A Poetry Double Dare

In case you missed it, last week Serena challenged us all to read poetry and I was more than eager to pick up the gauntlet. In fact, I had already started building quite a stack of poetry books because I was aware that April is National Poetry Month. I’ve gone on record as stating I hate poetry and in the years since then I have changed my tune, reading any remotely interesting book of poems that crosses my path. Here are a few that are currently on my nightstand. Since poetry is so subjective, I’ve included an excerpt from one poem for each book to give you a sense of what’s waiting for you inside each book.

Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

in our family we believe everything is inherited.
if hair is from our father then fear must be from our mother,
who is not hairy, actually, not that brown, either,
but her accent still coats her skin & sticks like wax.
-excerpt from I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom

Known for being an incredible performance poet, Melissa Lozada-Oliva has written a book and I am here for it! Peluda, or hairy/hairy beast, explores Latina identity, body image, and hair removal among other things. I find the words flow the best when I imagine Melissa saying them. The rhythm is infectious but instead of simply moving on, I find myself going back over the same poem multiple times and savoring it. It’s that kind of book.

Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

But you can be your own gin
and your own best sip too.
You can make with him a nation and still be sovereign,
your own gold coin and your own honest trade.
You can touch his hand
and still be your own snapping fingers
when the snare has gone quiet.
-excerpt from appletree [on black womanhood, from and to Erykah Badu]

Last year I read an essay Dr. Ewing wrote. I can’t recall now which essay or publication, but I can definitively say her words sparked something inside me. That same spark is present throughout Electric Arches her book of poetry, prose, and art. Themes center around Black girlhood and womanhood with dashes of Afro-futurism sprinkled throughout. Dr. Ewing has been called the Zora Neale Hurston of her generation. Pick up Electric Arches and see why.

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

Men don’t compare us
with other women.
They compare us
to an ideal.
-An Impossible Ideal

Lang Leav has previously published several books, but this is my first foray into her work. While 215 pages seems a bit lengthy for a book of poetry, I am here to reassure you that the poetry and prose are minimalistic: relatively short but nevertheless accessible to the reader. Themes here include self-discovery, loss, and falling in love. I’d recommend Sea of Strangers to fans of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur.

All three of these poets are active and awesome on social media. They are also poets of color and women (metaphorically) cutting themselves open to lyrically share their stories–good and bad–with us, the readers.

I once hated poetry because I thought it was all awkwardly positioned lines with the sole intent to confuse me in the name of a rhyming scheme. With poetry trending towards relatability and understanding the reader’s soul, I now embrace poetry and hope you will too–I double dare you!

If you read one of these or any book of poetry you can enter to win a prize in our monthly reading challenge. But I’m hoping you’re so taken with these poems you’ll be happy with the everlasting prize of discovering a poet that speaks to you.

Welcome to the poetry party. Serena and I are happy to have you here with us!

Did You Know? (Lightning Edition)

That when lightning strikes, the air around it becomes five times hotter than the surface of the sun?

I found this information on page 79 in the book 501 ½ Horrible Facts.

According to Isaac Asimov’s book The Solar System: the Sun the temperature of the sun is about 11,000 ˚F on the surface and about 27,000,000 ˚F at the center. This means that the air around a lightning strike would be about 55,000 Fahrenheit. In other words, there isn’t enough sunscreen on earth to make a trip to the sun possible! The sun is the nearest star to earth. It takes light from the sun about 8 minutes to get to earth, for the next nearest star the light takes over 4 years to get here!

Cumulonimbus clouds are the thunderclouds we see before and during a lightning storm. They are huge masses of air, water, and ice. Inside of these clouds violent air currents cause ice crystals to smash into each other, causing static electricity. Ice crystals at the base of the cloud become negatively charged while the top of the cloud and the ground are positively charged. The difference becomes so great that electricity starts leaping back and forth in the cloud causing sheet lightning or between the cloud and the ground causing fork lightning. I learned this and so much more about all kinds of weather events in the DK book Weather .

Thunder and lightning always reminds me of Zeus, the sky and thunder-god in ancient Greek religion, which makes me think of mythology! Check out one of our mythology books to read stories about gods and goddesses in Greek, Roman and Celtic Mythology.

Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle is a nice story about people escaping into a subway to avoid the thunder and lightning from a storm. People share smiles and umbrellas as they all wait out a storm together.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

When Kristin Hannah’s new book The Great Alone became available there was a bit of a buzz around the office. When I received notice that my electronic hold was available the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: we were scheduled to leave on vacation the following day.

Once the pilot gave the okay to power on electronic devices, I pulled out my new iPad with a relish of anticipation only to be quickly disappointed that I’d failed to download the book.

Lesson number one: You do not need to use Wi-Fi to read or listen to e-books or e-audio books, but you do need to download them to your device. I’d only gone as far as checking the book out; consequently it was unavailable on my flight down. However, I was pleased to access it on my return flight. Being on vacation is the best place to start a book. I sat on my sister’s patio on a balmy Tucson morning and entered into the uncharted pages of The Great Alone.

Alaska and Maine have long-held a fascination for me. They are destinations where I imagine adventures with unique grandeur and scenic marine swept beauty. Someday I hope to travel to these geographic east/west opposites. So far my experience has been literary. I have been to Maine in Christina Baker-Kline’s A Piece of the World and to the Alaskan Yukon through Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World.

Hannah’s book engaged me from the get go. Set in Seattle in 1974, the story quickly moves into the wild outskirts of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Ernt Allbright is a Vietnam vet and POW survivor who receives his ticket out of Seattle via an unexpected inheritance of land from a deceased army buddy. The family packs their meager belongings into a VW van and head up the ALCAN Highway.

Told through the eyes of Lenora (Leni), Hannah fleshes out a dysfunctional family bound by fear and devotion. I sympathized with Leni who had to move from school to school, starting over far too many times. The peacekeeper of her family, she maintains a protective and loving relationship with her mom and a skewed but respectful relationship with her unpredictable father.

Situating the novel in a rugged and remote outpost of Alaska during the post-Vietnam era creates a tension that slowly builds in the pit of your stomach and continues to grow. Hoping to escape reoccurring nightmares and failed attempts to keep work after returning from Vietnam, Leni’s father promises things will be different this time around. Secrets, shame, and disillusion begin to breed contempt, however.

For me, it is difficult to understand how a woman can allow a man to beat her in one moment and then take him back in the next, but that’s what Leni’s mother Cora does. She makes excuses explaining that her father is sick; mother and daughter form an alliance and learn to speak the language of silence. Leni’s mom chose her man over a stable home and parents who loved her — Leni doesn’t have a choice.

The family arrives at the start of summer where deceptive sunshine floods into the late hours and food is in abundance. Had it not been for the intervention of wise and caring neighbors who extended their kindness by helping the Allbrights prepare, the family would never have survived their first Alaskan winter. The hopeful enthusiasm for a fresh start begins to fade as the long dark days of an Alaskan winter creep in. The promise Leni’s dad made to stop drinking and beating his wife slowing dissipates, replaced by violence and vengeance fueled by whiskey and a growing paranoia.

The stage is set for disaster and the plot thickens. Leni’s father’s jealousy is aimed at the father of her best friend Matthew. Leni and her mother become adept survivalists not only in the Alaskan Wilderness, but in their own home.

At the time of this writing there are 26 holds on the book, but the list was longer when I was reading the electronic version. At first I couldn’t put the book down, but I was forced to in order to meet the deadline for my book club. Then, about two-thirds of the way through The Great Alone the story took a turn and went from a page turner to a ‘I can finish this later’ type of book. I was not ready to completely give up, however, and was fortunate enough to snag a large print copy to continue reading.

I grew up in the Northwest and in the era depicted in Hannah’s story I would’ve been about the same age as Leni, but my life looked much different. Even though I had my own family drama by the early 80’s, I was living my own dream: young, newly married and starting a family. We lived out in the country with a wood stove and thrived on simplicity. My idea of roughing it was romanticized by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. I knew little of the horrific aftermath of the Vietnam War and less of the devastation it took on men like Ernt.

The Great Alone is a story of ‘behind closed doors’ giving insight into the pain and suffering that our country was still reeling from in the late 70’s early 80’s. Things were not perfect. Hannah captures and develops believable characters and portrays a young family trapped in crisis. I found the transition of pace and tension shifting gears a bit abrupt, but I loved the beautiful description of Alaska and how the story segues into a redemptive ending.

The Great Alone is a must read for 2018!

Read a Poem…I Dare You

April is National Poetry month and the library’s reading challenge this month is to read a book of poetry. I have heard some people say how they are not looking forward to this challenge and that they probably won’t be reading a book of poetry. I understand this resistance because a lot of people (myself included) have bad memories of being required to read poets who weren’t accessible to them during high school or college. They were required to memorize the first twenty lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue or read Paradise Lost.

Nothing is necessarily wrong with Chaucer or Milton, but today I am highlighting contemporary poets who may not be familiar to everyone. My hope in writing this post is that someone who avoids poetry will consider trying to read a poem…or maybe even a book of them. I have a deep appreciation for poetry and it has come to me through writing it, but also through reading poets that I resonate with on a personal and intellectual level. A wide spectrum of poets influenced me, but two in particular were Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds. I remember just falling into their work, feeling like I had found someone who understood me.

Some of the poets listed below recently had their start on social media while others have been writing poetry in the more conventional sense for quite some time. Poetry can be intimidating when you start reading it, but just remember there is not one right way to interpret a poem. Your experiences and who you are will determine your interpretation. If you need some tips about how to get started reading a poem, check out this insightful document from the Great Books Foundation.

Sun and flowers

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The long awaited second book of poetry by Rupi Kaur is comprised of five parts and includes her illustrations as well. The parts are called wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. These poems chronicle heartbreak but also the strength and growth that occurs after the pain has been traversed.

sailing

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

Billy Collins is a renowned American poet who is a Guggenheim fellow and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. His poems are about easily accessible subjects such as getting out of bed in the morning or quitting smoking. Sometimes they are funny and sometimes they take on a more serious, reflective tone. He uncovers complex topics through remarkably mundane things and observations.

wrote

I Wrote This for You by Pleasefindthis (Iain S. Thomas)

Pleasefindthis is the pseudonym that Iain S. Thomas uses as a poet. He began sharing his poetry and photographs on his blog before they were published as books. I Wrote This for You is a collection of his work that spans from 2007 to 2017. The first page of his book reads:

“I wrote this for you and only you.

The universe is desperately trying to move you into the only spot that truly belongs to you, in the whole entire thing, a space that only you can stand in. I believe it is up to you to decide every single day whether you are moving towards or away from that spot. I am trying to draw a map.”

His work will pull you in and let you know you are less alone in the world.

Alone

How to be Alone by Tanya Davis

Maybe you want to be alone, but just need a few instructions. If you are extremely hesitant about reading poetry, then this may be the book for you. How to Be Alone is comprised of one illustrated poem written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman. Davis is a poet, musician and performer and if you enjoy reading this poem, check out her video on YouTube. Davis reminds me of how poetry can be presented in so many different ways–it doesn’t just have to be a verse on a page.

mars

Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the current United States Poet Laureate and Life on Mars won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The poems in this collection are longer and will require you to spend more time reading and pondering them than some of the other poetry mentioned in this post. Some of the poems are infused with themes from science fiction and they truly take on a vastness that might be compared to traveling through space.

wildly

Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Gregson’s most recent book is comprised of both his poetry and photography. Many of the poems in this book are photographs of his poems that have been typed on a typewriter and this definitely influenced the way I read these poems. Gregson captured the tone of his work well in the introduction to his collection:

“Perhaps for me, art, and the creation of it, has been reduced over the years to the pursuit of accurately and honestly reflecting both sides of that reality: the shine of noon and the pitch of midnight.”

princess

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

If you are a fan of Rupi Kaur’s work, then Amanda Lovelace will pique your interest as well. As a child, she loved reading fairy tales, so the title of this collection makes sense. The first three parts of the book are autobiographical and are called the princess, the damsel and the queen. The fourth part is called “you” and it addresses the reader in the hope that they will write their own ending. Lovelace explores themes of love and loss and ultimately resilience.

Xiomara and Nate

I’ve never minded our wet winters too terribly. I’m a grizzled native of upstate New York. I sneer at nor’easters and laugh off blizzards. I shoveled my driveway all winter every winter from the age of eighteen days to eighteen years. I walked to school uphill both ways in freezing rain while wearing flip flops. So now, a little northwest rain? That’s what real winter warriors like me call “cute.” Grossly exaggerated braggadocio aside, I still get excited for Spring. Peeks of sunshine, baseball games, blooming flowers, and best of all, a deluge of phenomenal new fiction. As usual I’ve been glutting on YA novels and while several have been standouts, two in particular have worked their way into my head staying with me long after I turned the final page.

Xiomara, the narrator of Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X, is an incredibly compelling and complex young woman who immediately won me over. She is fierce, independent, and loyal to her twin brother, but also struggling with questions about her identity and the conflicts between her own desires and the expectations of her Dominican parents. The relationship with her parents is particularly tenuous – while her brother is treated as a golden child, she has always felt like more of a problem than a blessing:

As issues with her parents come to a head and romance with a classmate grows complicated, Xiomara is desperate for a release which she finds through her poetry and a developing interest in slam performance. Xiomara has finally found a place where she belongs, but unless she can make her parents better understand her world, she may lose this precious chance to blossom through her craft.

CoverReveal_PoetXBeyond the beautifully crafted characters, this verse novel shines because of Acevedo’s fantastic writing. This should be no surprise as Acevedo is an extremely talented poet, but I was still struck by the sheer beauty of her storytelling. As an added bonus, this month’s Reading Challenge is to read poetry. All you need to do for a chance to win is to take a photo with the book you read and post it on social media with the hashtag #EverettReads. Poet X is a profound and compelling work that I am excited to suggest to the young readers I work with each day and it’s eligibility for the April challenge is the cherry on top!

While Poet X has stuck with me because of its wonderfully dynamic characters, S.F. Henson’s Devils Within has haunted me with its resonant, tense and chilling depiction of domestic terrorism. The story opens with a young man named Nate moving to a new town to live with his uncle. Nate wants nothing more than to keep his head down and remain unnoticed, but he has a past that will be difficult to escape. Nate is the son of a powerful white supremacist leader and was raised to carry forward his father’s hateful legacy. Despite a childhood filled with violent acts, indoctrination, and racist misinformation, Nate always felt that his father and his followers were wrong and yearned to be free of their poisonous influence. He eventually does escape, but it comes with a cost. During a frantic struggle Nate kills his father and spends time in both prison and a treatment center before being turned over to an uncle who believes his nephew is the same brand of bigot that Nate’s father was (and a killer to boot).

91NuLbodoFLNate is determined to keep his past hidden. He is deeply ashamed of the life he led and is terrified of being tracked down by his father’s vengeful and zealous compatriots. Nate begins school but struggles to adjust to his new social and academic surroundings. Over time Nate is offered a glimmer of hope. Brandon, a popular classmate, seems genuinely interested in befriending Nate and determined to help him find a place in his new town. Nate is amazed as Brandon is not only the first kind person he has met in the town, but also his first friend who is a person of color. As the ghosts of his past begin to fade Nate yearns to open up to Brandon, confessing the horrible things he has seen and done. But before Nate can take this risk his past begins to catch up with him, bringing with it the toxic hate and terrible violence he thought he had left behind threatening to destroy his new life and, even worse, putting his new friend in jeopardy.

Henson is unflinching in her portrayal of the racism and bigotry that is still pervasive in our society. While at times this book is a thrilling adventure, it is also a fever dream that I know is far too real for many Americans. As the novel approached an impending and climactic confrontation I wanted desperately to stop reading and yet could not put the book down. In my mind that is as high praise as I can give.

At first glance, there are not many similarities between the story of a Dominican girl in Harlem and a former white nationalist in Alabama. But as I dwell on both Xiamora’s and Nate’s stories I see many through lines in their lives. They’re both in conflict (albeit on very different levels) with the expectations and identities of their parents, desperate to find their own place in the larger world around them, and yet determined to live their lives by their own rules not by those forced upon them. I am so grateful to both Elizabeth Acevedo and S.F. Henson for creating these memorable young people and allowing me to see the world through their eyes.

Spot-Lit for April 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

 Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

Did You Know (Possum – Opossum Edition)

That possums and opossums are two different animals?

I found this information on page 21 in the book ABCs of Animals by Bobbie Kalman. They belong to different groups of marsupials. The Virginia opossum is the only opossum in North America. Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials by Sneed B Collard III explains more about the possum/opossum differences, and tells about other marsupials’ habits as well.

‘Playing possum’ is a handy trick these animals have learned to play. Tricky Opossums by Catherine Nichols explains how they can maintain this pose for up to 4 hours, blowing snot bubbles and stinky goo to really enhance their ‘dead-ness.’

While playing possum is considered a trick, it is not a magic trick. For those of you, who want some ‘real’ magic in their lives, check out the book That’s Magic by Richard Jones to learn 40 foolproof tricks!

How many times have we asked ourselves: “Is this real or fake?” (Remember the “Is it live or is it Memorex?” commercials?) For kids, we have the book 100% Pure Fake by Lyn Thomas which gives directions and recipes for some very gross fake-outs… brain pie, scars or blisters, and rotting skin. This book would be very handy for April Fools’ day or Halloween. For musicians there are many different Fake Books by Hal Leonard with melody, lyrics and simplified chords that will help you to easily expand your musical repertoire.

So, the next time you see an opossum cross the road you will know it’s not a possum! And, if it ‘drops dead’ you will know it really isn’t!