church
anchors a neighborhood
that must have been there
before the highway, warehouses
and empty factories.

As I speed toward this growing dark,
a hint of rose at the back
of my mouth
surprises me,
blue mallow petals and lemon:

a pool of yellow light
a small room in a walkup
a kettle on the stove, a day too short
for the work it held,
some warmth, some sleep.

The poems, in the end, speak for themselves. Here's another one:
Something fine

about the morning,
the mild wind,
Queen Anne’s Lace drift in the meadow
below the wooden porch
and beyond the cropped yard and garden.
Across the draw, the pasture’s
gray waiting, damp, quiet,
turns gold suddenly,
not at all startled
by the sun as it rises
above the oaks.

Weaving the Light (ISBN 978-0-9748468-6-6) is $10. Email Cherry Pie or call or stop by Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO 63108 (ph 314.367.6731).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rankovic's essay on Don Finkel

Catherine Rankovic, local essayist extraordinaire, has posted an interview she did with Don Finkel years ago. It is more than worth checking out -- go here to read it:

The essay is a tribute to Don, now one of St. Louis's lost treasures, and also an insightful and humbling portrayal of the arc of one great poet's career as the poetry publishing industry collapsed in the 1980s and left so many poets stranded, fading into "out of print" and with no publishing outlets available. Finkel's attitude toward life, his way of keeping focus on writing and on what mattered (the relationships around him), and his eternal good humor all provide good sustenance for any writer.

Rankovic has written a number of essays based on interviews with poets. It is a true pleasure to have this one posted online. She is precise, aware of the vast local and industrial background against which her subject matter is poised, and her eye for her subject matter is more accurate, and tender, than any camera.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rotogravure - Nanora Sweet reviewed

Nan Sweet's Rotogravure has been reviewed by Stephen C. Behrendt in the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Schooner. Behrendt generously lets the poems do most of the talking, observing that Sweet's chapbook is "big with histories and memories." He quotes from one of my own favorites, "Council Grove," and says ". . .what fascinates Sweet [is] that barely definable 'power' that infuses and moves the world, carrying with it the sheer animal force of history that inhabits all places, all things."

The recent issue of Prairie Schooner is available locally at Left Bank Books (where you can also pick up a copy of Nan Sweet's Rotogravure!), or order from the Prairie Schooner website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

St. Louis classic poets - Finkel, Urdang, and Clewell

The local Riverfront Times features a timeless gem - David Clewell reciting his poem remembering Don Finkel and Constance Urdang. Listen here: Clewell, as always, is a long muscle of language to listen to, here flexing into the infinity of friendship.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Are We Feeling Better Yet?

Colleen McKee, author of poetry chapbook My Hot Little Tomato, has co-edited an anthology of essays on the health care industry. Not poetry, but in its own way more essential. Are We Feeling Better Yet?: Women Speak About Health Care in America, an anthology of 21 essays, is currently available only through the publisher, Penultimate Press ( Paperback, 215 pp., $19.95).

Along with Colleen McKee, St. Louisan Amanda Steibel co-edited the anthology. Local contributors include: Janet Edwards, Denise Bogard, Cathy Luh, M.D., Catherine Rankovic, Corrine McAfee. The foreword is by Jenni Prokopi, founder and editor of