It’s officially summer here on the eastern shore of Maryland; it’s close to 90 degrees and too hot to do anything outside so all I want to do is rotate brief naps with periods of productive reading, and that’s exactly what I do. During the rest of the year, I find it difficult to focus on much more than pleasure reading because my brain space is simply not capable of retaining anything other than what I’m teaching or things that inform the work I’m currently doing in the Center or in the classroom. I also have the bad habit of reading like a graduate student, only mining others’ work enough to get a sense of what the author is up to and then move on.
In the summer, though (I am lucky enough to have June and July off), I am free to dedicate that brain space to my own consumption and production. Often that consumption and production has a lot to do with what I will do in the Center and in the classroom, but I also get to dedicate a lot of time to writing and reading poetry with the kind of mindfulness I feel like I can’t give it during the academic year. I often delay even making coffee before I grab the book beside my bedside table and get to work, neglecting to move until my bladder or stomach start to remind me to get up.
Here are a few of the books I’ve already started, and what I’ve learned so far. I hope more complete “reviews” will appear up here upon completion. If you think of it, leave a comment for other suggestions that might resonate alongside these works and my intentions for reading them!
- Conversites (1913 Press), Dan Beachy-Quick and Shrikanth Reddy. Collaborations are fascinating. The humanities and literary arts are one area where collaboration is still a novelty. Other areas do not privilege the singular authorial authoritarian force, thereby encouraging collaborative efforts. These two (two of my favorite authors in general) put their collaborative composition to good use, both presenting a beautiful, lyric meditation, and a meta-commentary on the self. The book contains their Mobius Crownes, a sonnet crown published originally by P-Queue and which was sold out by the time I got to their table at AWP that year. I am so happy to have this book in my hands. I am already learning so much from them, since in both my projects there was an “I” to combine (though I am appropriating an “I,” where they are sharing an “I.”
- A, (New Directions), Louis Zukofsky. Zukofsky is the last objectivist I have yet to read. I fell so hard in love with Oppen I’m not sure why I delayed so long taking on A, since Zukofsky is regularly cited as the principle objectivist… but as per the notes above summer opens up the possibility to take on a larger project. A is 803 pages long and will inevitably take the summer or more to finish. But as per Zukofsky’s own direction, I read in search of “particulars.” He writes: “To find a thing, all things.” I’m only in about 10 pages so I have little to say as of yet, but I’m excited to get more into this.
- Radi Os, (Flood Editions), Ronald Johnson. This is a return, since I’m working on this erasure project and figured I’d go to the best. I often return to Johnson. Shrubberies and Ark are two of my favorite poetry books of all time. Somehow he manages to make Paradise Lost feel like his own writing even though he’s lifting his text out from the famous epic. It’s teaching me a lot, again. As with any text making use of another text, there will always be meta-poetic moments, such as “All things / / Compose / Of what we are and where,” and “the chosen / Rose out of Chaos,” which can be read as a reaction to the process of composing the text. Johnson, though, resists the prophetic rationale for the process and instead presents a lyric eye and ear, choosing words that pleasure, and leaving space that behaves more like light than void. In my own erasures when I find those meta-moments so easily I am always so tempted to indulge, and I miss what is lurking in the other words, the real substance of that thing I am putting together. Needless to say, Johnson is a constant companion, and I’m grateful. Anyone who hasn’t read this book needs to, immediately.
- Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (Graywold Press), Ander Monson. In my English 101 course (Composition and Literature), I often teach hybrid texts that don’t quite fit snugly into the origin genre of the work. Monson’s collection of non-fiction essays is just that. He claims, defiantly, in the sub-title that it is not a memoir, and yet constantly questions that assertion throughout the collection. This is another text that considers the textual “I,” but does so through doing quite a lot of violence to the traditional non-fiction essay, to turn it around, shake the letters out, and attempt to arrive at a new thing that is merely essay-like. I am mining this for something we might read in my English 101 course, but I also genuinely respect Monson’s work (and not only because he published me in DIAGRAM that one time).
There will be more, and there will be some pleasure reading, that’s for sure. But these are my primary intentions for the summer, because they will be of some use as I’m producing work of my own. I find it helpful to read with that kind of intention, to read with a purpose. I try to teach my students this. I ask them what they are looking for, and to trace their obsessions through the texts as we go. What is the arc? How are these things connected?
More to come.