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.

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