Guest Post: Dear Almost

dearalmostI’m happy to introduce you to poet Matthew Thorburn who has a new poetry collection, Dear Almost. I’ll turn over this space so he can share the role poetry has played in his life:

Thanks so much to Bookgirl’s Nightstand for inviting me to share a guest post as part of my Poetic Book Tour for my new book of poetry, Dear Almost. I’m excited to share some thoughts about what poetry means to me and how it has enriched my life.

The painter Jasper Johns once remarked that sometimes life gets so close we can’t see it anymore. That’s a thought I keep coming back to, as my own daily life gets more and more busy with all I want to do and need to do—as a husband, a dad, a son, a writer, and a full-time employee in Corporate America.

Writing poems—and reading them—is a way of taking a step back to try to understand and appreciate life. (It isn’t always successful, but it is a way of trying.) Think about another painter: if you stand too close to Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the image blurs into clouds of colors and vague shapes: all those tiny dots of paint. But take a few steps back and the scene snaps into focus. Writing and reading are like that too. In a poem I once called this “the grace of distance”—something I strive for, with mixed results, in my own life.

At the same time, though, concentrating on a poem I’m working on, until everything else drops away, is one of the great pleasures of writing. Here’s another quote, this time from my favorite poet, Elizabeth Bishop. “What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it,” she once said, “is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.”

Nowadays, we might just call it “going into the zone” or “losing yourself” in your writing. In my pre-parenting days, I could easily let a few hours slip by as I happily worked on a poem: draft some new lines, cross out a few words and pencil in better ones, come up with a new image or metaphor, read the whole thing aloud to see how it sounds, and repeat.

Of course as life gets busier, things change. But a person who wants to write finds a way to write.

My new book, Dear Almost, is a single book-length poem. As I was writing and revising it, I carried a print-out of the manuscript with me to the office each day in my briefcase, so I could work on revisions on my subway commute—at the risk of missing my stop when my own self-forgetful concentration kicked in—or during my lunch hours, when I’d sit on a public plaza along Park Avenue with my poem and my lunch.

In my previous job, I occasionally had to travel up to Boston for work. This meant four hours in the Amtrak Quiet Car (each way!) to sit and work on poems as the landscape scrolled by. That was my mini writer’s retreat, and I loved it.

Along with helping us see life more clearly, though, writing can also be a temporary escape from life—a place of shelter. Dear Almost tells the story of a year of grief and mourning after my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. Writing this book helped me find words for the helplessness and overwhelming sadness I felt following the loss of this life-in-the-making—both that tiny person just starting to take shape and the life the three of us would have shared.

Putting my feelings into words helped me cope with our loss. Writing Dear Almost was my way of holding onto and honoring what I felt—and of holding onto our “almost girl” a little while longer in the only way I could: in words. The book is like a letter, written to her.

I want to leave you with one more quote. The novelist Richard Ford once remarked in an interview that great books give us “something we need, an extra beat to life, an affirmation that life’s worth our interest, a delight in the language we use every day.”

That’s what I look for in poems—and what I try to convey through my own writing. Poems enable us to hold onto joy as well as sorrow (and all the feelings in between), to remember and re-imagine our day-to-day lives. Poems help us take a step back from life so we can see it more clearly. They give us respite, shelter, even if just for a little while. They refresh us, before we dive back into the hurried blur of our everyday lives.

Thank you to Matthew for this insightful post and to Poetic Book Tours for making this guest post happen. In addition I have one copy of Dear Almost for a giveaway (U.S./Canadian addresses only). So please leave me a comment and I’ll draw a winner in a week!

Mysteries and More Mysteries

magglassI’m a bit late in giving you a recap from my Mystery book group talk on Tuesday. We typically don’t read a lot of cozies but as we wanted a Halloween themed book for the month we discussed Hallowed Bones by Carolyn Haines. With the exception of a Black and Orange ball that takes place, this book really didn’t make you think it was Halloween.

It wasn’t a favorite book for our group but we had a good time talking about it and for a cozy we all thought it actually covered some serious themes. I’m also marking this one as a read for my R.I.P. challenge so I’ll try to get a quickie review up but no promises.

Now as we are talking about mysteries I thought I’d share some of the mystery books that I’ve read about or seen on the shelves that I’m adding to my TBR list. What do you think, have you heard of some of these?

In Sunlight or in Shadow, Editor Lawrence Block. For this collection authors were invited to write a story inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, and the results are diverse and mostly superb in this beautiful book, which has a full-page color reproduction of each painting.

Woman in the Shadows by Jane Thynne. Historical novel featuring Clara Vine, the actress and British spy in prewar Germany who maneuvers through the treacherous Nazi society gathering intelligence and discovering a deadly secret.

Victim Without A Face by Stefan Ahnhem. Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Beloved Poison by E.S. Thomson. A richly atmospheric Victorian crime novel where murder is the price to be paid for secrets kept. This one has a lovely cover with the perfect typeface.

The Gloaming by Melanie Finn. A dark, intense novel of mystery about a woman, Pilgrim, who is fleeing the disaster that was her marriage, and, overcome with guilt after a horrible accident, runs off to Africa to lick her wounds. But when a body turns up and is suspected of being a curse created by witchcraft, she and the town’s citizens are set on edge trying to figure out the curse’s intended recipient. Not helping with matters is Pilgrim’s sinking feeling that she’s being followed.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful weekend and here’s to a great week ahead!

Gabi, A Girl In Pieces

gabi“My mother named me Gabriel after my grandmother who coincidentally didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin.”

Gabi, A Girl In Pieces
By Isabel Quintero

Step into Gabi Hernandez’s journal and through the pages you’ll meet a high school student filled with dreams about college, rants about her family, and doubts about her weight and love life. It may seem like a typical teen drama but Gabi also writes about serious issues including drug abuse, teen pregnancy and navigating two cultures.

Journaling her last year of high school, Gabi has a lot of worries on her mind but her determination and spirit shine through. She doesn’t understand why her mother expects so much of her because she is a girl but lets her younger brother get away with so much. The biggest argument they will have though is about Gabi’s desire to go away to college because her mom doesn’t understand why Gabi needs to leave her home for school.

Gabi knows that her mom wants her to honor her traditional Mexican heritage values but Gabi is Mexican-American and while she speaks Spanish and understands the importance of family and heritage she is also questioning why there are two sets of rules for boys and girls.

Gabi explores her feelings and isn’t shy about confronting stereotypes. Through her journal entries there are bittersweet letters to her mostly absent father, poetry about womanhood and an overall revealing portrait of a young woman.

I found Gabi could be funny, tough and very loyal to those she loves. She’s not perfect and there are a couple of things that she does that make you want to shake her but that is part of what makes her so real and relatable. You can’t help but wonder what success Gabi will encounter in life because I have no doubt she will be fierce and successful. I loved this book.

Source: Library copy