What I’m Reading Now… by Kate Colby

 

WellWellReality, Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop (Post-Apollo 1998 / Litmus Press 2016)

I’m never not reading the Waldrops and was so glad when this book came through my mail slot. It’s a little beat up now, since I’ve been carrying it around for months. Every time I pull it out and start reading, usually while waiting in my kids’ school pickup line, I put it down and start to write, which is one reason I’m always reading the Waldrops.

I told Rosmarie recently how much I’m enjoying WellWellReality and she laughed. I asked her to remind me when it first came out and she said she had no idea, that it’s just a collected jumble of poems she and Keith used to write for friends as gifts. A trifle, she meant.

[28]

the symmetry all surface
since winter
was continued
along the street
and a long
dream of no
sleep comes
secondhand

I love reading Rosmarie and Keith dos- à-dos, which is how I read their recent respective selecteds last year. Their contemporaneous works show them wrestling differently—with different and somehow seemingly symbiotic qualities of wryness—with the same philosophical and perceptual challenges. Working in tandem with their many works of translation, they show all writing as translation, evincing the impulse to resolve, the struggle to resist resolution, always actively exploring the question of how much of the struggle to include in the writing at hand.

Meaning, a Life, Mary Oppen (Black Sparrow Press, 1978)

I have been meaning to read this book forever because I love to hate a good woman-behind-the-man story almost as much as I love George Oppen. I’m interested in the idea of the amanuensis and the times and ways I’ve been personally been pushed into that role. Also, Mary Oppen’s maiden name was Colby and I imagine we come from the same line of people who long ago landed in Maine.

The book is a pleasing, rambling account of the Oppens’ peripatetic lives together, with glimpses into the primordial soup of Objectivism. It’s a generous, evenly textured portrait of a shared life, but, oddly, her parting glance is a hatchet in Zukofsky’s back. She paints him as a deliberately obscure and cranky poetry player and then offers this dim praise: “Music is in Zukovsky’s poetry, and if that is all one can have from it, one can be grateful that a great deal of his poetry does indeed sing.” The end. Meanwhile, according to legend, on a vacation in France my grandfather Colby once hauled his entire family to the top of Mont Blanc for a hamburger.

In the Still of the Night, Dara Wier (Wave Books, 2017)

I’ve been writing about and from a place of grief lately, but am not so much interested in writing about the object of the grief as about the grief itself, and trying to reverse-engineer my experience of it to access the equivalent of that split second when you are aware the knife is slicing your through your finger, but before you feel the pain. Wier’s book is not an elegy so much as a consideration of death’s role in the daily life of the survivor, which is where it must be filled in with words so that it can be contextualized, assimilated or put aside, as needed, i.e., “…Poetry / knows better than I do what to do / with regret, and shame, and disappointment and / weakness of the will and spirit.” (“The Usual Ratio of Banality to Wonder”)

Wier’s airy couplets feel like they’re floating in a momentary space that a death creates, like 30 seconds of weightlessness in a parabolic flight.

Life understood
backwards,

lived forwards,
lived after the fact

if death
is giving up

love then love is
pretending

there’s no end
coming

―“The Luxury of Being Depressed”

There is a strange luxury to grief and depression in their removal of the subject from the construct of time and the outsized role in our lives we ascribe to it. As my own grief abates and I can literally breathe again, I miss, in a way, the experience of not breathing, which was an experience of my own innards and the physical exigencies of being alive.

Field Glass, Joanna Howard & Joanna Ruocco (Sidebrow, 2017)

This book currently lives on the table next to my couch, where for months I’ve been opening and reading it at random. It seems I’m one of those people who goes into ecstasies over beautiful prose, because I don’t care what’s going on this book, I just want to wallow in its words:

Our enemies are in earnest! You should see them breaking cover, fleeing as we shoulder our potato guns. Among us Ivor is their only equal, scowling fiercely, face blacked but for the livid eye, shooting fingerlings into the trees.

The book is composed of fragments with a lightly mannered archness that I find so satisfying and difficult to achieve. And, actually, I do care what’s going on in this book because it’s complex and my kind of maximally intra-referential. One day I’ll read it properly, from beginning to end. For now I’m enjoying, non-sequentially, its individual vignettes and landscapes bound by the edges of double lenses—both mine and its own. Those edges, in fact, appear to take and make the twice-round shape of the narrative, which concerns the necessary trompe l’oeils of perception and of what should be the optical dissonance of seeing two times at once with two eyes (or four), in the guise of war. How we keep or collapse distances as needed to survive the world:

The house is none of its appearances. It is not the house the caretaker sees from within each tidied room. It is not the house I see from the barn or the enemy from

The burning reeds across the field and from the biplanes. The house is the house seen from all possible perspectives. Ivor says this means the house is the house seen from nowhere in particular. This is why the enemy’s planes circle endlessly, why the shots from the perimeter sail wider and wider. Ivor says we are invisible, by which he means we are safe for this moment. We should sleep.

When the Sky is Like Lace, Elinor Lander Horwitz, illustrations by Barbara Cooney (1975)

A few years ago I hosted Lee Ann Brown at the Gloucester Writers Center. She gave a lovely reading, full of singing. (If you know Lee Ann, you know she’s always breaking into song.) We had a great time exploring the city and watching the waves during a weird fall snowstorm and she later described the evening as “bimulous.” We were back in my parents’ kitchen and we all wanted to know what “bimulous” meant. Lee Ann began reciting When the Sky is Like Lace, a book that has since become very important to my family—my kids and I know it by heart.

…on bimulous nights when the sky is like lace, the trees eucalyptus back and forth, forth and back, swishing and swaying, swaying and swishing—in the fern-deep grove at the midnight end of the garden.

We read this book so often that its language is now intrinsic to my brain. Some days its rhythms and strange notions feel like a dress form around which I piece my poems. The story and illustrations meld in a magical way that I cannot describe to you, but if you have kids or grandchildren or friendchildren, I think you should buy this book. When you do, please imagine Lee Ann singing the otters’ song to the tune of the “Mexican Hat Dance” to my buttoned-up, uncharacteristically enchanted Yankee parents in a warm kitchen on a bimulous night in November.