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April is National Poetry Month - look for these titles on the New Book shelves at the Juneau Public Libraries. But don't stop there. Investigate the realm of slim volumes that live in the 811s of the nonfiction stacks. Don't be fooled by their slender figures; measured in terms of emotion, wisdom and vision, these books break the scales.
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"Straw for the Fire," by Theodore Roethke. When Pulitzer Prize-winner Roethke died in 1963, he left in his wake 277 spiral notebooks containing poetry, fragments, journal entries and quotes from other writers. Editor Wagoner has drawn extensively from The University of Washington Library's archives to illustrate the methodical manner in which Roethke returned to unfinished poems years later to reclaim old images to pair with new visions. The collection's epitaph taken from a 1945 note hints at the value Roethke gave to these notebooks: "The desire to leave many poems / in a state of partial completeness; / to write nothing but fragments." Roethke lived most of his life in Washington and readers will relate to the beauty and torment of weather explored in "The Loveless Provinces": "What eats us here? Is this infinity too close, / These mountains and these clouds? On clearing days / We act like something else; a race arrived / From caves.../ Bearlike, come stumbling into the sun."
"Bring Me Her Heart," poems by Sarah Gett, inhabits a world where "roots and rocks emerge from the forest path like half-spoken thoughts." Rooted in mythology and soil, and the reclaiming of old legends, Getty's narrative poems unfold before the reader as if written on scrolls. A sampling of the language from "The Unveiling of Truth," where an embodied Truth sits, "like she might flap / and fly, albino vampiress, half-blind in this dim room's light." In "Gepetto in the Belly of the Dogfish," Pinocchio's maker mourns the loss of his finest creation, recalling "how knife-strokes freed (his) face/ and figure from the wood." In the dark, shadowy story worlds of this collection the reader is left wondering, "If wood / can walk and talk-well, then why shouldn't / the things I dream about come true?"
"Strong is Your Hold," Galway Kinnell. Deriving its title from the Whitman poem, "Last Invocation": "Tenderly - be not impatient, / (Strong is your hold O mortal flesh, / Strong is your hold O love.)", Kinnell's work resonates with the wisdom of a past generation of New England poets. Strong is Your Hold draws heavily from pastoral landscapes of Vermont, "the maple sapling the moose slashed / with his cutting teeth, turning it / scarlet too early,"("The Stone Table") as well as from the mysterious wisdom and curiosity of childhood, "with a dozen long garter snakes draped over / each of them like brand-new clothes / Snake tails dangled down their backs" ("Conversation"). A CD of poems read by the author accompanies the collection. Be sure to warm yourself beside the dark tale which flares from "Burning the Brush Pile," for it is here in the blunt descriptions of death that one truly feels the shadowy underbelly of nature's course at work.
"Native Guard," by Natasha Trethewey. Trethewey recalls, with photographic minutia, childhood in a racially mixed family in the Deep-South, where Civil War ghosts still inhabit Ship Island looming just off the coast at Gulfport. From "the film of red dust around her ankles, the thin / whistle of wind through the floorboards / of the shotgun house" to the Mississippi river, "its mud-dark path, a graveyard / for skeletons of sunken riverboats," Native Guard is steeped in the dark memory of slavery and war. Particularly fascinating is the title poem, narrated by a black Union soldier of the Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first official black units, stationed at Ship Island, a Union prison housing Confederate POWs. He is given the task of writing letters for the illiterate prisoners as well as his fellow guard members. The juxtaposition of black soldiers keeping guard over white captives, or "would be-masters" while they are fed half rations and forced to salvage what they lack from Confederates' abandoned homes reminds us that discrimination did not end at Appomattox.
"Here, Bullet" by Brian Turner. Having served a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Iraq and a year with the 10th Mountain Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina, poet-soldier Turner reminds us of the human element of war in a way that only Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried") has before. The pages of this collection are populated by animals liberated from the Baghdad Zoo doing their best to adapt to the 21st century amidst tanks, Blackhawk helicopters and war, important lessons in practical Arabic for combat, and psychedelic Dreams from the Malaria Pills. The magic of Turner's language is his ability to juxtapose the striking natural elements against the stark destruction of the landscape of war.
Teen Poetry Night is from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday at the valley library. Come read, recite or perform a spontaneous selection from the library selection. No stress. Just fun. As always, placing a hold on our material is easy: call the Juneau Public Library at 586-5249, or go online to www.juneau.org/library.