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Writers reading

January 2, 2013

W r i t e r s   r e a d i n g
We Write Poems

Wednesday and welcome to the New Year of writing!

This day we’ll step aside from the usual posting, giving one last breath to return from this season’s change.  Beneath all the words we write are all the many words we read.  And surely they make a difference for us, all here in this singular sea of common experience.  What books have you read during 2012 that have had an impact upon your sense of writing?

Such books hardly even need be limited to poetry.  Don’t you find that some prose informs your writing desires as much as literal poetry?  So perhaps you’ll share your most favored few (1 – 3) books discovered during this last year.  Finding just that “most right” book, especially with a poetic quality isn’t always easily done.  Maybe you can help us along this path.

Title and author, and perhaps just a sentence or few about the book and/or its value to you, that would be great.

Thursday, tomorrow we’ll return to our more conventional
poem writing prompts.  See you then!

  1. January 2, 2013 2:18 am

    Started rereading The Taking by Dean Koontz yesterday. Would not recommend it for the faint of heart. However, did find a quote within its pages that I’d like to share:

    “Her mother had taught her that talent is a gift from God, that a writer has a sacred obligation to her Creator to explore the gift with energy and digilence, to polish it, to use it to brighten the landscape of her readers’ hearts.”

    For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading through my Morning Pages (Journal) beginning almost twenty years ago, and finding snippets of unfinished poetry and excerpts I think worth sharing. They pertain to my own writing process and the meandering path I have traveled to find the words I so enjoy and often struggle with. I will be doing that on my site: where everyone is welcome.

    Thank you,

  2. January 2, 2013 6:48 am

    Last year I didn’t read much, by way of hard bound or soft cover books for adults – most of what I did read book wise was to my two year old grandson. These books and their simplicity reminds me to step back and look at life from a different view, the view of a curious mind seeking to learn unburdened with prejudice.

    I have been lucky though to read many poets and writers of the Web community. May we continue to inspire each other in this new year.

  3. January 2, 2013 6:56 am

    I’m also doing a reread, Elizabeth, something I rarely do straight away, but Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending –yea sense of an ending– forces the reader to do just that. It’s the final twist to the story which makes you re-think memory, and as I am finishing rereading part 1 of this fictional memoir, I’m thinking to myself – every line carries weight, meaning, hints, clues, the unwritten. A bit like poems should be maybe. Also don’t trust the veracity of the narrator. This must be one of the most unreliable narrators in literature! I’ll be back to share a “meaningful” quote.

    And yes, my reading does influence my poems. Actually poems are ideas. They contain ideas that I get from books. One of the references in the book is to Ted Hughes’ poetry – and so what’s the significance of that? It’s one of the parallelisms in the book. Sorry for ending on an enigmatic note.

    • January 2, 2013 3:49 pm

      There was a time when I thought rereading was simply a waste of time, Irene. I’m so glad I finally grew up and realized differently. I also really like what you say here about what poems should be, and would add only one more thing. They should intice the reader to reread, take another look, maybe even cause a bit of whiplash to the mind and heart.


      • January 3, 2013 2:37 am

        The best writing can be re-savoured. And it also depends who you are when you were reading it. That said, so many books too little time.

  4. January 2, 2013 8:40 am

    What I want to share is a book by Louise Erdrich who writes many novels about the Objibwe in today’s North Dakota. This is a journal, scattered like the ones I write every now & then. “Books and Islands In Ojibwe Country”is a telling of a journey Ms. Erdrich took with her baby daughter to the Canadian side of Lake Superior. The wild rice, the rocks, the cold waters have not changed over the centuries. Louise Erdrich also travels with books. Sturdy, real books mingle with the phantom-like memories of books she has read .. She discovers a bookstore at the northern tip of Lake Superior.

    As I live in the area of the Lake Erie Islands, I can compare my memories of the Islands when I was young & many people fished for a living, to today when so much of the original landscape has been destroyed to make way for luxury condos, “McMansions” & anything for tourists. But the Lake is still here, and the water, & some of the people though the old-timers are leaving this world at an increasing rate. I share Louise Erdrich’s love of poetry, which she also writes.

    This is a “Dip Into” book – A pleasure to imagine that once our area was this beautiful and a sorrow to see so many changes. Algae & Asian carp & other invasive species gobble what once was so common. Sometimes the lake turns green with algae bloom & scientists shake their heads and
    Government turns its back . We hope that the Lake Superior region that Ms. Erdrich shares will remain the way she describes it.

    • January 2, 2013 3:56 pm

      Marian, I used to live very near the shore of Lake Michigan and loved spending time watching and walking through Nature’s changing faces. Have also read a bit of Erdrich and also liked her attention to detail and love of all things wild. Her sense of the spiritual comes through clearly in all that I have read.


    • January 3, 2013 8:35 pm

      Thanks, Marian. I have read all of her books. She is a wonderful writer.

  5. January 2, 2013 10:21 am

    In 2012, I decided to read (or re-read) some classics that I had ignored in my youth. As a teenager, I thought that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a sad story of loss and deception, but I read more into it some 30 years later.
    As Gatsby had worked in an incessant manner to find and restore his unattainable love with Daisy, we as writers do the same. We do anything to recreate a fleeting thought or emotion into words. Sometimes we succeed at achieving our goals, other times we don’t. We continue to pursue them because the words will burn through our souls if they are not released.
    The other book that influenced my writing greatly last year was On The Road by Jack Kerouac. There was exuberance in the book that opened my eyes. Much of what is taken for granted as mundane can hold an incredible amount of beauty. There were many times when I read phrases in the book that made me think “I wish I wrote that!” Now I try to look to what is common for inspiration.

    • January 2, 2013 2:42 pm

      The Great Gatsby is a great book. I think it was referenced by a character in one of Murakami’s novels. And of course in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

      I’m putting On The Road on my read list next. Thanks Denise.

      • January 2, 2013 3:41 pm

        Hi Denise, I keep promising myself that I will get a copy of Kerouac’s book. Thanks for the reminder. I like what you have to say about words burning holes in our souls. I know that feeling.


      • January 2, 2013 6:46 pm

        Irene, now I have to thank you! I have not read anything by Murakami yet. Because of your comment, he is now on my reading list.

        • January 3, 2013 2:38 am

          Warning: (1) it will be slightly surreal and (2) you could be seriously addicted. 🙂

  6. January 2, 2013 12:41 pm

    I can tell, when I write, if I’m coming from an open center – there’s a natural flow that goes to the heart of the subject, or, if I’m bumping along with a kind of patchwork that is just awkward. When I find other writers, I get the same sense of real flow – those are the ones who I really love to read. This year I was just blown away by the style of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work and, also, Mink River, by Brian Doyle.

  7. Ellen Knight permalink
    January 2, 2013 1:02 pm

    Without hesitation, for me this year it would have to be “A Poetry Handbook” by Mary Oliver. She plugged me back into writing better than I ever had. That led me to Poetic Asides, and then here.This community of poets is supportive and welcoming. What a blessing!

  8. January 2, 2013 1:11 pm

    For Christmas, my daughter, last year and this, gave me two little known volumes that she thought would work for me, both as ideas for my poetry and prompts for my blog. The first, ‘Lists, To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations’ is a curated book from The Smithsonian Archives. The curator is Liza Kirwin and the book a delight to browse, 69 lists and notes, mostly from artists, but also inventors, politicians, writers and scientists.
    The second is an oddity: ‘Novels in Three Lines,’ by Felix Feneon, translated by Luc Sante. In the interests of lucidity, I shall quote the blurb: ‘… collects more than a thousand items that appeared anonymously in the French newspaper ‘Le Matin’ in 1906 — true stories of murder, mayhem, and everyday life presented with a ruthless economy that provokes laughter even as it shocks’.
    The book is fascinating, both for its view of France in 1906, presented through these brief news bites, but also for the introduction to Feneon. One does need a dark sense of humour to enjoy these, if enjoy is the right word. I find I laugh aloud at the most horrifying, because of the way Feneon writes. He is a master of order, structure and punctuation.
    I am looking forward to seeing what I will do with both these books.


    • January 4, 2013 5:28 am

      How pleasing, hearing your voice here Margo. Yes yes, folks who consider the nature of expression, don’t matter so much the form of their craft. It is simply that they look with wondering, curious – even if it were a shopping list? Felt so strongly that way when I first witnessed Stafford in a conversation – didn’t matter to me if he dug ditches, and I just wanted to learn more about how he thought and lived.

      And recently bought a book about alternate views doing watercolors (and I don’t paint) but yet found what she said had meaning for me working with words. Actually (but too seldom maybe) I love “writing back” in response to a painting I see.

      • January 4, 2013 6:29 am

        Neil! Dear friend [even if I can’t seem to get an email back to you], I hope your year will be a peaceful one.
        Writing to paintings is something that speaks to me, as well. The poem that most surprised me, and is unlike anything else I have written, was in response to a painting. I have a book… hang on… ‘Poem: a conversation between painting and poetry’, that works the other way. The author, Judith Greenwald, reads poems and then paints. I love the collection.
        Take care, m

        • January 4, 2013 8:03 am

          Thanks Margo! You wouldn’t have a link (or whatsoever) to that poem of yours, would you dear? Good wishes for your new year in words!

  9. January 2, 2013 9:07 pm

    When Women Were Birds, Fifty-four variations on voice, by Terry Tempest Williams.

    “I am fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember: We were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold bore down on us outside. Yet inside, Mother’s tenderness and clarity of mind carried it own warmth. She was dying in the same way she was living, consciously.”

    “I am leaving you all my journals,” she said…”, but with a promise taken not to be read until after she was gone. She died a week later.

    “On the next full moon… It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful clothbound books… ” “I opened the first… It was empty. I opened the second… It was empty.” As were the third and fourth and fifth, and so on, all of them.

    As to make this intimacy the more personally shared, the next twelve pages of Ms. Williams book are all literal blank pages! I was myself immediately immersed in that strength of direct visceral experience! What voice do you speak into an empty space? What voice do you hear? Never have I seen, nor read, blank pages with so much meaning as here begins this quest of a book by Terry Tempest Williams. You want to touch them with your fingertips, feel them with your skin, sense the possibilities, the strength of words unwritten, the power of history and imagination implied. Here traced and burrowed and poetically ladled is Ms. Williams journey to answer those questions.

    “If ever there was a story without a shadow, it would be this; that we as women exist in direct sunlight only.”

    “When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence. When silence is imposed, it is censorship.

    My Mother’s Journals are desire.
    My Mother’s Journals are my desire to know.
    My Mother’s Journals are evidence.
    My Mother’s Journals are evidence she knew me.
    My Mother’s Journals are the power of absence.
    My Mother’s Journals are the power of presence.

    “My Mother’s Journals are an expanding and collapsing universe each time they are opened and closed.”

    Here is a sky filled with wings!

    Here is person filled to the brim. I’ll read anything, everything she writes. She has my heart.

  10. January 2, 2013 9:39 pm

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

    I haven’t even finished reading this book as yet (I’m slow). I don’t have any notion yet how this book may impact my writing. Yet surely, somehow, it will. The “craft” of writing herein is exceptional, phenomenal. And more than merely a story of amazing breadth, there is a “poetry of ideas” offered here!

    If you’ve seen the movie adaptation alone, forgive that this is a titanic story, hard to render well perhaps in this other mode (although hats off to those who endeavored so to do!). But the book has time for this flower to come into full ripe bloom. And it does.

    Me, I’ve never read a book twice. Think this will be the first, pen in hand, ready to underline and doodle in the margins, the more to engage my memory and understanding both.

    And I’ll never look at clouds the same way again!

  11. January 3, 2013 12:41 pm

    Patti Smith, “Just Kids”: completely transformative, heartbreaking, inspiring, fascinating, and downright beautiful. I read some of it in a bookshop, some of it in the darkest hours of the night in bed, and some of it on a rooftop in the evening with a storm rolling in. There is so much in my life that I could relate to in the book, and it’s a great tale both of unique love and hauling yourself up by your bootstraps into your dreams.

    Orhan Pamuk, “My Name is Red”: prose the way it’s meant to be done. Historical fiction, religious fable, fantastic folklore, forbidden romance, and technical text don’t often roll well together, but Pamuk marries them all perfectly and believably. Wonderfully complex.

    Mark Doty, “Fire to Fire”: a well-deserved winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, if you write poetry and haven’t read this one yet, go get it right now and do so. Doty’s voice is conversational and personal, but ranges from the smallest observation to the grandest thoughts without a snag. I regret that he started teaching at my old university after I left, but at least I’ve seen him speak (he’s marvelous).

    • January 3, 2013 8:38 pm

      I loved Patti’s book, and have seen her read and perform many times.
      Thanks for the info on Mark Doty. Sounds like a winner.

    • January 4, 2013 5:37 am

      Thanks Joseph. There’s something you said for each of these that sparks my interest and think my reading list has just grown by three.

    • January 4, 2013 3:03 pm

      Excellent. I’ve managed to lay my hands on Doty, Pamuk & Kerouac.

  12. January 3, 2013 3:03 pm

    Bright Wings, an illustrated anthology of poems about bird.
    Edited by Billy Collins, Drawings by David Allen Sibley

    Birds are everywhere, sometimes overlooked. Reading
    about their habits, seeing their appearance brought me
    closer to nature and more observant of the wonder.

    The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll

    Where to begin? Alice, Hunting For The Snark, or silly puzzles
    for children? Of course, now I live more in my imagination
    than I ever have, but in writing my poetry, it is not a bad thing.

    The Dog Who Knew Too Much
    by Spenser Quinn

    This is another in the Chet and Bernie series, of The Little
    Detective Agency and its cases. The twist is that each book
    is written by the dog. Now, I study my dogs, wondering
    what they would say, their tone, and their possible accents.

    • January 4, 2013 5:52 am

      I like this list, your sentiment too. Yes, recently read some of a birdwatchers book (which I’m definitely not), yet standing, reading in the bookstore, realized in some shame how commonly too, I “walk through” rather than “walk within” so much of what this world is saying/being all the time. Maybe we can call it a “poetry of being”?

      Like we sometimes wonder of more nature-centered cultures, how’d they know what they know? And much because it’s simply that they made room to honestly observe, rather than blunder like a self-absorbed bull through the landscape. And in short order I witnessed some bird behavior I’d never imagined before, meanwhile as others trudged on through the scene, gladly only briefly making the behaviors take flight till the humans had passed! Delightful, amusing.

  13. January 3, 2013 3:32 pm

    Poetry: Horoscopes for the Dead, by Billy Collins and Weeknights at the Cathedral, by Marjorie Maddox.
    Fiction: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. A blend of magic and historic fiction. Bends the mind in good ways.
    Non-Fiction: Several Short Sentences about Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Be prepared to have everything your high school teacher taught you challenged. If you like a nice prose structure, it will piss you off. If you want to pick up a book at any page and find inspiration, you’ll love this.

    • January 4, 2013 8:05 am

      Thank you. Kinkenborg’s has special appeal to me. I like bending rules. Why James Baldwin had unique interest for me in school a million years ago, his use of language rather raw, but the points clear as clear can be.

      • January 4, 2013 10:30 am

        Agreed. Most of the reviews on Amazon are positive, but a few very negative. I almost replied to one by saying, “You were probably my tenth grade English teacher, and you were wrong then too.” But held my tongue. 🙂

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