Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "Genesis," by K.A. Hays

"Genesis" appears in K.A. Hays's collection Dear Apocalypse, released by Carnegie Mellon Press in 2009. From 2008-2010, she was the Emerging Writer Fellow at Bucknell University. As always, read! Check it out from a library or buy--the link above takes you to the B&N page.


The ocean chafed and slashed when I was four,
of course. The sand smoldered and the rocks
bladed pools that filled and drained. The hub

of all this wonder, I hunched over the coquinas--mollusks
the size of a toenail--digging and laying them out
along the bruise of sea. I made them sun-glossed, perfect.

They fought my will, shone nakedly, snaked down.
It thrilled me, their insistence--that a being with only a foot
could want and believe in someplace after here,

choosing to leave the whip of sun and churn of breakers,
headed somewhere freer, darker.
I took up my shovel. I idled away.

Monday, September 27, 2010

18 Miles of Books

A few mornings ago, I was talking on the phone with a friend and planning an initial excursion into New York City. I've been in Newark for more than a month now, and I decided that it was about time that I went into the City and loafed around for a while. My friend mentioned the Strand: "I see people in D.C. all the time who have Strand tote bags. 16 miles of books! It sounds like your sort of place."

"I thought it was 15 miles of books."

"I'm pretty sure," she said, "that it's 16 miles."

Well, we were both wrong: the Strand has been--and is still--expanding. It's a bookstore I've wanted to go to for a few years; I still can't forgive myself for missing City Lights when I was in San Fran a few years back, and the Strand bags I've seen on-campus at Susquehanna and Bucknell were walking advertisements for this bookstore. When I arrived at the Strand's location, 828 Broadway, near Union Square, I immediately noticed that the number on the Strand's awning, which announces the miles of books in a white sans serif font, offered the verdict on the collection: 18 miles.

Notably, the "8" was slightly translucent and almost masked a "6." I couldn't see if there was another layer underneath that, the possibility of the "6" disguising a "5."

In a time when a lot of bookstores are experiencing troubles and either closing down or catering to electronic market, the Strand stands a testament to the existence of book lovers everywhere. It's more than a tourist attraction: it's four floors of books, containing titles from university presses, indie presses, and mainstream publishers alike. And the Strand handles used and collectible books, as well.

One search I always perform in bookstores is the quick glance for books by my past instructors. The short version: successful on all counts, even academic monographs.

It's difficult to amble through the Strand--the shelves are stacked and leave only narrow walkways between them. There was a girl nestled against the shelves in one of the fiction aisles, and I had the somewhat awkward experience of towering over her on a stepladder as she swaddled herself with a scarf and, cramped in her corner, continued to read despite the hordes kindly elbowing each other for access to the stacks.

But this girl and I were the oddballs in that we were exploring the Strand alone; most of the patrons were accompanied by a friend, a lover, a partner, with whom they investigated the many stacks.

Books may not always be the dominant media for reading. I certainly have no problem with the e-reader revolution (Moby Dick or Ulysses on the Kindle, for instance, is infinitely more portable than their ink-and-paper counterparts), but we still live in the cult of the book: a society in which a tote bag becomes a universal advertisement as easily recognizable as a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. And there's something about the physical object itself that unites people--as friends, as readers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Felicia's Journey

I've recently read William Trevor's Felicia's Journey, a short novel about a pregnant, young Irish woman who crosses over to England in search of her child's father, a man who has been working in England. The story struck me as something strangely familiar, in how Trevor grapples with the realities of economic hardships and the closed-mindedness of small communities.

The novel seemed like a snapshot of small-town culture that's equally relevant in Pennsylvania or in Ireland; Felicia has to consider the perspectives of community members, of her father and brothers, and the legacy that she has inherited simply by being Irish in the twentieth century.

What follows is a narrative that, in its depths of psychological realism and straight matter-of-fact tone, that possesses the qualities of Joyce in Dubliners: We're united with Felicia as she undergoes a needle-in-a-haystack search for her child's father and encounters sensations of paralysis in Ireland and in England.

But the novel probes depths aside from Felicia's own personal psychology; she encounters and befriends a few homeless folk and a few religious zealots throughout the course of the novel, and Trevor displays through these characters the hopelessness of lost causes.

Yet--and here, I won't spoil an ending--Trevor manages to argue that we can lose and surrender, or we can lose and continue surviving, regardless of the costs.

Felicia's Journey is far from an emotionally uplifting read, but William Trevor executes an otherwise dreary narrative with a touch of grace, wit, and sensitivity. Trevor's delicate consideration of those frequently overlooked is well worth a notice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Real Post...soon!

Sorry for the delay--a lot going on at once right now! There will be a real post again by the end of the week. Sorry for my delinquency and my negligence!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Future of the Library

Recently, Will Gompertz, author of the BBC blog Gomp/arts, wrote a piece on the future of the local library. It's an interesting piece that discusses the range of borrowing possibilities from grocery store checkout lines to the local pub. The central crux of Gompertz's post is, "How do we keep the lending library relevant?"

The answer, perhaps, lies in digital lending. Okay, maybe it seems daft, but here's my thought: There are e-readers out to wazoo, the iPad, the iPod, [not-so]smartphones, and several dozen other ways to read something electronically. Many of these devices are equipped with wifi capability or attached to a 3G wireless network. (In the instance of the Amazon Kindle, the Sprint wifi doesn't even cost anything--as opposed to the AT&T package offered with Apple's iPad, aka the iPod that toked up on technology growth hormone.)

The idea sparked after I was checking out textbooks for a course I'm teaching and noticed that Barnes&Noble now offers a "rent" option on textbooks. For a fee that's less than the cost of a used book, you can borrow a book for the duration of the term and then return it to the store. Then I got my NetFlix in the mail, and...

Well, here's the story: digital lending should be perfectly possible. A "NetFlix" for books would no doubt be too costly, unless rented items were shipped media mail, but the variety of e-readers should, in theory, offer readers great possibilities. Think of it like The New York Times subscription you can get for your Kindle, but instead for your local library. You pay the library an acceptable amount, and you get a one-year subscription (perhaps through Amazon or B&N or Apple, depending upon your library's e-reader preference) to electronic rentals. You can download books that you've "rented," then "send" them back.

I'm no tech whiz, and I'm aware that the idea is fraught with difficulties--precisely because of the broad scope of the e-reader market and other compatibility issues--but it may allow the library to continue bringing in some monetary resources while still protecting knowledge. It pays libraries, who in turn pay our librarians, who in turn are making sure that libraries continue to function and collect knowledge, entertainment, and all that. Something to think about.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "Falling," by James Dickey

"Falling," by James Dickey

A 29-year-old stewardess fell ... to her
death tonight when she was swept
through an emergency door that sud-
denly sprang open ... The body ...
was found ... three hours after the

—New York Times

The states when they black out and lie there rolling when they turn
To something transcontinental move by drawing moonlight out of the great
One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip some sleeper next to
An engine is groaning for coffee and there is faintly coming in
Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks
Of trays she rummages for a blanket and moves in her slim tailored
Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew

The door down with a silent blast from her lungs frozen she is black
Out finding herself with the plane nowhere and her body taking by the throat
The undying cry of the void falling living beginning to be something
That no one has ever been and lived through screaming without enough air
Still neat lipsticked stockinged girdled by regulation her hat
Still on her arms and legs in no world and yet spaced also strangely
With utter placid rightness on thin air taking her time she holds it
In many places and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems
To slow she develops interest she turns in her maneuverable body

To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her
Self in low body-whistling wrapped intensely in all her dark dance-weight
Coming down from a marvellous leap with the delaying, dumfounding ease
Of a dream of being drawn like endless moonlight to the harvest soil
Of a central state of one’s country with a great gradual warmth coming
Over her floating finding more and more breath in what she has been using
For breath as the levels become more human seeing clouds placed honestly
Below her left and right riding slowly toward them she clasps it all
To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways and
Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide wider and suck
All the heat from the cornfields can go down on her back with a feeling
Of stupendous pillows stacked under her and can turn turn as to someone
In bed smile, understood in darkness can go away slant slide
Off tumbling into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread
Or whirl madly on herself in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth
Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon. There is time to live
In superhuman health seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing
An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it arriving
In a square town and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches
The moon by its one shaken side scaled, roaming silver My God it is good
And evil lying in one after another of all the positions for love
Making dancing sleeping and now cloud wisps at her no
Raincoat no matter all small towns brokenly brighter from inside
Cloud she walks over them like rain bursts out to behold a Greyhound
Bus shooting light through its sides it is the signal to go straight
Down like a glorious diver then feet first her skirt stripped beautifully
Up her face in fear-scented cloths her legs deliriously bare then
Arms out she slow-rolls over steadies out waits for something great
To take control of her trembles near feathers planes head-down
The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head gold eyes the insight-
eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops a taste for chicken overwhelming
Her the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars
Freight trains looped bridges enlarging the moon racing slowly
Through all the curves of a river all the darks of the midwest blazing
From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white the smothering chickens
Huddle for over them there is still time for something to live
With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop a hurtling a fall
That is controlled that plummets as it wills turns gravity
Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon shining
New Powers there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing
But the whole night time for her to remember to arrange her skirt
Like a diagram of a bat tightly it guides her she has this flying-skin
Made of garments and there are also those sky-divers on tv sailing
In sunlight smiling under their goggles swapping batons back and forth
And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving
Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion white teeth nowhere
She is screaming singing hymns her thin human wings spread out
From her neat shoulders the air beast-crooning to her warbling
And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world now
She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape watching it lose
And gain get back its houses and peoples watching it bring up
Its local lights single homes lamps on barn roofs if she fell
Into water she might live like a diver cleaving perfect plunge

Into another heavy silver unbreathable slowing saving
Element: there is water there is time to perfect all the fine
Points of diving feet together toes pointed hands shaped right
To insert her into water like a needle to come out healthily dripping
And be handed a Coca-Cola there they are there are the waters
Of life the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir so let me begin
To plane across the night air of Kansas opening my eyes superhumanly
Bright to the damned moon opening the natural wings of my jacket
By Don Loper moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water
One cannot just fall just tumble screaming all that time one must use
It she is now through with all through all clouds damp hair
Straightened the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing
New darks new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos

And night a gradual warming a new-made, inevitable world of one’s own
Country a great stone of light in its waiting waters hold hold out
For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body
And fly and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned
Water stored up for her for years the arms of her jacket slipping
Air up her sleeves to go all over her? What final things can be said
Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night
Air to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself
Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward the blazing-bare lake
Her skirts neat her hands and face warmed more and more by the air
Rising from pastures of beans and under her under chenille bedspreads
The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding
On the scratch-shining posts of the bed dreaming of female signs
Of the moon male blood like iron of what is really said by the moan
Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight passing
Over brush fires burning out in silence on little hills and will wake
To see the woman they should be struggling on the rooftree to become
Stars: for her the ground is closer water is nearer she passes
It then banks turns her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls
Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must
Do something with water fly to it fall in it drink it rise
From it but there is none left upon earth the clouds have drunk it back
The plants have sucked it down there are standing toward her only
The common fields of death she comes back from flying to falling
Returns to a powerful cry the silent scream with which she blew down
The coupled door of the airliner nearly nearly losing hold
Of what she has done remembers remembers the shape at the heart
Of cloud fashionably swirling remembers she still has time to die
Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour
Of cornfields and have enough time to kick off her one remaining
Shoe with the toes of the other foot to unhook her stockings
With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair
Near death when the body will assume without effort any position
Except the one that will sustain it enable it to rise live
Not die nine farms hover close widen eight of them separate, leaving
One in the middle then the fields of that farm do the same there is no
Way to back off from her chosen ground but she sheds the jacket
With its silver sad impotent wings sheds the bat’s guiding tailpiece
Of her skirt the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse the intimate
Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost
Of a virgin sheds the long windsocks of her stockings absurd
Brassiere then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming
Off her: no longer monobuttocked she feels the girdle flutter shake
In her hand and float upward her clothes rising off her ascending
Into cloud and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe
Like a dumb bird and now will drop in soon now will drop

In like this the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas down from all
Heights all levels of American breath layered in the lungs from the frail
Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly
And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after
Her last superhuman act the last slow careful passing of her hands
All over her unharmed body desired by every sleeper in his dream:
Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart’s blood
Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves
Arisen at sunrise the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn
Toward clouds all feel something pass over them as she passes
Her palms over her long legs her small breasts and deeply between
Her thighs her hair shot loose from all pins streaming in the wind
Of her body let her come openly trying at the last second to land
On her back This is it this
All those who find her impressed
In the soft loam gone down driven well into the image of her body
The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep
In her mortal outline in the earth as it is in cloud can tell nothing
But that she is there inexplicable unquestionable and remember
That something broke in them as well and began to live and die more
When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth
Caught her interrupted her maiden flight told her how to lie she cannot
Turn go away cannot move cannot slide off it and assume another
Position no sky-diver with any grin could save her hold her in his arms
Plummet with her unfold above her his wedding silks she can no longer
Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife
Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls or all the back-breaking whores
Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one
Breath it is all gone and yet not dead not anywhere else
Quite lying still in the field on her back sensing the smells
Of incessant growth try to lift her a little sight left in the corner
Of one eye fading seeing something wave lies believing
That she could have made it at the best part of her brief goddess
State to water gone in headfirst come out smiling invulnerable
Girl in a bathing-suit ad but she is lying like a sunbather at the last
Of moonlight half-buried in her impact on the earth not far
From a railroad trestle a water tank she could see if she could
Raise her head from her modest hole with her clothes beginning
To come down all over Kansas into bushes on the dewy sixth green
Of a golf course one shoe her girdle coming down fantastically
On a clothesline, where it belongs her blouse on a lightning rod:

Lies in the fields in this field on her broken back as though on
A cloud she cannot drop through while farmers sleepwalk without
Their women from houses a walk like falling toward the far waters
Of life in moonlight toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms
Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands that tragic cost
Feels herself go go toward go outward breathes at last fully
Not and tries less once tries tries ah, god—