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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

As the snow swirls down outside, I’ve been plowing (ha) through books – poetry, fiction, memoir and strong women, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Swan, Mary Oliver
I adored this Oliver collection, unsurprisingly – especially the first poem, and several others. She writes so well about nature, the interior life, seasons and paying attention. Perfect morning reading.

Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women, Alissa Wilkinson
I’ve known Alissa online for years, and loved her book of essays on smart, strong, bold women – Hannah Arendt, Edna Lewis, Maya Angelou, Laurie Colwin and others – who had interesting things to say about food, gathering, womanhood and community. If that sounds dry, it isn’t; Alissa’s writing sparkles, and each chapter ends with a delectable-sounding recipe. Found at the lovely new Seven and One Books in Abilene.

Running, Lindsey A. Freeman
As a longtime runner, a queer woman and a scholar, Freeman explores various aspects of running through brief essays – part memoir, part meditation, part academic inquiry. I enjoyed this tour of her experience as a runner, and the ways she writes about how running shapes us. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Beyond That, the Sea, Laura Spence-Ash
During World War II, Beatrix Thompson’s parents send her to the U.S. to escape the bombings in London. Bea lands with a well-off family, the Gregorys, and her bond with them – deep and complicated – endures over the following years and decades. A gorgeous, elegiac, thoughtful novel about love and loss and complex relationships. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

Winterhouse, Ben Guterson
Elizabeth Somers, an orphan who lives with her curmudgeonly relatives, spends a surprise Christmas vacation at Winterhouse, an old hotel full of delights. She makes a friend, uncovers a dastardly plot, makes some mistakes and discovers family secrets. I liked Elizabeth, but I really wanted this to be better than it was.

The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews
Julia Wychwood would rather read than go to a ball – but the only way to placate her hypochondriac parents is to plead illness. She’s rather miserable when Captain Jasper Blunt, a brooding ex-soldier in need of a fortune, arrives in London and begins pursuing her. A fun romance that plays with some classic tropes; I loved Julia (a fellow bookworm!) and her relationship with Jasper. I also loved The Siren of Sussex; this is a sequel of sorts.

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, Michelle Obama
Michelle needs no introduction from me; this book discusses some of the tools she uses to steady her during challenging times, such as knitting, exercise, friendship and keeping her perspective straight. I loved the insights into her marriage and her relationship with her mom, and her practical, wise voice. So good.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for next time!

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What Can I Say

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

I found Oliver’s collection Swan at the Booksmith this fall, and this first poem stopped me in my tracks, especially the lines about where to take “your busy heart.” As we enter a new year, I am hoping to take my heart to all those places: engaging with the world, noticing and absorbing beauty, and taking time to be in nature and be still.

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Last week, I finished up the set of books I’d been reading: a fun Star Wars novel; a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about Partition in India/Pakistan; a Filipino-America cozy mystery; and a biography of a female Icelandic sea captain. I thoroughly enjoyed all these stories (plus my fall reread of Anne of Windy Poplars).

As I wrote my bite-size reviews for this blog, I found myself on the hunt: not only for my next book, but the next incarnation of my reading mix. For a long time, especially since I started reviewing books for Shelf Awareness, I’ve been a multiple-books-at-a-time kind of girl.

There are a few reasons for this. One: my Shelf books have deadlines, whereas the books I read purely for pleasure can allow for – even require – lingering. Two: some books can’t (and shouldn’t) be plowed through in a few days. I like to take my time with thoughtful nonfiction, or with a meaty novel that I need some time to digest. Three: I need something very gentle for bedtime reading – either a reread of an old favorite or a cozy, warmhearted story that will in no way give me nightmares.

Fourth, and maybe most important: I love what the reading mix does for my brain.

Our brains work differently in reaction to various kinds of stories; we process factual accounts differently than a fictional story, and we take distinct insights from reading disparate genres. Some forms of writing, like a fast-paced YA adventure, are meant to be read quickly, immersively. Some, like poetry, quietly insist on slow and reflective reading. Different genres and topics feed varied parts of our minds and souls; they make us question, reflect, protest, laugh and cry, or sigh with happiness. I feel most mentally balanced and nourished when my book “diet” includes a mix of genres and formats.

My review work helps me in choosing a mixture at any given time. Since I review multiple genres, I’m often working on a novel and some nonfiction for the Shelf at the same time. But I’m also always reading a novel or two for fun, and I pick up interesting nonfiction, like Joyful (above) or The Art of Gathering (more recently). I frequently seek out YA or middle-grade, which I don’t review; and I love a book of poetry or luminous essays when I can squeeze it in. (At the moment, What Wildness is This – a collection of nature essays by women about the American Southwest – is marvelous morning reading.)

I do my best to include authors of color and/or stories featuring a wide range of characters and settings, though I admit I often gravitate toward stories by and about white women who share some of my experiences. I think seeking out diverse books – more of which are available than ever before – helps us grow as readers and as human beings, but it’s also both fascinating and a lot of fun.

The latest incarnation of my reading mix includes that essay collection; Priya Parker’s thoughtful book on how we gather; a fun Regency romp set in London; a middle-grade novel; a British rom-com; and some other books I’ve yet to discover. I love the way these books can interact with each other in my reading life. And I’ll keep seeking out the mix – and changing it up – for as long as it works for me.

Do you read multiple books at once? Do you pay attention to your reading mix?

P.S. The second issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for December!

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It’s suddenly August (how??) and between work, a couple of weekend getaways and serious summer heat, here’s what’s saving my life right now:

  • Poetry Unbound. I had missed the most recent season, but am catching up, and it’s a joy to hear Padraig’s lilting Irish voice and discover new-to-me poets.
  • Daylilies, echinacea and sunflowers – it’s hot, but these beauties (like me) are hanging on.
  • The teeny tiny cherry tomatoes I’m growing on the back patio.
  • Sitting out back in the evenings with a book and some lemonade, when I can.
  • My favorite denim shorts, my trusty Allbirds sneakers and a few new tops from a friend, which amounts to a mini wardrobe refresh.
  • Lots and lots (and lots) of water.
  • Tea, always tea: MEM ginger peach, Trader Joe’s watermelon mint, the occasional iced chai.
  • Texts from a couple of lifesaving faraway friends.
  • Planning a couple of August adventures.
  • Watermelon facial mist from Trader Joe’s, which sounds ridiculous but is very refreshing.
  • Ukulele fun at my workplace: “Ode to Joy,” Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and assorted other tunes.
  • Fun books: rom-coms, mysteries, middle grade, a super nerdy nonfiction book about blurbs.
  • An occasional walk to the neighborhood park to watch the sunset (see above).

What’s saving your life in these deep summer days?

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Loving Working

“We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Before

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

I have been thinking a lot about the lives we live “before” (this time of year makes me remember, vividly, the process of going through my divorce, three years ago). This poem of Limón’s made me think of Nora Ephron’s lists of what she would (and wouldn’t) miss, written before her death in 2012.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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If they come in the night

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a cold hard floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
angry.

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted light off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of morning
touching a face
I love. We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves. We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

It has been a hard and heavy few weeks in the headlines, and this poem – found via Abby Rasminsky – made me think of Ukraine and also of my own life. I hope it moves you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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flowers

here we are
running with the weeds
colors exaggerated
pistils wild
embarrassing the calm family flowers oh
here we are
flourishing for the field
and the name of the place
is Love

I found this poem in How to Carry Water, a robust collection of Clifton’s poems. I love its riotous exuberance, its verbs, its unapologetic flourishing. And that last line! As a flower geek and a perennial optimist, I love it all.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Insha’Allah

I don’t know when it slipped into my speech
that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”
Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.
The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.

So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled
easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.

Every language must have a word for this. A word
our grandmothers uttered under their breath
as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,
hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,
dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.

Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah
the rice will be enough to last through winter.

How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.

I discovered Danusha Laméris via her poem “Small Kindnesses,” included in the collection How to Love the World. This poem came to me via social media, I think; I am so grateful to the Poetry Foundation for holding and sharing so many wonderful poems.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Darkest Before Dawn

Three days into the new year,
and despite the lack of adequate light,
our white phalaenopsis orchid
has eased open a third delicate bloom.
Perhaps coaxed by the warmth
of the woodstove a few feet away,
the orchid thrives in its tiny pot
shaped like the shell of a nautilus,
sending out new stems and glossy leaves,
its aerial roots—green at the tips—
reaching upward like tentacles
to sip the morning air. These blooms
stir something too long asleep in me,
proving with stillness and slow growth
what I haven’t wanted to believe
these past few months—that hope
and grace still reign in certain sectors
of the living world, that there are laws
which can never be overturned
by hateful words or the wishes
of power-hungry men. Be patient,
this orchid seems to say, and reveal
your deepest self even in the middle
of winter, even in the darkness
before the coming dawn.

I found this poem last winter in How to Love the World, a lovely, hopeful anthology edited by Crews. I have been thinking of it again in these cold January days: sometimes keen and blue and bright, sometimes grey and damp and dark.

While I am not growing orchids, my last paperwhite bulb – which sat on the kitchen windowsill for over a week with no signs of growth at all – has started to uncurl its green stem, perhaps in response to the blinding winter sunshine. I am taking it as a sign of hope, and thought it was apt to share this poem with you.

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