Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

This Christmas, Buy Poetry

I usually don’t like to hawk my own books, but with the Christmas shopping season in full swing, it seems like a good time to promote books in general (for mine, see below). And what better kind of book to buy than a good book of poetry?

They say good things come in small packages: you get a lot of good things in a collection of poems. And because each poem is usually a page or two long, readers can digest a book of poems a few at a time. A poetry book is perfect for commuters or travelers or anyone with a busy schedule or who needs something to read after they put their phone, tablet, or computer away before they go to sleep (more and more studies say you should do this, so you need good books to make the transition). Poetry books generally aren’t as expensive as novels or short story collections, so you can give two or three — or you can add a book of poems to make an ordinary gift like a  scarf or sweater seem extraordinary.

Now, I know some people’s reaction will be that no one reads poetry or no one understands it, but that doesn’t have to be the case. First, if everyone bought a book of poetry for Christmas, then much more poetry would be read! (Okay, I know, that’s wishful thinking…) But not all poetry is opaque and impossible to understand. Some is, and some people love that, but many poets also write perfectly accessible poems that engage with current events or universal issues anyone can relate to. You just have to look around and find the book that will speak to the person on your gift list (or put some poetry on your own wish list, so someone might get it for you).

How to find good poetry?

Over at Poetry Southwe’ve started a book list of new and notable books, mostly by Southern poets. You can also read many of our issues online to find poets who might be of interest, or you could order a gift subscription for Issue 9, which will be out in time for Christmas. You can also click on the title to go to our LibraryThing bookshelf of poetry. Goodreads recently released their reader’s poll of top poetry in 2017. Small Press Distribution listed their best-selling poetry titles in November, and Entropy Magazine came out with their list. And browsing in a good bookstore can give you ideas.

If you’re still looking for suggestions, here is what I have available:

9781680030655 For the art lover, the environmentalist, or anyone interested in the Mississippi Gulf Coast or mental illness, Barrier Island Suitechronicles the life of painter and potter Walter Inglis Anderson of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. As a young man, he studied art, then suffered mental breakdowns (possibly as a result of malaria or undulant fever) and was institutionalized. Later he would become a successful yet reclusive artist, working at the family pottery and sailing out to the barrier island for weeks at a time to draw and paint. The poems in this collection are inspired by his Horn Island Logs as well as the biographies Fortune’s Favorite Child and Approaching the Magic Hour.

dunkelberg front cover smThe poems in Time Capsules are more autobiographical, though some poems or details are invented. Poems set in the present deal with marriage, family, setting down roots, and growing accustomed to Mississippi. Poems of the past deal with growing up in small-town Iowa in the 60s and 70s. Themes of travel and nature run through all of my poetry and are prevalent in Time Capsules as well. Trees, birds, and wildflowers are recurring symbols. The book’s four sections are loosely organized around the cycle of the seasons, beginning in winter with “The Land of the Dead” and ending in late fall with “Requiem.”

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My first collection, Landscapes and Architectures is out of print, but I do have some copies available. Contact me if you’d like one or if you’d like a complete set of my three books! Landscapes and Architectures deals with the displacement of youth, modern culture (including some technology that now feels dated), love, nature, and finding one’s way in the world. The landscapes and cityscapes of the midwest, where I grew up, feature prominently in early poems set in Osage, Iowa, and Galesburg and Chicago, Illinois. Later poems take place in the wide open spaces and exotic landscape around Austin, Texas.

HRNcoverFor those who are interested in translation, surrealism, or mystical poetry, my translations of the Belgian poet, Paul Snoek, in Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus may make a good stocking stuffer. This collection of three of his books from the 1960s is a small format pocket book. One of Belgium’s most prominent post-war poets writing in Flemish, Paul Snoek was active from the 1950s until his tragic death in in a single-car accident in 1981. Recently, I’ve been reworking some of my translations of his last two books and am thinking again about finding a publisher for more of his poems.

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Last but not least, for the writer on your list, you might choose to buy a book about writing poetry (and fiction, nonfiction, and drama). My textbook, A Writer’s Craft, was published this year. Though it’s geared towards an introductory creative writing class, it was also written to be accessible for individual writers who want instruction and inspiration on the basics of the four main genres of creative writing. Each chapter ends with writing exercises to provide inspiration and more are available on the companion website and on its GoodReads community.

Merry Christmas

As a Christmas present to the blogosphere, I’m posting a poem from my second book, Time Capsules. It was originally composed on a bitter cold Christmas Eve in 1996, when I was visiting my parents. Lilith, the black lab/border collie mix, who is mentioned in the poem, died several years ago. She was a constant companion for over 14 years on late night or early morning walks.

This year, Iowa has relatively warm weather and our chances of snow are slim. I’m here with my family and our new dog, Zinneke. Though much has changed in the last 15 years, the dark nights of deep winter and the clear air or Northern Iowa, especially walking out into the countryside late at night, still brings a special kind of clarity.

Christmas: Osage Iowa, 10:00 p.m.

I take 10th Street out of town. The only life
on the road is a snowmobile, a couple of cars,
my dog Lilith, and me. It’s ten below
with a light snow. The wind is still tonight,
making the cold bearable. Snow underfoot
and the slightest breeze in the pines create
the only sounds. Then just beyond
the city limits all stops. Around me, empty
white fields and tiny flakes descending
gather up a little stray light to illuminate
the dim landscape. There, half a mile off
the lighted trees at a farmhouse add color
to the stark white of yard lights, muted
now by snow. A car’s red tail lights
glide along the highway headed north.

This stillness is what I’ve traveled two
thousand miles for: the clean, crisp
subzero air, the light invading the dark
to clear my soul. It only lasts a moment,
then the wind picks up and Lilith wants
to play, dashes at me, herds me back
toward home. We run back and forth along
10th Street, stop to savor the cold night,
check the scent of pheasant in the windbreak,
search for a trace of the near-full moon
through thin clouds. The snow obscures
everything even as it makes everything
brighten. The turning point of the seasons
remains elusive, and yet this moment is
enough to take me through another year.

Resolutions for 2010

December was a month for family (and finals), and I fell behind in my blogging. That’s all right, though. Family is important, and time away from technology can be time very well spent, especially when travel is involved. So I have a few resolutions for the new year: getting back to the blog is only one… continuing to spend time with family is another, and finding time to write poems (and send them to magazines) is a third. All will be a challenge this spring, since in addition to my full teaching load, I have a conference presentation at AWP and the Southern Literary Festival to organize for April 22-24 at MUW.

Christmas was a great time, though! Posole with my sister’s extended family (and our family) in Albuquerque was a great twist to the tradition. We usually have it in Iowa, but this year everyone went to New Mexico to be with my sister while she was having chemotherapy treatments. Fortunately, she had changed medicines and was feeling better and well enough to host us around town. Trips to Old Town and to Acoma Pueblo to see the Christmas dances on Dec. 26 were highlights. Deer and Buffalo dancers in the old mission church, now the pueblo’s public kiva, were highlights. It was moving to see the Acoma doing traditional dances, not for tourists (though we were allowed to watch and even encouraged to participate in the festivities) but primarily for themselves. Men with deer antlers on their heads and their faces covered in evergreen branches or men with buffalo hides covering their heads and shoulders were joined by young boys, girls, and women dancers, led by excellent drummers. It was certainly a celebration of their culture and community that inspires us to value family and community in our lives as well.

Happy 2010 — may your lives be filled with good poetry, art, family, and friends.