Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What I'm Reading: Having Cut the Sparrow's Heart

79º ~ bright sun, slight breeze, birdsong, pretty much a perfect spring day

Some years ago, before I started posting my mini-personal responses to books here, I read Markham's first book, Ninety-five Nights of Listening, which won the Bakeless Prize and was published by Mariner Books.  I fell in love with Markham's work, I fell hard.  So, when I saw that she had a new book coming out in 2010 from New Issues, I was thrilled, and I put it on my list.  Somehow, I never got around to ordering it.  When I was at AWP 2012, I meant to get a copy and forgot, so this year at AWP, I made the New Issues table my first stop in the book fair and bought a copy of Having Cut the Sparrow's Heart.

Markham's book has been on the top of my to-read pile since I returned from Boston in March.  Yesterday and today, I sank into this amazing collection.

Having Cut the Sparrow's Heart, like Ninety-five Nights of Listening, is hugely influenced by Markham's experiences living in Japan and her studying and translating of Japanese poetry.  Sparrow's Heart is a book of fairy tales of Markham's own invention, weaving together strands and themes of Eastern traditional tales (that I know only slightly) with themes of the modern, fragile, global community.  This is a book of danger and a search for comfort that isn't always found.  The speaker always remains separate, foreign, at odds with both the natural world and the people, flora, & fauna found in it.

Here is an example from the opening of "Having Overheard Talk of the Fates, the Clearest Answer is Silence."

Low voices carry on wind.  One of the children
will burst into luck, the other will curl
into ash.  That year, the solstice-flower
unfolded red petals all at once,
over grass so sharp you could slice
fingers on it.

And here, another passage, this time from the middle of "The Outing."

                Night birds
Stitch the leaves shut with their cries.
Sing once, and the dolls go to sleep.
The teapot falls off a rock and bursts
Into stars.  See, there is light now.
We tell all the stories we know.

This is an urgent book, but it is a quiet, tragic urgency.  I had a feeling it would become a touchstone for me, and that feeling gathers strength, now, in the aftermath of the first reading.


Mari said...

Hi Sandy,

I'm very glad to learn you're also a fan of Malinda's exquisite poetry. She was my friend and I was devastated by the news of her death last fall. Here's a review I did of her second collection for Connotation Press:

All best


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Mari. While I never met Malinda, I was incredibly sad when I heard the news.

Shawnte said...

By the way, I finally got a copy of Blood Almanac, a little while ago. Last month was too crammed with poetry happenings, so I am just now digging into it.
I stopped at Notes from the Cabin on Shiloh Mountain, because I wanted to re-read it a few times just to bask in the glow of those last two stanzas.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Aw, Shawnte, thanks. That's one of the last poems to be written and still make the book. Glad you liked it!

Molly said...

Adding these books to my must-read list - thanks!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, let me know what you think!