An Embarrassment of Riches

An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.

Book Jacket: Family Life by Akhil SharmaI had just checked out Family Life by Akhil Sharma and thought I’d read a few pages over coffee before moving on to baking my pumpkin pie. A few pages in, I knew I had to see it through to the end.

Family Life is the story of the Mishras, who arrive from Delhi to settle in Queens in pursuit of a better life for their sons Ajay and Birju. Birju has just been accepted into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science when tragedy strikes, leaving Birju brain damaged. The focus of Family Life quickly shifts from achieving success in a foreign culture, to simply caring for Birju.  Sharma’s novel is a story of being an outsider, but it’s also an extraordinarily perceptive story of being a family.    

Family life is an excruciatingly honest book.  It’s insightful, funny and messy.  It’s tragic and hard to pull away from. It’s a lot like family.

 

I just finished Lila,  Marilynne Robinson's third book set in the fictional midwestern town of Gilead. Gilead is the first, and is told from the point of view of John Ames, a Congregationalist pastor who is at the end of his life. To John, Lila is his much younger wife, a blessing, remarkable for her energy and her steadfast love.

The new book is told from Lila's point of view and takes place about eight years earlier. It was startling to see her show up in Gilead for the first time with nothing but a knife and emotional baggage from her dark and lonesome past. John Ames is one of my favorite characters ever. He's not perfect, but he's kind, patient and extraordinarily open to the universe. I was worried as I read this new book that Lila wouldn’t be able to love Ames the way I wanted her to. I read on,  watching these two solitary people start to connect in spite of all the things that should keep them apart, differences in age, social standing and faith.

Robinson uses simple, specific language that is also quite sensual. Early in this book, there's a beautiful description of Lila washing her clothes in the river. Reading, I could smell the river and the soap, and I watched the clothes lose their shape in the water-- and in her words, it’s so vivid. Like Terrence Malick’s movies, like great music, like much of the best art, I find that reading Robinson’s writing makes me feel more awake in my own life. I have a feeling there’s going to be at least one more book by Robinson set in Gilead, and I will go back there with her gratefully.

 

Romeo the wolf loved to play with dogs. When he first appeared at Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier Park, he reacted to dogs in a play bow--front paws flat on the ground, rear end up, and a mischievous tilt of the head.  Romeo was an Alexander Archipelago wolf, a rare subspecies of the gray wolf.  As Romeo gained doggy and human followers/friends, some people thought humans should be protected from Romeo, or vice versa, Romeo should be protected from humans. Writer and wildlife photographer Nick Jans recently wrote a moving yet scientific account of Romeo's interactions, and photographer John Hyde also published a stunning photo history. Both men and their dogs got to know Romeo intimately. Still, the question remains: Why did a wolf seek out dogs for play?

Sunny, a rescue dog of mysterious origins, appears in our My Librarian photo. The latest scientific thinking suggests that Sunny’s ancestors broke off from the gray wolf line of the Canidae family, with gray wolves and dogs diverging perhaps 300,000 years ago. The similarities and differences between the two animals is a rich subject. Nick Jans points out that while dogs and wolves at first glance look similar, the wolf has a straighter back and a stouter muzzle. Yet Sunny still howls at ambulances and odd cell phone ring tones, and would give anything to gulp down a raw, whole salmon.

To really understand what we know about what makes dogs, and sometimes wolves, tick, try some of Sunny's suggestions! She's got a non-fiction list written for the adult audience and some great novels and fun books about working dogs for elementary aged kids--although I would recommend both lists for everyone.

Epitaph bookjacketAfter years of consuming cartoon images of the Wild West inhabitated by larger-than-life characters like Wyatt Earp, Ike Clanton and Doc Holladay, it's quite a feat to reverse the trend and present them as real people. That's exactly what Mary Doria Russell does in Doc, and her latest, Epitaph: A novel of the OK Corral. Russell is always meticulous in her research, and she tells much of the story from the perspective of women, and in particular Josephine Sarah Marcus, the common-law wife of Wyatt Earp.

What I love about a well-researched historical novel is how it piques my curiosity. With Epitaph, I was intrigued to learn more about Jospehine and how she carefully controlled the public perception of Wyatt Earp and what occurred during those 30 seconds, yes! ... 30 seconds! ... that would fuel the public imagination and affect perceptions about the 'wild west' that are still curled up like a sleeping rattlesnake in the shade of the American psyche.

And yes, it's true that I've just told you about a book that won't be out until March, 2015. But that gives you time to read Doc, Mary Doria Russell's intricate and beautifully crafted portrait of Doc Holladay.  Then follow your curiosity where ever it leads in anticipation of Epitaph.

 

Artist, author, educator & performer, Turiya Autry has been bringing a bold strong voice to encourage social change across the nation for years. Whether directing youth programs, teaching, rocking the mic or working behind the scenes, Turiya encourages people to look more critically and lovingly upon the world around them. Her recently released cTuriya Autry. Photo: Elijah Hasanollection of poetry, Roots, Reality & Rhyme, is a poetic journey that bridges the personal and political, the mythic and the real. Since childhood, reading remains one of Turiya’s favorite pastimes. “Books are the one thing I never get enough of in life!  I’m glad that as an adult, I can stay up as late as I want reading without having to sneak a flashlight in my room, like I did when I was little.” Curious about poetry slam and the process of creating poetry? Join Turiya for an upcoming series of programs at the library.

Reading offered me a consistent escape hatch from the world. You mean to tell me, I can walk through a closet and end up in another place, where weeks only equal minutes passed and animals talk?! There’s such a thing as a tesseract?  Literature helped me imagine endless wonders: other lands, realities and possibilities. Books also provided me with new perspectives, analysis and awareness on issues that mattered most to me. Narrowing it down to just a few wasn’t easy, but the ones I’ve selected are books that I’ve read multiple times and never seemed to grow tired of, whether in my youth, or present day. 

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, was one of the first fantasy/ sci-fi novels that I read. After racing through that story, I got my hands on everything else she wrote. The other novel I fell in love with early was Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. I remember crying at one part every single time! The story is based on a true tale of a young girl being left behind on an island, when the rest of her people leave on ships with foreigners. Resilience and independence are fierce in this tale.

Hands down, the most influential book of poetry for me was Ntozake Shange’s, For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. The choreo-poem follows the varied tales of multiple women, represented by colors of the rainbow: from devastating tales of interpersonal violence to glorious declarations of love, accomplishment and fierceness in the face of it all. Her freedom from punctuation and capitalization had a strong impact on me as well. My choice to include very minimal punctuation and to use all lower case, in my book of poetry Roots, Reality & Rhyme, was definitely a homage to her influence.

Novels are my favorite way to spend time reading. Two of my all-time favorites are: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty. Both feature characters struggling to understand and grapple with their roots. Both stories also dig deep into a wide array of social dynamics: greed and capitalism, the power in a name and knowing one’s ancestors, relationships and the wide reaching effects of oppression on individuals and communities. The ensemble cast of vivid characters in both are powerfully written and fascinating to follow. Paul Beatty writes with a brilliant sarcasm and insight that holds no punches. Morrison’s style as an author is haunting and mesmerizing.

On the non-fiction front, I think everyone should read Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur and Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. These two gems speak to the intersectionality of identity regarding gender, race, sexuality and class in very distinct ways. Regardless of how readers identify themselves, the writing of Assata Shakur and Audre Lourde challenges misconceptions of Black women and history by giving voice to our multi-dimensional reality. Through story, essays and poetry, they both share critical insights, history, struggles, joys and pains. Their writing asks the reader to carve out a space in their minds and hearts to value and empathize with the experiences and intellect of Black women.

 

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Us bookjacketMarriage is a journey; the best of them take a committed couple up to beautiful views and delightful romps at the sea. But sometimes planes are delayed and the food sucks and one person just wants to go back home. David Nicholls in his new book, Us, takes the reader on quite a ride in this marriage travelogue. Douglas Petersen, his wife, Connie, and their 17-year-old son, Albie, are about to embark on a month-long tour of European capitals. What could possibly go wrong? Well there's this, Connie has just woken her husband up to tell him she thinks their marriage “has run its course” and is thinking about leaving but no, let’s still go on this long trip to Europe together.

Nicholls takes us into a marriage - the beginnings, the middle, the roller coaster ride of it all. He makes it way more funny than our own marriages are. And he shows us the truth and the heartbreak and the hope we must hold on to in our families. It's totally worth taking a trip to Europe with the Petersen family on the pages of Us.

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

It has been years since I last worked as a day worker. I was never a fan of day labor. I hated the idea, in part, because of the work itself. Day work was temporary, backbreaking, low-wage, and dead-end. But what I found most distasteful was the poor treatment I sometimes received.

Before the End, After the Beginning book jacketWeeks after I read Dagoberto Gilb’s short story, “Cheap,” I found myself reflecting about my time as a day worker in California and Texas. Unable to answer questions that kept bringing me back to the time when I labored at the lower end of the service sector job market, I decided that it was time to check out Before the End, After the Beginning again, and re-read “Cheap.” I asked myself, 'What is it that brought me back to Gilb’s fictional world of immigrant day workers?' as I prepared to re-visit the short story, and continued to ask myself that question over and over as a re-read “Cheap.”

In one word: consciousness.

Carlos and Uriel—father and son characters employed by Luke’s Construction, the company the narrator uses to paint inside the house—are aware of who they are as workers hired for the day. They know that they don’t have much say in the hours they toil and in the wages Luke pays them. They don’t even express disaffection when Luke denies them their entitled noontime lunch hour. Instead, Carlos and Uriel stay silent while he tells them what they need to do for the day. They remain quiet, because they know that it is hopeless to protest. But once Luke departs to check another worksite, they consciously take control of the workday to regain their dignity.

I wasn’t happy or sad after I finished re-reading “Cheap,” even though some of the passages reminded me of my time as a day worker. At the same time, I felt sympathy and respect for Carlos and Uriel because of their tenacity. While both characters understood the limitations of day labor, their drive to finish the job in spite of the way Luke treated them said more about them than the job itself.

The Oversight book jacketIn the traditional sort of fantasy novel, the reader is shown a world where magic and blades rule the day.  Science and technology are not a major part of the world.  But as in the fairy tales and mythology from which fantasy borrows with heavy hand, as technology is discovered, magic and magical creatures are usually driven to the verge. (Although according to the urban fantasy subgenre, by the time the modern day rolls around magic has adapted just fine!). I just finished The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher which is an excellent example of this type of fantasy with an early modern time setting.

Once upon a time, The Oversight numbered in the hundreds and guarded the world from magic - the sort of magic that leaves the survivors wailing bewildered over their dead. Now there are only five left to guard against the dark things better unseen.  A girl is brought to them by a disreputable sort who wants to sell her.  Prone to screaming fits, she is thought mad but she also might be the start of rebuilding the Oversight. Or perhaps not.  This is a very fast-paced tale and obviously the start of a trilogy at a minimum. The world shown is gritty and grim. You can all but smell the stink of the gutters in the city and see the wild spaces in the countryside shrink as they are fettered by iron rails and canals that also bind the fey things and drive them to madness.  I couldn't put this book down and set aside everything else I had started to finish it. I'm going to snatch up book two the moment it's available.

P.S.  Rachel really called it on Ancillary Justice being a wonderful novel in her earlier blog entry.  I liked book two even better!

Azalea's family photoLast summer me and my sister visited the homeland and spent less than a week hanging out with our maternal grandparents. We had a steady routine: we'd wake up at 5 o'clock to roosters crowing, eat a healthy Ilocano breakfast, go outside and sit in the backyard, complain about the heat, eat and eat again, and fall asleep at 11 o'clock. There wasn't a lot to do in our grandpa'sbarangay, a kind of ancestral village in the middle of tobacco fields in northwestern Philippines.
 
One day we startAzalea's family photoed going through their dusty cabinets and we found things that no one in our family knew about. Azalea's family photoThere were all these pictures of my aunt's ex-boyfriends, my grandpa looking young and unforgivably handsome,  goofy American pictures of us from the '90s, and more. The best part were pictures of my lady relatives, posing and enjoying their clothes.  If you're a fan of vintage clothing you might enjoy some of these pictures from the ole family albums.
 
Check out this list for more vintage style inspiration!
 
 
 
 

 

Earlier this year a friend told me about comic book subscription boxes forever opening my mind up to a whole new way to add to my ever increasing list of things to read. What's a comic book subscription box, you ask? Most comic book stores offer a subscription service so that die hard fans can stay up to date on their favorite comics, and you get your own little cubby where your titles are kept until you come in to purchase them. I couldn't resist. I had to have my own comic book cubby! 
 
And I can't resist sharing the list of titles that are in my comic cubby with you.
 
Saga book coverScience fiction space opera meets fantasy meets cosmic interplanetary love story. Alana and Marko are two soldiers from opposite sides of the galaxy, fleeing from those who want them dead, and trying to find peace and a place to raise their daughter.
 
 
 
 
Chew book coverA bird flu pandemic has lead to a poultry prohibition and the FDA is now the most powerful law enforcement branch of the government. Tony Chu is a FDA agent. Tony Chu is also a cibopath, meaning he gets a psychic impression from anything he eats, including people. Being an FDA agent with cibopathic powers means Tony literally has to take a bite out of crime. 
 
 
 
 
Rat Queens book coverRat Queens follows the exploits of a diverse group of rowdy and rambunctious mercenaries in the fantasy land of Palisades. There’s Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.
 
 
 
 
Revival book coverFor one day in Wausau, Wisconsin, the dead came back to life, but the newly returned dead are not your typical brain eating zombies. The dead that return, “revivers”, come back pretty much as their family and friends remembered them. The return of the dead has put this small rural town in the national spotlight. The CDC has put the town under quarantine and the living must learn to live with the dead.
 
 
 
Of course you can delve into these comics for free at the library. Check out the list below for these and other titles that I can't stop reading.
 

"FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD"
(New York Daily News Headline, 10.30.1975)
Love Goes To Buildings On Fire Cover
By 1973-74, the US was facing serious economic collapse following a property investment boom and crash - not entirely dissimilar or unrelated to the crash of 2008.  New York City, in particular, felt the strains of over-speculation and an inability to make good on massive infrastructural spending debts (for a clear-minded synopsis of this trajectory, check out David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism). In essence, the major banks of NYC refused further loans, pushing one of the largest cities in the world to the brink of near-total shutdown.  When the city turned to the executive office for federal assistance, then-President Ford refused to assist (though it turns out the Daily News headline quoted above is kind of apocryphal), essentially placing the city in a hostage situation with the increasingly powerful banks.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, Will Hermes' excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever explores the simultaneous explosion of musical cross-pollination, experimentation and invention that emerged from what many in the US were then calling "a cultural dead zone."  Hermes scope is impressively broad though he zeroes in on a handful of truly critical players and scenemakers including DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, disco pioneers David Mancuso and Nicky Siano, as well as punk provocateurs the New York Dolls and the Ramones.  Hermes's primary focus is on Manhattan but he also touches on the music coming out of the peripheral boroughs - like salsa, disco and rap/hip-hop.

Fellow readers, it's that time. Time for me to sign off from the My Librarian team. It's been a wild ride!

I'm so proud to have been a member of the inaugural My Librarian group. When we started we were nervous, excited, and just a little bit terrified! This was something completely new, and we were doing it.

I have loved everything about the experience (well, except for maybe that photo shoot). The teamwork has been phenomenal, and I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues. But the best part, by far, has been the interaction with you, our living, breathing library visitors. Sharing the joy of books and reading with you has been a highlight of my library career. You all have taught me so much, and I hope in turn I have been able to expand your reading horizons.

So, please keep on keeping on with the My Librarians, thanks for the memories, and so long, farewell!

What is it that makes a rollicking good regency romance? I think it takes more than a crowded ballroom and characters who feel pressure to produce an heir or avoid being a spinsterit takes the tension between love and sexual attraction. It occurred to me recently that if you take the songs Some Enchanted Evening and Fever, you have the perfect formula for great regency romance. You get fated love ("you will see a stranger...your true love across a crowded room") and sexual fervor ("you give me fever when you kiss me"). 

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is on Kirkus Review’s list of best fiction of 2014 and features a feisty heroine matching wits with the duke who refuses to leave the castle she has inherited. No crowded ballrooms, but definitely some sexual fervor. 

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict bookjacketIn Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bed. Strangers in old-fashioned clothes enter. Who are these people? They all have body odor. 

Rude Awakenings bookjacket

In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict,  Jane Mansfield awakens in a room that has bars on the window. There is a strange man in the next room, and she has no chaperone. 

To quote Austen (Mansfield Park), I found these companion novels about women who have mysteriously swapped lives and bodies to be “nothing but pleasure from beginning to end.”  I appreciated the dialogue, chuckled over the situations, wondered if they’d find love, and found myself prompted by these books to contemplate women’s roles and opportunities in the 19th and 21st centuries.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

I'll never forget the first time I watched a horror movie. I was in fifth grade. A bunch of us neighborhood kids met up at a friend's house to watch the first Friday the 13th. One of the kids had snagged the video from their parents' VHS collection. I don't remember much of the movie because a boy that I had a long standing crush on was sitting with his friend on the other side of the living room. Much of my attention was focused on trying figure out how to sit next to him without seeming too obvious. But as the body count started to pile up on screen, my mood went from twitterpated to terrified. When (spoiler alert) Alice cut off Mrs. Voorhees head with a machete, I was done. I quickly excused myself, jumped on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could, crying all the way.  I vowed to never watch another horror movie.

For a decade or so, I kept that vow, convinced that watching horror movies would only lead to months of nightmares. My attitude towards the terror inducing genre was forever changed when I watched the film Shaun of the Dead and realized just how hilarious horror movies can be. The more over the top the better. Copious amounts of fake blood. Awesome! Unrealistic and insane death and dismemberment. Perfect. Bumbling zombies. Of course. Killer clowns. Yes please. My favorite film genre is without question horror-comedies. Check out the list below to see some of my favorites.

 

 

If I used one word to describe the comic book Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe it would be "bawdy."  I might also say that it is my favorite comic of the year. And if you are looking for read alikes for Saga then I suggest to you that Rat Queens might be it.

Rat Queens are a mercenary warrior gang in the fantastical town of Palisade. They are sent off on a troll killing mission and mayhem ensues. Their tale had me rolling with laughter and horror-struck by the gore in the fight scenes. These queens can curse, joke, fight, and party with the best of them. Glad I was invited to this party. And now you are invited too!

"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Cover of In Danger - Pasolini

Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.

Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself.  Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking.  Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism.  Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed.  In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations.  But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement.  If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).

Image of rioter and fire

“If you’re not ready to go home,
  can I get a ‘Hell, no!’?

‘Cause we’re gonna go all night,
 ‘til we see the sunlight, alright…

 And we can’t stop.
 And we won’t stop.
 Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?”

-Miley Cyrus, "We Can’t Stop"

Of course one can argue that pop/rock music has always contained an inherent resistance to authority and constraints (think "Blackboard Jungle, " Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, Jim Morrison arrested for indecent exposure, outlaw country anti-heroes like Waylon Jennings, James Brown's various altercations with the law, etc.) and there's a rich genealogy of rock/pop/soul/hip-hop artists explicitly incorporating revolutionary critiques into their aesthetic (Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Jefferson Airplane, Last Poets). 

However, the last few years have seen a profusion of lyrics and postures that appear to echo and reflect this moment's widespread outrage, confusion and disillusionment with party politics. And while past instances of resistance tended to focus on the rebelling individual, post-2010 riot pop often speaks from the point of view of a tenuous "we."  In response to an ever-widening class divide and a seemingly endless economic recession, these songs seem to suggest "party=riot" (or vice versa!). This has led to some interesting thinking and conversations about the levels of co-optation (are these songs simply symptoms of culture industry opportunism?) and the ways in which many of these songs have served as soundtracks to riots and occupations in real-time.  Below is a list of some post-2010 tunes pushing for good bad times that won't ever stop:

1) Rihanna - We Found Love


2) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

3) Ellie Goulding - Burn

4) Ke$ha - We R Who We R

5) Black Eyed Peas - Party All The Time

6) Britney Spears - Til The World Ends

7) Pitbull - Give Me Everything

8) Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church in the Wild

9) will.i.am & Britney Spears - Scream and Shout

10) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us

 

 

Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!

Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?

I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't. 

A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:

  • In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
  • In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
  • Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.

Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.

 

From Freely Espousing
by James Schuyler

"a commingling sky

                      a semi-tropic night
                      that cast the blackest shadow
                      of the easily torn, untrembling banana leaf

or Quebec! what a horrible city
so Steubenville is better?
                          the sinking sensation
when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”
the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans
the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.
No, it is absolutely forbidden
for words to echo the act described; or try to. Except very directly
as in
bong. And tickle. Oh it is inescapable kiss."

Schuyler Selected Poems Cover

I first encountered - and eventually fell in love with - James Schuyler's poetry in a college bookstore in the late 1980s.  Periodically browsing the oh-so tiny "Poetry" section for incoming delights, I found Schuyler's Selected Poems but was initially repelled by the goopy watercolor painting that spanned the entire front cover (the packaging too seemingly reminiscent of some kind of sentimental/inspirational poems collection).  I eventually returned to read the author bio and immediately purchased the book as soon as I realized Schuyler was a member of the so-called New York School of Poets (Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery are perhaps the biggest stars of this loose historical/geographical conjuncture). Like O'Hara (a sometime roommate), Schuyler's poetry often comes off as conversational, improvisatory, delicate.  And like O'Hara and Ashbery, Schuyler was as influenced by the contemporaneous art world (he was a curator at MOMA for a brief period in the late 1950s and an art critic during much of the first half of his adult life). 

What impressed - and continues to impress - me so about Schuyler's poetry is the way straightforward evocations of the quotidian explode and reframe experience, but never fully leave the specific material moment.  His work is never simply celebratory or feel-good.  A brief encounter with Schuyler's poetry might too easily suggest trivial evocations of simple moments. The attentive reader though is faced with a tendency for things and language to fall apart.  I believe that it's always important to historically situate a writer's work and we can see the same kinds of destabilization in Schuyler's poems that are omnipresent in TV's Madmen and the world of white-collar professionals in the late 1950s/early 1960s - the as yet unrealized economic and social rot at the heart of urban white middle-class existence.

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