Slim Volumes of Joy

I love poetry. I love reading it, I love browsing the poetry shelves in stores, I love the titles. Poetry books often have great titles. Fiction and nonfiction do as well, but perhaps not with as much frequency as occurs with poetry. In anticipation of the March book theme of art/music/dance, I’ve been checking the poetry shelves for potential titles. (Honestly, the theme anticipation is just as much fun as the theme reading itself!) I found 16 poetry books that could reasonably fall within this theme. I won’t read all of them, but it’s nice to have so many to choose from. Here are some of my favorite titles:

  • Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, William Blake
  • Music and Suicide, Jeff Clark
  • A House Waiting for Music, David Hernandez
  • Across the Windharp, Elizabeth Searle Lamb
  • Drawings of the Song Animals, Duane Niatum
  • The Humming Birds, Lucinda Roy
  • Birdsong, Rumi
  • Cocktails with Brueghel at the Museum Cafe, Sandra Stone
  • Coming Late to Rachmaninoff, Richard Terrill
  • The Singing, C. K. Williams
  • They Tell Me You Danced, Irene Willis
  • Waiting For Beethoven, Laurel Yourke

To be honest, the Blake, Rumi, and Williams books made the list more because I really want to read them than their titles in particular. But I will most likely start wtih either Waiting For Beethoven, Coming Late to Rachmininoff, or Cocktails with Brueghel at the Museum Cafe becasue I absolutely love those titles.

Have you ever bought a book just because of its title? I have certainly bought a book because of its cover (though the inside has to appeal as well), but I’m not sure if I’ve ever bought a book because of its title.

Most of the poetry book titles I found related to music (rather than art or dance) which surprised me a little bit. In contrast, in nonfiction, art is much more prevalent. Some of the titles I’m most interested in:

  • The Art of Hunger, Paul Auster
  • The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
  • The Art of Living, Epictetus
  • The Art of Peace, Morihei Ueshiba
  • Art in History, Martin Kemp
  • The Ransom of Russian Art, John McPhee
  • Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain
  • Artful, Ali Smith
  • Vermeer in Bosnia, Lawrence Weschler

But then also, Sonata for Jukebox, by Geoffrey O’Brien and The Singing Wilderness, by Sigurd F. Olson. These volumes aren’t quite as slim as the poetry, but they still provide plenty of joy.

It will be a month of heady reading!


January Reprise

How did it get to be February already? January sped by, possibly because I spent much of it with my nose in a book. The January reading theme was day/month/year (any book with one of those words in the title, or if you want to get a little stretchy, akin to one of the words; I read a couple of morning books, for example, and almost read a book with September in the title, but ran out of time). I finished 16 books in January, almost equally divided between fiction (5), poetry (5), and nonfiction (6).

In a rare occurrence, I had three 2-star books in January. (My rating system: Most books don’t get anything; if I like a book a lot it gets 1 star; if I love it, it gets 2 stars; and if I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, it gets 3 stars.) A Sense of the Morning, by David Brendan Hopes was a wonderful book about the natural world, and more specifically, Hopes’s observations of and interactions within the natural world. Beautiful writing, and a good reminder that if we don’t look, we won’t see anything.

Another nature-related book that got two stars was The Years of the Forest, by Helen Hoover. For many years Hoover and her spouse lived year round in a cabin in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. No electricity, no running water, and for a good part of the book, no car or telephone. They, too, were finely attuned to nature, most especially the animals (deer, birds, groundhogs, mice, spiders, pretty much the entire animal kingdom as they encountered it).

The third 2-star book was A Month in the Country, by J. L. Carr. A short novel, the story of a man recently back from serving in World War 1 and his time in a small village restoring a mural in a church. I know, it really doesn’t sound that interesting, but it took me quite by surprise. It is very quietly powerful, and I appreciated it even more after discussing it with a friend.

January also brought some mighty cold weather (a few days where the temp didn’t go above zero) but a lot more mild days and very little snow. So far, for a winter, I am finding it a bit disappointing (I do like a good snowstorm) but there’s still plenty of time for snow.

In the cooking world, I braised a pork shoulder in apple cider and fresh-squeezed orange juice (also with celery, onion, garlic, and orange slices) and it was wonderful—my best success with braising yet. I also made a kind of cheesy wild rice casserole which turned out pretty good, and was even better reheated and topped with beans (a type I had never heard of before, called Jacob’s Cattle; who could resist getting a bean called Jacob’s Cattle? Not me!) and more cheese.

Also some typical winter fodder: chili, meatloaf, roasted vegetables, vegetable soup with lentils, spaghetti, etc.

I also started my new annual bird list, and so far I’ve seen 22 different kinds of birds (12 in my backyard) including one lifebird—the ivory gull up in the Duluth harbor.

I have continued my haiku postcard project (a haiku a day, which gets mailed on a postcard to a friend in Montana)—it’s been more than two years now! I think I’ve only missed a day or two, and those at the beginning. It’s a very good way of staying grounded and it also makes me aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Here are a couple from January:

afternoon bookclub
Bully Pulpit and a beer
the magic of Skype

my car didn’t start
but four cardinals visited
balancing the scales

And I’ve started a new postcard project: I am sending both of my U.S. senators (Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar) daily postcards, urging them to vote against the Dark Act (which would make it illegal for states to require labeling of GMO foods). I am hugely against this dark act. Poll after poll has found that upwards of 90 percent of the population supports the labeling of GMO foods. To pass an act that would deny people the right to know what’s in their food, when there is such overwhelming support for labeling, is a stupifying example of the power corporations have in our government. On this both Republicans and Democrats agree—that GMOs should be labeled and that corporations have far too much power in Washington.

So, a postcard a day—each with a new fact that my good senators might not be aware of; on an entertaining postcard (I have quite a large variety now) that postal workers and clerks can read as well. I hope they vote on the Dark Act before I run out of facts (but not before I convince them to question it!). It’s an uphill fight in this neck of the woods because we have both Cargill and General Mills (not to mention Land O’Lakes and Hormel).

This may not be your issue, but whatever your issue is, let your representatives know! Corporations are very vocal about what they want, and have millions of dollars to spend getting it. Most of us don’t have millions of dollars, but we do have phones and pens. Pick one issue. Just one.

Okay, off my soapbox. Time to sign off and go read a book.