Monday, July 10, 2006


Retreat Reading #1

Hummingbirds, the rushing of the James River, woodpeckers, an occasional passing car, the baking heat (though my room was air conditioned, happily), the fabulous host, Trudy Hale. Altogether a spectacular week of recharging at The Porches in Norwood, VA. Highly recommended. And I was the first guest! There may be availability for this summer, since Trudy is just getting started -- all you procrastinators, check it out! I'll post photos when I get them.

So, I wrote, read, hiked, swam, hung out with Trudy and her daughter Tempe and other friends, wrote and read some more. I'll report on my reading over the course of this week, as my mind is still working through so much of it.

Let me begin with the way the imagery and cultural references accumulate in the poems in Pax Atomica by Campbell McGrath. I am so envious reading his work -- he seems to have access to a greater quantity of rich and suggestive language than any other poet I know. My favorite poem in the collection, Hits of the 70s, is one of the longest -- I can't find it on the web. But here's a good one that gives a sense of what I mean:

The Human Heart

We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
ochre, graph paper, a funnel
of ghosts, whirlpool
in a downspout full of midsummer rain.
It is, for all its freedom and obstinance,
an artifact of human agency
in its maverick intricacy,
its chaos reflected in earthly circumstance,
its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
like the lights of the casino
in the coyote’s eye. Old
as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,
filigreed and chancelled with flavor of blood oranges,
fashioned from moonlight,
yarn, nacre, cordite,
shaped and assembled valve by valve,
flange by flange,
and finished with the carnal fire of
interstellar dust.
We build the human heart
and lock it in its chest
and hope that what we have made can
save us.

Read two other poems from the collection here (I like especially Girl With Blue Plastic Radio). McGrath's excess may not be to everyone's liking, but I adore it. A critique of America's appetite, the poetry also embraces the embarassing glut of popular culture and thingness that makes up the American experience.

Stay tuned for: Naomi Shihab Nye, Richard Blanco, Muriel Rukeyser, a little bit of Susan Howe, Czeslaw Milosz's Nobel lecture, and novels by Andrea Levy and Octavia Butler.

Also, check out Marc Fisher's Washington Post column about the DC Places issue of Beltway. Very exciting!

Glad you're back and that you got recharged with country sounds. Can't wait to hear more about it at the next klatsch.
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