Louise Glück’s book Faithful and Virtuous Night just won the National Book Award–and you can read many reviews more finely tuned and insightful than what you’ll find here. But it’s always a pleasure to have a new book by a favorite poet, and so I’ve been looking forward to Glück’s collection.

I loved that the title is a pun–and at the same time, it can be a somber look back from life’s dusk too its lighter days, soft or under a harsh glare.

The speakers in Glück’s poems are philosophical, bold forays into abstraction, a tension between the narrative and the lyric, punctuated by her prose pieces. Themes recur–the light through blinds, the trains. People recur, relationships, and relationships with the past.

I appreciate the shifting identities–sometimes, the speaker might be Glück herself and the poem might be read as autobiographical, as memoir. Or it’s a woman–some other woman. Or we aren’t sure–a helpful reminder that poetry is not by default autobiography or documentary.

For other poems, Glück creates a mask–a man, a painter, the history and anxieties of his childhood, a story that threads through the poems in the book. Clearly a different persona, and yet the poems underscore how much we as humans, as creative people struggle, how we feel thwarted and yet somehow keep walking toward that faithful night.

To get you started (although it appears toward the end of the book): A Summer Garden–the text and a recording.


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book coverYears ago, I had the honor of participating in a Crab Creek Review/A River & Sound Review reading with Madeleine DeFrees–a wild and exhilarating night. But it was a delight to sit down this week quietly with her book Spectral Waves, from Copper Canyon Press, and savor her words and images, and the way she weaves themes throughout the collection.

These poems bring you along easily, like a spider in its glistening web, and then they stay with you–you’re caught in the most delicious way. In many, the tone and rhythm are familiar, a kind of comfort. Often meditative, and sometimes a little sassy. For whatever reason, I felt like I was back in Nelson Bentley’s classroom in the 1980s.

At the same time, these poems ask hard questions that faith must ask, investigate, dig deep into the unseen and what is seen–sometimes with harrowing clarity, a tension especially in the poems about vision, about losing eyesight. So much of this book is about seeing.

I loved the ekphrastic poems–the “Poetry of…” poems that open the sections and fold in the words of others, and the villanelles that speak to paintings by Georges de la Tour. Then, there’s “A Crown of Sonnets for ‘The King'”–about Elvis!

But the poem that stayed with me the most, as I set the book down and did the laundry, made dinner, was “After a tearful morning.”


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I used to write about deliberate practice, which continues to fascinate me. But right now, I’m having a hard time just practicing–at all. Writing–at all. Recently, Bethany Reid posted about writing, starting writing, writing for 15 minutes, or even 5, setting your goals low instead of lofty so you could start.

This aligned nicely with a Copyblogger post about micro-goals. Feel overwhelmed? Set your goals lower–small enough that you can actually do them.

Last week, my goal was to do three 15-minutes free writes a day. On my best day, I did two. On my worst day, zero. It is hard to go lower than zero. I was late, I was tired, it was dark, the rain was too loud on the roof of my car. Excuses. Or my goals weren’t low enough.

I believe in muscle memory and the power of habit. I believe in showing up to write. And I remind myself that a lot of that initial writing, most of it, nearly all of it might be dreck, and that’s okay. That dreck is getting me headed in the right direction, even if I can’t see it yet.

Now it’s time to set new goals for a new week.

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I had not met Kim-An Lieberman in real life, in person, had not even met her poems, although I remember the community’s grief at her person. This week, I had the bittersweet honor and ravage of making that acquaintance in her book In Orbit, from Blue Begonia Press.

How deftly she has woven story and image, braided past and present, family history and the history a war leaves behind, its scars seen and unseen, as in the lyrical and desperate “Unearthing Song.”

And then the final section–her clear, tender, ruthless telling of her journey through cancer. It is unimaginable, as when she describes coming home to her children:

…Their hair vining everywhere. They talk in Technicolor
and their eyes are feverish bright. I marvel over their suddenness
like I marveled at their birth, a full and breathing human weight
gifted into my arms, where I held nothing a mere moment before.

And yet, she writes this. She takes us to a place we hope we never have to go. We are left heartbroken and grateful for her strength, her bravery, and her wonderful gift with language.

I found some of my favorite images in “The Immigrant Gardens”:

The Immigrant Gardens

On the slopes of First Hill, on the banks of the freeway,
at the corner of Maynard and Main,
the immigrant gardens are blooming.
Daikon and bitter melon, shiso and snow pea,
bamboo shoots rising through layers of clay.
In the static buzz of the cicada streetlamps,
under the tarp of the storm-furrowed sky,
bok choy bursts yellow, peppers clatter down the vine.
Ghostlines of Japantown snake along wet cement
past the boarded-up bathhouse, the tattered hotel.
Faded letters on brick brag Fireproof Rooms 50 Cents,
and a dragon twines red up a telephone pole.
Trace the city’s glass ridges from your split-board bench,
watch the cars in I-5 burn a river of light.
All around you, brambles and grasses and roots
in a thousand different languages, flowering.

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One pleasure of hearing a poet read in person is later reading his or her poems and hearing them in that voice. And, the pleasure of reading Rebecca Hoogs’s Self-Storage, having heard her insightful, wit-full, and well-crafted introductions for the SAL poetry series, is the anticipation that she will bring that same acrobatic music and intellect to her poems–which she does brilliantly. These poems move with a cunning clarity, packed with word-play, and play to get at the deeper sense of things, in a voice that is at the same time don’t-fuck-with-me and vulnerable. Lines between myth and reality, past and present, blur and refocus, but always the speaker pursues the truth that lies beyond what we think we know.

For two examples, see “Self-Portrait as Porcupine” and “Heart, My Box of Snow.”

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