Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Flood of Memories: Reading and Writing

Two weeks ago as nearly five inches of rain fell in the area, according to my backyard gauge, both the sump pump for my house and its backup pump failed, resulting in flooding of the lowest level. On that bottom floor I have a group of rooms—including an office, library, media room, and others—where I do most of my reading and writing. In fact, there among the other rooms are a bathroom and a room with a freezer and pantry (both of which were the rooms with deepest water, though luckily neither is carpeted and they were easier to clean). My wife and I have jokingly commented that the rooms would be the perfect suite for a mother-in-law apartment, easily separated to be independent from the two floors of rooms above.

Fortunately, the evening when the flooding began, I happened to be home watching a movie in the media room, and I noticed the flow before too much damage could occur. Bailing water with the help of my father-in-law to stem the rising level while my brother-in-law replaced the sump pump (thankfully, both relatives live nearby), we managed to restrict the spread of water to seepage into all the carpeting and to prevent damage to any of the furniture. Nevertheless, the following week required professional restoration treatment and cleaning of the carpets, which also meant moving the furniture, as well as all the books in shelves on that level of the house.

The first comments by one of the workers when he saw the number of books to be moved echoed words I have frequently heard from other visitors: “How many books do you have?” “Have you read all those books?” The restoration workers and I estimated that the lowest level of the house may hold nearly 5000 books (as well as a thousand cds and dvds), and there are numerous bookshelves in the rooms on the upper two floors, as well as about a thousand books in my university office, so I am not exactly sure what the exact total may be that I own, and I couldn’t answer the first question accurately. And no, I had to acknowledge, I hadn’t read every single one, though the percentage yet to be read was small, and some are on my summer reading list along with other newer books already on order.

Although the worker then spotted my first-edition copy of Robert Penn Warren’s thick novel, Flood, and declared it the ideal title for my situation, many of those books in my library are slim volumes of poetry, each taking less shelf space for itself. Nevertheless, Warren’s Flood, a book I’d read decades ago, became a central object of attention during the ordeal, and I eventually kept the novel aside as the ceremonial last book to be returned to its place at the end of the process. As I discovered when moving the books into this house five years ago, removing and then re-shelving the books in the past week—after the completion of the clean up and the carpeting appearing as good as new—presented a time-consuming and strenuous task.

At the same time, as I positioned every book into place again on the shelves, occasionally working with the suitable background music from older albums like Bob Dylan’s Before the Flood and the Grateful Dead’s In the Wake of the Flood, I remembered when I’d first read each volume of poetry, novel, or book of criticism, and I flagged some for rereading this summer. In addition, thumbing through their pages I often refreshed my memory of their contents by examining the marginal notes of commentary I’d scribbled years earlier, sometimes as much as a quarter century ago.

Coincidentally, these past two weeks have been the last ones of the spring semester, and I also have been busy reading students’ term papers, ranging from 10 to 30 pages in length, as well as an honors project on Kierkegaard that extends more than 100 pages. During the preparation for writing their papers, a few students asked about my process of writing reviews, especially those regularly printed in this space, and their inquiries reminded me of how I first learned my procedure for writing critical commentary or, as the blog’s title indicates, simply recording one poet’s notes analyzing recently encountered collections of poetry.

As I explained to the students, my system is not complex. I initially read a book of poems through from beginning to end with little marginal commentary except shorthand symbols to myself: an exclamation mark (perhaps even two or three for special emphasis) to specify some phrase or image that seems extraordinary, an underlining of samples of lyrical passages or lines that seem to reflect the poet’s typical voice, a question mark in some location where I believe disputable or controversial content exists, a plus sign for the poet’s most positive contributions to the collection and a minus sign to tag weaker works, a check mark alongside titles I believe need to be included individually in any final commentary, and letters of abbreviation at the end of poems (such as “e” for elegy or “s” for sonnet) to label subject matter, style, form, or emotional content that might be similar to those found in other poems now bearing the same letters and could be linked in analysis.

When I reread any collection, I make more substantive marginal notes of a sentence or two, perhaps even a brief paragraph, for poems upon which I intend to focus in later more formal prose. Then I write the review straight through using those notes as an outline, rapidly proof once and post to the web, all in one fairly quick sitting. Though I haven’t checked this out for myself, I have been informed by others that Montaigne, the inventor of the modern essay, was believed to have begun his composition of pieces with such concise marginal note taking of his own perceptions and reactions as well.

However, as I recommend to my students, I follow much the same method even when I don’t intend to write a review or essay of commentary, since this manner of approaching works mirrors the active reading I encourage, especially among my creative writing students. I find following this system to be as close to a dialogue with the author one can get or almost as if engaging in an ongoing discussion with the text’s speaker, whether a persona or an autobiographical figure, ultimately permitting a more precise scrutiny of the writing.

As for myself, I learned this method of reviewing when I was a graduate student and one of my professors, a well-known poet who at the time was regularly authoring poetry reviews for a major journal publication, loaned to me a few poetry books from his library for a project I was writing. When I opened the borrowed volumes, I spotted the kind of markings described above in the margins of all his books. In fact, he was so meticulous that text underlining and jotted notes were sometimes color coded in different inks—something I confess I also do once in a while. When I asked him about the coding, he told me he used colors to make connections to be linked in his summary and analysis: for instance, red for elements of imagery, green for lyrical or inventive language, blue for thematic patterns threaded through a volume of poems, and black for interpretive comments.

Surprisingly, as I write these notes this evening once again in my home library surrounded by the thousands of books, this time I’m reminded not of those many books read, but of the sad realization concerning the many more books that will never be read during my lifetime. For a few years when I was a college student I worked in the main building of the New York Public Library. I still have a prized pair of marble bookends here resembling the lions outside the front entrance to that research library on Fifth Avenue. (Ironically, a kids’ game titled "Flood" about re-shelving books after a library has been flooded appears at the PBS "Between the Lions" web page.) When I worked on the fabled floors of stacks in that building, each the size of city blocks, and I walked the miles of storage shelves holding millions of books, I sometimes wondered how many a person could reasonably read in a lifetime.

Today, with the additional resources available through the Internet, adding to frustration with an inability to read as much of the vast written history as I’d like during my lifetime, I now conclude no matter how widely one reads, perhaps more important would be to read wisely, a goal I remind my students might be more likely in reach, as near as the end of a pen point scratching notes alongside the printed text and preserving thoughts on the material, a flood of content containing memories one may return to fondly and with wonder, though occasionally with embarrassment as some opinions admittedly seem as dated as trendy wardrobe fashion statements, many years or decades later.

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