Sunday, July 6, 2014

What I'm Reading: Sweet Husk by Corrie Williamson

82º ~ sweet luxury of sitting on the deck at 11:00 on a Sunday in July, for now the humidity remains low, but the forecasters promise it will rise later today and we will return to the summer swelter that drives us all indoors

I've had the great pleasure of hearing Corrie Williamson read twice, once at the Big Rock Reading Series that I direct, and once in Fayetteville, AR, while she was earning her MFA at the U of A. (Sadly for Arkansas, Corrie now resides farther to the west of us, teaching at Helena College in Montana.) With the echo of those two readings still resounding in my head several years after the experiences, I was excited to learn that Corrie had won the 2014 Perugia Press Prize with her book, Sweet Husk. I was even more excited to get my copy last week. Here, I offer my thoughts on the book I've just devoured.

Archaeologist. Anthropologist. Naturalist. Historian. Elegist. These are the roles Corrie takes on in writing a book that takes as its subject "how ghosts are made" (from "George Catlin's Buffalo Hunt, Chase). And while a few of these ghosts are intimate friends and family of Corrie's, for the most part she works with the larger ghosts of human history. Through her exploration into the remains of the past, she attempts to unearth and translate "the unnameable inside us" all (from "The Seed Jar"). She searches for the universal truth of the human condition, and she does not blink in the face of a truth that holds both beauty and ugliness, joy and terror.

The husk of the book's title might refer to any number of natural husks, but it stretches to encompass the human body, the container of brain, soul, life-spark, whatever you may name it.

Here is the opening of the opening poem, "Remains."

Anatomists and archaeologists call them
disarticulated bones, as if the scattering

of our bodies made us voiceless. As if
dead but whole we might still speak.

Thus, we are given the scope of the book, where graves are dug for animals and humans alike and older graves are excavated and studied in an age-old quest to make meaning from what is in the process of turning to dust.

The second section of the book contains a long poem based on Corrie's experiences when she was on an archaeological survey team in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon. In part 6 of this long poem, she writes a "Postcard to Edward Abbey in the afterlife," which reads, in part:

...You had the need I have: for sense.
Like any remains, it may be buried, a crease within a fist,
vanishing into the ground or reappearing in flashes of blue,
unwhole, unsearchable as your stubborn heart under dust:
shriveled cob, black husked tongue.

In these brief excerpts, I hope to show Corrie's amazing gift at precise descriptions and her deft skill with the line, making every word and every break count. This skill amplifies her ability to explore the human condition without sliding into the kind of sweet sentimentality that glosses over the truth. The poems that result make Sweet Husk one of the stand-out books I've read in the past few months.


Karen J. Weyant said...

This book is so on my reading list! It looks great!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Karen, let me know what you think when you've read it.