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Guest Post & Giveaway: Why Lady Susan by Alice McVeigh, author of Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel

Welcome everyone to today’s latest guest! Alice McVeigh has written a different kind of Jane Austen story, and I love that she chose to write about Lady Susan!

Here’s a little about the book:

Familiar characters abound – Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself – but Susan – mischievous and manipulative – is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson – pretty but poor, clever but capricious – has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins’ rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and “where nothing ever happens.”

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia’s falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again…

Please welcome Alice:

Thanks so much, Serena, for inviting me to write about my new novel, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel. In her note Serena wrote, “Lady Susan is so interesting! And I so rarely get offered anything to do with Austen’s other works.”

Some of you will probably read that last sentence twice. I did not – not because I’m hugely clever but because I too have Pride and Prejudice fatigue.

Now before I get brick-batted, I should say that, in common with every other writer I know, I love P&P. I simply object that it is actually more “searched for” on Google than Jane Austen is.

Yes, you read that right. P&P is more famous than Jane Austen, herself. It has also inspired more film adaptations, theatre productions, spinoffs, zombies and graphic novels than every other book she wrote – all put together – not only once, but several times over.

Of course, it isn’t as complex as Emma or as autumnal and elegant as Persuasion – it really is as light and liquid as Austen herself jokingly complained (“it is too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade…”) Also, unlike all her other books, it can be read as straight romance, despite Austen’s trademarked ironic social commentary. And yes, so outrageously rich is Mr Darcy that – in today’s terms – it even qualifies as “billionaire romance”!

Yet its sparkle is so rare, enviable, and skilful that I know of no serious academic who would wish her – were she still around – to alter a single word.

Despite this, I think that P&P worship has got out of hand.

The first time I noticed was when I received a disgruntled review of my new novel from an Amazon reader whose only beef was that – to her limitless grief – Mr Darcy did not appear.

My retort – which of course I never penned – would have been, “That’s because Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is, um, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and not a sequel to P&P. Mr Darcy never appears in Austen’s Lady Susan.”

Once I stopped grinding my teeth, I made cracks about how I should have included Darcy, within my own book club… At least, I did until Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel received its first Kirkus review.

I had perhaps got my hopes up a little, as Susan had already won First Place in the Global Book Awards, a gold medal in the PenCrest Book Awards, an IndieReader gold medallion, and – most amazingly – been rated 10/10 in Publishers Weekly.

The Kirkus reviewer, however, described it as “spirited but ultimately unsatisfactory”. And why? – you’ve already guessed. Because Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet never appear. How could it be called a prequel, she or he argued, when only Lady Catherine, of all the P&P characters, really feature in my book at all?

Yes, even Kirkus, the premier source of reviews, possesses at least one reviewer who assumes that every Austenesque prequel has to be a prequel to P&P, the only book she ever wrote.

To be fair to Kirkus – once I’d stopped kicking the furniture long enough to complain – they seemed mortified. They instantly offered me a second review, free of charge, and the second reviewer really liked it. (“An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references… McVeigh displays a brilliant, spot-on command of Austen’s diction and tone.” Thank you, Kirkus Reviews!)

But my point still stands. P&P first… the rest nowhere! ☹

And this is a terrible thing for all of Austen’s other works of utter genius. It can even be a pretty terrible thing for the stars of its numerous adaptations, with actor Colin Firth being Example A. He has publicly complained that – grateful as he was for having been cast as Mr Darcy – it had so identified him to most filmgoers that he had missed out on interesting roles afterwards. The curse of P&P!

Anyway, on to Lady Susan!

So, why did I choose to write a prequel to Lady Susan? Why didn’t I simply join other Austen-struck writers doing spinoffs of P&P?

First, because Lady Susan represents Austen’s only attempt at showcasing serious villainy. Austen’s Lady Susan makes Mrs Norris of Mansfield Park look almost civilized – and even the wickedly passionate Maria Bertram like some kind of a Girl Scout. When not amusing herself by seducing married men – or by wrecking the peace of her family by attempting to seduce their rich young heir – Austen’s Lady Susan is trying to force her gentle daughter into marrying a man she loathes. Why would anyone wish to write a book about Lady Susan?

Well, partly because I became fascinated in how she became so villainous, at 35 – her age in Austen’s Lady Susan. In my own novel she’s still just sixteen and – though certainly self-interested and notably manipulative – is also witty, engaging and affectionate. There are hints as to her ultimate character – if anyone’s character is set by their mid-thirties – but the reader is certainly hoping that her machinations will triumph with regard to her cousin Alicia’s love match – in fact, the reader’s pulling for young Susan all the way.

Yes, I give clues – she remarks at one point, “It was a very pretty letter. It was almost too pretty to burn” – but it would take an alert reader to spot them.

Why isn’t “my” Susan closer in character to Austen’s Lady Susan? – It isn’t just because I’m saving most of the character development for the sequel. It’s really because I simply find it impossible to imagine that any sixteen-year-old could be truly villainous – I don’t see how they could manage it in the time. I was also too charmed with the idea of her engaging with Frank Churchill, and with her taking the fancy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh… In fact, the whole idea of the prequel had been percolating in my brain for ages. It just took me about fifteen years to get up enough nerve to write it! (My agent was also against it, as being too close to genre fiction.)

But now I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve done Jane Austen a tiny favor. I know many people who have gone back to Lady Susan and read it, mostly for the first time, having read Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel.

Of course, Susan would be selling still better had I only been smart enough to instead scribble Darcy as the Bloodthirsty Vampire Headmaster of Hogwarts or Eliza Bennet: Buttered Scones with Strawberry Jam (A Cosy Mystery).

Hmm. Now there’s a thought…

Thank you, Alice, for sharing why you wrote about Susan!

About the Author:

Alice McVeigh’s Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is the first in a series of six Austenesque books published by Warleigh Hall Press (it is now available in audiobook). The second in the series (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation) will be published in January. Alice has previously been published in contemporary fiction by Orion/Hachette and in speculative thrillers (using a pen name) by UK’s Unbound Publishing. You can contact Alice here.

Enter the Giveaway: (1 ebook and 1 audiobook – 2 winners)

Leave a comment and let us know if you prefer an ebook or audiobook by Nov. 5 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Poets v. the Pandemic: This Is What America Looks Like reading

If you missed last week’s reading of Poets v. the Pandemic, where I was one of the featured readers from the This Is What America Looks Like anthology, you can view that below:

I highly recommend this anthology, not just because I have a poem inside, but because there are some stellar writers in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. So many stories and poems touch not only upon the pandemic and its impact, but also racial justice, the news circus, and the world through real Americans’ eyes.

Buy a copy, I’ll sign my poem when I see you!

I am so honored to read with local poetry icons like Reuben Jackson, Karren Alenier, Elizabeth Knapp, Gregory Luce, and Fran Abrams.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Mailbox Monday #654

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Kaddish by Jane Yolen for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited in a time of deep sorrow. In it, the sacredness of the Almighty One is affirmed. In her new gathering of sixty poems, award-winning author Jane Yolen gives us a feminist view of Biblical themes and personalities such as Eve, Sarah, David and Goliath. The poems then morph into those about the Holocaust and after. Yolen’s unflinching and stark record of the many death camp horrors serve as reminders of that era’s brutality and the unrelenting suffering visited upon an innocent people. “Knowing means remembrance,” Yolen writes–as each poem becomes a memorial, a teaching, a warning for our and future generations. Her book concludes: “… no Jew truly escapes/that time, those places,/unscarred, unscathed./I have no numbers on my arms,/But I have studied the charts,/the cities, the deaths,/till I know them by heart.”

Inheritance of Aging Self by Lucinda Marshall, which I purchased.

Lucinda Marshall’s debut poetry collection, Inheritance Of Aging Self, explores our inherited understanding and experience of illness, death, grief, and sense of place.

In poems that she began to write during the final years of her parents’ lives, Lucinda Marshall’s debut poetry collection, Inheritance Of Aging Self, is an exploration of aging, illness, and death, as we witness them in the lives of our elders and loved ones, of grieving and ultimately the impact this heritage has on our sense of identity and place as we in turn age.

The title poem of the collection was included in the Maryland State Arts Council’s “Identity” exhibit in 2021 and “Winter Beach” was the first-place winner in Montgomery Magazine’s 2019 “Montgomery Writes” contest.

When Your Wife has Tommy John Surgery by E. Ethelbert Miller for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Much-honored Washington, D.C. poet activist E. Ethelbert Miller delights and surprises us with his deft imaginings and portraits. Ethelbert’s poems play out in baseball rhythm and express the joy of living, despite the bitter challenges in today’s world. These poems define our time and allow us to see ourselves as human through the lens of baseball, family and music.

When Your Wife Has Tommy John Surgery and Other Baseball Stories is Miller’s second book of baseball poems. Here he touches new bases. There are poems about Marcel Duchamp and Ornette Coleman as well as Whitey Ford and Don Larsen. Miller’s poems move the outdoor game indoors where there are moments of disappointment and despair. Baseball can be a blues game. Tommy John surgery is a way of holding onto hope. Many of these poems were written during the Covid pandemic. They beckon fans back to the ballpark. They remind us to enjoy a game that is precious  and maybe even essential to our wellness. Coming after If God Invented Baseball, Miller seems to emerge from a literary dugout after a brief rain delay, ready to celebrate the American pastime again.

What did you receive?

Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King

Source: Poet
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a powerful chapbook that tackles fatherhood, family demons and traumas, and finds the bright light in the darkness. What King always does well in his verse is to find the hope even in the darkest moments.

In the opening poem, “In Your Dreams,” the young man is dodging not only physical blows from his father and trying to sway away from his emotional jabs. He reminds us that those traumas are the past and in our reliving of them, we can change the ending and manifest that in our own, true lives. King uses these boxing metaphors in a few of the poems and it serves as a way to remind us that life is not a straight line journey from point A to point B — there are a lot of curves and turns along the way.

When the chapbook shifts to his own journey as a father, the light of hope shines brightest. I absolutely loved “The Light Inside.” It’s such a beautiful poem in which the poet is watched as he contemplates “the country of fatherhood,/where experience alone won’t grant you citizenship.//” He’s folding onesies and waiting for his daughter to arrive where “Everything hangs, waiting for you to fill them/the way your mom and I waited for you//” and “patience is the currency/of anything worth having.//”

Parenthood is a tough state but absolutely worth it for those committed to doing it and nurturing young life. And yes, like King says, “parenting is like gardening.” But in that effort, we also have to tend to our own scars and past traumas so that they don’t poorly influence how we tend our own gardens. Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a love letter to his family, his children, and his own past, as he moves forward as a father and a more whole human being. Love and hope are in every corner of this collection, and there is a push for more out of life and a recognition of simplicity, beauty, and importance.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his family in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog. He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

King is the author of POINT BLANK (Silver Birch Press, 2016) and DRIFT (Aquarius Press, 2012). King’s honors include fellowships from Cave (cah-veh) Canem (cah-nem) and Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) Foundation, three Pushcart Prize nominations as well as three nominations for Best of the Net selection.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Visit his website, Facebook, Twitter, and on YouTube.

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 101 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is a collection that will floor you with its emotional heights and its stunning imagery. The collection’s sections — “This Is What Women Do,” “All I’ve Swallowed,” “Mouthing Your Memory,” and “Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart” — tackle larger issues facing women today in not only patriarchal society but within our own strictures that we adopt to define who we are. I love that LeBlanc opens this collection with “Autobiography of Eve” because she sets readers up for a great unfolding, demonstrating how women have been conditioned into thinking one way about love, marriage, and how the world works, as well as our place in that world. “Now that the sticky juice/of knowledge ran freely down my chin/” — isn’t the truth always a little bit sticky?

I’m going to try not to gush about this collection, but there are so many poems I love from “We Carry” where women are burdened with keys and households as well as the comments of others, the groceries, the organization and schedules, and the weight of abuse when it happens to “Alternative Names for Woman” where LeBlanc begins with those harsh truths about what we earn, how we’re perceived by others, and what we could become despite those misconceptions and putdowns.

LeBlanc talks to the women who have held onto their trauma, to those who re-traumatize themselves, to those experiencing serious heartbreak, to those who feel lost and she holds out her hands to them, hoping they will take that leap of faith for themselves – to become their true selves in spite of it all. It’s hard work this transformation, but she shows you the way in her poems. The road will never be smooth, but in the end, it may be a journey worth taking to be free and to be your unapologetic self. From “Gasoline,” “I’m peeling/back my skin/revealing/the flint of a match/crawling through my blood/my bones/I’m ready/to burn/this fucking frat party/this America to the ground.//”

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is an evolution of love and self. In her last poem, “Eventually Evolution,” she reminds us that change takes time, even if it seems like love can strike in a few seconds of meeting someone.

This is the second book I’ve read by LeBlanc and I have loved both of them.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat, July 2021),  Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, March 2020)The Violence Within (Flutter Press, 2018, currently out of print), and All in the Family (Bottlecap Press, 2016, currently out of print) , and a Pushcart Prize  and Best of the Net nominee. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Visit her website, Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and her publishing house, Riot in Your Throat.

Other Reviews:

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is an exploration of the lasting impact of war on individuals and the memory of war long after it is fought, incorporating the role of governments, individual and national ethics, and the media and film industry, as well as novelists, etc.

The narration of this book doesn’t do much for the dry academic text, which made this a harder read than it probably would have been in print. I definitely do not recommend this audiobook. The narration is dry and lifeless. With that said, if you are looking for a dynamic look at the Vietnam War and memory, this is more speculation, analysis of previous thoughts on memory and ethical remembering, as well as a look at how the entertainment industry in the United States shapes the views of war over time.

In some ways, Nguyen takes on too many subjects in this book. I feel like the whole section on first-person war-based video games could be a dissertation or a book in itself with data on the impact of these war video games, etc. This happens with other topics as well. This was far too academic and focused on theories and philosophies with little data, which was a drawback for me. I would have preferred more dynamic text and narration, as well as some data to back up some of his arguments.

My overall takeaway from Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is that to remember war, we need to remember the good and the bad on both sides, not just the humanity of one side and the inhumanity of the other. We need to recall that all actors in war are culpable to some extent and that they are all round “characters” not flat. Humanity is not something that only applies to the righteous or the just act, especially as my grandmother once said, “there is always more to the story than you know and there is no one person at fault.” We all need to be better at accepting our inhuman actions and the humanity of those we do not know or understand well.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

Mailbox Monday #653

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl, which my mom bought me the hardcover of since I couldn’t find it. I’ll take Halloween gifts any day.

So, I’ve written a book.

Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities (“It’s a piece of cake! Just do four hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!”) I have decided to tell these stories just as I have always done, in my own voice. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I’ve recorded and can’t wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.

This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it’s like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.

In Essentials by Helen Williams from Meryton Press.

Five months after Fitzwilliam Darcy’s disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, he discovers that the woman he ardently loves is suffering from a grave illness.

Despite an affliction that has left her altered, Elizabeth is still the same person in essentials: witty, sanguine, and obstinate. However, her future is uncertain, and she struggles to maintain her equanimity—especially when Mr. Darcy returns to Netherfield and seems determined to improve her opinion of him. Now she must decide whether she is brave enough to trust him and embrace happiness—however fleeting it might prove to be.

What did you receive?

Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce opens with an apt quote from Wallace Stevens, in which he says music is a feeling, not sound. Luce moves through the music of his collection like a man in love. He loves not only the music, but the music of love.

In the opening poem, “Music to It,” he reaches us through our souls, those moments we all remember when we wanted the music blaring as we moved through our day. He sways and glides on the Metro to an unheard music strumming through his headphones, and he’s unable to stop moving and tapping. Isn’t this why we all love the music we do? Because it moves us, even when we’re in public and perhaps shy about our love of music.

Luce pays homage to what I’ll call “music memory.” In “An air that kills,” he says, “I hear/you whisper underneath/the song, a memory/that pricks without/the power to console.//” Each of us has those songs or riffs of music that recall memories. I cannot get past a song without recalling some memory or moment or loved one who has passed away. There are so many songs that call to us for its melody, its lyrics, its rhythms, but they also are tied to our lives by memory.

From John Coltrain to Richard Strauss, Luce’s improvisations can leave you breathless, swimming in a sea of bourbon and memory swirling in a glass and chinking ice. And you know that there’s a playlist on Spotify for this collection — how could you not have one! I will definitely be listening as I read this collection again. The delightful rhythm of Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce will carry you away, allowing you to lay your head down and dream away in the “light of a love supreme.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of five books of poems: Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming in 2021). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review, and in several anthologies. He recently retired after 32 years from National Geographic and now lives in Arlington, VA. He is a volunteer writing tutor and mentor with 826DC.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 228 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, is a bilingual collection of love poems in Spanish and English that touches the passionate hearts of us all. It is a love letter to lovers, friends, ourselves, and human kind. Amirthanayagam opens the collection with “On my Body,” exploring the weakness of the body to be fooled by love, whether that is the desire of the body to get close to another only to find out it is not love or a person who tattoos their body for love and be stuck with the reminder that it is a failed relationship. Love in this opening poem is both bliss and pain. How true that is.

I love that this collection is both in Spanish and English. It allowed me to reach back into my memory to find those Spanish words I recall from high school and attempt to live in the language Amirthanayagam wrote the poems in. While my translations did not always match what was written in the English poem, the feelings evoked by the poems were the same. The beauty of language is that it can transcend the barriers we have to create connections, much like love can connect us to one another.

There is a deep longing in Amirthanayagam’s poems. His poems are short but full of poetic longing – to embrace those who have moved, those who are no longer with us, the lovers we remember fondly despite the pain of those relationships ending, and even those we have yet to meet.

Keys (pg. 105)

I would have liked to have taught you
to drive, share the stage
when you presented your first book,

write its prologue. Your poems
accompany me to the rhythm of my pulse.
Cars will become more electric

and I will continue loving what
we could have accomplished
in that other time that was within

our reach and is still present,
an open-ended invitation,
the car ready to start.
Llaves (pg. 104)

Me hubiese gustado enseñarte
a manejar, compartir la mesa
cuando presentabas tu primer libro,

escribir el prólogo. Tus poemas
me acompañan al ritmo de mi pulso;
los autos se volverán más eléctricos

y seguiré amando lo que
podríamos haber logrado
en aquel otro tiempo que estaba

a nuestro alcance y sigue presente,
una invitación sin fecha de caducidad,
el auto listo para encenderse.

In “Between Google and Face, a Letter,” Amirthanayagam speaks to the digital distance many of us face now, making love or the cultivation of love more difficult. “Now when I surf the internet/I see that face like a country/behind the Iron Curtain/that’s now rather digital,//bytes of ones, zeroes and light blocking/Cyrano from his beloved. Who will become/his postman and who will make peace”

One of my favorite poems in the collection comes in the back third, “Sustainable Love,” where the longing is ever present from the man who will not cry for his love or clean the office or check the email hoping for messages, as the oceans continue to erode the shore and the man has little choice but to get back to life and his work. “To Wake Up with Moon and Sea” also explores this longing, but instead of another person, there’s a longing for a home country left behind.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, pays homage to love’s beauty, its heartbreak, its longing, and its desire. Fall through Amirthanayagam’s ventana azul and revel in the beauty of love. A collection you’ll turn to in times of sadness and in celebration.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Indran Amirthanayagam is a Sri Lankan-American poet- diplomat, essayist, translator and musician in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. A member of the U.S. Foreign Service, he is currently oa a domestic assignment in Washington D.C. Amirthanayagam has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), when he was eight years old Amirthanayagam moved with his family to London, England, and at age 14, he moved again to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he began writing poetry. He studied at Punahou School in Honolulu and played cricket at the Honolulu Cricket Club. He then studied English Literature at Haverford College where he also captained their cricket team during his last year. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Amirthanayagam writes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. His Spanish collections include Lírica a tiempo (Mesa Redonda Editorial, Lima, 2020), En busca de posada (Editorial Apogeo Lima 2019), El Infierno de los Pájaros (Resistencia, Mexico City, 2001), El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (CONARTE/Resistencia, Mexico, 2005), Sol Camuflado (Lustra Editores, Lima, May 2011), Sin Adorno, lírica para tiempos neobarrocos (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico, 2013), and Ventana Azul (El Tapiz del Unicornio, Mexico, 2016). His first collection in French, Aller-retour au bord de la mer, was published in 2014 by Legs Editions. Legs also published Il n’est de solitude que l’ile lointaine in 2017. Sur l’île nostalgique was published by L’Harmattan in Paris in 2020. His works in English include BLUE WINDOW (VENTANA AZUL) (DIALOGOS/Lavender Ink, 2021), THE MIGRANT STATES (Hanging Loose Press, 2020), UNCIVIL WAR (Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers, 2013), THE SPLINTERED FACE: TSUNAMI POEMS (HAnging Loose Press, 2008), and THE ELEPHANTS OF RECKONING (Hanging Loose Press, 1993). Check out The Poetry Channel he runs.