In the background, Chris is listening to something that sounds suspiciously pop-ish, despite denouncing the genre most vociferously on many, many occasions. Sometimes the music he listens to can be what he calls “down tempo” and sometimes it’s dance. In any event, it’s never good. 😛
All of this is by way of saying, I was trying to do a little reading out here in the sunroom, which is my favorite room in the house. Of course, being 9 at night, it’s not sunny at all, but that’s beside the point. I’m reading Robin Kemp’s This Pagan Heaven, and I confess an affection for the book because she is from New Orleans, and several of the poems are New Orleans-y.
I just finished reading “Pelican Sonnet,” and laughed out loud when I saw the epigraph:
Who the hell writes a sonnet about a pelican?
The answer, of course, to that question is ” someone from Louisiana.” Pelicans are not just our State Bird; they symbolize Louisiana in a really fundamental and profound way–when you see them in the swamps (even in Northwest Louisiana where I’m from), sitting on old cypress stumps, it’s as iconic an image for my home state as you can get (you know, without being a racist bigot waving the Stars and Bars). Pelicans make me happy–there’s something unspoiled and old about them–maybe it’s their eyes, which always seem sad.
But about Robin’s poem specifically, the first several lines are hard, rhythmically, lots of staccato sounds and hard stresses:
a sky-hung V of brown with kite-webbed feet,
curved grave of neck, slick crest of gold-crown, neat
white mask, fish-crooking beak, stretched-flesh-fold pouch. . .
which surprise me, because I would expect that kind of soundscape to be in a more jazzy, improvisational piece, not a very traditional sonnet about an animal and personal experience. But I like the poem a lot, particularly because when the speaker begins speaking about her personal experience, the words speed up, and the rhythm is much different. Here are the last three lines:
plotting their courses back to bayous cursed
with petrochemicals. They did not fail:
behold the blessing of each brown wing’s sail.
I love, love, love that last line.
Anyway, I had to stop reading the poems because I agree with my blog-friend Benjamin Dodd who argues that reading poetry in the evening requires too much energy and engagement–which makes falling asleep hard. If you want to read an excellent review of Robin’s book, check out Collin Kelley’s September 7th blog post.
The other books I’m reading concurrently include Warren St. John’s Outcast United, Sherry Wolf’s Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics, and the Theory of LGBT Liberation, and–speaking of Collin Kelley–his new novel Conquering Venus. I’m reading St. John’s book for my Freshman Seminar class; he’s coming to campus next week, and I plan to go hear him speak. I like that book because it’s about immigrant issues here in Georgia, and he really focuses on what a horrible time refugees have, and your heart just breaks–the book is easy to read, but it’s also quite compelling.
Wolf’s book is interesting, but I don’t feel like I need to say much about it because it’s pretty much “preaching to the choir” material.
Collin’s book is excellent to read before bed because I can lose myself in the characters and their stories–I can laugh at how abrupt and sarcastic Diane is; I can love Irène for being so mysterious; and I can feel CONSTANT SYMPATHY for poor Martin because of his doomed love affair with Peter the Prick and his ill-advised attraction to David the Dumbass. (And yes, Bob, I did VERY MUCH need to use capitals there.)
But I also know, that when I close the cover and set the book on my bedside table (and watch it invariably fall off because I’ve piled it precariously on top of a plethora of crap), I can fall asleep, and sleep peacefully, because my mind isn’t chewing over the language and images evoked, like it does when I read poetry.
I haven’t juggled multiple books at once since grad school, probably. When I was studying for my comprehensive exams, I was probably reading 4 and 5 books at the same time, which, if you’re a bibliophile, seems a sacrilege, as books ought to be savored and read singly, so that you live with them in your mind. In general, I believe reading more than one at a time is a kind of philandering. But I find I rather like reading all these different books at once; the variety is engaging, and the different books are useful to suit different moods.
Anyway, it’s about time for my nightly dose of Martin’s unending pain; I must read a few pages of Conquering Venus, and call it a night.