Recommended Books I've Read This Summer - Yay!

This summer I planned to read and read and read. My suitcase to Barcelona filled with books of poetry and novels. And yet. Most of my time has been spent traveling, seeing friends, gardening, writing, and even indulging in a bit of exercise. Perhaps this is what summer is for.

I do want to let you know I'm not a complete slacker so here are a few books I've read and enjoyed. Perhaps you might like them, too.

Minding the Muse, A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers and Other Creators by Priscilla Long is hot off the press! I bought it at Seattle's poetry bookstore, Open Books, last weekend. The store hosted three nights of consecutive good-bye / hello parties as Christine Deavel and John Marshall passed the bookstore laurel to new owner, Billie Swift. But I digress. (It was fun!)

Long's book caught my attention with its focus on several creative arts. The  quotes from Jean Miro made me take a deeper look at this slim volume of wisdom and practical ideas.

Miro's Majorca studio - NYT photo credit

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden. Here are the artichokes, over there are the potatoes. The leaves have to be cut so the vegetables can grow. At a certain moment, you must prune." JM

I am a huge fan of Miro, of gardening, and of artists' quotes but even if you're not, Minding the Muse offers guidance on how to be a literary citizen / artist in the world. The chapters are both personal and practical in nature.

It's as if Priscilla Long has sat down on the couch beside me, offering all she knows garnered from a long life as a working artist. This is the kind of book I want to put into the hands of all my poet friends and students. It's a book I believe I'll be using in my teaching and in my own contemplation about my role as an artist for a long time to come.

And since I've mentioned my students, my next book, winner of the Claudia Emerson Chapbook Award is Drought, by M.L. Brown. Mary was a stellar student in the Antioch University, Low-Residency MFA Program where I once taught.

From the letterpress cover to the gorgeous poems inside, this is a book of the highest quality. These are spare, smart poems written out of the interior world. Poems of the mind. Elizabeth Bishop said what she wanted from a poem was to see the mind in action.

Backache: A Love Song

Lie down with me on the hard wood floor for relief---
my spine a dried bone a child could split on a wish.

Discover the dust beneath the couch---
treasure of our skin and desert duff.

Stay long enough. Let the honeysuckle take
the cellar window, crawl the gap between the door

and threshold, that through-space where wind
broadcasts leaves and seeds, lizards skitter in, out.

Let the vines reclaim us
as a leaning fence or a creaking barn---

you and I on the floor reposed,
our hard-won clearing repossessed.

                   M.L. Brown

I so admire the way this poem moves from the intensity of back pain to discovery of the dirt under the couch --- all in the service to keeping the unnamed lover beside her. As one of the final poems in this chapbook, there's a sense of hard-won relationship here. The couple will remain together "let the vines reclaim us / as a leaning fence or creaking barn" as a landscape continues on, weeds and all.

The judge for this award was well known poet and essayist Sandra Beasley. Let's hope that she can bring the wide attention to this book that it so clearly deserves. I say, you want this one in your collection. Just look at that cover!