Some Poetry for People Who Think They Don’t Like Poetry

As a longtime reader of poetry, somewhat lapsed of late, my poetic taste is informed for the most part by the work of American poets from the middle to the end of the last century.  “There’s no accounting for taste” is a phrase commonly encountered in the world of aesthetics, and the titles chosen here may indeed not be to your personal liking, but I have selected them because they consist mostly of short poems, generally have low barriers to entry, and frequently focus on some universal qualities of human experience – in other words, the hope is that the poems featured here will win over some of you who think that you do not like poetry.

While not limited strictly to the timeframe and geography mentioned above, this is not intended to be seen as anything other than a very small sampling. Most of these poets have received numerous major poetry awards and many of them have held the position of U.S. Poet Laureate.

The descriptions below come from the summaries in the library catalog, unless otherwise indicated.

New and Selected PoemsMary Oliver
New and Selected Poems
Mary Oliver’s poems offer vivid images and penetrating insights into the natural world melded with the joys and sorrows, flesh and spirit, of our fragile, time-bound human experience. The poems selected here are a great introduction for anyone new to Oliver’s luminous and resonant poetry.  -Scott

Sailing Alone Around the Room

Billy Collins
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
Whether old or new, these poems will catch their readers by exhilarating surprise. They may begin with irony and end in lyric transcendence. They may open with humor and close with grief. They may, and often do, begin with the everyday and end with infinity.

 

The Voice at 3 a.m.Charles Simic
The Voice at 3:00 a.m.: Selected Late & New Poems.
Charles Simic has been widely celebrated for his brilliant poetic imagery; his social, political, and moral alertness; his uncanny ability to make the ordinary extraordinary; and not least, a sardonic humor all his own. Gathering much of his material from the seemingly mundane minutia of contemporary American culture, Simic matches meditations on spiritual concerns and the weight of history with a nimble wit, shifting effortlessly to moments of clear vision and intense poetic revelation.

Kindest RegardsTed Kooser
Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
Firmly rooted in the landscapes of the Midwest, Kooser’s poetry succeeds in finding the emotional resonances within the ordinary. Kooser’s language of quiet intensity trains itself on the intricacies of human relationships, as well as the animals and objects that make up our days.

 

View with a Grain of SandWisława Szymborska
View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems
From one of Europe’s most prominent and celebrated poets, a collection remarkable for its graceful lyricism. With acute irony tempered by a generous curiosity, Szymborska documents life’s improbability as well as its transient beauty to capture the wonder of existence.

 

Garden TimeW.S. Merwin
Garden Time
W.S. Merwin composed Garden Time during the difficult process of losing his eyesight. When he could no longer see well enough to write, he dictated his new poems to his wife, Paula. In this gorgeous, mindful, and life-affirming book, our greatest poet channels energy from animated sounds and memories to remind us that “the only hope is to be the daylight.”

 

ReliquariesEric Pankey
Reliquaries
This book is Pankey’s most expansive, accessible and wide-ranging to date, and takes up subjects such as the death of family and friends, faith and doubt, beauty and the sublime, philosophy and art. Like a reliquary, each poem not only holds shards of memory, relics of the past, but each poem is a meditation upon the complexity of memory–its uncertainty and mutability, its precision and candor, its grave density and its ether-weight.

 

Bunch GrassRobert Sund
Bunch Grass
NW poet Robert Sund’s Bunch Grass, his first collection of poems, is set in the wheat and barley fields of eastern Washington where he worked for a season at a grain elevator.  He has an especially keen eye and a lively ability to condense details into a powerful whole. Readers will want to go on to explore his collected Poems from Ish River Country for his impressions of the lowland Puget Sound and Washington coast.  -Scott

 

The Best of ItKay Ryan
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems
Salon has compared her poems to “Fabergé eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder.” The two hundred poems in Ryan’s The Best of It offer a stunning retrospective of her work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems of which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and general readers.

For a collection of essays that completely captures the sense of joy poetry can provide, take a look at Kay Ryan’s recent Synthesizing Gravity.

April is National Poetry Month (though anything worth celebrating for a month is worth celebrating all year), so settle in with some of these collections.  Or to browse our print poetry collections in the library catalog, click here.

Short Story Averse

While I’ve always loved short stories, I know there are some people who are hesitant to try them out. One of the major complaints I’ve heard over the years is that short stories are, well, just too short. You start getting interested in a set of characters and plotlines, the argument goes, and then everything seems to end abruptly and doesn’t resolve.   

While it is true that short story writers have less time to get their characters and ideas across, I’ve always found that good story collections have a consistent mood and style that makes up for the choppiness the reader might feel.  

I was reminded of this while reading three recent collections. While the tones are very different, each collection has a distinct feel. This unifies all the different characters and situations making the book seem like one long work where the characters and situations just happen to change. Read on to find out more. 

You Want More by George Singleton 

In addition to an outstanding cover, this collection is chock full of quirky characters, biting satire and absurd situations. While the stories are taken from the author’s 20+ year career, they are all grounded in the same tragicomic milieu. Set almost exclusively in rural South Carolina, the characters, and their dogs, are definitely unique. While hard to choose, I would have to say my favorite is “This Itches, Y’All” the story of a man haunted by his childhood staring role in an educational film about head lice, and the catchphrase that follows him to the grave. 

Bluebeard’s First Wife by Song-nan Ha 

A sense of fear, mystery and unease permeates all of the stories in this excellent collection. While the characters are diverse (a young mother coping with the loss of her child, a policeman assigned to a rural posting, a couple distressed by noisy downstairs neighbors) there is always a sense of something disturbing and possibly violent, just beneath the surface. Ha’s use of simple and elegant language adds to this sense of a normalcy that isn’t quite right. “The Dress Shirt”, the story of a woman whose husband goes inexplicably missing, is a particular standout.  

The Low Desert by Tod Goldberg 

All of the characters in this gritty and darkly funny collection have hit rock bottom or are headed that way. Set in the desert lands of California, mostly in and around Palm Springs, each seems trapped in a noir film, sans the traditional ‘big city.’ A grifter with a fondness for karaoke and a bullet hole in his foot tries to dispose of a body; a professor of hydrology develops a super efficient sprinkler system and promptly takes to marijuana cultivation; a waitress hops from town to town trying to escape the inexplicable loss of her daughter. All told in a snarky and biting tone. 

So even if you are short story averse, why not give one of these collections a try? You will find them well worth your limited reading time.

Mushrooms of the PNW

Attention all fungi enthusiasts and budding mycophiles, a must see virtual program is headed your way. You definitely need to check out Introduction to Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest this Tuesday, April 13th at 6 pm on the library’s Crowdcast channel.

Join Jeremy Collison, founder of Salish Mushrooms, for an introduction to mushrooming in the Pacific Northwest. This program is perfect for anyone curious about mushrooms. No mycology knowledge or previous foraging experience necessary. Learn about the basics of mushrooming in the Pacific Northwest, find out about native mushrooms, review basic safety concerns, and learn how to identify mushrooms using the inaturalist.org website.

Rest assured that we have plenty of resources and materials to support your mushroom enthusiasm, before and after the program. From books on mushroom identification, cultivation and just plain fungi fascination the library has got you covered.

So join us this Tuesday for a great program and think of Everett Public as your source for all things mushroom.

The A’s Have it

I don’t know you guys. The idea of having to be an initiate to get into an ultra-elite “it” group in high school just sounds exhausting. Maybe that’s because I’m 43 and at this age I’d be like: “You want me to steal the answers to the trigonometry final, so I qualify to get into this elitist snob factory? Nah. I’m good. I’m going to sit on the couch and eat this family sized bag of Cheetos while I watch The Office for the 800th time.”

In Elizabeth Klehfoth’s debut novel All These Beautiful Strangers, Charlie Calloway is a junior at the prestigious Knollwood Academy, a school her father attended, and his father before him, and so on and so on. She’s got a huge academic load to worry about and now at the beginning of her junior year she gets a letter saying a secret society known as the A’s wants her to join the group. But there’s a catch (isn’t there always?): she must pass three tests to become a member.

This is kind of a back story to the main story which is the disappearance of Charlie’s mother ten years before when she was seven. She doesn’t have much contact with her mother’s family because her father’s family kind of trash talked them because they weren’t rich. But Hank, Charlie’s mother’s brother finds Charlie and has her look at some photographs he found beneath the floorboards at the Calloway Family summer home on Langley Lake.

Charlie’s family believes that Grace, Charlie’s mother, just packed her bags one day and left, tired of being a wife and mother to her two daughters. For ten years Charlie has lived with the feeling that her mother didn’t love her and that it was very easy for her to leave and never contact her children. Questions begin to swirl around in Charlie’s mind, things she remembers as a seven-year-old: the fights her mother and father would have, her mother yelling at her father “Get your hands off of me!” Was her mother and father’s relationship that strained?

Charlie’s father was also a member of the A’s but since it’s a secret society, it was never talked about. Charlie thinks of them as a powerful, king of the mountain type of group that will open the gates to the best universities and careers imaginable for their members. Once an A, always an A for life. I’m thinking the A’s would do everything to help their members get away with anything. Even murder.

Take the case of Jake Griffin, Grace’s first love. He attended Knollwood along with Charlie’s father Alastair but when asked about Jake, Alastair pretends they were never close and just classroom acquaintances which is weird since Charlie found a picture of them in an old year book with their arms around each other and smiling into the camera. It turns out that Jake was being initiated into the A’s along with Alastair.

Jake was found dead in the river, having jumped from the ledge that was where Knollwood’s elite hung out. He got caught stealing the answers to a test and felt so horrible about it that he took his own life, something that Grace never believed. They’d know each other since they were children. She knew Jake inside and out. He never would have killed himself. But then she goes on to meet and fall in love with Alastair and they marry and fall in love. Seven years into her marriage, suspicions started popping up about the man she married and who he really was.

Told in the alternating voices of Charlie, Grace, and Alastair, this book has mysteries inside of mysteries. It’s a damn inception of a book and I couldn’t write all that I wanted to write about it without giving too much away. I will say that Charlie finds out more than she bargained for about the A’s. She begins to realize that they’re a more self-serving group, punishing those who displease them: even punishing a teacher who rebuked the amorous advances of a student. And if an initiate fails a test, they are set up to be kicked out of school. Charlie also realizes the kind of person she wants to be.

Filled with enough twists and turns to give you motion sickness, All These Beautiful Strangers tells the story of a broken family and its past, of a young woman searching for answers while searching for herself, and is a reminder of how nothing is as it seems. Go on, read it. Devour it like I’m devouring this family sized bag of Cheetos.

The Month of Humor

As April is National Humor Month and glum has been the prevailing tilt to the world’s axis this past year, it seems to be a golden opportunity to highlight titles that might make you laugh or give you a lift. Reading has always been a conduit for joy for me, and this past year, the funnier the better. 

YA and Middle Schoolers

Don’t keep the celebration to yourself. Check out the library’s collection of joke books, and pick a favorite to tell your best pal (who’s 38, for instance) and child (who’s 8). My guess is they’ll both appreciate the laugh.

One of my favorite forms is clowning around, nonsense humor, wit and satire. I have long been a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, particularly the merry distraction that is Jeeves and my favorite knucklehead, Bertie. Because of these two, The Code of the Woosters is a joyous romp. I re-read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome whenever I’m especially blue. Bring on the silly!

More Fiction

Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series

Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Especially fun, as well, is You Suck, although most anything by Moore is an odd, fun, joy-ride of a read.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, first in the Thursday Next series. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld series

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, book one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Dark humor can be the outlet where we brighten ourselves and others up by pointing out the funny sides of adversities or shortcomings in order to laugh about them. While they can have a cheerless aspect, look for the buoyancy, as well.   

Twelve-year-old Flavia, “the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth” (The Seattle Times), lives in a decaying mansion in 1950s England with two prickly older sisters and a distracted father. Part of the charm of a Flavia de Luce series is Flavia’s plucky take on the circumstances in front of her and then heading where that leads. Mix in her avid curiosity and author Alan Bradley’s sterling, darkly comic plot, and you have the recipe for smart and funny mysteries.

At the heart of the 10th installment, The Golden Tresses of the Dead: a Flavia de Luce novel, is a ghoulish question: “How had an embalmed finger found its way from the hand of a dead woman in a Surrey cemetery into the heart of a wedding cake?” While you can grab any one of the books and read it, if you start at the beginning with the wickedly brilliant first novel, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, you’ll follow Flavia’s bigger story as it slowly unfolds.

Bradley, who has few peers at combining fair-play clueing with humor and has fun mocking genre conventions, shows no sign of running out of ideas.(Publishers Weekly, starred review)

In The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman, Asperger’s sufferer Samuel Hoenig puts his syndrome traits to good use running a business called Questions Answered. With the help of his new colleague Janet Washburn, Hoenig uses his unique powers of deduction to investigate the disappearance of a preserved head from a cryonics institute and the murder of one of the facility’s scientists.

Told from Hoenig’s perspective, this cozy mystery series uses light-hearted humor to point out that the approach of the “normal” world can be confusing and, at times, downright silly. Intricately plotted, thoughtful and frequently humorous, these gentle stories showcase Samuel’s unique perspective as a help rather than hindrance to his sleuthing success.

Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a funny, award-winning re-imagining of the Western novel.

A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir…Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths. (David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick. This Emmy-winning screenwriter, who started as an intern for the original Late Night starring David Letterman, makes his debut with this collection of personal tales ranging from childhood to being a dad. The book is full of tension between Resnick and everyone in his life, whether he’s on vacation at Disney World or finding a blade in his milkshake at a fast-food chain.

The writing is sharp and sharp-tongued, sometimes close to the line of mean-spirited—the book is not for readers who are easily offended…. A neurotic, unapologetic, hilarious collection. (Kirkus Reviews)

One of the best laugh-out-loud reads I have had in a long time.

Non-Fiction

The Corfu Trilogy: a naturalist and his family leave England to live on the Greek island of Corfu. These are the tales of the interactions they have there–with both humans and animal varieties.

Allie Brosh’s latest offering, Solutions and Other Problems, continues where Hyperbole and a Half, her first book, left off in 2014. Both are based on collections of personal stories and drawings, including funny tales from her childhood, the adventures of her ‘very bad pets,’ and the absurdity of modern life in a mix of text and intentionally crude illustrations. They are part graphic novel, part confessional, and overall delightful. The books come from collections of blog posts in the form of her very popular webcomic, Hyperbole and a Half. Brosh started Hyperbole in 2009.

“A quirky, humorous memoir/collection of illustrated essays.” (Kirkus Reviews)

 **************

“‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, “Do trousers matter?”’

‘The mood will pass, sir.’”

~  P. G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves

Spot-Lit for April 2021

Rejoice! It’s not every month that offers new fiction from 20th-century maestro Marcel Proust, or a pertinent novel on race and policing by Richard Wright from 1942 that only now is getting published, or a new translation of what is described as the most accessible novel by Brazilian phenom Clarice Lispector.

In terms of local color, Willy Vlautin’s latest looks at greed, hardship, and gentrification in Portland, and Joanne Tompkins’ intense Washington-set debut focuses on loss and connection.

April also brings us new titles by Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Helen Oyeyemi, and Paula McCain along with much-buzzed debuts from Kirstin Valdez Quade, Sanjena Sathian, and Donna Freitas.

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 2021 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2021 Debuts

Anxious People

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a story about – – a LOT of different things! All throughout the book you are told that this is a story about a bank robber, or a real estate agent, or a bridge, or a police officer, or a pregnant woman, or a hostage situation. Or a list of other things. Indeed, this was a great story about all of those things, but really, it wasn’t about any one of these people.

It is so interesting in life how no single item is the same for everyone. What may be my favorite aspect of something could very well be the part you hate the most about it. Things that are no big deal for me could be the most tragic thing to you. I guess what I’m saying is that everyone’s threshold for being anxious is different, and we must all remember to be patient with others.

Basically, in this book a bank gets robbed and the robber flees. In trying to escape, they run into an open house for an apartment that is up for sale and everyone attending gets held hostage. UNbasically, there are twists and turns to what should be a straightforward story.

I very much enjoyed this book! I adored the characters and their interactions with each other. I loved how there could still be a happy ending after such a traumatic event. Anyone who is a Fredrik Backman fan is sure to love it as well.

Them Bones

One of my favorite types of TV programs is the solving-a-mystery-while-being-funny genre, shows like Castle and Psych. Recently, I discovered a not-so-new entry in this genre which is perhaps the best one I’ve run across, Bones.

The premise of Bones is that the world’s foremost forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, helps the FBI solve murders through the examination of victims’ bones. Brilliant but sadly lacking in social skills and tact, Dr. Brennan, or Bones as she’s called by her FBI agent partner Seeley Booth, finds clues in the most unlikely places. Small scrapes on a rib or an indentation on a femur can indicate murder weapon, time of death or even a murderer’s identity. The other members of her team specialize in flesh, bugs and facial reconstruction among other things, each specialist hovering loftily at the top of their field.

A sad fact of television mysteries is that the “rules” of mystery telling and constraints in time often make it obvious who perpetrated a murder. I generally can identify a TV murderer by how they’re introduced or whether suspicion is cast on them. There’s no need to pay attention to the investigation to solve the case. One of the beauties of Bones is that it’s not so strongly bound by these conventions. Sometimes the killer is a newer character who we don’t meet until late in the episode. Other times storylines take abrupt turns that could not be anticipated. The writing is a cut or four above most procedurals.

Now perhaps you don’t care about murder solutions or quality of writing, but you are a fan of gore. Wellsir, Bones is the show for you! Because Dr. Brennan specializes in bones rather than the meat portion of bodies, she’s only called in on cases where the victim’s body has deteriorated significantly. This leads to liquification, intense maggot activity, limb detachment, exploding abdomens and so on. In other words, the bodies are waaaaaay gross. I can only imagine that the visual effects people had a field day working on this show.

Over the 12-year run of the show, characters become more than just coworkers. Of course there’s the usual everyone-dates-everyone-else nonsense, but these people have intense loyalty and affection for one other. At the core of it all is the deeply profound partnership between Booth and Bones. Booth is a man of intuition, a specialist in reading people and a devout Catholic. Bones relies on evidence, does not make assumptions, disdains psychology and is a card-carrying atheist. Other members of the team bring a wide variety of philosophies, personality traits and socio-economic backgrounds. But above all, each team member respects and cares for the other members of their team/family.

If you’re looking for humorous, unpredictable and gory mysteries, look no further. And with 12 seasons to choose from you’re guaranteed over 200 hours of viewing bliss! So lean back in the recliner, pop the tab on a fresh kombucha and prepare to be entertained.

Seattle Style with Clara Berg

When you think of the Pacific Northwest, is fashion the first thing that comes to mind? If you are like many, you might think of trees, salmon and lots of rain before considering clothing and style as something that defines us. But maybe it is time for a rethink. Let Clara Berg, curator of collections at MOHAI in Seattle, change your mind by attending her virtual Crowdcast program Seattle Style this Thursday, March 25th at 6 pm

Can’t attend on the day? Always remember that you can view all of our program recordings at your convenience on our Crowdcast channel after the event.

Berg will be giving an informative and entertaining lecture on Pacific Northwest fashion, based on her book Seattle Style: Fashion/Function. Her book highlights how elegance and practicality coexisted and converged in Seattle wardrobes, providing new insights into local clothing, ranging from couture, to outdoor gear, to denim. 

If you think her book is only chock full of evening gowns, though there are plenty of interesting ones, you will be pleasantly surprised. There are detailed sections on quintessential Pacific Northwest duds such as REI hiking boots, one piece ski suits from the 1980s, wool mackinaw cruiser jackets, Eddie Bauer skyliner down jackets and, of course, lots and lots of raincoats. 

So join us for this fascinating look at the fashion of the Pacific Northwest, as Clara Berg breaks down Seattle Style, live on Crowdcast this Thursday evening

Did You Know? (Moon Edition)

In 1609 the Italian astronomer Galileo first pointed a telescope at the moon and noted that the orb had terrain including mountains, flat plains and craters? Therefore the moon was solid and it’s surface might be walked upon.

Galileo’s discovery is talked about on page 10 in the book Space Stations: the Art, Science and Reality of Working in Space by Gary Kitmacher, Ron Miller and Robert Pearlman.

Galileo is known as the father of modern physics – indeed, of modern science altogether. His discoveries were based on careful observations and ingenious experiments that contradicted conventional wisdom and the views of the church at the time. The new book Galileo and the Science Deniers by Mario Livio looks at Galileo’s theories and accomplishments, and how he arrived at them – as well as why they are relevant now. This is a must read if you love science!

Astronauts by Thomas K Adamson is a book for children that shows how astronauts work in space on a space station and walk on the moon. I used to imagine what it would be like to walk in space and now you can see exactly how it would be.

Imagine winning a chance to go to space! 172 hours on the Moon is a novel by Johan Harsted. Mia, Antoine, and Midori are selected by lottery to join experienced astronauts on a NASA mission to the once top-secret moon base, while an old astronaut in a nursing home tries to warn them of the danger there. Perhaps it will be a trip in a lifetime, literally.

There is a little treat we had while I was growing up nicknamed Moon Pies, but they were actually Whoopy Pies. Whoopie Pies by Viola Goren is full of recipes for a variety of flavors of these delicious snacks. They look like little planets on a platter!

We have all heard that the moon is made of cheese, but it is unknown where this saying started. There is a really cute song on the children’s CD Inside I Shine by Danny Weinkauf called “The Moon is Made of cheese.”

Moon is also a company that publishes travel guides. While you may not be able to take a vacation right now, you can plan a trip or watch a travel show and take a virtual trip… of course, you probably won’t need a guide if you are sitting in your living room. 

Finally, how can you talk about the moon without mentioning stars? Paper Stars by Karen-Marie Fabricius gives directions for origami, quilled and folded stars. You can make these and turn your house into the great outdoors on a starry night. The directions are well laid out and easy to follow. Enjoy!