My review of Diane Glancy’s new book is in the current issue of The Christian Century
Glancy’s book fills gaps of understanding and probes instances of suffering in a creative composition that keeps readers rocking forward in anticipation of another interpolation or surprising insight. Researched facts, explanations of the author’s literary intentions, and presuppositions of her mind are set between her poems. These bridges of language lead back and forth across time and space, turning in and out through the poet’s biography.
On this election day, like no other, we can still hear Whitman. The big-hearted, patriotic poet praises the idea of a general election as something grander even than the unsurpassed American landscape. Voting seems to Whitman a divine idea: The still small voice (1 Kings 19 ), vibrating across the country, is the sound of American citizens casting their votes, transferring authority to govern to other Americans, in a peaceful, ritual process. Whitman did not care for the details of politics, but he affirmed the thought of that final, cleansing snowfall of votes covering the dirt and muck of the election and bringing in a new season of governance, even of heroic leadership, as recalled in the names of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.
Here is a post from 2014 about one of Louise Glück’s books.
Louise Glück’s Faithful and Virtuous Night, is a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry. Glück is a writer in residence at Yale.
Her Vespers is a garden poem that brought to mind my failures in that area this year. My garden partners and I were hoping for giant sunflowers again, but the rabbits ate every plant, even the plants started late in the year within a fortified fence. Oh well.
The poet might not call this a religious poem but to me it is an example of what might happen to a Christian idea when it wanders outside on a weekday evening. The poem presents like a prayer of lament–with a spiritual consciousness of stewardship of the earth–in a very attractive package. Humility, gentle irony, playfulness, quiet observation, all these are superior to the usual ways our religion is sold and marketed, that is through loud clamor and boasting of one kind and another, literal misreading of sacred texts, self-righteousness and judgmentalism, doctrinaire teaching and trumped up enthusiasm. Here’s momentary relief from all that.
In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.
Nate’s 25th birthday today, September 17.
A fair wind blows in two ways:
from a pug nose and a bud of a mouth.
This breath was not felt twelve days ago
when black bathed and pillowed the head.
Now currents crackle curves on his scalp,
thundering tympanum, rumbling out charges
over flushed, powdered skin, ruffling roots
of feathery hair, green wheat in the wind.
My review of poet Diane Glancy’s book-length dance through Job will be published in The Christian Century. The Book of Job has drawn the attention of poets many times before, of course. In the late 50’s Archibald MacLeish published JB, a dramatic retelling of the story in free verse, and won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.
Glancy’s abstract text dreams in her Cherokee ancestors, and dreams up Job’s wife, who is nowhere to be found in the biblical narrative. Following a quick review of the biblical story, a reader of a certain nimble and humble mind will be charmed by Glancy’s book.
Film critic David Thomson wrote that “[Hemingway’s] short stories are still surprising, and in great part that’s because he rejected or could not do the excessively neat, shaped story….and so he pursued fragmentation, mood and a broken talk that seemed more lifelike, or was it just plain beautiful?”
Thomson comments on the deadpan humor in Hemingway, the grim facts of war and the ironies of human communication.
She had a pretty face and a nice smooth skin, and a lovely voice and she was nice all right and really friendly. But my God she was big. She was as big as three women. Tom saw me looking at her and he said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
“Good-bye,” said Alice. She certainly had a nice voice.
“Good-bye,” I said.
“Which way are you boys going?” asked the cook.
“The other way from you,” Tom told him.
-final lines of The Light of the World
Thomson points out that Hemingway’s clipped dialogue and trimmed description are in fact “very literary talk that only seem idiomatic, but which are founded in pause, rhythm, and breathing.”
Published in 1919, Anderson’s stories explore the lives of residents of fictional Winesburg, Ohio. Some of his first critic-readers panned his work as dark and sexually immoral, but younger writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner, praised Anderson. He opened modernist doors for them with his quiet narrations of the repressed inner lives of his small-town characters.
Sherwood Anderson 1876-1941
In his introduction to the Penguin edition, Literary Critic Malcolm Cowley writes that in Winesburg, Ohio Anderson “found a subject that released his buried emotions, and because most of the book was written in what was almost a single burst of inspiration, so that it gathered force as it went along.”
Cowley recalls that while others attacked the book for being pessimistic and morbidly sexual, he calls it a “work of love, an attempt to break down walls that divide one person from another, and also, in its own fashion, a celebration of small-town life in the lost days of good will and innocence.”
As it uncovers hidden feelings and emotions, much of the book seems to take place in the evening and at night, when the guards in our minds are off duty.
“And then one night when it rained Alice had an adventure. It frightened and confused her. She had come home from the store at nine and found the house empty…Alice went upstairs to her room and undressed in the darkness. For a moment she stood by the window hearing the rain beat against the glass and then a strange desire took possession of her. Without stopping to think of what she intended to do, she ran downstairs through the dark house and out into the rain. p. 119
“In the main street of Winesburg crowds filled the stores and the sidewalks. Night came on, horses whinnied, the clerks in the stores ran madly about, children became lost and cried lustily, an American town worked terribly at the task of amusing itself.” p. 233
In the story about Jesse Bentley titled “Godliness” Anderson describes a changing time similar to our changing time, one-hundred years later:
“A revolution has taken place. The coming of of industrialism, attended by al the roar and rattle of affairs…and now in these later days the coming of the automobiles has worked tremendous change in he lives and in the habits of thought of Mid-America. Books, badly imagined and written though they may be, in the hurry of our times, are in every household, magazines circulate circulate by the millions of copies, newspaper stands are everywhere…much of the old brutal ignorance that had in it also a kind of beautiful childlike innocence is gone forever. The farmer by the stove is brother to the men of the cities, and if you listen you will find him talking glibly and as senselessly as the best city man of us all…after the Civil War…men labored too hard and were too tired to read. In them was no desire for words printed on paper. As they worked in the fields, vague, half-formed thoughts took possession of them….In the little Protestant churches they gathered on Sunday…” p. 71
The Southborough Open Land Foundation, in collaboration with Southborough Artist Catherine Weber, invited installations of art on the trails of the Elaine and Philip Beals Preserve in Southborough, Massachusetts. The theme of the outdoor exhibition is Rising Up.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but rising up every time we fail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The libraries are closed. The book returns are jammed. So I have been reading paperbacks that live in semi-retirement on my shelf. E.B. White’s book of essays reached out to me the other night. The first essay in the volume is White’s tribute to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. The essay was published on the 100th anniversary of Thoreau’s death.
Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862
E. B White On Walden
Thoreau is unique among writers in that those who admire him find him uncomfortable to live with-a regular hairshirt of a man…Hairshirt or no, he is a better companion than most, and I would not swap him for a soberer or more reasonable friend even if I could. I can reread his famous invitation with undiminished excitement. The sad thing is that not more acceptances have been received, that so many decline, for one reason or another, pleading some previous engagement or ill health. But the invitation stands. It will beckon as long as this remarkable book stays in print-which will be as long as there are August afternoons. p. 32
Familiarity is the thing-the sense of belonging. It grants exemption from all evil, all shabbiness. A farmer pauses in the doorway of his barn and he is wearing the right boots, a sheep stands under an apple tree and it wears the right look, and the tree is hung with puckered frozen fruit of the right color…The spruce boughs that bank the foundations of the homes keep out the only true winter wind, and the light that leaves the sky at four o’clock automatically turns on the yellow lamps within, revealing to the soft-minded motorist interiors of perfect security. p. 37
On narrow mindedness
The habit of thinking in small, conventional terms is, of course, not limited to us Americans. You could drop a leaflet or a Hubbard squash on the head of any person in any land and you would almost certainly hit a brain that was whirling in small, conventional circles…only one outlook in a million is nonparochial. p. 96
I find this morning what I most vividly and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands–she with a couple of violets, and smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists-just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts. p. 138
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
-Richard Wilbur 1921-2017