Monday, May 21, 2007

A River Runs Through It

Last month while in Ken Sanders getting the book-team monthly selection I took it to the counter and Ken himself checked me out. He was pleased, I think, at the diversity of books I'd chosen, which made me feel good inside. For this book though he was excited to say a little of the history of the author and the background.

"One of the greatest first lines in a novel," he said while opening the cover.

"Yeah?" I said, playing dumb. Just about everyone knows the first line to this book. But I wasn't going to stop him from reading it.

"In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."

Of course I know the movie. I'd even owned it before giving it away to a friend who was getting into flyfishing, and I'm always a bit wary of reading a book whose film adaptation I've already seen. I much prefer it the other way around. So it is that I didn't expect to be as touched by the story as I was. Norman can write. I found myself marking with my pencil little bits of dialogue or story every other page. There is much beauty in this book that extends beyond the miraculous descriptions of Montana, the river, and fishing. There is a familial struggle at play here that is relatable whether you've ever picked up a rod or not. Norman's father tells him, "trout--as well as eternal salvation--come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy." One facet of life, by necessity, informs another. The principles of Presbyterianism weave together with the principles of fly-fishing, which weaves yet still together with the principles of family. And so he braids with deftness a story that blends life, sport, emotion, and art with a finesse that in the end left me humbled.

The crux of the story is Norman's relationship with his brother Paul. Trying to come to grips, many years after the fact, with Paul's life and death. He second guesses himself for not knowing how to help him. He is reconciling Paul and his art with his family and his religion. One of the many things I learned from this book is that there is some redeeming value in beauty. It may be unmeasurable. It may be intangible. But it is there and it transcends this lowly life even for just a little while. And whatever we can do to try and understand that beauty will serve us for the better. There is so much that can be said for that.

Though he probably knows, I can now tell Ken that the last line is even better than the first.

"I am haunted by waters."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tree Church

Caught in the tree
Plump with the hearty green of late spring
Are the flattening corpses of two mylar balloons
Blue ribbed strings hanging in ackward curly Qs
Around the lower boughs-
A lattice of ceiling overlooking the grass
Where no children play

Each crease in the shiny wrinkling globes
An eye, multisecting insect eyes
Watching like a forgotten gargoyle
For the advent of a daring child
One who would undo what has been done
A volunteer to risk skinned palms and knees
The young, innocent blood that cares

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nursing Mother

How you sustain him there!
Nested so carefully in your elbow
Looking up with owl's eyes
Into the light of your face
Into the light of the open window
Two lights

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Billy Collins

We have become beautiful without even knowing it.

I am happy to say that I now know some of the work of U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Nick Gough turned me to The Art of Drowning, a collection whose title poem scoffs at the old notion of life-flashing-before-your-eyes. He seems to muse that there is some senseless anxiety at work—“crushing decades in the vice of your final desperate seconds.”

To me, there doesn’t seem to be anything ill-considered in Collins’ poems. He exalts the mundane, the pleasurable, the simple, and does it with a smile on his face. He pokes fun at how art seems to be a vehicle of sadness or regret or escape. He is unafraid to communicate satisfaction. After a meal of risotto and wine...

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair
a creature with a full stomach—
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter
but tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest

Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water,drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

I love that his dreams aren’t rising us higher still over such and such…but makes the point that we are descending into someplace "below," trying to return to a sense of happiness that lies deep within us, not in some foreign country celestialized in the clouds of an unknown horizon.

There are some great poems in this book. I love “Death Beds,” “On Turning Ten,” and “Conversion.” The narrator in the latter, after listening for months to only one story, a parable of lost sheep or blighted vineyard, he says,

Then I would remove my helmet of opinions
and walk into the public streets
revealing the soft brown mushroom of my new head.

At this point he steps back from his months of study and looks at things in new ways even still. To me this arrives at an essential essence of poetry and spirituality. The open mind continually grasping for greater light, and ever willing to remove our helmets of opinion to take anew that fresh and frightening look.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Feist - The Reminder

Today marks the release of Feist’s second solo effort, The Reminder. She writes intricate and accessible melody and is able to frame it an array of contex: Pop, Jazz, Rock, Blues, Folk, Dance, Electronic, yet is still somehow able to maintain a consistent feel and flow. And she does it amazingly well; this is a fantastic album. I am a fan of Let it Die, and her work with Broken Social Scene, but the Reminder peels back a whole new layer of talent and musicianship that has me really excited. Lyrically she is light at times and heavy at others, “Sadness so real that it populates the city and leaves you homeless again.” And over it all her voice shines like the smokey light from some fallen angel.