Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Christian Hawkey

A few of us at University Book Store loved The Book of Funnels. And, boy, we love Citizen Of, as well. Here's Hawkey at work:

Blue Yodel #1

Sewn inside a left hip a highway
paved with the blue tongues of coyotes
a song a blue song
I am far from the sound of your pupils

a shower curtain the color
pf your body behind it I
remember a candy that left your lips
& when it left your lips
turned blue &
the mannequin at the front of the science class
with its blue, detachable liver

my heart in high school was constantly
popping out it was ok it was
plastic anyway & Rhonda
the bruise above your right eye
was the center of a blue storm
I wanted to walk through & would have
I'm sorry I walked up to you & tried to lick it

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rick Barot

This is from Want from the wonderful Sarabande Books.


When any word is called for, say that I am of.
When the tornado forms, that is the ruinous
kiss. When the bamboo-green field sways,
think of tea. When the vines thicken in
the heat, this is the medusa head consuming
its own stare. When a man commitedly
steps to the ledge, this is the daguerreotype's
cold glass face. [...]

Barot, a teacher at PLU and Tacoma resident, is one of the most skillfully subtle poets I know. His eye is keen, his mind searching, and his words shimmer on pages.

Offered without comment


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Identifying poets

Tonight is the Dead Poets Memorial Reading at our U District store. That means today is your last chance to enter our Dead Poet Identification Contest. Go!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A. Van Jordan

DC Comic heroes and physicists collide in A. Van Jordan's amazing Quantum Lyrics. The Atom, Hawkman, and Green Lantern appear—as do Feynman, Einstein, and Schrodinger. Thematically, though, the work is much deeper and richer than this. Jordan writes about race, family, film. He's as hard to pin down as (forgive me) an electron. But the poems fall together beautifully, no matter how multifaceted the individual pieces.

Here's a sample:

R & B

Listen long enough to the radio, and you'll think
maybe C. Delores Tucker was right.
While the hip world is falling
in love with rappers with marquee-quality prison records,

I'm falling deeper under the spell of singers
who can still play piano. I never needed my female
vocalists to look good in a thong to feel their voices
in my bones; I never needed the male crooners to carry

guns to know they'd kill for love.
I said this the other night, driving
through Akron a week after my father's funeral,
trying to find a station without gansta rap

or smooth jazz. For years, I watched
my father die, and when the day came,
my father had already predicted
the Chicago White Sox would win

it all this year. And on TV
in his hospice care room,
as he took his last breath, Jermaine Dye hit
the first home run of the series...

The narrator of this poem eventually finds himself at an Arby's, where he settles an argument about the music playing in the store. He confirms that, yes, it is Ron Isley singing, not Al Green. And he takes comfort in the fact that the two teenagers having the argument have heard of either of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jorie Graham

To celebrate Earth Day, here's a selection from Jorie Graham's new book, Sea Change, a book about nature out of balance:

Here once sat a selection from Graham's book. Thing is, the formatting and line breaks went all astray. I will scan the first few lines of the poem and upload a photo when possible. For now, trust me that the book is good.

Chuck Palahniuk is coming to town...

So you better be good, for goodness sake. May 29. Check the listing here.

We received a very large box in the mail from Chuck. It instructs us not to open it until the event. We are, as you can imagine, on pins and needles, wondering what is in the darn thing.

Here are a couple of Chuck things. First, go here and see if you can guess which photo was submitted to Public Lives/Private Lives: Photo Voyeurism by Mr. Palahniuk.

Next, watch Cassie Wright, star of Chuck's new book, Snuff, interviewed here and here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

August Kleinzahler

This is from Sleeping It Off in Rapid City:


I have loved the air outside Shop-Rite Liquor
on summer evenings
better than the Marin hills at dusk
lavender and gold
stretching miles to the sea.

At the junction, up from the synagogue
a weeknight, necessarily
and with my father—
a sale on German beer.

Air full of living dust:
bus exhaust, ariborne grains of pizza crust
wounded crystals
appearing, disappearing
among streetlights and unsuccessful neon.

Kleinzahler is a restless poet, abrupt, opinionated, brilliant. The text of his 2004 pasting of the Garrison Keillor edited Good Poems is here. Do I agree with? Oh, not entirely. It's a powerful piece, though, worth looking at.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Courtney Queeney

From Filibuster to Delay a Kiss:


The assorted men in white coats diagnosed me as lack of sleep
but I've never slept eight hours nightly and this unsettling

at the edges of my vision, the flashing lights, was new.
Ghost insects. Waver shakes. Lightning in the negative.

Objects stood still when I looked at them straight.
Wandering around the municipal city with its severe white noons

and packs of roving pigeons and spoked rotaries
I'd have to cross three streets just to make a right angle,

I kept hearing the men at the car wash mumble, Courtney
, and then the plaid and pearled couples

carrying their tiny manicured dogs were slipping it in
their chat, Courtney, but meant for me to hear

and I heard and I thought Even my breakdowns
will be keyed to this name, my ego's only note

* * *

The voice in her poems has this strange distance. It makes for a nice counterpoint to how close to the bone they are thematically.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A THREE Recommendation day!

The shelving has been piling up, so the recommendations had to wait. Today, we'll have three for you.

The first is Shattered Sonnets Love Cards and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Here's a sample:

a small number

So far have managed, Not
Much. So far, a few fractures, a few factions, a Few
Friends. So farm a husband, a husbandry, Nothing
Too complex, so far, followd the Simple
Instructions. Read them twice. So far, memorized three
Buried a couple deaths, those turning faces. So far, two or
Sonnets. So far, some berrigan and Some
Keats. So far, a scanty list. So far, a dark wood. So far, Anti-
Thesis and then, maybe, a little thesis. So farm a small Number
Of emily's letters. So far, tim not dead. So far, Matt
Not dead. So far, jim, So far, Love
And love, not so far. Not so love. So far, no-Hope.
So far, all face. So far, scrapped and scraped, but Not
With grace. So far, not Very.

I'm hypnotized by the rhythm of this one. And she masterfully drops the Subject, doesn't she? The poems do a really nice job of playing with language, but still having an emotional and personal core. She never tries to hide behind language games, but she can still be at play with words and keep readers invested. Really good stuff.

Recommendation two is The Romance of Happy Workers by Anne Boyer. A small sample:

A Twilight of Minor Poets
(this is the cow with the crumpled horn)

I once thought we were beautiful because we were beasts
I once found some pigs, so rumpy and pink!

Inconsequential! Sublimely compelled!
Dork pigs, quasi-canonically bent w/ grunt syllable.

I once thought we were beautiful because we meant nothing

I'm a big fan of Anne Boyer's exclamation points in this poem. I especially like it when she shouts "Inconsequential!" at me.

And, finally, here's a little bit from Cathy Park Hong's new book, Dance Dance Revolution:

Tide Pool

O umbilical blue sea's bob y warble,
en summa's eve, Sah y me scoota'd barnacle
boat off de shores, leaned boat's
salt crack rim to lamplight de sea.

We flashlight motion o silva fish swarm,
small as earwigs, fish scittilating en sync,
glinting into mouthing silva auroras,
a shadow flashing o form,

at dawn, Sah bring me ta tide pool...

Dance Dance Revolution is a tour through a fictional resort called The Desert. Many of the poems are narrated by a sort of Virgil-from-Dante's-Inferno character in a (as you can see above) hybrid version of the English language. It's a beautiful and strange book. Worth a read.

Monday, April 14, 2008

E.E. Cummings

First, listen to Pam read some E.E. Cummings.

Next, appreciate the interesting way E.E. Cummings is an interesting figure in literature because of the way his work shows the evolution of the artist and her/his control over type-setting. (From the typewriter to the word processor—to the way Dave Eggers writes his books in page layout software instead of Word.)

After that, buy some E.E. Cummings.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Liam Rector

And unflinching poem from The Executive Director of the Fallen World:

Woman in the Summer Southern Night

So depressed I thought
Sleeping outside under the stars
Might do something to put

A dent in the biochemistry
Choking me, making me forget
Anything that might make life

Worth living, I went outside
To sleep but found it too
God-damned hot to sleep even

Out there under the stars.
And still I could not find sleep
When a woman came

Screaming from the place
Out back of ours—"Lord, God,"
She said, "I didn't mean

To do it! Lord God I didn't mean
To do it to him!"
She went on like this,

Making it all the way
Out to the highway, screaming
This way all the way.

Almost a half hour of this
Until the highway patrol
Pulled in, followed shortly

Byt the coroner, and finally I got up
And found the woman
Had chopped her husband's

Head off with a hatchet, which
Struck me, a young boy
Unable to find sleep, even

Out there under the stars,
Way out there, come from my room
To try and sleep some,

It struck me,
Given the humidity
As something almost inevitable.

Liam Rector, 1949 - 2007.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thomas Lux

I would like to put up sections of a wonderful Thomas Lux poem—from his new book God Particles—even though doing so puts me in great personal danger:

Eyes Scooped Out and Replaced by Hot Coals

The above-the-punishment, the mild-
but-just punishment, symbolic,
the great advance our planet
most needs.
and binding, this: that the eyes shall be gouged out
and replaced by hot coals
in the head, the blockhead,
of each citizen who,
upon reaching his/her majority,
has yet to read
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1819 - 1891), American novelist
and poet.

I await my hot coals. I'm sorry. I know I deserve them. (This year, though. I promise. This is my year to read Moby-Dick. Really.)

I have a copy of an old Thomas Lux book and I swear he looks like a member of the Rolling Stones on the cover. Here, look:

There's a wonderfully dark edge to the poems of Thomas Lux. The author photo (from 1979) seems to me to speak volumes about his work. His work is smart, a little formal—but the top button is unbuttoned under the tie.

He doesn't look like he suffers fools gladly, and he doesn't look like he suffers lazy poems gladly, either. So he simply doesn't write them.

A Two Recommendation Day

Because I was unable to post a poetry recommendation yesterday, today there will be two. First, a book of poems for young readers recommended by Kids Bookseller Anna:

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, poems and (delightful) illustrations by Adam Rex

Rex’s mastery of comedy through oil paint and rhyme shines forth in this wacky and witty picture book of poetry about monsters. It’s tough to describe the brilliance of these poems but, mostly, they concern the various problems monsters experience. Examples: “The Creature from the Black Lagoon Doesn’t Wait an Hour Before Swimming,” and “Bigfoot Can’t Believe You Called Him Yeti Just Now.” Throughout the pages the poor Phantom of the Opera just can’t get the most obnoxious songs out of his head, and these poems are all written so that they can be sung to the tune of his latest ohrwurm. Rex has created what we think is an heir to the Stinky Cheese Man throne.

A favorite:

“Now the Phantom of the Opera Can’t Get ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ Out of His Head”

Bald and pale and masked and ugly, the
Phantom of the Opera is writing, but
when he knows that he can’t compose
he goes, “AAAHRG!”

Every song comes out a samba, al-
though he wants to write an aria, so
his top blows and he tears his clothes
and goes, “AAAHRG!”

A second recommendation will appear on the blog later today.

Celebrate Mathematics Awareness Month

Yet more from our Used Book Buyer—and bookselling machine—Brad. It's a list of books you can read to celebrate the other April holiday, Mathematical Awareness Month. Says he:

To celebrate April as Mathematical Awareness Month, why not read some great fiction in which math plays a central part? Herewith, a brief list:

Obedience: A Novel by Will Lavender

A new thriller in which the students in Professor Williams’ “Logic and Reasoning 204” are asked to find a seemingly hypothetical missing child, Polly, who’s peril begins to sound terrifyingly real.

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani

14 year old Rumi is a math prodigy pressured by her Indian émigré father to become the youngest student to ever attend Oxford. Rumi has ideas of her own.

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt

Leavitt’s brilliant new novel based on the real life collaboration of two of the 20th Century’s greatest mathematicians: G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan.

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

A former “Nick’s Pick” and great mathematical murder mystery.

Flatland by Edwin Abbott

One of the greatest math books ever, and a delightful introduction to geometry.

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

Scientific wizard Nikola Tesla makes friends with a New York chambermaid. Time travel, romance, and delightful prose.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

A classic little fable of Einstein in the miraculous year of 1905.

The Parrot’s Theorem by Denis Guedj

A talking bird may hold the key to the unfinished work of a great mathematician.

Turing: A Novel about Computation by Christos H. Papadimitriou

A great nerd love triangle of computers, calculations, and travel.

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

The great Italian fabulist here tells stories that include characters who are, in fact, mathematical formulae. A dizzying trip.

And for the younger readers, a list from our Kids Bookseller, Anna:

Math-y books for kids & teens

How Big Is a Foot? by Rolf Myller

This fun early reader tells the story of a rather spatially-challenged kingdom, and how the king invents feet—the measuring kind, of course.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green is absolutely one of our favorite Young Adult authors, and this charming novel about a teenage child prodigy trying to write an equation to predict heartbreak is one of the smartest (and funniest) books on our shelves.

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz

Poor Alexander (of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day fame) is now learning subtraction the hard way—watching his precious dollar disappear a few cents at a time.

Wild Fibonacci: Nature’s Secret Code Revealed by Joy N. Hulme, illustrated by Carol Schwartz

After a concise introduction to Fibonacci numbers, this incredible book introduces us to Fibonacci creatures, animals that have a part of their body that fits the Fibonacci spiral: tusks, teeth, tails, and more.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

A boy who thinks math is a waste of time is visited in his dreams by the number devil, who shows him the magic and wonder of numbers.

Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert

A grandfather tells the tale of two fox fairies to his granddaughter, using tangrams to help her visualize the story. Another story featuring these ancient Chinese puzzle pieces is the middle grade novel The Wright Three by Blue Balliett, a mystery that is solved with the help of tangrams.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Who can forget Milo and Tock’s travels through Digitopolis, with the Dodecahedron and the Mathemagician showing the way, in Norton Juster’s and illustrator Jules Feiffer’s classic fantasy?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Yannis Ritsos

Here's a recommedation from Jay, our Head Book Buyer:

Monochords by Yannis Ritsos

"A handsome volume of deceptively simple, yet elegant poems. Perfect for reading while riding the bus or when the kids are busy playing video games."

And really, aren't all books of poetry appropriate to those two activities? (If the kids are playing Everyday Shooter or Crayon Physics Deluxe, you might want to divide your attention between the game and the book.)

Here's a few short pieces from the book:


With her blue eyes she gives color to the world.


Every second a tree, a bird, a smokestack, a woman.


He speaks about the poor. His hand becomes a river.


You'll drill a number of holes into a reed before it will play a song.

George Saunders reads your story and tells you why it's not good.

Check out this eBay auction.

Tayari Jones organized it to benefit the mother and son who were brutalized in Dunbar Village.

Other manuscript critiques are being auctioned off, as well, including one by Jones, Laila Lalami, and poet D. Nurske.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Mark Doty

Another quick poetry recommendation from Brad in Used Books:

"Doty's first selection from all his previous books of poetry is a major event! Doty is a disciplined stylist who brings an entirely contemporary experience and sensibility to classical forms. My favorite poet writing today."

Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

Here's a really beautiful stanza from a poem called "House of Beauty":

Who lobbed the firebottle through the glass,
in among the cremes and thrones,
the helmets and clippers and combs,
who set the House of Beauty burning?

Isn't "firebottle" a wonderful word? I bet Heather McHugh—the wordiest woman in the Northwest—would have a field day looking closely at it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

James Tate

First, a bit of a prose poem by James Tate. His new book is called The Ghost Soldiers. This is from "What I Learned from the Elves":

When I got home from the office, I found that the elves had rearranged my furniture. At first, I was angry, but, then, I realized it was a much more sensible arrangement, and more attractive, too. I wanted to thank the little devils, but you could never find them when you wanted to. They lived in the forest right beside my house, and it was dense and dark in there. Occasionally, I would catch sight of them running from a neighbor's house, arms full of silver tureens and pitchers. Usually, they knew I saw them, but they knew, too, that I never reported them to anyone. So, I guess this free interior design was their way of paying me back. It's not the kind of thing you want to mention to anyone else. "Elves rearranged my furniture, and they did a brilliant job." "That's great! I wonder if they'd help me?" "I'll talk to them and see what I can do." That is not a likely exchange. People are so narrow minded. They walk around with blinders on. We are small and helpless and riddled with fears. At least I am.[...]

This is from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor:

"Christmas morning my mother and I left the house in town and turned down in front of the Mansion. There we espied this walking creature, seven feet tall, in a flowing black karacul robe with a Russian hat a foot and a half high on its head. "What is that?" my mother said, stopping the car. We looked close and perceived it was Maryat [Lee, a good friend of O'Connor's, also a writer]. She had blown in in the middle of the night as is her wont. Some stage designer had made the clothes for her. She went to every party that the college people had the three days she was here and wore those clothes."

This letter is addressed to James Tate. It is, I'm almost completely certain, a different James Tate. This one is from Milledgville, and when O'Connor writes to him, he's in Iceland with the military.

I picked up a copy of The Habit of Being yesterday, though, and this was the first letter I turned to, and then I decided that today I would suggest you read some James Tate.

What I like about James Tate is the way a prose poem of his will start in one place, and then go someplace else, allow you to make some sort of semi-conscious connection, and then go back.

I like looking up James Tate on Wikipedia, too, because the disambiguation page says that "James Tate" is a "human name."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mark Strand

Today, our Used Book Buyer, Brad, would like to suggest you consider picking up a copy of New Selected Poems by Mark Strand. Here's what he has to say:

The new collection includes all Strand's previously selected poems, and incorporates poems from both his more recent collections. Strand, a former Laureate, is know for the often dreamlike quality of his poems; using everyday environments and experiences, and deceptively simple language, to reproduce moments of often other-worldly clarity. A modern master.

Here's some Strand poetry. It's from "My Son":

My son
my only son,
the one I never had,
would be a man today.

He moves
in the wind,
fleshless, nameless.

he comes
and leans his head,
lighter than air
against my shoulder

and I ask him,
where do you stay,
where do you hide?

To learn the boy's answer, buy the book.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

BAD BAD by Chelsey Minnis

The book BAD BAD by Chelsey Minnis (published by Fence Books) begins with a series of prefaces. There are 68 of them, in fact. This is a line from "Preface 10":

People say it is very dangerous to write poems but they only mean that it is dangerous to your career as a poet...

How about that for a statement of intent? There's an amazing amount of chutzpah in the line, and in the poems that follow. Her work is antagonistic, fragmented, petulant, smart-assed, and singularly, honestly voiced. It's cagey, and unbelievably funny, too.

This is a bit from "Anti Vitae":

1977 - 1984

Nothing of interest.


Performed poorly in math. Taken aside by math teacher.
Receded into mediocrity of math.

D+ in conduct.

1985 - 1988

College application rejected by Cornell, Tufts, Northwestern
University Dartmouth, etc...

45% in math.


Failed to appear for graduate creative writing workshop. Class
discusses poem without me.

Mispronounce "Kant."


Unimpressive academic performance. Idle.

Lose essay contest.

Fail to get any recommendations from professors for graduate
school. All applications rejected.

1991 - 1992

Mental Health questioned.

I love the levels that list works on. It's self-deprecating, sure. It's also withering in its assessment of what is generally regarded as achievement, and of the people who make decisions about achievement. What is worthy and what isn't.

And that's the point of many of the poems. What's important and what isn't? What's worthy of a poetic treatment, and what isn't? What's a real poem, and what's academic frippery, a poem by the numbers, or intentional obscurity?

All this is Minnis' straight ahead (and sometimes downright defiant) tone:

from "Preface 48"

I would like to say..."This poem was influenced by Marianne Moore!"

But, "I have nothing to say to Marianne Moore and she has nothing to say to me!"

(Another quick observation: in one of the prefaces, she refers to her talent as inside her like an "épée." I love this quick, cutting tonal shift. Is there a more "high culture" touchstone than fencing? And right there, in the midst of this wonderful onslaught? Such a good word choice.)

Let's here it for BAD BAD by Chelsey Minnis. If you like a copy of the book, call us. We can order it. It should also be on our website, soon.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Robert Fagles

Here we go, poetry fans—a month of poetry suggestions. Like last year, I will do my best to write a little something every weekday about a book of poetry available at University Book Store.

Readers of the Classics may be aware that Robert Fagles, translator extraordinaire, passed away at the end of March. Let's kick off National Poetry Month with a climactic moment from his translation of The Iliad. Here, Priam begs for the body of his son Hector, slain by Achilles:

"Fifty sons I had when the sons of Achea came,
ninteen born to me from a single mother's womb
and the rest by other women in the palace. Many,
most of them violent Ares cut the knees from under.
But one, one was left me, to guard my walls, my people—
the one you killed the other day, defending his fatherland,
my Hector! It's all for him I've come to the ships now,
to win him back from you—I bring a priceless ransom.
Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right,
remember your own father! I deserve more pity...
I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before—
I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son."

A story I've heard: when the writer John Gardner rejected his post-modern leanings, he claimed that artists and writers should aspire to the spirit of the above moment.

In response, John Barth (I think it was Barth) said artists and writers should instead aspire to the moment in Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage when Aeneas weeps over a statue of Priam begging for the body of Hector.

Thanks for all your hard work, Robert Fagles.

tell all your friends!