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  • Shanley McConnell

Week Three: The Monday Review

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Good-morning, my friends,


Here's a little update, and a list of books/poetry collections I've read over the last month or so. Although these series of posts were initially created to be uploaded weekly, I think they've become more a bit more of a semester-publish. Sorry!


I hope you are well, and have had a strong start to this month (now that we've reached the middle). Having struggled with the flu for the last four days, I've finally managed to curl-up-over my computer screen with a cup of jasmine-green. I'm so exhausted. Sick-days are meant for recovery, but I'm afraid this week has only left me feeling more drained than before. I'm hoping that the energy will return to me soon, and I'm grateful for the chances to sleep (although, it often does feel impossible to do so when one is ill).


I thought------before returning to the readings and writing------I would compose an intro, finish reviewing a few collections and upload The Week Three: Monday Review. Someday soon I'll write a real semester/life review for you, but for now ~ here's some suggestions from my monthly reading-list. On a side note, it's always worth checking up with The Poetry Foundation website. A new poem is uploaded every morning, and I've certainly found treasures among them there.


All the best!


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1. The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, Edmund De Waal.


British ceramicist Edmund de Waal wrote this award-wining memoir as an exploration into the history of family heirlooms: 246 Japanese wood and ivory carvings------the netsuke. This non-fiction narrative follows the Ephrussi ancestry line. Once a wealthy European Jewish mankind dynasty, the Ephrussis lost almost everything in 1938 when the Nazis aryanized their property and power. De Waal traces the figurine netsuke-----these miniature sculptures-----hidden inside a mattress by a loyal maid at Palais Ephrussi in Vienna during the war years in order to unwrap the stories of five generations (from 1871 to 2009).


This winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award is a compelling read; it is poetic in all retelling: succinct and engaging. The sentences were beautifully composed as old narratives were closely examined as with the magnifying lens of a modern life.


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2. H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald.


This novel is another Costa Book of the Year Winner, another memoir. A tale about a hawk, about healing. An honest account of grief, of memory, nature and nurture.


It is sincere, unfeigned in the way it mixes elegy with rapture: a memorial for a father, the comfort of a pet: in Macdonald's case, her hawk Mabel. In truth, H is for Hawk is very distinguished in its examination of the relationship between humankind and humanness. Written in sections----memories and moments----Macdonald compares her experience of taming Mabel with that of T. H. White's The Goshawk.


The memoir, similarly to Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes, is a lovely read because the originality of sentence structure and word choice poignantly balances the setting and story.


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3. Ways of Going Home, Alejandro Zambra.


Translated into English by Megan McDowell, Ways of Going Home, winner of the English Pen Award, is a story about boundaries------the blurring of fiction and reality. The novel is separated into four sections: 1. Secondary Characters, 2. Literature Of The Parents, 3. Literature Of The Children, and 4. We're All Right.


The child protagonist, a young boy growing up in 1980s Chile, becomes a spy commissioned by a fellow student, and without explanation as to why this is all necessary, he follows an Uncle (not his) Raúl around the suburbs of Santiago. Meanwhile, adults are slowly becoming caught in the brutality of Pinochet's regime-----both as accomplices and victims of the dictatorship. The novel is set in the now where this boy, grown, reflects on the stories created and salvaged together by childhood innocence: the sporadic scenes of violence, the disappearances and the unrest that settled on Chile's past.


At only 139 pages, this novella is an easy read, the translation is consistent and the fragmented, reflectiveness of the prose engaging.


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4. Talking it Over, Julian Barnes.


Talking it Over by Julian Barnes is an unusual read. Published in 1991, the novel won the Prix Femina Étranger the following year.


The premise is this: Three characters-----Stuart, Oliver and Gillian-----take it turns to tell the tale concerning their love-triangle, and evolving apprehensions from first-person narration. The inclusion of a few supplementary voices towards the climax inevitably emphasize the subjectivity and opinion-ridden-ness of the narrative's layers. It progresses, and evolves as the characters respond to each other, to their own feelings and desperately attempt to justify their consequent actions.


5. Mouthful of Birds, Samantha Schweblin.


I am new at knowing the short-story genre because it was not a form I was familiar with as a child. I was a little intimated by it. I wasn't sure when a writer knew his narrative was complete. Where was the space between flash-fiction and short-stories? The moment when a story could continue on, but also------often didn't. A dear friend of mine is a brilliant short-story writer (published, too), and I asked her to compile a list of short stories she felt I might enjoy, embrace and learn from. As we spoke, she pulled out her book a collection. The cove beautiful and stark: wing after butterfly wing in rich color. Mouthful of Birds.


She was honest. 'Perhaps you won't like this, but here.' Translated by Megan McDowell, Mouthful of Birds is the work of Fever Dream author, Samantha Schweblin. Sometimes I wonder if it's enough to read a few chapters (a selection of stories)------to get a sense of the story, the structure, the feel of who someone is as a writer. To come a little closer to understanding this whole process of story-telling shorts.


I read two stories from the collection: Headlights and Preserves. Striking in its magical-realism, both are bizarre-----ethereal. Each mysterious and full of parody. Work. Family. Life. Love and devotion.


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6. John Aubrey: My Own Life, Ruth Scurr.


John Aubrey: My Own Life by Ruth Scurr is a biography written in the form of a diary; it reimagines the power of interpretation, intimacy and factual-clarity. Composed, collected and collated of Aubrey's own words, the book celebrates the memory of his life as a brilliant biographer himself.


Aubrey, in his retellings, "stayed strictly within the frame of the story, anecdote or incident he found revealing of a Life," writing modestly only of things that were true. His was a concern with capturing the small and incidental details otherwise lost.


Scurr's recreation of an Aubrey-journal reads with power and poise. One sequence reads:


My imagination is like a mirror of pure crystal water, which the last wind does disorder and unsmooth.

----- Ruth Scurr


This biography is a long and easy read.


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7. Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot


T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets is a set of four poems published over a six-year period: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding. They are interlinking meditations, focused on the theme of man's relationship with time, universe and the divine. The collection blends Anglo-Catholicism with the mysticism, philosophy and poetic forms from both Eastern and Western religious traditions.


And what of 'quartet?' Eliot describes what he meant by this term in a letter to John Hayward:


These poems are all in a particular set form which I have elaborated, and the word 'quartet' does seem to me to start people on the right track for understanding them ('sonata' in any case is too musical). It suggests to me the notion of making a poem by weaving in together three or four superficially unrelated themes: the 'poem' being the degree of success in making a new whole out of them.

The collection is written with the sense of the cyclical----by returns and returning. As the engraving in adorned on Eliot's memorial stone in East Coker: In my beginning is my end.


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8. Looking Through Letterboxes, Caroline Bird


This collection of poems (in seventy-one pages) reads with metaphors that are vaguely familiar and completely new. It includes the fairytales and "sweet-bitter" worlds of romance. Gender and politics are also examined-----addressed in a sharp, subtle way wherein you read one thing and realize another.


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9. Selected Poems, Roger McGough


Selected Poems by Roger McGough was an interesting read--------short and fast-paced. The collection finds a voice that is humoring, introspective, tenacious, often irreverent and conversational.


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10. Other Countries || Contemporary Poets Rewriting History, edited by Claire Trévien & Gareth Prior, with a foreword by Hannah Lowe


This collection was my favorite-read of the month; it is compelling, beautifully-organized, a power-force of the reaching-out, drawing-in that is poetry, language and life.


The poems of this anthology drop back into the past unsystematically to offer original and re-chard perspectives.

---- Hannah Lowe


The introduction reads:


There were a few thing that we wanted to achieve from the start. We wanted poems that would make us create new patterns of association in our brains where a historical period or event was concerned. Importantly, this would mean thoughtful, well-researched poems avoiding the flash of cliché, or the reduction of historical characters to caricature. These had to be poems that would feel present [...] We wanted a broad spectrum of voices and viewpoints, that would embrace humanity in all of its diversity.

---- Claire Trévien


Gareth Prior continues:


You'll find personal histories, local histories, living histories. And, as has been true for at least the last 3,000 years, we hope you'll find that the interplay between poetry and history gives rise to some dazzling and powerful poems.

The collection itself is only about 90 pages, however, it is rich with imagery, feeling and Time. It begs compassion, and the hoping that one reader will reach another. There are so many notable mentions, so many near-tears-shed-------always comforting and memorable.


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10. Wild, Ben Okri


Wild, by Ben Okri, is a strong collection of poetry. Okri, the respected author of nine novels, various volumes of short stories and essays, as well as two other collections of poetry, has received International acclaim for his writings. Wild is testament to his poetic vision, love of language, and his own tenderness towards it.


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11. My Life As A Painter, Matthew Sweeney


The title is a beautiful grounding for the collection: a photograph of Van Gogh's palette layered with daubs of paint------brushstrokes of blue and green and white. Perhaps each poem is meant to be read as a painting, a process of tenderness, humor and life in a native-surreal.


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12. Enter, Fleeing, Mark Ford


The guardian titled their review on Mark Ford's Enter, Fleeing as: A Man Going Everywhere Fast. Mark Ford has a splendid way with words. Sensitive, lyrical. He has a careful command of form, and this is evident in his almost-villanelles and narrative-sense.


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13. Chance of a Storm, Rod Mengham


Rod Mengham's Chance of a Storm was a brilliant read. It is a collection that, like Sweeney's, takes art------sculpture and paint-----into account. Telescopic, visceral, alive with language. The collection is composed of images in numbered paragraphs and succinct poems. As I read this, I took note of words, and wrote them down in unorganized order. Complete nature. It was as if you reading---------seeing--------the most majestic scene. Of earth and sky and water and life. Under the ocean. At the top of a great, growing mountain. Mengham's Chance of a Storm is a vivid recommend-read.


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14. Chorale At The Crossing, Peter Porter


Chorale At The Crossing reads as an intimate work--------of personal tragedies and generous living. the author, Peter Porter, died in 2010 with a reputation as one of the most compelling Australian poets. As a collection, Chorale At The Crossing gathers together work Porter completed after the publication of his widely-acclaimed Better Than God. It is filled with meditations of art, music and nature.


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15. Redgrove's Wife, Penelope Shuttle


Redgrove's Wife is Penelope Shuttle's ninth poetry collection; a work written during the time when she lost two of the closest people in her life: her father and her husband (poet Peter Redgrove). It is sensitive and inventive in its confrontation of grief.


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16. The Sea Cabinet, Caitríona O' Reilly


Published by Bloodaxe in 2006, The Sea Cabinet is a beautiful observation of the natural world and broadens the scope to history. Her title-poem responds to the vanished world of the whaling industry. From here, the poems continue in their meditation on culture, influence and nature.


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17. Natural Phenomena, Meryl Pugh


Natural Phenomena by Meryl Pugh is a collection that finds the urban wild; an uncovering of nature in the heavy-plastic, wire-glass city of corn-horns and shop-shutters.


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18. Talking to the Dead, Elaine Feinstein


Elaine Feinstein's Talking to the Dead is a moving collection of poems dedicated to the memory of her husband. Brave. Poignant. The absence Feinstein confronts is heavy, disclosed in the intimate moments------the conversations, repeated images and delicately-crafted depictions of marriage.


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19. As The Verb Tenses, Lynley Edmeades


As The Verb Tenses is a collection highly aware of music--------of metronome sounds and scales. Where rhymes resound, and rests are precise. Lynley Edmeades crafted this collection in 50 (relatively-short) poems with careful word-placements and repetition : the choreography of movement and musical riffs. Investigations of narrative chronology, succinct dialogue and emotion.


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