Wednesday, June 26, 2019

 

summer reading


Hi friends, here it is, early summer and the light is longest, let's make the most of it!  I've been doing my best to hold up my head and do that very thing.  I wasn't able to go away for the annual island painting trip I usually take in June, for reasons far beyond my choosing or control, so I spent those days instead visiting with the island on the page.  I forged out a mini-retreat here in our own home, and buckled down to edit my way through the most recent draft of my island painting book.  And now I've reached a new plateau with it, one with a clear view to the finish, and a navigable path to get there.  The narrative is holding together, I am editing out the repetitious blahs, and adding in what still needs to be added in, for clarity and with purpose.  I have a list of what to do next, and how to do it.  I am quietly pleased, to say the least.  Since a few short months ago I was afraid of foundering altogether.

Drafts pile up.  I just added the top layer this morning, after finishing with it yesterday:


Will it be any good?  That remains to be seen.  It will be true, and someday it will be finished, that much I do know.  It's hovering around 100,000 words, but many of those still have to go the way of the dodo.  Please pray for me, if you are so inclined.  In other bookish news, we attended a library sale last week, unexpectedly.  As in, we were driving by on our way to somewhere else and saw big signs that said BOOK SALE, and had to stop.  The sale had already been underway for a few hours, so I didn't find much, but what I did buy I was happy with:


E.B. White!  Marguerite Yourcenar!  Thoreau!  Pausanius (both volumes!!)!  Virginia Woolf!  Jerome K. Jerome!  Twain!  Neruda!  The first line of the E.B. White essay "A Report in Spring" is so fine:

"I bought a puppy last week in the outskirts of Boston and drove him to Maine in a rented Ford that looked like a sculpin."  (Harper & Row 1977, p.14)

He sets the scene and gets right to the action, the interesting stuff, and the big theme, all at once.  I know from recent experience that doing that isn't as easy as he makes it look.  I browsed my way through the other books too, and inside the back cover of the shabby third U.S. printing (Harcourt, Brace 1925) of Mrs. Dalloway found this tiny treasure:


I haven't found a great bookseller's ticket in ages, and this one really gets me right where I live, I just love it!  I remember when I first began this blog, one of my earliest posts featured some of what I called the luggage labels of the book trade.  I keep my collection in two stamp albums and still add to it when the opportunity arises.  I love that the book is American, found its way to a bookshop in Nassau, then came here to Maine.  Who knows how the book's travels unfolded between these stops.  I wish I could map it somehow.  I like the galleon dingbat, and in fact I own a piece of metal type that looks almost exactly like it.  I can't really believe that, and you might not either, but I just pulled it out of the type cabinet in our living room, and here it is:


It must have been a common dingbat at that time, since I don't have that many, or that much type in general.  Anyway, I'm keeping Mrs. Dalloway, for the ticket and of course to read, since... I've never read it (ahem).

Recent books I have read:  I finished the memoirs of Anthony Powell, all four volumes (Holt, Rinehart, Winston 1977-1982).  Last time I wrote here I mentioned that with the state of the world as it is I was having trouble finding joy in the things that used to always bring me joy, and with that in mind I turned to a series, to occupy my mind with a long term reading project.  For about a month I visited with Powell and his friends and acquaintances, and while the experience wasn't completely delightful it was enjoyable.  This is a good memoir for anyone who might like an insider's view about publishing in the 1920s, the early lives and careers of Waugh, Orwell, the Sitwell clan, Robert Byron, Powell himself, and a wide panorama of literary others, for decades.  His war years are interesting but not as harrowing or as fully described as Frances Partridge's or James Lees-Milne's, in their diaries.  I plan on beginning his sequence of twelve novels next, A Dance to the Music of Time, which has been on my shelves foreverrrrr and I decided I simply must give it a go.  I'm wondering if Powell will be more forthcoming emotionally in his fiction, the way he didn't quite seem to be in his memoirs.  Which were frank, but lacked something I couldn't quite name.  Powell's memoirs are back in the book room, ready to be reshelved:


Now I am in the thick of my most recent to-be-read pile.  Some of the books from the library sale haul will find their way in here too, I'm sure.  But at the moment, things stand this way:


I have the University of Chicago set of paperback reprints of A Dance to the Music of Time.  The first volume is on deck.  Let's see how the summer unfolds, and what I pick up after finishing Robert Macfarlane and Nigel Slater.  I now own two copies of Nigel Slater's new book Greenfeast (4th Estate 2019, happily this spring/summer volume will be followed by the fall/winter volume in a few months), because I ordered a signed edition and it arrived unsigned, so I reordered a signed edition, and now have one to keep and one to give to a friend.  He focuses here on plant-based eating, for the most part.  I am halfway in and loving the recipe ideas, and his entire aesthetic.  I am also halfway in to Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Norton 2019) and have far too much to say about it to write anything comprehensive at this time.  This shockingly gorgeous and highly unsettling book deserves its own review, so that may follow, when I've finished reading it, transcribing notes from it, and mulling it over.  I'm going to need a reading break afterwards, to let it settle, then I might follow it up with Tove Jansson's The Summer Book (NYRB reprint), if I don't start with Powell first.

I will give him the  last word today.  In volume four of his memoir, The Strangers All Are Gone, I came across this helpful and prescient passage, regarding the anger that might arise within us when we read the news:

"...it is better to remain calm; try to remember that all epochs have had to suffer assaults on commonsense and common decency, art and letters, honour and wit, courage and order, good manners and free speech, privacy and scholarship; even if sworn enemies of these abstratctions (quite often wearing the disguise of their friends) seem unduly numerous in contemporary society."  (pp.193-194)

I read that and think, Well, yes, but IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.  Change is coming, that is certain.  And I find renewed optimism within myself, and around all of us, and take heart once more.  Like I said at the beginning, let's make the most of the light!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

 

losing my appetite


In my last post I may have spoken too soon.  About spring.  It arrived, sort of, but today is rainy and cold and some snow flurries have been flying around the state.  I mean really.  I got out to paint earlier this week but after a few hours had to seek shelter in the car and paint from there, the bite of the wind was so sharp.  But enough about the weather.  I meant to write in April about all sorts of things, books among them, but had a hard time finding the motivation to do so.  The state of everything has laid me low, I have to say.  Some personal events, the ongoing political news, the dire state of our ailing planet.  I am not finding solace and comfort easily, or really anywhere.  The things and experiences that used to bring me joy, no matter what, are feeling more and more like stopgaps.  I am trying to find ways to let them act instead as stiles, the sturdy steps to take to go up and over the difficulties we face, that block the ways between our open fields.  So here I am today, taking one such step.

I could talk about appetites, since I noticed that two of the books on my bedside table in recent weeks deal with that very thing, in direct and indirect ways both:


I recently saw Roxane Gay speak at a local college, and hallelujah she signed books afterwards:


She was fantastic.  It was a privilege to hear her, and meet her briefly afterwards.  She spoke about activism, among many other topics, and said (I paraphrase) that she wants to make room for AND and BOTH, and that shouting at each other only makes a lot of noise and leaves everyone feeling unsatisfied and hollow.  She emphasized coming at saving the world through a lens of love, if it is love for friends and partners or love through faith or worship, because without love we are hollow.  Then we act from that place of hollowness.  And when that happens, trouble ensues, for all of us.  She got a laugh from the audience when she said that she wasn't evolved enough personally to love everyone, that she thought some people weren't worthy of love, but she did talk about how we can make space for people to rejoin the community, and how redemption is a pathway forward to that.  Up and over we go!  I haven't started reading Hunger: A Memoir of  (My) Body (Harper 2017) yet, I'm immersed in other books at this moment, but I will start it when I finish Bad Feminist: Essays (Harper 2014).  A bit from that:

"Like many writers, I lived inside of books as a child.  Inside books I could get away from the impossible things I had to deal with.  When I read I was never lonely or tormented or scared.  I read everything I could get my hands on...."  (p.65)

"Reading remains one of the purest things I do.... I derive a great deal of joy from reading - highbrow, lowbrow, I'm into all of it....  It's great to remember that reading is my first love."  (p.175)

Heather "Anish" Anderson describes herself this way:  "Growing up, I was overweight, inactive, and introverted - a bookworm of the highest order...."  (p.25).  In her memoir Thirst: 2600 Miles Home (Mountaineers 2019) she chronicles her Pacific Crest Trail through-hike, during which she walked about forty to fifty miles per day, to break the previous record for fastest known time.  She starts in the desert in Southern California, literally thirsty beyond measure, barely making it from water source to water source in the extreme heat.  Her book is about that basic human need, while also being about a much greater thirst.

What else have I got today.  How about this - when I have a certain kind of appetite, I still go to a bookstore.  Bookstores always seem to provide the kind of sustenance that I most want, they ease my hunger pangs, even if lately they don't assuage them altogether.  On a recent trip, late last week, I came away from one shop with a few new books:


Now I'm in the middle of Mary Beard's How Do We Look: the Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilisation (Liveright 2018), and I realized after buying the book that it is a companion to her tv program of the same name, so I will seek that out somtime soon.  I'm fifty pages in and so far the book is a thoughtful conversation about ancient art and history and how we humans choose to portray ourselves, and why.  It has such a stunning cover, too, and feels so good in the hand - heavy and full of color plates.  I bought the Edward Thomas book because I've never read much of him and keep coming across references to his poetry and nature diaries in other books, so, now I know a bit more about him.  Edward Thomas: Poems selected by Matthew Hollis (Faber & Faber 2016, in the Faber Nature Poets series, with these lovely covers, now I want them all).  Come to think of it, I believe I have come across many references to Edward Thomas in the writings of Robert Macfarlane - one more thing I did at the bookstore was order his new book, which is already available in the U.K. but still unpublished here in the U.S. until early June, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Norton 2019).  I think this book will be another stile, another way to lift up from gloom and doom, and take heart once more.

The last book I'll mention today is Horizon by Barry Lopez (Knopf 2019):


Book designers are killing it lately.  I saw this book and my hand reached out for it before I even knew what I was doing.  Same with the Mary Beard book, a pleasure to behold.  And to read?  Well, I don't know.  Lopez spells it all out for us, the bad news of the world, even while he's seeking the light.  This book stretched my brain in a good way but also frustrated me.  It is full of the stuff of classic high adventure and exploration tales - archaeology in the arctic and in Africa, nature in the Galapagos, solo camping in the Pacific Northwest, journeys across Australia, and around the Pacific Ocean with Captain Cook, I mean this book has everything but the kitchen sink in it.  I felt like each chapter could have been its own book and I would have been satisfied, and more able to focus on what he was saying.  As it stands, Horizon is like a world atlas seen through one pair of eyes, looking, noting, questioning, positing.  He says about himself:

"In my hurricane mind, the churning of esoteric information goes on, thoughts I can't seem to organize well enough to create any points of stillness"  (p.207)

And perhaps that was my problem with this book.  There were plenty of points of stillness within it but they were overwhelmed by the movement, the incessant travel, the seeking.  Many times in the book he seems on the brink of despair himself, at the state of the world, and our treatment of it, our own and only home.  He offers some suggestions in the manner of someone who knows that they will not be heeded by those who currently rule:

"...human cultures need to distinguish between sentimentality about loss and the imperative to survive.  They need to establish a more relevant politics than the competitive politics of nation-states. And to found economies built not on profit but on conservation.

Or so it seems to me..."  (p.83)

"The seductive power of this system of exploitation - tearing things out of the earth, sneering at the least objection, as though it were hopelessly unenlightened, characterizing other people as vermin in the struggle for market share, navigating without an ethical compass - traps people in a thousand exploited settlements in denial, in regret, in loneliness.... (you must) sympathize with every person caught up in the undertow of this nightmare, this delusion that a for-profit life is the only reasonable calling for a modern individual."  (p.368)

Whew.  One of the main points he seems to be making in the book is that the horsemen of the apocalypse are visible on the earth's horizon, and it is up to us to identify them and figure out what to do to save the world as they come ever closer.  One of the ways to do that, he suggests, is to have people at the table who have not been at the table in recent times.  Particularly elders and the marginalized, and not those with an economic and political stake in whatever outcomes may occur (p.311).  Honestly, this may not have been the best book to read when I am already feeling down.  However, his elegiac introspective prose, often about the beauties of nature and the wonders of the world, lifted me up at about the same rate as the bad news about climate change and human nature brought me down, so I guess I find myself even, at the end of it.  Sitting up on the stile, wondering which field to walk through next.  My appetite reminding me not to wander too far from home.         

Friday, March 29, 2019

 

progress of all sorts


Late March is mud season around here and also sap time, and I must say that getting anything accomplished lately has felt like swimming through maple syrup.  So slow, but certainly not as sweet.  However I am in fact getting boatloads of things accomplished, despite feeling bogged down and even slightly stuck.  I find a way to work steadily through it all.  My island painting book is sitting before me in a new draft, one I am about to take some scissors to in an effort to edit and rearrange.  Parts of the draft are terrible, make no sense, and I will leave them on the cutting room floor, but other parts are shaping up and thus I have hope for the whole thing.  Meanwhile the color proofs for my next painting show catalogue arrived today.  The draft and color proof are here beside me now:


Understatement:  I have worked hard on this show.  Upstairs in my studio are almost sixty paintings, framed and ready to take to the gallery in May.  The gallerists were just here to look everything over and ease my worried mind.  I haven't neglected other business either.  Our taxes are filed.  Looking back, I sold a fair number of books last year but I made a lot more money from the sale of my paintings.  This is a heartening trend.  I've been thinking again of having a little bookshop someday, perhaps in my old age, but it will have to be adjacent to my art gallery!

Speaking of bookshops, I just visited Stone Soup in Camden and bought a Maine island book I hadn't yet read, Winter Harbor by Bernice Richmond (Henry Holt 1943).  Her writing gives me valuable perspective on my own book-to-be, encompassing as it does an island narrative and personal memoir.  The book opens with such a great little paragraph, one that catches the reader immediately.  When Bernice Richmond began with this, I for one couldn't wait to hear all about it (p.3):

"Reg and I are little people.  No one ever heard of us, we have no names, we have no wealth, yet something wonderful, exciting and full of adventure happened to us."

How could you not keep reading after that?  She launches immediately into the tale of how she and her husband came to buy a lighthouse on a tiny island off Winter Harbor, west of the Schoodic peninsula.  The book chronicles their first three seasons there, during 1939, 1940, and 1941.  The war is a backdrop she barely mentions, but when she does, her descriptions are powerful and memorable.  In the book's second paragraph she says (ibid) "...at that time an unmistakable gloom was settling over the world and it was hard to understand what, if anything, the future held for us."  The lighthouse is a symbol to her of everything good in our character, but the book isn't just symbolic.  It's all about the practical work of island living and her very real joy in renovating the light tower and keeper's house, living there, and sharing the lighthouse and the island with her friends, family, and neighbors. 

It was a wonderful book to read at this particular moment.  I'd like to read her follow-up memoir, Our Island Lighthouse (Random House 1947) but don't have it on hand, and prices online run about $100 a copy, ugh.  Anyway, what I really want to read next is a little something called The Mueller Report (U.S. Government Printing Office 2019).  (I made that up.  The publishing information, not the wanting-to-read-it part.  That is real.  I would like to know, after all this time, what happened.  The truth, please, the facts.)  Instead I'm deep into the early chapters of the brand new Barry Lopez book Horizon (Knopf 2019).  It's hot off the press and I bought it last week at Bookstacks in Bucksport.  So far it's a mix of the hopeful and the hopeless, regarding nature and climate change.  His descriptions of places and experiences are so right and his writing is so generous and wide-reaching, I read along and feel as if I'm somehow brimming over.  Like our yard this afternoon, which was full of flocks of red winged blackbirds, robins, juncoes, and sparrows.  The sun is breaking through the gray sky, after a day of rain.  It's truly spring.  I thought it might never arrive, but here it is.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

 

inheritances


Ice and snow are still covering the crocuses around here, but I know the bulbs are under there and will awaken soon.  They must be thinking things over, surely.  The turning of the month is a big one - March always feels so close to spring.  Spring!  I can't wait.  It's been so cold for so long.  We bundled up and attended the same local library book sale this morning that we often attend, since the friends-of-the-library group holds it on the first Saturday of each month, all winter.  If the roads are dry and we have cabin fever, we go.  Today's haul consisted of two bags of books for $50.  From that, I have a small stack here beside me to keep for a while.  A Mary Wesley novel I haven't read yet, a softcover reprint of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis, a reprint of W.H. Auden's commonplace book A Certain World (Viking 1970), Annie Leibovitz's memoir At Work (Random House 2008), a fluffy contemporary novel about a bookseller (can't resist, will report back if any good), and an 800-page diary I'd never heard of, Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke's War Diaries 1939-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001), which looks like a fascinating slog, just what I like.  For now, I'll keep it on the shelf near the war diaries of James Lees-Milne and Frances Partridge.

Because even though I am buying books to read, I'm barely reading a thing right now.  (Writing, I am still writing!)  But diaries are on my mind.  Written in one of my own, somewhere, years ago, is a quote from Wendell Berry, which goes something like this:  "From my various ancestors I inherited both great wealth and great poverty.  It has taken me years to figure out which is which."  But can I find this quote?  No, I cannot.  Not in an old diary, or in the Wendell Berry books on my shelves here at home.  The google machine is also unhelpful in this regard, but I am quite sure Wendell Berry said it, and so I paraphrase him here, regarding an inheritance I recently received.  I am a stepchild, and my step-grandfather died a few cold Januaries ago.  I have good memories of him, and even more of my step-grandmother, who was the only real grandmother I ever knew when I was a child.  But they were complicated people, as people are, and when I think of them now, the quote comes to mind.

All that is to say, my stepfather stopped by the other day with a gift for me, from his father's house.  He and my aunts and uncle are cleaning out the house, to offer it for sale.  Bittersweet doesn't cover it but will have to stand in as shorthand.  The gift came in four heavy boxes.  Here is the first box:     

 
Huge glorious hardcovers in their jackets.  All twenty volumes of the OED, Second Edition.  With a gift inscription from nearly twenty years ago.  It was an 80th birthday present to my step-grandfather, and I remember seeing it on his shelves, and yearning, more than just a little, to have my own set.  And now here it is, come to stay.  My grandparents gave me other gifts, throughout my life, but this last one feels so special.

As I struggle to find the right words to finish (or at least come to a good resting place with) the book I am attempting to write, the OED, this compenium of the best of our language, sits like an anchor to windward.  An apt simile, since my grandparents were sailors.  I am now pondering the booklover's eternal dilemma.  I speak of course of shelf space.  Ryan and I have been talking about building a new bookcase to house the set.

Book update - this week I finished editing the third draft of my island painting book.  It comes into ever-clearer focus.  I still have much to do but can see real progress and even glimpse an endpoint.  It's twelve chapters now, and almost 100,000 words, many of which need to be cut, but are satisfying to contemplate in their mass.  Words.  WORDS.  Our stories, our language.  What a gift it is.           

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

 

book report


Goodness, I've been busy.  A brief update.  Work on two of my three book projects continues apace.  I've set the third aside for now because the other two are more compelling to me at the moment.  But I'm also in the midst of making another catalogue for my upcoming solo show in May and June of this year, so that counts too, right?  If we're counting?  I haven't been reading much because all the writing is keeping the paper-loving part of me very happy.  But of course I have been reading, a bit.  A few very pleasing books.  And I still have some back issues of Slightly Foxed to go before I run out.  But more about those another day, because this post will be text-light and image-heavy for a change. 

Last year around this time I was transcribing certain experiences out of my old diaries, to liberate them from that too-specific timeline and kitchen-sink way of writing  (as in: everything but).  I had lots of help, as you can see.  Hodge is an excellent assistant, and taskmaster.  He keeps me company day after day and is a blessing and a holy terror both:

 
Last year I got everything I wanted to out of my diaries and into a rough first draft, then I set it aside for months, and let it cook, or collapse, whichever it wanted to do most.  Then last month I took the draft out again, and riffled the pages and said to myself, Okay, self, this is it.  Let's figure this out, this book-writing thing.  I know I have good sentences and lots of them.  I have a story to tell, about painting on an island, and about the island and me, our relationship.  I can fashion the good sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into chapters, and the chapters into a book.  Sounds easy, right?  Hodge says yes, this year:

 
He naps, while I transcribe all my handwritten pages from last winter into my computer, editing and arranging the text as I go.  And when I can't see my way clear on how to do that, I get the words typed in anyway.  SO, I just finished that stage, over the weekend, and now have about 90,000 words.  Arranged into fifteen chapters.  Some of which are short and sweet and others of which are too long and rambly with no form whatsoever.  BUT.  Lots of good sentences!  I'm in a decent place with the whole project.  I can almost see how it will resolve.  I'll be printing off this second draft shortly and then will start to edit and move sections around again.  And cut a lot of repetitive stuff out altogether.  Diaries (mine, at least) are so repetitive, but to that I say:  thanks for routines and ways of working.  They add up.  I just need to cut out a lot of got-up-got-dressed-had-breakfast type of stuff.  And all the words that don't further my narrative or do my prose any favors.

When I get discouraged or frustrated with this whole thing - I mean I have to give myself a lot of pep talks and suspend much disbelief and quiet the many voices saying to me that I do not need to be doing this - I set it aside and work on my other book project, the small illustrated one.  I've been learning to use gouache and making little paintings of natural subjects (leaves, trees, feathers, birds, animals, insects, small landscapes, and the like), and I've written a text to go along with the gouache paintings.  I've been working on this for about four months, on and off, although I wrote almost all the text over a year ago.  Hodge is MOST interested in the proceedings here as well:


Sometimes a little too interested, to be honest.  Crinkly things! On the table!  Raaaaarrrhhhh:


The dried oak leaves, lower left, with their acorns just forming, turned into this painting:


I've painted a lot of other leaves too, alongside bits of this and that.  Which are so beautiful to me, both in the fullness of their lives and again in their late fall decay:


This little illustrated book is going to be quite plain - just single lines of text and a small painting on each page.  The longer book will be all words, but I do hope to have a section of images of my oil paintings too, since a lot of the book is about the act of painting.  Both books are about being outside, in the wild, involved with nature, and how necessary I find that to be.  I've seen and experienced some wonderful things, all over Maine, out on the islands I go to, and right out the window here at home.  This young fox was napping in our backyard many years ago.  Kept in memory all that time, and finally painted:


That's all my news, for now.  I mean, a lot of other things are happening, here and all over the place, but oh these quiet winter days, sitting for hours in patches of sun, working steadily to get my books made - that has been more than enough for me.  Hodge approves, I think.  Dear friend.  Shall we ask him?



Sunday, January 20, 2019

 

book people


So many things I could write about today.  January 2019, here we are.  Snow and sleet lashing the windowpanes this afternoon.  Temperature well below zero with the wind chill.  Ryan just made muffins with wild blueberries and chopped cherries and they are as good as that sounds.  Hodge is asleep under a quilt.  And I am so restless.  I have been working on three (!) book projects, apparently the struggle-struggle-struggle of just one each January in years past hasn't been enough of a challenge for me.  Why not three.  One is a painterly memoir about my past and how I got to this place in life of being a painter, one is a nature memoir about one of the islands I visit each summer, and one is a tiny manifesto about nature, wild creatures, and the seasons, with small gouache illustrations throughout.  They sit here next to me like tree stumps, these three manuscripts.  I will try my best to complete them, if not this year, then next.  Time still feels as if it is bearing down on me.

The death of poet Mary Oliver a few days ago is not helping the situation.  I heard the news as we hear most of the news these days - I was scrolling along online, minding my own business, and boooom like a terrible echo of a peal of dark thunder there it was, the first post about her, then another, and more, then an avalanche of feeling for this exceptional writer and her life of sustained attention.  Her work has meant so much to me, over the years.  I've got a few of her books next to me right now.  I keep them close, as do so many others.  Cold comfort though it is, I am glad to discover, in the wake of her death, that there will soon be not just a biography of her, but an authorized biography.  Lindsay Whalen is writing it, and Penguin will publish it.  I also have to wonder if Mary Oliver left us some final work, and if that will be published too.  One can hope.  So many of her poems are about death in some form or other, I can't help but want to read whatever she has to say about the imminence of her own, as she saw and felt it approach.  These words of hers have stayed with me, since I first read them long ago - she was so clear, so particular and specific - from her book House of Light (Beacon 1990), the poem The Oak Tree at the Entrance to Blackwater Pond:

***

Every day
on my way to the pond
I pass the lightning-felled,
chesty,
hundred-fingered, black oak
which, summers ago.
swam forward when the storm

laid one lean yellow wand against it, smoking it open
to its rosy heart.
It dropped down
in a veil of rain,
in a cloud of sap and fire,
and became what it has been ever since -
a black boat
floating
in the tossing leaves of summer,

like the coffin of Osiris
descending
upon the cloudy Nile.
But, listen, I'm tired of that brazen promise:
death and resurrection.
I'm tired of hearing how the nitrogens will return
to the earth again,
through the hinterland of patience -
how the mushrooms and the yeasts
will arrive in the wind -
how they'll anchor the pearls of their bodies and begin
to gnaw through the darkness,
like wolves at bones -

what I loved, I mean, was that tree -
tree of the moment - tree of my own sad, mortal heart -
and I don't want to sing anymore of the way

Osiris came home at last, on a clean
and powerful ship, over
the dangerous sea, as a tall
and beautiful stranger.

***

What to say, after that.  Well, not going to lie, I shed tears soon after hearing about her death and this poem brings them perilously close to the surface once more.  Let's speak of something else for a few minutes.  I intended to write today about what I've been reading recently, as I usually do.  And yes, I've been revisiting many of my favorite Mary Oliver books over the last three days, interspersed and leavened with these:


I know I've mentioned Slightly Foxed here before, after coming across a random issue at a local thrift shop.  Well, I'm sorry to say I never did subscribe to it, I just couldn't make the commitment (financial and otherwise; TLS same, to my prolonged and ongoing dissatisfaction), but I have been following their trajectory nonetheless.  Looking at their website again recently prompted me to turn to the secondhand market, as I so often do, and I found two lots of back issues for sale on eBay and bought them.  Thus, recent evenings have found me with one of these in hand, smiling to myself, and taking an occasional note.  From the kind of prose that keeps me enthralled, that of book people.  For this little quarterly magazine is comprised of brief essays and reviews by real book people - authors, editors, booksellers used and rare, other denizens of the book trade - all about books that are usually out of print.  The editors, Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood, are so very good at what they do.  They have an uncanny knack for choosing the perfect selection for each issue - each essay rings a bell for me, with very few exceptions - a bell of instant interest and recognition.  Because they almost all are written with a high level of talented bookish fanaticism, for a particular title or author the writer of the essay feels should see the light of day once more, often after years of neglect, benign or otherwise.  That particular favorite, that one beloved book we turn to again and again, the author we search for in used book shops and rejoice when we find something we didn't already have.  The book we turn to every two years, to re-read and meet the author and our own selves on the pages once more.  I kid you not, every issue is like this.  I've read about a third of the issues shown above and have yet to regret a moment of it.  

As I mentioned the last time I spoke of Slightly Foxed, the first sentences to the reviews and essays draw you in immediately.  If your tastes run to books as mine do, it is impossible to read these first sentences and not continue on, joyfully.  To wit, P.D. James in issue No. 26, Summer 2010 (p.12): 

"There are some books, not necessarily the longest, in which the author's intention is so perfectly realized, a seminal experience of life so beautifully recorded that the book becomes a small icon to be treasured not only on the shelf of a personal library, but in the mind."

And Josie Barnard in issue No.27, Autumn 2010 (p.28):

"Some books I set out to read, others I get involved with by accident."

One more - Charles Elliott in issue No.22, Summer 2009 (p.87):

"As obsessions go, book collecting ought to be one of the more innocent."

From his essay entitled Book Crooks.  Oh, that word ought!  The whole sentence turns on it.         

Each issue contains gems such as these.  Captivating.  A treasure trove of the known and unknown both.  Although I must say that so many of the books mentioned therein - after all this time of reading and selling books and generally trying to become aware of literature of all kinds - so many I have never heard of before now.  From authors long-dead.  Slightly Foxed shows me again how inexhaustible the book world is, how renewable and regenerative, and oh how much love we book people have for our books.  And reminds me, though I hadn't forgotten, how fascinating and strange it is that someone else's words, put down and made into books, can come to mean so much to us.  Mary Oliver.  How I will miss you.  How glad I am you wrote your books!  I don't think I will ever tire of the reading experience.  Such mysterious riches, readily available to us all. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

 

time is a bandit


On our travels out and about the other day we noticed a book sale sign at a local library of note.  They don't usually have their sale room open right now so we stopped in for a look-see.  I received a heads-up from a dealer-friend that I missed a great sale there a few weeks ago - someone donated a lot of art books and people were stacking them up like pancakes, to buy buy buy.  I thought at the time, Oh well, probably for the best, enough books in the sea, and moved on.  But there we were, going by on Saturday afternoon, so we stopped in, and except for one other couple, we were the only people at the sale at that time of day.  I didn't expect to find much but quickly released those lackluster expectations when I started to look at the books themselves.  On the shelves in the sale room: wonderful poetry books, literature, art, essays, biographies, and more.  We bought a carton and two bags full of books for $85, more than usual because one book was $20, but it was a good one!  Most everything else was just a dollar a book.  Many of these books were from the collection of this person who donated her books en masse to the friends of the library.  Oh the books.  They are wonderful.  I am selling some, and will keep many.  Here are a few of each:


Montaigne!  Baudelaire!  Elizabeth Bishop!  Adrienne Rich!  Alan Bennett!  Lovely fat hardcovers in decent condition!  Many first editions!  I could buy books like this all day long.  Except for the Rose Macaulay book I think all of these belonged to that same owner.  She wrote her name, the date, and her town or city of residence inside the front covers of some of these and many others.  I saw books with her name from seven decades, and from at least five of the places she lived, the last two of which were here in Maine.  It looks like, throughout her life, she bought wonderful books when they were first published, and kept them well.  I hope she lived a long and happy life.  I know she lived a rich and interesting one, with these books for company.  And now, here are the books again, released back into the wild as it were.  I will add my bookplates to a few and attempt to sell the rest to new owners, to help keep the book world slowly turning.

Looking at everything, I found myself cogitating over the passage of time and the knowledge that everything in its turn will eventually be dispersed.  Our very own books.  (Our very own selves!)  Sigh.  What to do about that, I do not know.  Time is a bandit, we've been saying around here a lot lately.  Everything seems to give me pause while simultaneously sending me to work, hard, to make life matter.  Weeks and years tick by too quickly.  Another birthday, another new year.  I remember the turning of the millenium so clearly, and just like that, nearly two decades have come and gone.  And a book I just read brought my even earlier years into clear focus this week so I am feeling more melancholy than usual.  Apologies!  Let's be of good cheer.  How about I speak of that book another time, and simply say the following, for now.  Thank you to the giver of these books.  Thank you for your long life in books.  May we all be so fortunate.  I will continue to count my blessings like books on the shelf, one after the next, each so full of life and so real, now and always.

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