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Image In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m following Kelli Russell Agodon’s lead in offering two free poetry books to someone who comments on this post (and is not a spammer). I’ll ship the books to you at my expense. All you have to do is comment. I’ll put your name in a hat at the end of April, and if you win I’ll post your name on my comment thread. (You might want to set to “follow comments” for this post.) At that point you can use the contact form to send me your address and off we go. I promise to choose names at random.

The deal is, poets usually offer one of their own books, and one book by someone else. Though if you are not a poet you are welcome to use your own blog to participate (the only rule is that you link back to Kelli’s blog), and offer two books of your choosing. So, on offer: One copy of my chapbook, Wild Thing in Our Known World: Image Excerpt:

In winter, Navarre comes over the fence,

Longboned and lean, low, too young for skulking,

They neutered him but still he leads the pack,

This wolf in dog’s clothing.

(From “Navarre,” first published in RHINO)

You can also browse previous posts right here on this blog for sample content of this chapbook or for other examples of my work.

 

Also, one copy of Kathleen Flenniken’s astonishing collection, Plume, which I mentioned in my Standout Reads 2012 post: Image Here’s a link to a sample poem, “Radiation!” I loved this book for its quiet, image-based protest, based on the author’s experience as both a member of a community organized around working at the Hanford nuclear power plant, and as a scientist later employed at that plant.

 

These books are offered as an effort to promote poets and poetry–I hope you’ll participate. Again, the books come to you free, with no shipping costs. What can it hurt?

If you’d like to give away a couple of books on your blog, check out the instruction’s on Kelli’s blog. Please be sure to link back to Kelli’s blog, and if you heard about the giveaway here first, please also link to this post as well.

Again, to enter, just leave a comment on this blog post.

Thanks and happy poetry month!

 

(Top photo credit: Kelli Russell Agodon)

 

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This has been quite the year for literary releases, and I didn’t get to many books I’d hoped to read, let alone some of those that have been sitting on shelves, calling and calling, for ages. 2014 promises the same, though I think I will focus more on my “backstock.” So, as usual, this annotated list represents the most memorable of what I happened to read in 2013, but these books might not have been released in the last year.

No particular order.

Fiction

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk, Ben Fountain. There were a fewBilly Lynn issues with Billy Lynn’s Walk, but as the year rolled on, I found my mind going back to it again and again. As a meditation on the relationship between America’s culture and America’s wars, this is the best I’ve seen.
  • Surveyor, G.W. Hawkes. I would love for the universe to explain how I missed this book when it came out in the Surveyor90s. Luckily I stumbled upon it in a used bookstore and from now on it will be the book-gift I give. Two bachelor friends, Korean War vets, heterosexual but who have lived together long enough to function as a married couple, face profound changes in their relationship and way of life. Wonderfully complicated by the mysterious landscape of the New Mexican desert, and the artistic and fairly crazy (but few) people who live there with them.
  • Pacazo, Roy Kesey. This guy Kesey is one of the more exciting writersPacazo I’ve found in a long time. Pacazo is set in Peru; the narrator is an American student of the Spanish Conquest, who has been long delayed in that country by his marriage to a Peruvian woman. His wife has been abducted and murdered. His mind, broken by grief and rage, holds, seemingly, all of known Peruvian and a lot of American history simultaneously, and the way that Kesey represents this on the page is something to behold. I bought the book for my ereader and then again for my shelf in hardback. It’s just something to hold onto.
  • The Virgins, Pamela Erens. Clean and complex. Tempting to compare toVirgins some kind of alcohol, but I’m not sure which, especially as you’re not in a stupor when it’s over, but stimulated. Anyway, Erens takes some risk in the way she structures this story, which is to say that she’ll make you think. She’ll also make you remember.
  • Dear Life, Alice Munro. Can’t have a list without Alice. Never disappoints.
  • Half as Happy, Gregory Spatz. I rarely include non-Alice Munro story collections in this list, because it’s hard to love all the stories in a collection. However, the stories here—and that was most of them—that I did love? I LOVED. I read this early in the year and still the characters and their situations are vivid to me. How are we happy, how do we know when we are and when we aren’t, and what should we settle for—these are some of the concerns of this book.
  • The News from Spain, Joan Wickersham. Another collection of stories, in this case thematically linked. Each story is given the same title, but that’s not what links them—some have said they are stories about betrayal and adultery, but I would disagree: these are tales of fidelity.

dear life    HalfAsHappy      Spain

  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, Adelle Waldman. I wasn’t going to read this. It sounded like one of those chick lit books that were trying not to be chick lit. However, it was well worth my time. Was it Freud who said “What do men want?” If you’re a woman who’s ever dated a guy and wondered what the fuck goes on in that head, or if you’re a single guy who has ever wondered what the fuck goes on in your head, here you go.
  • The City & the City, China Mieville. I like this far better than the otheCityr Mieville books I’ve read. Noir and twisty, lots of allegory, much to think about in terms of how we deny the realities in front of our faces, right in our neighborhoods, how we cage our histories, our hatreds, our loves.
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. Always meant to read this; now I have. The care and delicacy with which Stegner builds his worlds are always such a delight. What is it to live a life well?Person Be
  • How Should a Person Be? Sheila Heti. Praise God and Mary! A real novel of ideas, just like we used to have, populated by fucked-up artists. Just the kind of thing real novels used to be about.
  • The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud. The question Messud raised in the now-famous interview about whether literary characters need to be likable is worth pondering, as it seems there is an awful lot of whining these days from readers about how they “didn’t like the characters.” Howwoman upstairsever, this novel raises more questions than that. What does it take to make art? Must artists be ruthless to succeed? What should we expect of our friends? What kinds of things are fair trades in friendships, and are all relationships transactional? What are our obligations to our parents—not just in terms of caretaking but in terms of living the lives they were unable to live? In many ways, this book too addresses the question of how a person should be.
  • The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante. An Italian mother faces divorce and kind of goes nuts. Also, The Lost Daughter, Elena Ferrante. An Italian mother faces the empty nest and kind of goes nuts. I’ll be reading more of this woman.

ferrante1ferrante2

  • Benediction, Kent Haruf. Every time I drive through the Pawnbenedictionee National Grasslands area of Colorado, which I bet is more often than a lot of people have driven through it, I get this sense of a novel stirring and pecking inside. To which I say, STOP THAT! I don’t have time for you. Luckily Haruf has it covered. It’s always a pleasure to return to Ault, CO, and live in Haruf’s version of it.
  • The Human Stain, Philip Roth. Aside from the first 20 pages or so, which were belabored and sometimes even clumsy, this book is a perfect work of art.

Nonfiction

  • Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, Timothy Egan. Wonderful insightcurtis into what it’s like to have an artistic mission that’s both temporally urgent and hard to find financial and cultural support for. Also a great explication of what Curtis did to make a record of Native American culture as it was rapidly changing under white attack and later under unrelenting pressure from our dominant culture. His photographs were nearly lost. He also gathered the first non-white accounts of the Custer battle.
  • Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky. Part of what is sure to become a growing body of work around Wallace’s life and works. This is not  biograpLipskyhy—it’s more like primary material. Lipsky was sent to interview Wallace for Rolling Stone. These are (mostly, one assumes—the recorder was shut off sometimes at Wallace’s request, and I suppose Lipsky may have chosen to delete other sections) the raw tapes. I enjoyed the fly-on-the wall vantage, though there is a patina of sadness, given what the reader knows, and Wallace and Lipsky do not know, about what would come in later years.
  • The Psychopath Inside, James Fallon. Quite a slog, because of the author’s admittedly rotten personality, which gleams at you on every page. Recommended not so much for the insights on psychopathy (though the part about how to avoid psychopaths is good advice), as for his articulate explanations of how mental illnesses operate vis a vis brain development, what drugs work and why they work, the role of genetics in all this, and the role of epigenetics. Feel free to skim the rest. And don’t give this guy money; get it from the library.

bad mother

  • Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman. Some of these essays were less successful than others, but I suspect how well they speak to you will depend on your own parenting and spousing experiences and philosophies. They will challenge or affirm them, and either reading experience is worthwhile.

Poetry

  • Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds. Know anyone who’s ever gone throuStag's Leapgh a major breakup or a divorce? Great gift.
  • Hafiz, The Mystic Poets, tr. Gertrude Bell. An important influence for Robert Bly’s work, Hafiz’s ecstatic Sufi poetry offers a counterpoint to the view of Islam we in the West have unfortunately been tending toward. “Wine-drunk, love-drunk, we inherit paradise,/His mercy is for sinners.” I know: wine is supposed to be a symbol for “the drunken bliss of love”—ie, God’s grace. Hafiz drinks in this grace quite a lot, it seems.
  • Complete Poems, E. E. Cummings. I can see I knew very little oficarus E. E. Cummings.
  • Club Icarus, Matt W. Miller. Poems about how hard it is to stay cool with being inside skin.

Bonus: Literary Magazines

Because it rarely publishes or reviews women compared with the frequency with which it does the same for men, I took (at least) a year off from subscribing to The New Yorker and rambled about among less well-known journals. Here’s what popped.

  • Fiction: The Santa Monica Review. Usually I hand on or recycle literary journals when I’m done with them, even the big ones like Tin House. I’ll be finding room, God knows how, on my shelves for SMR, I have a feeling, because I’ll want to return to some of the stories in these pages.
  • Poetry: Cave Wall. In truth, I’ve been subscribing almost since the beginning, so it’s been a pleasure to see Rhett Iseman Trull evolve as an editor.
  • Personal essay and commentary: Still looking, though I did enjoy a lot of the work in n+1.

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Your dogs every one of them

wonderful, the best, but this the one

who loved me.

                        Cinnamon chow chow,

one of those things: in for bunny food,

out with a puppy.

 

After five months in a cage,

he ducked, staggered beneath

the sky, tumbled on stairs.

 

One month later, little furball, he purged

a bear from our yard.

                         Inside, engrossed,

I’d no idea the bear was there.

A passing neighbor saw the pup

explode into chase, hauled in,

leaned on her car horn.

 

I couldn’t believe it!

she kept saying.

That little thing. That bear

half a ton at least!

                         Two years on,

that dog would tree a lion for me.

 

First night in my house,

he laid himself across my bedroom

threshold.

                         I looked it up.

Chows are bred for this.

Guardians of temples, palaces,

they close apertures against

the seen and the unseen.

 

It was what I needed at that time,

right after my divorce,

bears thick as thieves in the yard,

my halls infested with demons.

 

 

S S

Stephen (right), Dec 16, 1999-Dec 2, 2013. Thank you for your service.

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Hummingbirds shouldn’t be in Colorado in the winter, but I suppose they’re somewhere at Christmastime. This poem has always felt like Christmas to me, maybe because I always place a feathered bird ornament at the top of our tree.

“Perch,” is collected in the chapbook Wild Thing in Our Known World, available on Amazon, or directly from Finishing Line Press. Who doesn’t want poetry for Christmas?

 

Perch

 

These hummingbirds:

buzzing like wasps

while I’m trying to read.

That rufous bullying

at the feeder. As if I need

a mafia gig on the patio.

But today a tiny green bird

paused atop the tall blue spruce.

Such a small bird, so high up.

What could it see?

 

Claudia-9-2

(Photo Credit: Roger Adams)

Happy holidays!

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…and available both from Amazon and directly from the publisher. If you’re on Goodreads, feel free to connect with the resources there as well. Samples of my poetry can be found by scrolling through this blog, or by clicking the Poetry tab above and following the links to literary journals where I’ve been published.

I hope you enjoy this short collection of work.

                                             Cover

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Your father coming
home late—a cougar
vaulted the road,
blazed up the driveway.

He floored it,
but the lion outran
his highbeams, vanished
on the hillside.

Of course I thought of you.
Who sprang
fully formed into our lives
and died.

 

cougarprints6 (2)

 

All our love to you, Jacob Darsie Putnam: 4/25-28/1989.

 

 

 

 

****

(“Blur” originally appeared in Poetry East. It is forthcoming in Wild Thing in Our Known World, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press.)

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The Colorado River, which I happen to live beside, is the #1 most endangered River in America. I’m surprised, but relieved, to learn that the other major waterway, the Rio Grande, which also rises here in our watershed state, did not make the top ten.

We think of our rivers as the source of life, of livelihood, of food and water. But when I watch the whitewater, the meltwater, coming down over and around the rocks in the mountain streams, what I see is light.

Light released from the place where it was stored during the dark of the winter.

It’s another reason why I’m sorry to hear that glaciers too are getting smaller over time.

 

P6120427

 

 

Lost Valley

 

First, that air, not burdened

with oxygen, was full

of light.

 

Light caught the undersides

of ponderosa needles

and the ragged,

 

reddish bark of their trunks.

Kim’s chickens feathered

in the silvery

 

light of the aspen branches.

I lay beside the river

on my favorite flat

 

rock of old, and the river

brought light

from the glaciers.

 

A bird came to bathe

in the spray once. No idea

what kind of bird,

 

but I remember it,

it is caught

in my mind.

 

Light like ashes unfurling,

smoke released

by light.

 

There are things

you take for granted,

a high kitchen

 

window opening to light

careering off cliffs,

the mountainside

 

a terrarium, pines

springing

from your countertops.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

(Originally appeared on Western Views, the blog of Western Resource Advocates. You can also find another poem of mine, Global Warming Scenarios: Rocky Mountain Region on the same site.

Lost Valley is forthcoming in Wild Thing in Our Known World, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Advance orders help the publisher calculate the press run, so please reserve your copy now.)

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I’ve lived in Colorado’s lion country for more than thirty years. Possibly, depending on what stories you believe about where and when they’ve reintroduced themselves in Northern New England, I’ve been in their territory my whole life.

 

Flushed

 

Running the Highline,

a fleeting thought

of the threat of lions,

 

turn my head to find

the dogs chasing one.

Tail stretched out long,

 

a comet through my heart.

 

It ran; the dogs were safe,

just this painful weight

of coincidence

 

to bear back down

the mountain.

thought and then

 

the conjured beast,

the liquid leap

to the tree; again

 

the long run down,

 

through all those years

of running through woods,

sensing but not seeing.

 

 

(Originally appeared in The Adirondack Review, in slightly different form. Forthcoming in Wild Thing in Our Known World, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Advance orders secure the press run, so please reserve your copy now.)

 

Find me on Twitter at @lioncaller.

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Sometimes teenagers don’t talk to you. Sometimes this goes on for weeks, months. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of the usual adolescent grunting and shrugging. Because sometimes you don’t even get that.

Sometimes they don’t want to talk to you. They truly seem to have decided that they hate your guts.

In such times, a mother may come to think it is all over. Time is flying by. Even if some healing takes place, many critical months and years may be lost. All the reassurances of her friends—it’ll work out, he’s a good kid, he’ll be fine, all that love you gave him when was three is in there somewhere—feel hollow. The mother knows very well that sometimes it doesn’t work out.

She has no way of telling which statistic she’ll be, which her son will be.

And then one day, perhaps while she’s lying injured, her son goes for a hike. In the evening he comes to her room. The rock he lays on her pillow feels warm from the sun, from his pocket, from the hand he’s kept in that pocket.

Many years later, whenever she fingers it on her desk, she swears it still feels warm. 

 

 

Cairn Stone

This is the rock he lifted
to lay upon a cairn
in a high place.

This rock, warmed by the near sun,
felt right, somehow, in his hand.

He decided to carry it down
to his mother, who lay in bed,
recovering.

It is so easy to please
a mother. Just to think of her
for a moment, from a high place,
and to carry that thought to her

in the form of a stone.

 

 

2013-03-27 13.56.48

(Originally published in Paper Street. Forthcoming in Wild Thing in Our Known World, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Advance orders secure the press run, so please reserve your copy now.)

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Way back in the early days of this blog I posted about measurable publishing progress. Even so it’s sometimes hard to feel as though anything’s happening. A story is accepted by a reasonably prestigious journal. Then publication is delayed; the editors combine a couple of issues. When it finally arrives, there are so many stories and poems crammed into one magazine, you wonder if anyone ever reads the story you polished for five years, or if the whole thing is about the credit in the cover letter for the next piece you send out.

But.

Roll it on. Believe in it anyway. I stood up and read the first half of my most recently published story out loud in front of a thousand skeptical people last year and it went down pretty well, I thought.

So, regardless of what happens next, I am excited that my first poetry chapbook is coming into print right now. 64Putnam_Claudia_Cov

Over two dozen of my poems have appeared in a variety of journals. This is more than enough to anchor a couple of chapbooks, perhaps even a book-length manuscript. But until I had a fellowship last year, I didn’t have the headspace to pull such a project together.

Finishing Line Press is bringing out Wild Thing in Our Known World in June. It’s available for preorder right now. I wrote about how this works over on my Poetry page, but in a nutshell, Finishing Line, like a lot of small presses these days, uses advance orders to set the press-runs. If we get 100 preorders, they’ll print 500 copies. If we get fewer than that, the press-run will be significantly smaller, and I’ll be depressed.

I think most authors feel a little Amway-ish about the preorder thing, honestly, but that’s how it is now. We have to schlepp our books whether we like it or not. We all have do some of our own marketing and PR-ing—half the time even our cover art and our editing—no matter how much we’d like to hole up and just write.

But I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t believe in what I was writing about, because the amount of energy it takes to write stuff is ridiculous.

If I can get up and read something in front of a thousand people, I can ask you to please buy my poetry book. It costs $12 and the discounted shipping is $2.49. It must not suck too much if the people at Finishing Line pulled it out of a huge pile of manuscripts sent by hopeful poets and decided to publish it.

(How many hopeful poets are there? Well, I went to a panel discussion at AWP in Denver a few years ago. AWP is a conference for people who are getting or have already got a master’s degree in creative writing, including in poetry. Thousands upon thousands of people attend. This talk was on how to assemble a poetry book manuscript. It was given in one of those hotel banquet rooms where they can take out an intervening wall and turn it into a ballroom. They’d removed the wall, and it was still standing room only. There are kabillions of hopeful poets out there, that’s how many.)

A couple of people have said some nice things about this chapbook. Not to drop names or anything, but the award-winning poet Kelli Russell Agodon, who’s been featured on A Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, not to mention in many other prestigious places, and IMO is headed for superstardom, wrote a blurb.

A second blurb comes from historian Paul Thomas Murphy. He’s the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Shooting Victoria, which is about how seven attempts on Queen Victoria’s life probably saved the very concept of the British Monarchy. I want my work to be taken seriously in the literary community, but I want it to be accessible to thoughtful non-poets as well. I asked Paul for his opinion.

Then there’s Coyote. I had one last day to come up with cover art for my book. I had no money for this. I took my son’s camera and headed out for a day of backcountry skiing. Around here that means around 2300 feet of vertical climbing, not even considering the distance traveled or the difficulty of the terrain.

But the shot was easy. There was a deer in the ditch, roadkill, a sad metaphor that haunts the book, and Coyote was waiting in the field. Sitting there in broad daylight. Wild thing in our known world. I’d titled the manuscript long before, after a line in one of the poems.

I’m not a good photographer, but I think that’s all to the best in this case.

I got back in the car and went skiing. On the mountain, I met Neil Bennett, a professional photographer. If my shot didn’t work out, he said I could use some of his wildlife shots for free. I may well do that with the next book. But for Wild Thing in Our Known World, it seemed that Coyote had given me another blurb.

Isn’t that enough for you?

Here’s how to order.

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