Saturday, July 18, 2015

Room in the room: ten women I read

 Recently, another online poetry person challenged her readers to name ten writing women they liked to read. Many of the names were of great and well-known women. I had no trouble naming women who write, but I found that naming the women I actually read, regularly, did not produce the same list. So, I give you ten women, living and dead, whose work keeps speaking to me:

1. Hillary Gravendyk--Harm. Hillary lived the same town as I do. She died last year after many years of medical travail, including a failed lung transplant. Her book-length collection deals with griefs of the body as well as anything I could ever wish to write.

2. Mary Barnard--Sappho. Bernard attended, studied, and graduated from the same college as I did. To think that she performed these translations before she was 30 is to sit down hard and sigh. A small book packed with beauty. I keep it on my desk.

3. MFK Fisher--The Art of Eating. O Mary Francis, you write beauty, and you live beautifully, or at least give us hope of doing so. She opens to the reader a world of feeling-full bounty.

4. Virginia Adair--Ants on the Melon. Another resident of my town. She had lived in the shadow of her husband, a gifted history professor who inspired a generation of students and who committed suicide, but not until he had finished grading that semester's papers. Something wrong with that. She had got her work published before their marriage, then wrote, quietly, until friends sat with her and on her and got her to send poems out again. Immediate acceptance to the New Yorker. Her friends also worked with her through her later blindness, so she could edit and revise.

5. Karen An-Hwei-Li--Phyla of Joy. Ardor. In Medias Res. She packs a punch. I've heard her read. Go find, go find.

6. Wislawa Symborska--View in a Grain of Sand. She was a Nobelist. She wrote from points of view that made me say, over and over, "I wish I'd written that." Funny, heart-wrenching, true as an arrow.

7. Nickole Brown--Fanny Speaks. Another one I came across in a journal I was submitting to. Loved her so much I wrote to her. She sent me her book. I read it three-quarters through before I looked up. How often can you say this about a book of poetry? She was a delightful lunch guest when we gave her lunch before she read for Fourth Sundays. One of her dogs is named Oscar Wild.

8. Kay Ryan--brings the singsong back into poems, in a good way. Her rhymes and chimes surprise and arise to make her point--and there is always a point.

9. Lydia Davis--can't and won't. Prose poems, dreams, short shorts. She loves language(s). Kafka lives. Also, a smooth-reading translation of Proust. Just wow.

10. Hilary Mantel--Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. She can write about intelligent perceptive people because she is one. Wotta page-turner. I'll read anything she writes.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

When strange things start to emerge, part 2

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the great composer and detective, is waiting for his mid-morning repast of cherry muffins when he is visited by the great French detective inspector Charles LeChat. All the muffins have disappeared from Paris, and Inspector LeChat fears that the same fate is befalling Vienna. The culprit may be the nobleman, Don Pastrami, who has been known to sing as the great operatic tenor Apollo Grosso-Fortissimo. After exciting adventures and terrible musical puns, Mozart lures him out of hiding by playing the tiny violin that he played when he was five. Then the great and terrifying confrontation scene commences:

Mozart:  "Don Pastrami! I've come to get you!"

Don Pastrami:  "You'll never get me!"

M: "You are the awwwwwful mufffffin fieeeeend!"

DP: "I am!"

M: "Why did you take the muffins?"

DP:  "I did it. I felt like it. That's all."

M:  "You must have had a reason."

DP:  "I didn't have a reason. Go away."

M: "Tell me. Tell me why you took the muffins."

DP:  "No!"

M:  "Tell me!"

DP:  "No! "

M:  "Tell!"

DP:  "No!"

M:  ''Tell!  Tell!"

DP:  "No! No!"

M:  "At least shake show.........that you're not chiiiiiicken."

Truly one of the great scenes in opera, children's literature, or anywhere else.
--from The Muffin Fiend, Daniel Pinkwater. Lothrup, Lee & Shepherd, 1986

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lexus Verses & Flow, part 4: Diva diving in

 I didn't get the name of this gorgeous singer. Pamela Johnson? Jackson? Not Pamela at all? in any case, she is serious old-school, digging deep into her songs. Towards the end of the show, when they brought her back on to close things out, we the audience had become kinda tired, and weren't responding the way the sponsors liked to see. The emcee had her repeat her number, not once but twice. On the third run-through, she took matters into her own hands. "Everyone stand up now," she told us, and once we were on our feet, we responded all right, dancing in place, swaying arms overhead (some of us), looking like a live crowd come yet more alive, thanks to her music. I loved this one.