Tuesday, January 12, 2016

And 2016 Begins with Poetry (and two novels)

I'm going to try something new as the Old Year rolls out, the New Year in. Not a resolution, and I'm not sure how practical this approach will be, but I'd like to try writing more frequently here, and I think one way to do that is to write as I read, rather than waiting until after I've read a book. Once the book's been read, I tend to wait until I have time for a substantive review, then when I don't find that time, I procrastinate until I eventually compromise with a brief response. Meanwhile, I could be pointing to favourite sentences or sharing effective imagery or introducing you to new characters I love, and by the time the book is read, perhaps I'd already have given a sense of it and a complete review would be less necessary. 

We'll see how this goes. In fact, I wrote most of this post around the 2nd or 3rd of January, and here it is the 12th. Clearly, procrastination is a tough habit to break. In an effort to break mine, I'm going to post what I've written so far, and then try my best to tell you more, later, about the poetry book that began my Reading List for 2016.

I've had some time, finally, to sit quietly, and to pull out some of the poetry books I've been meaning and meaning to get to, ever since my retirement began.

Vicki Ziegler, who Tweets and Blogs as bookgaga, graciously included me in a recent Tweet celebrating the fourth anniversary of the #todayspoem hashtag to which she has contributed a poem every single day since its inception. She generously credited me with having a role in the hashtag's beginnings, and perhaps I did play a tiny part. Certainly, I participated enthusiastically for months and months, even playing with new, additional tags such as a favourite, #canfishpoetry, to gather up some of those Canadian poems which feature fish imagery (Yes, there are more than a few. . .)

But the delights of meeting fellow poetry-lovers and being introduced to a wealth of new poetry got lost in the time demands made by work and family, and I lost a habit that brought me much joy. @bookgaga's Tweet reminded me how much I missed that, reminded me that Poetry is something I need in my life, reminded me that I can make time for it now that I'm retired.

So I picked up the elegantly beautiful (and/or beautifully elegant) hardcover volume of Gjertrud Schnackenberg's Heavenly Questions, bought 3 or 4 years ago in the excitement generated by #todayspoem but scarcely thumbed through, and I began reading this collection of long poems written in the wake of Schnackenberg's husband's death.  It begins with "Archimedes Lullaby" an erudite yet moving meditation on the ancient mathematician and inventor, on the shore of Syracuse near the end of his 78 years,  and near the end of a brutal siege by the Romans, thus establishing the sweeping context in which she will reflect on her loss.

This is where I stopped, over a week ago, although since then I've finished the collection, and I've reread "Archimedes Lullaby." The poems sent me into some research, remembering what I knew about Archimedes, learning more about the Peleponnesian Wars. The other poems in the linked collection demand other kinds of research, but reward it as well. Riffing on the Golden Mean, for example, brings Schnackenberg to sea snails which she describes in an astonishingly beautiful lyricism one might not expect from such scientific and technical language.  The collection quickly begins to echo, resonances building from one poem to the next, repetition imitating the overwhelming grief that comes in waves, wave after wave, sabotaging, submerging.  I'll show you some examples, next post.

For now, I'll let you tell me if you have a poetry habit, and/or whether or not you know Schnackenberg's work. It even occurs to me that there might be some interest in reading this together, a few of us, an online Readalong. Let me know.

Meanwhile, I've also finished AndrĂ© Alexis' Fifteen Dogs -- a perfect first novel for 2016, slight enough in page count, very entertaining, but also offering much to think seriously about, on some of the bigger questions about our humanity and language. More later, I hope. And I've just begun a much bigger novel, page-count-wise, Marlon James'  A Brief History Of Seven Killings.  The title suggests that it won't be light, and fewer than 40 pages in I've already encountered significant violence and distressing social realities, but there's wordplay and humour and sheer energy enough to keep me turning to see what will happen. 

Over to you . . . .


  1. I like this idea! Chat-as-you-go. I agree stopping (pausing) to do research does slow down the pace. The Golden Mean and Fibonacci sequence are interesting aren't they? I remember going on a research side-trip while reading Iris Murdoch or A.S. Byatt...one of the characters was studying snails...must resist temptation to search for that reference...

  2. I am thoroughly intrigued by your post. I find reading poetry a struggle and would love to overcome this. I have read very little and don't know anything about the author. I am quite interested in mythology, Italy, and challenging my mind. This would be the perfect time and place to start. I would love to join the read-a-long.

  3. Georgia, you're right, I'm sure it was in Byatt's Possession -- I'd love to find time to reread that tome!
    Stella, let's see if we can find another reader or two willing to commit, and perhaps you could search out a copy of the collection (your library might have a copy -- she's a rather renowned American poet). I've never tried this before, but we could have some fun and learn something along the way! I'll keep you posted.

  4. I like chat-as-you-go! I liked poetry very much,croatian mostly,not so familiar with contemporarily english poetry and don't have easy way to find it,so I'll read your comments!

  5. Thanks, Ddottoressa -- we'll see how chat-as-I-go goes... It seems a more realistic approach, at least.