June was an interesting month for reading. Since I was drafting so intently, I didn’t have as much free time, and I honestly didn’t really have an interest in reading fiction, since my creative mind was mired in it. But while I didn’t get around to any novels or story collections this month, I still read some great books.
Natural Selections by Joseph Campana — Reading this book was like coming home. And not just because it centers around Gambier, Ohio, where Campana taught and I was a student (in fact, he was there my junior and senior years; while I never took one of his classes, our paths did cross). When I heard him read at Round Top this year, his poems took me back six years. But this collection is more than just about place or landscape. So many of the lines resonated with me, and my copy of the book is filled with underlines. It’s difficult to select a favorite passage, but I’ll give you this one, from “Winesburg, Ohio”:
What needs a poet but hands
and what needs hands but places
of hiding? The world is brutal,
which is why it is full of stories.
Entering the House of Awe by Susanna Childress — I happened upon Childress when she read at BookWoman this past winter. I was glad I came to the open mic and checked her out. My favorite part of exploring this collection was digging deep into a poet whose style is so unlike my own. Childress writes long poems, and she plays quite a bit with indents and spacing. And, quite honestly, the best poetic use of an avocado that I have ever seen:
Watch me slice open two avocados
and with palpable shock behold their pits, so beautiful
that after you leapfrog the gates of heaven and get a good look
at God’s knuckles it’s these you’ll recall, not the trash bin,
not the emptied palms, goose bumped with secret. For now,
stand still a decent while: turn your hand over, let them go.
Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers by Nancy M. Grace and Ronna C. Johnson — I’ve always had a fondness for Beat writers, even though my literary passions have drifted over the years. This book was a great read not just because it taught me more about Beat history and the women who were active on the scene, but was also an excellent glimpse into the literary and personal lives of some truly dynamic writers. I always enjoy reading interviews about authors and how they balance writing with other commitments.
Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich — This book was certainly not a lighthearted, easy read. But it was important to me, because I served as Ms. Heimlich’s research assistant for this book, and I absolutely needed to read the final product. I enjoyed seeing the ways in which this book had developed since I read and helped on the early drafts. This work is powerful, and difficult, but definitely worthwhile. And I’m not just saying that because I worked on it.
Kenyon Review 34.2 — I wasn’t completely in love with this entire issue, but Tania James’s “What to Do with Henry” moved me to tears. And by “moved me to tears,” I mean had me sobbing. In a public place. Without a doubt the most powerful short story I have ever read in my life.
Black Birds: Blue Horse by Natalie Peeterse — Winner of the Gold Line Press Poetry Chapbook Prize for 2011, this chapbook is an elegy in memory of Nicole Dial, who was killed in Afghanistan while working for the International Rescue Committee. This is a very moving work about loss and friendship, and truly deserved the win.
ani’mal by ire’ne lara silva — I was thrilled to find this limited re-release while at Round Top this year. As with her other books, there is so much to love. Two poems (“#3” and “i am not yr body’s”) are annotated only with hearts. Though I think my favorite passages comes from the prose poem “center of my geography”:
you have lived peacefully. undisturbed. i have endured.
forgive me for teaching you survival. lean your head
against my chest. let it rise and fall with me. learn my
That wraps up July. I have some great poetry on the list for August, as well as a cool book about memoir. Plus I’m giving Didion another shot. I’ll report back with more book updates in September!