Archive for the ‘Reading Room’ Category

Book Review: The Binding of Adara

adaracoverforexcerptpageI have to admit, I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to the romance genre before, and the fact that Selene Grace Silver’s The Binding of Adara is not only a romance novel, but can also be classified as belonging to the “paranormal” and “historical” sub-categories, I was a bit skeptical at first. Okay, a lot skeptical. But Adara was not without tricks up her sleeve, and I found quite a few pleasant surprises that worked to dispel my doubts and preconceived notions about the genre.

So, let’s take a stroll down Nostalgia Avenue, shall we? It’s really a groovy day. The Blackbyrds are “Walking in Rhythm” and John Travolta is “Staying Alive” – using his walk to tell us he’s a “woman’s man / no time to talk.” The mirrored ball overhead reflects the hopes and dreams of the bell-bottomed, halter-topped “disco” generation, and bra-burners across America are “raising consciousness” about women’s rights. Far out!

Yep, you guessed it. It’s the 1970’s. Like many young people at the time, all I wanted to do was strap a guitar over my back, stuff a few pairs of hot pants into a back pack, paint my thumb (for securing free transportation) and set out for Hollywood, California, USA so I could be “discovered.” How romantic! That is, of course, until your ride breaks down on the side of the road, someone steals your money or makes off with your back pack and cold, hard reality sets in. Bummer, man!

This is precisely where we first meet our heroine: the beautiful, innocent (and truth be told, a bit naïve) Adara Lane. She’s come to Los Angeles to seek her fortune, but ends up instead in a dive hotel in Hollywood, alongside a bunch of hard-partying Tom Waits wannabes, groupies, and has-beens. When her wallet gets stolen with the last of her money in it, Adara finds herself all alone in the big city, in something of a jam. Not one to depend on other people, or put them out, Adara finds herself wondering what, exactly, to do next.

Nevertheless, she is not defeated. She pulls herself together and thinks rationally about her predicament. Not many twenty-year-old women are self-possessed enough to approach their problems in this manner. Personally, I found a lot to relate to in Adara’s character. Although the card-carrying feminist in me also found a few of Adara’s subsequent decisions to be cringe-worthy, it’s apparent throughout the novel that it is Adara herself who remains in control of her fate. On the whole, she leaves us with the impression that she is a perfectly capable, though somewhat flawed female lead, which, I suspect, goes against the stereotypical heroines found in most conventional romance novels. While she meets the pre-requisites of being young and beautiful, she is neither perfect, nor so weak that she must depend on a “knight in shining armor” to continually rescue her. Rather, she is just awakening to her own sense of self, because until she winds up in Los Angeles, her burgeoning “powers” had been suppressed.

The “paranormal” aspects of the story also provide the bulk of the fast-paced action and chair-gripping suspense in The Binding of Adara, both of which serve to propel us through the narrative at a pretty good clip from beginning to end. There are at least three different sub-plots going on in the background as well, which add a depth and complexity to the narrative that, quite frankly, I had not expected to find in a romance novel. Firstly, picking up where we left off in the previous story, Brianna’s Bewitching, we have the romance between the witch, Brianna, and her cop boyfriend, Jack, who doesn’t yet know about Brianna’s, um, shall we say, “gifts”. Secondly, we have a centuries-old, over-arching conflict playing out between the community of witches and warlocks of Los Angeles and the “hammers” who hunt them. Finally, there’s a budding romance between Jack’s partner, Hanson, and another witch in the community, Carrie. On top of that, we must contend with the tormented backstory of the romantic male lead, Bowie Marsden, a warlock with commanding, albeit untapped powers who is also a Vietnam War veteran. Sounds like a lot to keep track of, right? Not at all – Ms. Silver adeptly weaves all these narrative threads together successfully by the end, however, ultimately crafting a tale that presents one of the most emotionally satisfying reads I’ve had in a very long time.

Overall, I think it takes courage and skill to write a romantic heroine who is, at her very core, a survivor, and in Adara, we have that. Strong-willed and determined, she catches on quickly and is able to adjust from her missteps, without losing her sweetness and guilelessness. As Adara learns first to “see”, then take responsibility for, and finally wield her own power with some authority, (even if it means flying in the face of the norms and conventions of her era) we are taken along for a most spellbinding ride. I am not ashamed to admit that I’m a convert, and find myself very much looking forward to the sequel.

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Book Review: Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis

Becoming JudasBecoming Judas by Nicelle Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hypothetically, do you prefer compassion squarely pegged, or unconventionally rendered? If your answer is, “squarely pegged,” then Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’ second full-length book of poems, invites closer inspection and warrants your consideration; if “unconventionally rendered” more suits your style, then this is the book for you. A fascinating foray into iconographic studies, Becoming Judas examines, interprets, questions, challenges, and re-invents the iconography of as unlikely a conflagration as one can envision — a trio of characters (still) shrouded in enduring myth: Judas, the “betrayer,” Jesus, the “betrayed (?)” and John Lennon, who imaginably stands in for “everyman.”

Contemplate for a moment if you will, the Pietá: a persistent motif and one of the most revered icons in all Christendom, which depicts a sorrowful mother cradling the dead body of her adult son. Stripped of its classic interpretation as the Virgin Mary embracing Jesus’ frame, we are left with the image of a woman, any woman, grieving over the corpse of a man, any man. In one of the most novel conceits for a poem I’ve ever encountered, Ms. Davis offers up “The Woman Who Cut Judas Down” which presents us instead with a Pietá for Judas: “This body strung/ from a branch could be anyone―/ even hers.” Looking toward our commonalities, rather than expounding on our differences, even Judas had a mother, as we all do; which suggests that whatever his “sins,” may have been, even Judas deserves a Pietá.

Another poem in the collection, “Flash: Leibovitz’s Photo of John and Yoko,” studies a type of image, the Polaroid, to explain the culture it originated in, rather than the other way around. The poet aptly describes the composition of the famed photograph, and delivers with it this account: “Together they have survived each other…His legs, bent into inverted V’s, encase/ her torso. Captured: the sight of a man becoming a shrine.” What we are looking at in Becoming Judas, then, is the content of the images, through the artistic lens of the poet’s sensibilities, as she queries aloud our insatiable need, “to conceive an understanding/ of what all this suffering is for.”

Although the majority of the poems contained herein remain accessible, (like the two previously discussed) a few are necessarily difficult, both in terms of intellectual rigor and emotional content. The images are compelling, but hard to look at. Nonetheless, like witnesses passing by a collision in heavy traffic, or viewing televised war coverage, we also cannot bring ourselves to look away. I read right through Becoming JudasBook Bite_cropped in one sitting, as I could not put down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it, including the “difficult” poems, entirely worth the effort. The imagery is spectacular. And if that weren’t enough already, the pencil drawings contributed by Cheryl Gross, and the inventive use of line breaks and white space to create “concrete” poems (that form images of their own on the page) deliver value-added bonus features. I heartily recommend this book.

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East Meets West in Venice (Beach)

Reading Room: offering up the palace bards  –

The wireless is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph
is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York,
and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same,
only without the cat.

-Albert Einstein

Post-Apocalyptic Looting never materialized, but there was plenty rapturously poetic plunder to be had Friday evening, the 20th of May, 2011 at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Venice Beach. In the house, four women squared off to read from recent and/or upcoming works: Amy Holman and Martha Rhodes representing New York hip; Dorothy Barresi and Stephanie Brown boosting some righteous California cool. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the end of the world (or impending doom, which ever comes first) than to sit in the dark with a group of strangers/fellow travelers, listening to poetry “instruct and delight”.

Bizarre Headlines inspired much of Amy Holman’s most recent work, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window, from Somondoco Press, June 2010. Wrens Fly InStarting out with a poem about an unsuspecting woman’s very peculiar encounter with a “burglar” who broke into her apartment, cut open her couch, and waited inside until she literally sat on him, startling them both, the poems are not only rendered with supreme clarity and wit, but they are heartily entertaining and quite funny. Holman’s comment after reading this poem: “I just don’t think someone who breaks into your apartment and hides in your couch is a burglar!”

Then there was the peculiar adventures of the alligator-wrestling pastor, and the  curious case of  “1500 Parakeets Rescued from 2-room Apartment” by cops who arrested the lonely retiree who had captured and bred them, and who had let them fly freely throughout his tiny living space: “Seven hours of casting nets and foul words,/ then releasing to shelters in Berlin and outlying./ I write in a 2-room apartment and find/ all the perches parakeets take purchase/ of from shelves to frames to cluttered mind/ and the screeching has no volume control./ It has verses, beats, and searches/ for more — a hole, or the sky to extol?/ They must have flown in shifts.”

In marrying the specific, outlandish details to her own lyrical perceptions, Holman creates something wistful and full of wonder. Part freak show, part searing insight, each poem offers up a concise narrative outside of the “ordinary” range of experience, in which she uncovers the circus that is the human condition, and exposes it (gently) to the light of her piercing intellect.  Light-hearted, but not light-weight, Holman’s poems are euphonious and mentally stimulating, curious, un-jaded, and I really liked her work.

Spiritual Judgment Day – what self-respecting apocalypse prediction could be allowed to lapse, unnoticed, unmentioned? In honor of the occasion, the second poet to read, Dorothy Barresi, started out with the title poem from her second book, The Post-Rapture Diner: “A thought you cannot call back, / and empty shoes like/ exclamation points/ on every road from here to Tucson”… “and all we know of the present/ is a spatula in a coffee can/ on a cold grill, pointing to heaven.” Always compelling, Barresi’s work questions, ponders, probes, and turns the world (and the status quo) over in the mouth like a SweeTart.

American FanaticsSomeone in the audience requested “It Is Good To Be Amongst Catholics Again,” which is also my favorite poem from her newest book,  American Fanatics, (University of Pittsburgh Press, August 2010), a poem that studies the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles: “Where I live: / a tentacular metropolis/ of adorable desires. // Where I’ll die: the tiny proscenium/ of my open grave’s/ dirt apron, crying ‘mommy, please,’ // to little effect.” As the piece builds “a cathedral of expletives,” it summarily derails the “mysteries” of a logo-centric institution. Speaking directly to the angst of an entire generation, the next poem, “John Lennon’s Lips,” carries the weight of shared experience: “In the hour of vindication,/ the least obvious question. Are you still you? // The ambulance attendant/ sways back and forth/ holding a spray of tubes and ready oxygen above the bleeding answer/ because our conveyance is artless/ in its speeding dispatch/ and traffic, even at the hour of death, remains heavy.” Profoundly stilling and centered, Barresi’s work provides an arresting contrast to Holman’s.

Next in the sequence was Stephanie Brown, another “California-domiciled” poet whose book, Domestic Interior, (2008, also from the University of Pittsburgh Press),  closely examines the “secret spaces of marriage, parenthood, and knowledge,” among other things.  With all their peccadilloes exposed, we find ourselves riveted to “the neighbors,” vicariously listening to “The Satanists Next Door,” which Brown deadpanned, effecting something between documentary and stand-up: “What is that? Is that a kid? Is that Tom?// No, it’s her. // Eew, I think that’s a whip./ No, it’s a hand coming down hard./ No, listen, there’s like a wind-sound to it.” Keenly observed, this poem imagines crepuscular pillow-talk between partners who find themselves unwitting(?) voyeurs, witnesses to some of life’s grittier moments, as one of the two speakers speculates: “Whatever you think is happening, it’s not happening./” The penultimate conclusion: “It sort of scares me./ Freedom of religion./ Yeah, you’re right./ And we have the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other side. It balances things./” (Which drew a laugh from the audience.)

“See, e.g., Hildegarde, Fatima, Blake, McLuhan,” another keenly observed, conversational poem, starts out: “The ditto sheet recopied each year was your teacher’s piece of wisdom.” Masquerading as a friendly little chat, ” ‘If you want to look thinner, you need to carry a big purse,’ she told me, casually. ‘I was reading that.’ ” the poem delivers “that received wisdom” in “Visions of the afterlife, the future, the past:/ Castles and mansions, spirits — / Their words hang on them like talons, starting to grasp.”

End Times — concluding the evening’s program,  Martha Rhodes presented a sneak preview of her upcoming book, The Beds, due out in 2012, from Autumn House Press. Delivered forcefully, her imagery spare and clean, and her language accessible, the work examines relationships that are imploding, in effect, bringing an “apocalypse” to us, after all. For the attentive audience, an auspicious event, indeed.

Onward, Toward Glory

Reading Room: offering up the palace bards –

All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world;
So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?
Emperor Hirohito

WMD – I was in Trader Joe’s the other day when I ran into an old acquaintance – literally. Our carts, like unattended children within striking distance of one another, nearly came to blows while each of us were distracted, trying to remember all of the items on our own separate lists. Recognition flashed across her face as we each looked up out of our insular worlds. “Hey! I know you!” crowed the woman I’d almost just side-swiped.

Woman In Blue

"Woman in Blue" Paul Cezanne.

Blue Star Mothers – another cord of recognition worked itself loose as we chatted about what had been happening in our lives since we’d last seen each other. Her eldest son, on leave from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, was expected home the next day, and she and her husband were planning a big “welcome home” party. My son, having served one extended tour in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, had been physically returned to us for a few years now, but in many ways, still hasn’t come back from the war. My comment to her was, “I haven’t gotten my son back yet.” Her response? “You don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from other mothers.”

New Dawn – it took Odysseus, famously rumored to have squandered his time and resources on foreign women, ten years to get home to from the Trojan War. Much literary criticism has been written, speculating on Odysseus’ need to “re-connect with his feminine side” in the ten-year interim of his personal journey home. Many literary theorists have also conjured sundry explanations for our hero’s capacity for mythic adventure. After all, next to the epic of Gilgamesh, and some of the books of the Old Testament, this story is perhaps the oldest surviving war story on the planet. However, what interests me more about Odysseus’ story, as relayed to posterity by the poet, Homer, is the non-linear narrative technique of The Odyssey.

Odysseus and the suitors

"Odysseus and the suitors" Greek Pottery.

Homeland Security – when the story opens, we find Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, at her wits end – ten years after the war has ended, her husband still hasn’t returned, and she’s had no word of his fate. His son, Telemachus, all grown up now and tormented with “father-hunger,” reared only on tales of his absent patriarch. And his kingdom, Ithaca, languishes in ruins – overrun by the various opportunistic hedonists seeking Penelope’s favor as his replacement, even though no one really knows for sure at this point whether its king and our hero, Odysseus, is dead or alive. In classic style, it takes four long chapters of exposition to give us (the audience) the “big picture.” It’s not until Book Five (i.e. chapter five) that Odysseus’ story is told, in third-person omniscient point-of-view, narrated by the poet.

International Support – but it’s not until three books (or chapters) later in the relaying of the narrative, when Odysseus himself finally seizes control of his own story and begins narrating it himself in first-person, that we’re tipped off as to the true nature of the conflict, (i.e. Odysseus’ inner struggle) and given a hint about the story’s outcome, or resolution of the conflict. What I find significant about this is that Odysseus’ story is not so much primarily a long, sad tale of woe, but that it’s not until this point in the epic, when Odysseus speaks up for himself and claims his own story, that he finally sees a way to get back “home.” As Gregory Orr tells us in “Wilfred Owen and the Horrors of War,” (chapter fourteen of his book, Poetry As Survival) the warrior’s journey (i.e. the archetypal “hero’s journey” of the warrior’s path) starts out “armored against experience” with an idealized conception of the rumored glories of war. After being exposed to the horrors of war, the soldier’s psyche undergoes an existential crisis, “entirely negative and destructive of the self,” a “no man’s land” from which modern soldiers still suffering from “shell shock” (as it was called in WWI), “battle fatigue” (as it was referred to in WWII), or “post traumatic stress disorder” (as it has been termed in the wake of the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan) have yet to return from.

Shock and Awe – however, Wilfred Owen, as Orr goes on to explain, undergoes a second, more powerful personal transformation, as his psyche re-groups and speaks out against his “hellish experience” rather than greet it with denial or resign himself to suffering in “silent terror” as most American veterans are apt to do. In other words, he not only claims his own story despite the unmitigated destructive power of the guilt that is the direct result of the violence and horror he’s made to witness and/or feels responsible for, but he permits himself to speak the truth of it aloud. Thus, Owen, as Orr suggests, succeeds in taking “back the experience of war from the jabbering propagandists and patriots, who glorified and falsified it for their own purposes.” Similar to Odysseus, who in telling his own story secures the compassionate assistance of the Phaeacians, Owen “paved the way for soldier-poets after him. Showed them that they could, with luck and courage, incorporate their experience into poems and give voice to what they had gone through and the trauma they continued to endure long after the initial nightmare of combat.”

The Long War – it is precisely what combatants “continue to endure long after the initial nightmare of combat” that Brian Turner confronts and gives voice to in his second book, Phantom Noise. Punctuated by heart beats, literally, the book’s section breaks present what looks like an EKG printout in white on black pages, and gives the reader a graphic depiction of an abnormal heart rhythm, at that. In a constant state of heightened “readiness” for conflict, fueled by adrenaline and brought on by the body’s “fight or flight” response, the accelerated heart rate must not only be at least partially responsible for the resultant “battle fatigue,” or PTSD, but the stress is enough to shorten the soldier’s life considerably, should s/he survive combat. We each get approximately 2.5 billion heartbeats in a lifetime, so a person with a slower heart rate can expect to live longer than one whose heart rate is accelerated on a daily basis. Beyond the physical stress, however, and perhaps even more sinister, is the mental trauma, which doesn’t even show up right away, but lingers in shadows: “Through Venetian blinds/ I see the Iraqi prisoners in that dank cell at Firebase Eagle/ staring back at me. They say nothing, just as they did/ in the winter of 2004.” And on corners: “Parachute flares drift in the burn time/ of dream, their canopies deployed/ in the sky above our bed. My lover/ sleeps as Iraqi translators shuffle/ in through the doorway – visiting/ as loved ones might visit a hospital room,/ ill at ease, each of them holding/ their sawn-off heads in hand.” And in memory: “Dr. Sushruta lifts slivers of shrapnel, bits/ of coarse gravel, road debris, diamond/ points of glass – the minutiae of the story/ reconstructing a cold afternoon in Baghdad,/ November 2005.”

Yellow Ribbon

"Yellow Ribbon"

Safe Havens – and it is here, in shadows, on corners of memory that “phantom noise” echoes in the warrior’s mind, as his/her wartime acts continue to disturb whatever tenuous peace of mind s/he might achieve. Implicated in the atrocities of war, unable to reconcile his/her wartime acts with who s/he believes him/herself to be, the warrior must endure denial, guilt, and shame “long after the initial nightmare of combat.” In acute and constant conflict, the psyche split in two, (good/evil, loving/hating, mind/body) “where is the healer of the soul?” At the beginning of a public reading, Turner himself aptly observed, “war is a total communication failure.” I would suggest that as the narrative technique of Odysseus’ epic demonstrates, and the personal lyric of Turner’s poetry so eloquently lays bare, healing the soul from its private, internal war on terror starts with confronting one’s own horrific experiences, taking control of one’s own story, and, with courage, speaking it aloud.

Wide Waters

Reading Room: offering up the palace bards —

Epitaph

Richard Hundley. "The Astronomers" (1959). An epitaph, based on an inscription found in Allegheny, PA.

Rafting Adrift – thirsty, we all wander along the space-time continuum, plumbing the nature of being and the relationship between the two worlds we experience: the inner (i.e. the life of the mind) and the outer – that is, the life we observe through our physical senses. We tend to look outward, toward waterless places — our unmet thirsts simultaneously give rise to art, religion, and science. While science struggles to meet our physical thirst, it does little to address our metaphysical thirst; religion, on the other hand, while attempting to address our metaphysical thirst, does little to assuage it. Art, however, not only represents these thirsts, but responds to them, whetting our appetites, exposing wells, slaking our thirsts with mouthfuls drawn from hidden springs.

Steerage – poetry (as indeed all forms of artistic expression) is fashioned by the artist’s conscious “sail-making” from the canvas of the unconscious. According to Carl Jung, the “collective unconscious” is shared by all humanity, an assertion which might lead us to conclude that there are certain “threads” of inquiry which matter to all of us equally. Indeed, these very threads, the most inexpensive of ship “tickets” become more than mere passage in the poetic imagination of W.S. Merwin. Out of the blue, they are transformed, (and we, along with them) from dredge to the oars that power the seemingly effortless song of a “maritime” master.

Darkening Seas – for instance, three such lines of artistic inquiry paddled out into the headwaters of Doheny Library’s Lecture Hall like proverbial (though tacit) “elephants” in the room, surfing in the company of an immersed audience on Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 16, 2011). Having been duly warned of “admiralty on deck,” we suddenly find ourselves unfurling monumental riggings: namely death, the recognition of “self,” and a love for Nature’s kingdoms (especially the animal kingdom) – no less formidable work than the poet’s own acumen, as he peals his magnificent stories from a deeply resonant bass. Like his themes, Merwin’s corpus, or body of work, looms large in our imaginations, a stature earned in nearly seven decades’ sweat; his generosity of spirit conferred on the spot, as he gingerly side-steps a few unforeseeable “banana peels” (borne in the acute, exacting experience of the moment) despite the English Department at USC’s best laid plans to administer a dignified presentation of the current U.S. Poet Laureate as part of its Boudreaux Reading Series.

Debris-Splintering Foam – modestly undaunted by accolades, Merwin opens his talk by telling us that poetry is a matter of listening well. Granted, we choose what we listen to. Poetry, however, depends on listening closely to any of the vast number of voices we choose to hear, and honoring not only their sound, but what they say to us. We float in our awareness of sound, swimming in the wide waters of our literary traditions as we struggle to navigate (or make sense of) its channels, each of us perpetually hauling around our own anchor(s) in words.

Shafts – the final line of a poem entitled “Youth” (from his most recent collection, The Shadow of Sirius) offers up one such anchor for our contemplation: “from what we cannot hold the stars are made” (39). A hallmark of Merwin’s work, the line telegraphs the unseen, the intangible. We may speculate that among the things we cannot hold are melodies, the spoken word, gases (noble and ignoble), not to mention time – any number of ephemera. However, it becomes more and more apparent as he reads aloud to us from his written word, that perhaps what he is really getting at is the phenomenon of memory. It occurs to me that the very act of writing, of committing oneself to paper through the medium of words, is in and of itself, an act of memory loss – a disclosure in print that is, in fact, a self-limitation, another type of “closure.”

Through Cloud-Break – moving forward, it seems, if one takes Merwin at his word, is a gesture of gracefully learning to admit all sorts of small closures. As he pays homage to his literary “ancestors” through the widening conversation of translation, he tells of his scholarly research into (among others) the French poet, François Villon, reciting Villon’s lines from memory (in French!) He goes on to recount how he came to recognize (after many years’ study) a viable English translation of a “one hit wonder” penned (if we are to believe the scant historic record left to us from antiquity) by no less stately a figure than the Roman emperor, Hadrian: “Little soul little stray/ little drifter/ now where will you stay/ all pale and all alone/ after the way/ you used to make fun of things” (51). I recognized this “little elegy” immediately, as lines from it are quoted, interspersed in another elegiac poem, “Elegy with Falls Last Filaments” by Chris Dombrowski, which I recently encountered.

Rays Negotiate – always detecting the immanent in the immediate, Merwin’s intellectual curiosity runs the gamut of all kinds of experience, and the longer we listen to him, the more we find the past located in the present. In Merwin, we audit the embodiment of the griot, or professional oral historian. Not only does he speculate on the words of French poets and Roman emperors, but tales from Greek mythology (Arachne) and the curious relationships between man and animal. He wonders if we domesticated wolves, or if dogs domesticated us, and postulates that we wouldn’t have become hunters or farmers without dogs. He fascinates us with the often contentious history of the specific breed he is most fond of — the Chow — and reads “Search Party,” a tender ballad on how he spent three weeks looking for his beloved lost pet, the haunting refrain, “I do not know where Maoli is” repeated at the close of each stanza. And then, by request, he rouses the entire audience with “The Chain to Her Leg” – a disturbing testament that decries animal cruelty, as the speaker reminds us again and again (lest we forget) that, given an elephant’s long memory, “if we forget Topsy/ Topsy remembers” each and every assault.

An Oar – Even as I write this, (from memory, since I took no notes during Merwin’s reading) a question begs: is memory a servant, or a master? Should we struggle to keep it, or simply let it drift back into the unknown from which it arises?

And then, a funny thing happened as Merwin read his closing selection from (as yet) unpublished work – an announcement blared over the loudspeaker: Would the owner of the dog tied up outside Doheny Library please attend to your animal? He’s barking loudly.” After the uproar died down (the audience burst into spontaneous, albeit uncomfortable laughter — after all our guest had just been talking on the subject of how we treat animals) the interrupted poet posed another question, “Well, what should we do? Pick up where we left off? Or start over?” Consummate in his precision, he graciously decided for us: “Start over. I’ve already forgotten the thread.”

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