Sunday, July 3, 2011
What I'm Reading: Grist Issue 4
86º~ clear skies, nothing but sun and the tiniest hint of a breeze, heat, heat, heat, no rain in sight
In the midst of our cat crisis, it turns out that reading journals is a good fit. I tried reading a few complete collections, but my mind wandered or it was time to give another dose of medication or I just got tired. Being able to dip in and out of a journal, to absorb one poem and let it sit for a bit, has been great.
This morning, I finished Issue Four of Grist, a journal that was kind enough to publish me a few years ago, and is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. This is an annual journal and meaty, weighing in at right around 200 pages. A lot of bang for the buck.
While I did try on the short fiction and essays, I wasn't as good about finishing each one. (Sometimes I wonder if poetry is killing my ability to read sustained prose.) I was, however, drawn to "Bloody Feet," a brief essay by Ira Sukrungruang about connecting with his ancestral homeland of Thailand by becoming a Buddhist monk there for a month. The piece kept my attention because Sukrungruang discussed landscape and how we often flit about on its surface. Only after having to walk barefoot in the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, did he really begin to understand his connection to the country where his parents were born. By the end of the essay, I was dreaming up a scheme to walk some miles in Black Hawk County, Iowa, the next chance I get. And to walk those miles with the careful attention of spiritual practice. Probably, I will wear shoes.
As for the poetry, well, that's where I fell in love again and again.
First, Matthew Nienow's "After the Earthquake, the Great Operatic Singer Tests His Voice" provides a persona poem from the SF earthquake of 1906. One passage: "Screams punctuate / the dawn. How quickly life becomes a cinematic / undertaking-- / clipped reels stuttering..."
Hats off to the editors for finding a way to print several poems with lines too long for portrait alignment. So, as I turned the page, I found a poem printed in landscape and simply turned the book 90º to read it. As someone whose lines can get a bit lengthy, I applaud the effort to hold true to the poet's vision without shrinking the font or wrapping the lines. John Anderson's "Imminent Domain" is one such poem. The lines are amazing exercises in merging form and content.
Jason Schossler's "Letter to Daniel LaRusso, Karate Kid" uses popular culture to shine a light on class issues in America and does it well. Schossler has three poems in the issue. The other two use pop culture icons as well, for those who gravitate in that direction.
Another highlight is James May's persona poem "Esteesee," which begins "I have also mistaken strong desire / for talent...." Oh, my, one of my deepest fears about my own work!
"Trespassing in my Childhood Home" by Johnathon Williams makes my heart beat in kinship with the speaker. In the pasture, "Wrecked cars bleed rust / into iron-sick earth" and the once fertile land bears "a scrap yard no harvest."
Chelsea Rathburn's "Small Deaths" draws images of that "terrible beauty" of death and the body, in this case, the body of a young possum and later of a baby bird in formaldehyde. Shivers throughout.
For fans of landscape lyrics, Adam Clay provides "Nocturne for a Flock of January Crows." One passage: "A starting point always distracts // the vision in such a way that the weather / has changed, and we are suddenly dressed poorly // for the occasion." (There's also a transcript of an email exchange between Adam Clay and Timothy Donnelly in this issue that shouldn't be missed.)
The issue ends with several poems by Adonis, translated by Khaled Mattawa. Three of the four poems are brief and delicate, but packed with a super charge. The fourth is a longer meditation, no less powerful.
This is just a glimpse at what the journal has to offer; there's much more than I can mention here.
For full disclosure, several of these poets are my friends or they've published me in their journals. Several of them are not known to me beyond the page.