Saturday poetry pick: Love the Stranger

Last week I said that I wasn’t going to feature a book each week, but over at Better View of the Moon, Karen Craigo is writing thoughtfully about a book every day, so I figure I ought to be able to share one brief poetry pick.

I have been haunted by and wanting to read Jay Deshpande’s Love the Stranger ever since I encountered his gorgeous and devastating poem “Bewilderment” on Poetry Daily. No spoiler alerts here; you’ll have to read the poem.

What stays with me from the book as a whole are the images and the way that push against the expected without pushing me away, the way they thread through the poems and through the book.

For example, in “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” we first encounter “At evening, chin back and the neck / like a skyscraper, we give up smoke–a colony / of ghost-howl.” Then we come to “with desire / propped like a water tower in the corner” and “It seems I am always running ahead of my needing, / looking out from a higher window of the body”, the poem having already moved from a rooftop with a lover into a field with a brother (“I am beginning to see how I am that field”) and moving from “I am resting my head against the part of myself / I am willing to put down” to “Tonight I will sleep like a just man, / a good man, a man who has hurt others / in order to lay his head down.”

“Prairie Song with Jack Palance” begins “Enough times now I’ve dropped the blade of love” and pulls that energy through the “thumb scrambling moon”, “the holstered butt of midnight. / Little rivulets through red clay forming / a continent of blood” and “this cliff of squint.”

And the other image that most persistently stuck in my head comes from “Reports of the Dream You’re Not Likely to Recover From”: “the braided violets only seen in sleep.”

The book’s repeated references to knives and villages give it a prophetic, ritual, out-of-time feeling, as does the sequence of Chet Baker poems in the middle, while Deshpande’s poems about his brother open into a tender intimacy.

I leave you with the last four lines of “Amor Fati”:

I know what song brings every one of us
here, it goes: refrain, refrain, refrain.
But we will never have enough
of being wrong about the other, not once.

Saturday poetry pick: House of Water

book cover

It’s been a while since I posted a Saturday poetry pick, but Matthew Nienow’s collection House of Water sings in a way I want to share.

Immediately I was struck and stunned by the music, as in “Ode to the Belt Sander & This Cocobolo Sapwood”:

“The belt kicks on with a whir & the whir
licks the end grain of the offcut with a hint

of ?hesitation.”

and the poem later continues

“A single knot blinks
out of the small block and becomes

the eye of a hummingbird, its beak
bending around the edge of the wood,”

Or in “Ode to the Gain”:

“There’s the paring chisel’s purpose
in the steamed cedar strake, its long warp

laid strong against the bench,
whose pocked surface is the book

of what has already been made,
or marred in learning’s wake —”

There are the kicks and licks, hint and hesitation, blinks and block and beak bending, and steamed cedar strake, long warp laid strong. The sounds fill my mouth, the stresses slow me down, and yet there is a lot of movement happening—the steady methodical movement of work.

If the odes have some of the most lyrical moments, their reflection appears in other poems, especially “From the Middle of It”—a long meditation that reckons with the small moments, their gifts we’re losing all the time.

This is a book of wood and water and family and hammers. And because my husband is also a woodworker, it gave me more glimpses into his world–not just the stories of it, but the experience, as in “End Grain”:

“the most

vulnerable door
of what makes

the holiest of

Poetry pick: Little Spells

April was fantastic, but I’m still way behind, trying to catch up. Although I’m a month late for April’s poetry pick, I didn’t want to skip writing about this book. Briefly:

Jennifer K. Sweeney’s newest collection, Little Spells, is a heartbreak, is a solace, is a journey. It is winter moving into spring. It is steel and cloud. It is blood and memory. It is quietly fierce.

Two of my favorite lines, among so many favorites, come from “Winter, Parenthetical”:

I had wished to live in a country of bad weather and nested
inside a winter inside a winter inside a long night.

(I walked around for days repeating that second line in my head, amazed at how it both haunts and satisfies, a completeness without comfort.)

I hope to write more later. In the meantime, for a poem, see “The Embryologist.”

Poetry pick: Phlogiston

Today I give you facts:
1. At a reading, try not to read after Dennis Caswell. He is a hard act to follow.
2. Dennis’s Poem-a-Day email list is a wonder. Highly recommended.
3. Phlogiston is a real word. It is also the title of Dennis’s book.

Phlogiston, from Floating Bridge Press, explodes with playful poems, telling poems, full of intellect and wit and zany detours that lead you right to the heart where you thought you weren’t going and, luckily, ended up.

For a link, here’s Preservation.

February poetry pick: No Matter the Wreckage

Last month, Tom and I were lucky enough to go hear Sarah Kaye. We sat in the front row. We were awed and swept up and sometimes a little teary. Then Tom surprised me on Valentine’s Day with a copy of her book, No Matter the Wreckage.

We go to readings to hear the poet and the poems in the moment, but then we also get to carry that voice home with us. Having seen Sarah perform in the TED video and now live, I could hear her in these poems–some of which I’d actually heard her perform.

To me, these poems balance story-telling with some amazing imagery. And even the shorter, quieter poems have a momentum. That’s a trick–to put momentum in a quieter poem.

You can hear her perform “Point B” (or “If I should have a daughter”) at the TED link above. But here is another of my favorites, “Ghost Ship”: