The Vegetarian

 

I read this book on the Tube in London and then back in my room. What a great book!  I loved it, the description of Korean food, the feeling of being in the family .  I loved the echoes of Kafka by the Shore  and Norwegian Wood.  I loved the exquisite pain and beauty of each chapter, the lilting swift leaps from one family member to another, that is part of the web of how families love each other, ignore each other and judge each other based on our pain, strengths, weaknesses.  Late at night, after a hard day of work at the London Book Fair, I huddled in my threatening to be a tent, excuse for a hotel room and read The Vegetarian, hungrily.  We have a main character refusing to eat, but I could not put her down.  In America, I’ve met some plump vegetarians.  It’s all about the cheese. But in Korea, you eat noodles, rice, vegetables.  You struggle with your husband in the night and shoulder your world at dawn while the sky lightens.  This book is utterly compelling. What do you do with the weakest member of the family? Nurture? Care? Lock ‘em up?  How are we wounded? How do we heal?

Published in: on March 21, 2017 at 6:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

 

This was the perfect ER book, sad and lonesome, the story of families and the way they tear at each other.  Families are odd collections of people who temporarily live under the same roof.  During that time, they can do amazing or terrible things to each other.  It’s interesting to me that family members who have treated each other terribly often expect those very family members to forget all of that by the time they are adults.  You see that in this book.  The parents with their focus on their favorite child, Lydia, have created a situation where, after Lydia dies, they’ll have no one to come home to.  Parents risk having children who step out the door into the big world and don’t come back.  In Ng’s story about a half Asian family, the reader is reminded of a recent America where intermarriage was illegal in many parts of the country.  It’s hard to remember this in today’s California where I live.  My children grew up with a long list of bi-racial friends and Whites were the minority at their schools.  In this achingly beautiful story, Asians are other, but it is not just that othering that haunts this book.  It’s also the parents’ obsession with making the one daughter, the favorite, into someone of whom they approve.  It’s a story that climbs in bed with you, at least it did with me as I lay in bed in the ER.  The lake circles the story, Harvard and the dream of Harvard, and the Chinese language erased .  But mostly, what hangs with me is the intricate language of family: The stories, the secrets, what we want from each other and what we need.

Published in: on March 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Darkness over America

Here in London, at the Book Fair, the fact of being American is an embarrassment. Darkness has spread across the land.  We find ourselves in America, surrounded by hate.  Hatred for Muslims, for Latinos, an indignation that rose during the Obama administration and culminated in a kind of white fury.  White uneducated Americans could not tolerate the transition from an African American president to a woman president.  The joy and pride that progressive Americans felt at having Obama as president, at the rise in LGBT rights, in the welcome experienced by many Muslims in communities across the country, that joy and pride was not felt by poor white Americans who feel rage at the rising power of Latinos, African Americans, women and the gay community.  Who are you to think you have a place at the table?  Who are we?  Sitting here in London, talking with people from all over the world, I cannot answer that question.  What has happened to American compassion, integrity, to the welcoming of immigrants and the resilience of the fight against oppression?  Perhaps Americans have become the oppressors in the world, perhaps it is too late, but I hope not.  I hope that in 2018, we take Congress back.  I hope that in 2020, we elect a powerful leader who wants what is right for America.  I hope the best for the Americans who, in the meantime, will lose jobs and health care.  We used to say, God bless America.  That seems like a long time ago.  The light is coming.  The darkest time is just before dawn.

Published in: on March 16, 2017 at 7:47 am  Comments (1)  

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth

From New York to London, I read The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katherine Towler.  I swam in it.  I am in the water of it; it’s a writer’s book.  You follow her into her new home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to getting to know a poet there Robert Dunn, a man who lived very simply and focused on writing.  She wanted to fit in and have time alone.  It’s a book about being a writer, striving for time, understanding place, understanding how hard it is to be a woman writer.  It’s a story about the relationship between a penniless poet and a novelist.  The poet lives for writing, not for stuff or readings or reviews.  Towler is so honest, about the ways she can find compassion and the ways she closes in on herself.  She loves this poet to the best of her ability.  She tells about reading at River Run Bookstore, a bookstore I’ve read in as well.  I’m going to keep thinking about this book and the way it invites you to slow down and be with the writer’s life.  Dunn reminds of Bob Kaufman.

 

Robert Dunn, “Paradise in a Restless Mind”

Every waking moment with lack of sleep,
a restless mind is a path I weave.
For each day this head creates,
inspirational music of ideas that permeate.
Riddled of notions overactive with intellect,
I dare not cease this paradise of reflect.
Knowledge is key and the gears they turn,
continuing on without deviation does each reason burn.
As day turns to night with conceptions of truth,
anxious is the body a substance so new.
Exhausted to reality and whithered of devotion,
mentally I find heaven in capacity full of emotion.
Charging through each night chasing every thought,
I am only satisfied when each logic is written and caught.

 

Walking Parker Home

BY BOB KAUFMAN

Sweet beats of jazz impaled on slivers of wind

Kansas Black Morning/ First Horn Eyes/

Historical sound pictures on New Bird wings

People shouts/ boy alto dreams/ Tomorrow’s

Gold belled pipe of stops and future Blues Times

Lurking Hawkins/ shadows of Lester/ realization

Bronze fingers—brain extensions seeking trapped sounds

Ghetto thoughts/ bandstand courage/ solo flight

Nerve-wracked suspicions of newer songs and doubts

New York alter city/ black tears/ secret disciples

Hammer horn pounding soul marks on unswinging gates

Culture gods/ mob sounds/ visions of spikes

Panic excursions to tribal Jazz wombs and transfusions

Heroin nights of birth/ and soaring/ over boppy new ground.

Smothered rage covering pyramids of notes spontaneously exploding

Cool revelations/ shrill hopes/ beauty speared into greedy ears

Birdland nights on bop mountains, windy saxophone revolutions.

Dayrooms of junk/ and melting walls and circling vultures/

Money cancer/ remembered pain/ terror flights/

Death and indestructible existence

 

In that Jazz corner of life

Wrapped in a mist of sound

His legacy, our Jazz-tinted dawn

Wailing his triumphs of oddly begotten dreams

Inviting the nerveless to feel once more

That fierce dying of humans consumed

In raging fires of Love.

 

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/55966

Published in: on March 11, 2017 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cloudy days.

I feel like a cloudy day.

Crowded back into heaps of ideas.

I wish I could sleep and it would all become clear.

I drank comfrey tea as a child.

It was weak and green, leafy and thin.

There were always pine needles in my bed.

I slept well with the needles.

But now I wake with clouds.

Where is God?

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 9:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

 

 

“I was there, I saw it all. Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go. Strength through unity. Unity through faith. I’m a God-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it!”V for Vendetta.

 

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

 

We should all watch the movie V for Vendetta.  During this perilous time, we are seeing the beginning of the deportations, the banning of Muslims, the hatred of women and members of the LGBT community.  Donald Trump and his crew of billionaires are getting richer.

 

We live in a country that is becoming less of a democracy every day.  Trump is literally tearing away at our freedoms.  We cannot stand by and watch this happen.  We will fight.  I wake every morning and go to sleep every night reminding myself that we are fighting back and we can change the world, push back against hate.   “This country needs more than a building right now; it needs hope.”

 

There are enough of us who believe in love that we can change the world

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 9:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

California rainstorm

 

We need the rain and the moments to collect ourselves.

The onslaught of reckoning with all this sudden water.

On Valentine’s Day, I could not move, but Tobi drove me around to meetings.

And then, too sick for sushi we just planted ourselves with chicken soup and I read him Neruda love poems. When I got better, he was sick, so I have been cooking, stuffing peppers and making sweet potatoes.  We are in a killer slump from heavy work and in a fateful happiness to find ourselves looking into books, peering at poems, not rushing, not thick with papers.  The pile I have to edit stares back at me and when I am well, I will prowl into my office and make it disappear. Until then–wet air, sleepy dog, breathing.

Published in: on February 19, 2017 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  

AWP DC

It was warm and then cold.

We sold out of all the books we brought.

 

Our staff love the energy of the conference, they love meeting writers.  They thrive on the buzz and flow of it all, and I like how much fun they have.

 

In spite of the present occupant of the White House, I like DC.

 

It’s a city with heavy male energy and thick concrete walls. It’s a fortress city.

 

There’s none of the lightness of San Francisco before it was coated with tech money or Boston with its gardens and bars.

 

People are busy in DC; they’re involved in big conversations.  I like walking through the streets, remembering how it felt when Obama was in the White House and I still believed the light was pouring through the trees.  I still believed in hope and in human potential.

 

We are on our way home to Los Angeles.  I like being in the game.  Sometimes I make a mistake in the dance. But I keep on dancing.

 

Published in: on February 13, 2017 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

It is a time to fight

Every conversation begins and ends with the horror of events since this election.  There are moments when we take a breath between all of it, but then you wake and it rushes back to you.  You remember about this country, and the remnants of sanity that remain.

 

It is a time to write, to make great art. America has never set a standard of good behavior for the rest of the world, but this is a new low.  The America of this presidency is one of darkness and hatred.  Hatred of Muslims, women, Latinos.  We live in a country where our government operates out of greed and hatred and feeds the rest of us fear.

 

On some days, I think that America as we knew it is over.  On days when I’m more optimistic, I like to think this is the last gasp of the far right.  There are those in this country who wish for a return of Jim Crow laws, who want to make America white again as if it was ever white in the first place. The forces of darkness will not prevail. Onward.

Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 10:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nutshell by Ian McKuen

Everyone should read this book.

The story is told from the point of view of babe in the womb.  An all knowing baby who suspects his mother.  There is a surprise in the book that sneaks up on you.  Most readers know McKuen for Atonement, and Solar and Children Act were satisfying as well, but this is a whole new level.  In the hands of a lesser writer, the plot would unfold awkwardly, the writer would struggle with the limited omniscient point of view, but not McKuen.  We follow the narrator down the tube into the womb where he lies unquiet, anxious when sex takes place near his resting place, aware of the clutter in the house and in his mother’s mind.  For every reader who loves an exquisitely paced story of murder and love, read this.  Dream yourself back into a womb where you knew all the desperate sadness of the world and the terrible ways we betray one another.  As for the ending, what’s wrong with getting to a cliff and simply jumping off?

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment