Poetry Friday: “Daybreak, Winter”

23666248919_9ed672e6e0_zI have a complicated relationship with the sun, having grown up in southern California and now making my home in the moody Pacific Northwest. I swerve between desperation for even an hour of brightness and a stoic claim that my poet-soul finally feels at home in this rain-soaked climate. So Betsy Sholl’s poem about the longing for light—and its frustration by winter’s darkness—feels like it’s speaking directly to me, even as the lengthening days pitch us toward summer solstice. The poem’s four movements cast me out into the big questions, then draw me back in with quiet, simple sounds: “Now light…In my dream… Dawn in winter…” I love the stepping-stone quality of this poem’s thinking, how it steps carefully from image to image, as if the speaker were groping along the walls of some dark hallway while tracking a dream-truth. I stumble along holding tight to this poem’s unsure but deeply curious and trustful voice, as it moves from room to room. Here are familiar worries like “moths done with hunger, / white as tiny brides,” and a tree bearing fruit “only the birds, / and just a few of them, want to eat.” The poem is in some ways a procession of earthly failures, a meditation on the ways in which everything falls just short of oblivion—and yet finds light and grace again and again.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin
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The Best Conditions for Work

Flying BookFor William Carlos Williams

I work best alone. In an empty house.

When I’m ready to work, I take down the sun-faded poster of the Miro museum from my Barcelona honeymoon twenty-six years ago.

I pull the pilled sweaters down from the shelf in the closet—the sweater Nana Sarah knitted for me decades ago, the post-Christmas sale sweaters my wife buys and buys for me: V neck and crew, cardigan, cotton, and wool. Into a trunk they go. When I’m settled in comfort and bulk, I cannot imagine.

Thousands of titles—broken and unbroken spines—swept from bookshelves, dumped into cardboard boxes and shouldered downstairs, through the garage, into the yard. The easy victory of another poet’s epiphany: not for me. [Read more…]

The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the FutureI snuck into a chair while a friend was describing how growing up under a repressive regime infects and perverts children. He wasn’t talking about his own life; he was commenting on the selection for our graphic novel reading group—a program of our wonderful Evanston Public Library.

I was late, and I hate showing up late, so I sat down and listened to try to catch up. I didn’t want to be that guy who makes everyone repeat the stuff he would have heard had he been there on time.

But, of course, they were just moving on from the main question I had hoped to discuss, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to guide us back myself. I didn’t know how, as a white Western male, to ask if a book by a half-Arab author could be racist against Arabs.

The book was The Arab of the Future, originally published in French and recently available in English. In it, Riad Sattouf tells the story of his life from ages two to eight, during which time his father, a Syrian who met Riad’s French mother while studying at the Sorbonne, moved the family first to Libya, then to Syria. [Read more…]

Impounded by Poetry

By Cathy Warner

Salmon LeapingAfter one glass of wine, one poetry reading, and two hours, my bill totaled $452.21, and I hadn’t even bought Paul Nelson’s book.

At least the tow truck driver was apologetic. “I waited as long as I could before I hooked up your car. I just got here ten minutes before you.”

I could tell he thought the sort of person who drove a fifteen-year-old minivan with a Coexist bumper sticker was the sort of person who’d only park in a posted We Tow Unauthorized Vehicles lot in an emergency. So he had dawdled, waiting for me to come running, shouting “wait!” offering a profuse apology and compelling excuse (a flight, a funeral, brain surgery), whereupon he could issue a warning and return to his dinner.

But there I was, a willful and flagrant violator, who’d parked her car at 7 p.m., and hadn’t returned until nine.

My excuse was flimsy: I was late; the restaurant lot and street parking were full; I didn’t know where else to park. [Read more…]

The Prophet of Uninterrupted Complaint

Morning IvyI am grateful for deadlines, even when I have little time, or only brief windows of it, which I often manage to fill with reading the Internet. I know my cannons will fire, because they must, but lately I’ve experienced a sort of brain-fatigue, or perhaps it’s peace (I don’t really know the difference), that’s brought me back to this position, sitting, waiting for the words to visit me.

I’ll be generous with myself and call it peace, which would be a paradigm-shift for me, not only because if it weren’t for deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now, but also because I spent many years “writing to survive.”

One of my favorite leisure activities from adolescence to young adulthood, was passionately leaving my house to take long brooding walks whilst listening to emo-pop music and imagining that I was God’s deep well of spiritual wisdom.

It was how I signaled to the cruel world (mostly my antagonistic siblings), that I had an interior life that was enjoyable to me: Yes, there’s something within me that I like and cherish and want to spend time with, and also, you’re not invited. [Read more…]


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