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Mailbox Monday #414

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

As many of you may know, I attended AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference here in D.C. I attended a great many panels and readings and got a few books and journals free, as well as purchased some and met some authors I’ve read in the past and some literary friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Here’s what I received:

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

The Bees is Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of new poems as British poet laureate, and the much anticipated successor to the T. S. Eliot Prize–winning Rapture. After the intimate focus of the earlier book, The Bees finds Duffy using her full poetic range: there are drinking songs, love poems, poems to the weather, and poems of political anger. There are elegies, too, for beloved friends and—most movingly—for the poet’s mother. As Duffy’s voice rises in this collection, her music intensifies, and every poem patterns itself into song.
Woven into and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem or hovers at its edge—and the reader soon begins to anticipate its appearance. In the end, Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious and necessary for us to protect. The Bees is Duffy’s clearest affirmation yet of her belief in the poem as “secular prayer,” as the means by which we remind ourselves of what is most worthy of our attention and concern, our passion and our praise.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

These gently fragmented narrative lyrics pursue enlightenment in long, elegant yet plain-spoken, dark yet ecstatic lines. Ali travels by water and by night, seeking the Far Mosque and its overarching paradox: that when God and Self are one, an ascent into Heaven is a voyage within.

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors explores how we respond to violence, grief, and loss, and the ways animals are emotionally akin to us in those responses.  Driven by the ways those primary emotions get tangled with memory, the ways the body informs the mind, we end up feeling and repeating behaviors linked to original struggles long after they have passed. Fighting against what threatened to cageus, the fight itself becomes the cage, affecting our lives and relationships in the most visceral ways.  Yet it is the simplest things that promote recovery and survival:  a calming animal touch.  Simple presence.

Cattle of the Lord by Rosa Alice Branco, translated by Alexis Levitin

Love. Sex. Death. Meat. Traffic. Pets. In Cattle of the Lord, Rosa Alice Branco offers a stunning poetic vision at once sacred and profane, a rich evocation of daily life troubled by uneasy sacramentality.

In a collection translated by Alexis Levitin and presented in both Portuguese and English, readers find themselves in a world turned upside down: darkly comic, sensual, and rife with contradiction. Here, liturgical words become lovers’ invitations. Cows moo at the heavens. And chickens are lessons on the resurrection.

Over the course of the collection, Branco’s unorthodox — even blasphemous — religious sensibility yields something ultimately hopeful: a belief that the physical, the quotidian, and the animalistic are holy, too. Writing at the boundaries of sense and mystification, combining sensuous lyrics and wit with theological interrogation, Branco breaks down what we think we know about religion, faith, and what it means to be human.

Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn, who toured with Poetic Book Tours and signed my book for me!

Dear Almost is a book-length poem addressed to an unborn child lost in miscarriage. Beginning with the hope and promise of springtime, poet Matthew Thorburn traces the course of a year with sections set in each of the four seasons. Part book of days, part meditative prayer, part travelogue, the poem details a would-be father’s wanderings through the figurative landscapes of memory and imagination as well as the literal landscapes of the Bronx, Shanghai, suburban New Jersey, and the Japanese island of Miyajima. As the speaker navigates his days, he attempts to show his unborn daughter “what life is like / here where you ought to be / with us, but aren’t.” His experiences recall other deaths and uncover the different ways we remember and forget. Grief forces him to consider a question he never imagined asking: how do you mourn for someone you loved but never truly knew, never met or saw? In candid, meditative verse Dear Almost seeks to resolve this painful question, honoring the memory of a child who both was and wasn’t there.

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza, which I purchased from Red Hen directly and got a signature from my Poetry Has Value hero!

Existing at the intersection of darkness and play, the noisy, irreverent, and self-conscious poems in Interrobang take clinical “phobias” and clinical “philias” as their conceit. Each poem makes its own music, the crescendos and decrescendos born of obsessions over anxiety and lust. Encompassing a range of forms (but mostly sonnets), each piece toes the line between traditional meter and contemporary sonic play, while a tell-tale heart beats beneath the floor of the collection, constantly reminding us of our shames, fears, and the clock’s unrelenting ticking. Through individual stories about love, degradation of the self, the redemptive power of genuine humility, and the refuge offered by art and language, Interrobang, winner of the 2012 A Room of Her Own Foundation To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize, illustrates how even the worst-case scenario of these pathologies are, fundamentally, just extensions of the dark truths to which every one of us can relate.

What did you receive?

Guest Post & Giveaway: Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn’s poetry has been reviewed on the blog before, and I’m happy to welcome him (whom I interviewed for 32 Poems) today as he discusses how he became a writer.

His latest collection, Dear Almost, recently toured with Poetic Book Tours this fall.  This collection is an emotional poem that reflects on miscarriage and its impact on those left behind and the small person who never fully developed to experience all that life has to offer.

About the book:

Dear Almost is a book-length poem addressed to an unborn child lost in miscarriage. Beginning with the hope and promise of springtime, the poet traces the course of a year with sections set in each of the four seasons. Part book of days, part meditative prayer, part travelogue, the poem details a would-be father’s wanderings through the figurative landscapes of memory and imagination as well as the literal landscapes of the Bronx, Shanghai, suburban New Jersey, and the Japanese island of Miyajima.

As the speaker navigates his days, he attempts to show his unborn daughter “what life is like / here where you ought to be / with us, but aren’t.” His experiences recall other deaths and uncover the different ways we remember and forget. Grief forces him to consider a question he never imagined asking: how do you mourn for someone you loved but never truly knew, never met or saw? In candid, meditative verse, Dear Almost seeks to resolve this painful question, honoring the memory of a child who both was and wasn’t there.

Please give Matthew Thorburn a warm welcome:

Thanks so much for inviting me to share a guest post for Dear Almost, my new book of poetry. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my reading/writing life and what led me to become a writer.

It’s hard to remember a defining moment—as if I have just always wanted to be a writer, which seems pretty much true. Books have been important to me for as long as I can remember. Many of my fondest childhood memories involve them: listening to my dad and mom read stories to me, listening to stories on records and cassettes (remember those?), working my way through The Wind in the Willows and The Mouse and the Motorcycle and, eventually, just about all of the Hardy Boys books as a school kid. (What a thrilling discovery it was to read my first Hardy Boys mystery, love it, and then see there were thirty more on the classroom bookshelf.)

I sometimes think growing up as an only child made me more likely to enjoy the worlds of imagination that books offer—and more likely to want to create my own as a writer—though of course plenty of wonderful writers have siblings. However, I can pinpoint two experiences that got me started on the path to writing poems.

First, I fell in love as a reader. I remember one day in eleventh grade literature class we were reading Antigone aloud. Since I hadn’t been assigned a part, and didn’t really like the play (Sorry, Ms. Sullivan!), I was flipping through our textbook when I happened upon Allen Ginsberg’s poem “First Party at Ken Kesey’s with Hell’s Angels” and, on the next page, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Fortune has its cookies to give out.” I had enjoyed reading Frost, Dickinson, W.C. Williams, and other poets in American Lit class the year before, but these poems were something different.

I was blown away by the sense of immediacy and the impressionistic details in Ginsberg’s poem, the way he telegraphs the scene to us in images—and I loved Ferlinghetti’s sense of nostalgia and romance, and the quiet, tender humor in his poem. Both poets made a place and time I’d never experienced feel familiar and immediate. It wasn’t long before I got my mom to drive me to Jocundry’s Books, out by the Michigan State University campus, where I picked up the pocket-size City Lights editions of Ginsberg’s Howl and Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of the Gone World. These books still mean a great deal to me as a writer.

Second, I found a supportive, encouraging community in which to write. In my senior year, our AP English class took part in the International Poetry Guild (IPG), an initiative run by the Interactive Communications & Simulations (ICS) group at the University of Michigan’s School of Education.

IPG brings together students at schools in the United States and around the world to write poems, share and discuss their work online, and give each other constructive feedback and encouragement. Students at the university also serve as mentors, critiquing the poets’ work and fostering an ongoing discussion of the creative process. Each school also edits, designs, and publishes a journal of student poems at the end of the year.

Keep in mind, though, that I went to high school in the late 1980s/early 1990s. IPG truly was an innovative idea in those days of dial-up modems and bulletin board systems. Today, IPG operates via the web. But amazing as it seems now, back then I’d never seen a website or sent an email. The whole enterprise had an air of mysteriousness and wonder. My friend Laura, our communications editor, would download and print out a new batch of poems and responses for us each day, then upload our latest poems so the other schools could read them.

Participating in IPG gave me my first real sense that there were others like me, at my school and around the world, who liked to write poems and were interested in reading each other’s work. It was also my first taste of how technology can bring writers and readers together—through a blog like this one, for instance. IPG provided an irresistible mix of opportunity and encouragement, a place and time dedicated to poetry.

I wrote so many poems that year. They were the poems of a seventeen-year- old, and I probably wouldn’t want to re-read them now (or have you read them). But IPG marked the beginning of my poetic apprenticeship, laying the groundwork for the nearly 25 years of poem-writing that have followed (and the many more years of writing I hope are still to come). I’ll always be grateful to my AP English teacher Jan Kesel, who got our school involved in IPG and encouraged us to make the most of it, and Jeff Stanzler, who directs ICS and was the guiding spirit behind IPG. They are two of the shining stars in my sky.

About the Poet:

Matthew Thorburn is the author of six collections of poetry, including the book-length poem Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring (Autumn House Press, 2015), winner of the Coal Hill Review chapbook competition. His previous collections include This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013), Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012), Subject to Change, and an earlier chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Parlor City Press, 2009). His work has been recognized with a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, as well as fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His interviews with writers appear on the Ploughshares blog as a monthly feature. He lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications.

GIVEAWAY: U.S./Canada residents only. Deadline Dec. 7, 2016

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