Friday, May 27, 2011

What I'm Reading: Sharks in the Rivers

64º ~ weak sun but no wind today, one more cool day before a bit of heat sets in, the robin is on the nest more regularly now (at the beginning of the week, there was still some nest building going on), so I suspect there are eggs in there doing their egg-thing

I confess, Dear Reader, I have a bit of a poet-crush on Ada Limón.  I saw her read poems from Sharks in the River at AWP Chicago, when was that 2008? 2009?  And I've been looking forward to reading the whole book ever since.  It's a shame on me that it took me so long to buy and read the book, which came out in 2010, a testament to a busy life and just how many new books of poetry come out each year.  (One of my summer resolutions is to seriously thin-down my to-read shelf!) 

Sharks in the River does not disappoint.  First, it is a beautifully made book.  Milkweed Editions has long been a favorite of mine, ever since my undergrad days in central Minnesota (they are based in Minneapolis).  Limón's book has just the right heft that says it was made with care.  The cover is a glossy blue, fish-cover, and the weight of the cover stock, and the pages themselves, is luxurious.  It's a paperback with both the front and the back cover containing folded over bits.  I know there is a term for this, something French maybe, but it escapes me at the moment.  Finally, at the finish of the book, I found a statement about the environmental benefits of printing the book on 100% post-consumer waste paper.  (Yes, I read every page!)  Four fully grown trees were spared, not to mention the savings of water, solid waste, and greenhouse gasses.  Amazing!

I know, I know, the quality of the poems is what really matters, but I must praise this book as object as well.

Now, to the poems, these are my back page notes:
a lament to the world
stones & rivers & rain & birds
elegy, loss, melancholy
nostalgia for the natural world
attempt to capture fleeting happiness
confronting what we fear
what is love?
how do we love?
always trying to strip down to the naked truth

The speaker of these poems moves between worlds both urban and natural, but seems most closely connected with that natural world as she attempts to make sense of the fragile human life.  The poems exude a sense of spirituality but not religion, per se.  The speaker struggles with faith in a more abstract way than by naming any formal religion.  Here is a 21st century existentialism mixed with a bit of transcendentalism. 

As one example, here is the ending of one of the first poems, "Flood Coming," which strikes home more forcefully given the ravaging floods that recently invaded Arkansas.

What's left of the woods is closing in.
Don't run.  Open your mouth big
to the rising and hope to your god
your good heart knows how to swim.

While most of the book is made up of one- to two-page lyric poems, the third section (of four) is a stunning long poem, "Fifteen Balls of Feathers," that weaves in various central American myths about hummingbirds. In the sections of this poem, the speaker deals with the coming death of someone close to her.

In section 1, we get the following:

I wanted to be a hummingbird.
.........It made sense to long for rapid wings and the ability to hover always--


Sometimes though, the thought exhausts me and
...................I want to be a slow horse, a tennis shoe.

In section 14, this:

This is not a unique story--
..........what we have in our hands is an unsolvable thing.

It's the passage that perplexes us,
....................this full weight that must take us down.

Throughout the book, the speaker seeks to balance joy and grief, a sense of longing and a sense of contentment.  She is a seeking voice, an unsettled thing that both desires and fears becoming settled. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm struggling to order my own book of lyric poems, and I think Sharks in the Rivers will be a great model to come back to in order to study the placement of the poems.  Today, however, I fell too deeply in love with the book to study it.

I'll leave you with the ending of the penultimate poem, "World Versus Girl."

Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow,
but this stubborn monster-girl, gone all wrong
........with the river's sledge, is not in to your one-way-ness.

World, turn all you want to,
........faster even.  I've come to like the way the breeze feels it rips me limb from limb.

Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Sharks in the Rivers
Ada Limón
Milkweed Editions, 2010


Kathleen said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. I loved learning about it as object! And thanks for your notes, reactions, and excerpts!

Sandy Longhorn said...

You are most welcome, Kathleen.

Josh said...

Thanks for this review, Sandy. For about a month, this collection has been sitting right here above my desk on my "summer: to be read" shelf. It just moved up to the front!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Josh, I don't think you'll be disappointed! Happy reading.