Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I'm Reading: Ink for an Odd Cartography

75 deg ~ temperatures rising back to normal, windy, humid, chances of rain all week

I am falling back into my summer writing life and it feels glorious. Having spent the last two hours on the deck reading and tracking bird drama, I feel like I'm back in my right mind for the first time in a long time. As to the bird drama, the red-bellied woodpecker made a return visit this morning. I thought I heard him yesterday, and today I was sure of it. So sure, I looked up from the book I was reading and stared right at him, clinging among the ivy that covers the dying tree's trunk. The drama was the squawking starling that didn't take to the woodpecker's return. Stupid starling of the short wasn't that long ago that the starling's nest belonged to the woodpecker. Grrrrrrrrr.

But, back to poetry. I have this stack of AWP books, now increased by the National Poetry Writing Month book giveaway books...a plethora of riches, so many that I couldn't decide where to start. Finally, I left it to chance and picked up the top book: Michele Battiste's Ink for an Odd Cartography. I bought this book on the last day of AWP when wandering the book fair for the $5 and $10 book deals. I recognized Michele's name b/c I have one of her chapbooks on my to-read list. As I picked up the book, the person at the Black Lawrence table said "oh, the author is right there and she's reading tonight." That clinched it. I bought the book and had Michele sign it. Later, I heard her spectacular reading as part of the Colorado readers line up at the Denver Press Club, and I knew I'd been right to buy the book. With our brief meeting at the book fair and a quick conversation at the reading, Michele has now become someone with whom I will keep in touch.

I started this book on the plane, after I finished Brent Goodman's book, but I ran out of energy and gave in to post-AWP sleep. I'm sorry for that. This morning, reading these poems, was pure delight. As many of the reviewers state, Battiste is a poet of extreme energy; the poems are steeped in pent up emotion bursting through language so precise that it cuts straight to the center. And the center for this book is intimate relationships and what makes them work or fail. What kept startling me was the honesty in the poems, the honesty about both the speaker's struggles and the loved one's struggles. No holds barred.

Another thread that pulls me into these poems is the Midwest connection. Battiste is from New York (now living in Colorado) but earned her MFA at Wichita State, and her time in Kansas clearly seeped into this work. For example, here is an excerpt from "Committment," which rocked my world, as we used to say. sorrow like milk-
weed forced from its pod.

The plane plummets, the car
crashes, the millet rusts
across the road. This side,
windrows are thinning
and wait to be baled
and the babies are impatient
underground, smacking
their fists at roots. Soil
shrivels in the autumn drought.

Oh my! The sounds she manipulates: "plummets" echoed by "millet," "baled" and "babies," the harshness of "smacking" softened by "soil" instead of "dirt." And the images: sorrow like milkweed (oh how I wish I'd written that line), plane and car crashes linked to a crop in the field, and then those babies. That great twist makes me sit up straighter each time I read the poem.

Some favorite lines from other longish poems, too long to copy here:
"The gypsies passed and cast a tarantella to our bones." ("Your Bed")
"The DJ more blacksmith than artist, smelting a frenzy in 4/4 beat, / relentless and hammering." ("Ruby Skye")
about cliffs and promontories "...their language / is a privileged one, coded and closer / to God." ("Gravel Language")
"Begin at hinge, not lipped. Lidded. Outer canthus." ("Strategy of a Kiss")

The last section of the book, save for a Coda of one poem, is a narrative, a book of days, detailing the separation of two lovers (one going to a conference overseas, the other left behind) who may or may not make it as a couple. Here's the first day:

Saturday, March 6
Wichita, KS

After the airport, I walked
......the perimeter of the park, thinking to be just this: some place else
and going, I drove toward a moon we thought
......was full the night before
Tonight it proved our underestimation of things completed
and I then watched clowns in white-face mocking
......human drive for conquest, reproduction
Once I did not love you
I don't know when I did but estimate phases
Today you left at 4 pm and beginning absence the hardest -- no memory of coping, no progress

a Poet/Poetry: Buy or Borrow a Copy of this Book Today!
Ink for an Odd Cartography
Michele Battiste
Black Lawrence Press, 2009


Anonymous said...

I've long had this book on my wish list -- thanks for the peek, Sandy!

You are clearly going to have a tremendous summer!

(word ver: splayed. See what I mean? Even blogger wishes you lazy days in a hammock.)

Sandy Longhorn said...

M., if you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.

Man, I so wish we had a hammock! If and when my second manuscript ever gets picked up, I might look into a hammock as my treat.

Erin Lynn Marsh said...

Hi Sandy - I will definitely pick this book up when I can! I have lurked on your blog for a while, also being a graduate of Saint Ben's and a poet. I am currently finishing up my MFA at Lesley University's low residence program. I live in Bemidji, MN. My blog is at I hope all is well!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Erin, a fellow Bennie! I'm so excited to meet you here. Many thanks for taking the time to comment. All best on your MFA journey! Stay warm up there in Bemidji!