April 22, 2007

New on the Bookshelf

How does a reader find a good book?  And how does a writer find an audience?  Once, at neighborhood bookstores, knowledgeable salespeople would press their favorites into your hand and say, "You should read this."  Now, though both the stores and the salesclerks still exist, they are in shrinking supply.  It's harder for writer and reader to connect.  So I've invited three poets to introduce you to their new books. Two are first collections; the third is an anthology that includes work by area poets past (John Boyle O'Reilly) and present (Fred Marchant, Susan Donnelly, Kevin Bowen).

Molly Lynn Watt, Shadow People  (Ibbetson Street Press, 2007)
Would we were sitting at the oak table in my parents' farmhouse kitchen drinking tea from mint gathered in the yard, using redware mugs made by my brother. My parents died years ago. We sold the farm.  I live in the city. Life wasn't tranquil.

The poems in Shadow People spring from that homeplace of hospitality, onion-skinned-dyed Easter eggs, and discussions of Jim Crow. I have worked alongside Yup'ik elders in Alaska, seen the "juicy dance" of aurora borealis, touched glaciers, survived incest, heard Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit," failed at one marriage, succeeded at another, watched turtles lay eggs in sand, "glistened and grinned in a partner swing," commuted on the Red Line, picketed for peace. I have been unable to answer grandchildren at seder, asking "Why is government lying…when will Elijah bring promised peace?" My poems are a gift of optimism and witness for a future.

I listen for the rainstorm and its thunder
laugh out loud   renewed with wonder
then thrust another banner up that wars will cease

Daniel Tobin, ed., The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007)

This is the first major anthology of Irish American Poetry. It breaks new ground in the field of Irish American literary scholarship by collecting for the first time the work of over 200 Irish American poets, as well as other American poets whose works enjoins Irish American themes. It brings together exemplary poets from the "populist period" of Irish American verse with the work of those Irish Americans who have made an indelible imprint on American poetry.  The collection cuts across the broad spectrum of American poetry, and also includes distinctive poems by contemporary poets whose work is likely to survive. It is, according to Professor Charles Fanning, an "indispensable collection,"  and the equivalent in poet Eamonn Wall's words to "the invention of a whole new field." 

Kim Garcia, Madonna Magdalene  (Turning Point Books, 2006)

Place here the virgin in her Easter petals,
the ladder of green leaves, the open throat.
I was reading; my lamp was full.  A bird
entered the room, and knocked the walls
with bright wings, drunk on sky-mindedness.

Any picture I have of paradise includes a book.  This poem is drawn from an illuminated manuscript, a portrait of the virgin just as her life is blown open.  She is reading.  She is ready.

This is a book of desire, both the bliss of longing which is its own answer, and sweet regret—sexual, maternal, spiritual—which is a species of balm. 

The madonnas and magdalenes of this book unmade me as I made them.  I am grateful to them, grateful to be in a body one more day, and grateful for the stories that change us.

Water to wine, we were stained
and intoxicated.  Do as Love tells you.
Praise virginity lost, slow and conscious
as a strip tease.  Layer by layer,
let it be done unto us.  Again and again

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©2007 Ellen Steinbaum

My photo on the home page is by Peter Urban.
The cover of my book, Afterwords, was designed by Kate Misail.
The painting on the cover of the book, which is also pictured on this page, is by Eric Sealine.

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