“. . . life is always more complicated than the headlines allow; poetry comes in when the news is not enough.” ~ Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong aged two with his mother and aunt at Philippines refugee camp

“How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 85 degrees.

It’s a lazy kind of day, but when isn’t it? I’m currently surrounded by sleeping dogs, and both horses are waiting by the front door for treats. Last night in one of my dreams the front porch was wondrously clean, something that isn’t going to happen until the pasture fence is finished. The night before I had couple of dreams in which I was hiding from a bear, same bear in both dreams, but hiding with different people in each. Weird.

Portrait of Ocean Vuong in the playground behind the house where he grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut on April, 16, 2019 by Mengwen Cao

Today I’m featuring a SoundCloud from poet/writer Ocean Vuong. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1988; two years later he immigrated to Hartford, CT with six relatives after spending a year in a Philippine refugee camp. Vuong, the first person in his family to read, currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Guardian ran a detailed article on Vuong and his work in 2017.

Vuong’s debut book of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, won the coveted T. S. Eliot prize in 2017; he is only the second debut poet to win the T. S. Eliot prize (Sarah Howe was the first in 2016). The poems in this book deal with the war and the fall of Saigon with a mixture of myth and harsh reality.

Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019), was an instant New York Times bestseller, and has been hailed as, “a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break” (Los Angeles Times). The book’s title comes from a poem included in Night Sky, a section of which I’m including here:

In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.

~ from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”

I still remember the first time that I came across a snippet from one of Vuong’s poems—I was immediately mesmerized and spent hours searching for his poems on the web and then added his book to my wish list. His is the kind of writing to which people can only aspire. It is absolutely luminous.

(Today is the birthday of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792– July 8, 1822)

Telemachus

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

(Found on Foward Arts Foundation)


Music by Jasmine Thompson, “Mad World” (one of my favorite songs)

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“I think while I am alive, I shall write. There will be a time to stop writing but that will probably be when I come to a stop, too.” ~ P.D. James

Image result for P.D. James, Advice to Writers

“Time didn’t heal, but it anesthetized. The human mind could only feel so much.” ~ P.D. James, from Innocent Blood

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, P.D. James, born Phyllis Dorothy James on August 3, 1920. She was named Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991, and among her numerous awards, she received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), in 1983, and a fellowship from the Royal Society of Literature. She was the author of more than 20 books, 14 of them featuring her detective poet Adam Dalgliesh. James died at the age of 94 on November 27, 2014.

Here are a few quotes from the prolific author:

You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.
~ from “P. D. James’s 10 Tips for writing”)

Learn to write by doing it. Read widely and wisely. Increase your word power. Find your own individual voice though practicing constantly. Go through the world with your eyes and ears open and learn to express that experience in words.”
~ from Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights

“Books are the plane, the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Image result for The magicians trilogy


“. . . I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” ~ Eudora Welty, from “One Writer’s Beginnings”

Monday afternoon, sunny and mild, 82 degrees.

I thought that today I’d complete a survey that I found. I enjoy doing these once in a while. This one is perfect for me as it’s about books and reading. By the way, if you don’t know it, you can find great copies of hardback books from all genres at Ollie’s. I know, a surprise right? Usually the books are $3.99 or less. Whenever we go there, I look for copies of books that I lost with the storage unit.

Another great place to find books is in thrift stores. There were two in Norfolk that I loved to peruse; one of them used to have a bag of books option: as many books as you could fit in a bag for $5. They were very generous in not limiting bag sizes. I really miss that place.

That all for now. More later. Peace.


“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
  1. What are you currently reading? I’m rereading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
  2. How many books have you read this year? I’m behind in my goals, having only read 12.
  3. How have your reading tastes changed from when you were a child? I wouldn’t say they’ve changed as much as they’ve broadened. As a child, I loved pretty much anything I could find in the young section of the library. Now, I still love books from all categories—science fiction/fantasy, mysteries, in particular British mysteries, poetry, action/adventure, sweeping historical fiction, biographies, actual histories, and memoirs. I also like that category known as Young Adult, although I’m not sure why it’s called that.
  4. Physical book or e-book? Only paper for me. I love the way that books smell and feel. You cannot get that from an e-reader.
  5. Where do you love to read? I love to read outside; if I had a hammock again, that would be my preferred place. I did see one of those hanging egg chairs at Sam’s Club that I would give anything to have as that would be ideal.
  6. What is your ideal reading atmosphere? background noise or silent? alone or with others? I don’t want anything going on in the background if I’m reading, and I prefer to be alone. When I was a teen, I would watch TV with my boyfriend while reading. Don’t really know how I did that.
  7. Are you a writer? I like to think so.
  8. What was your very first baby book? The first book that I remember having was A Child’s Garden of Verses.
  9. What was the first book you read on your own? I’m fairly certain that the first things that I read on my own were Superman comics, but the first book was probably The House at Pooh Corner.
  10. How many books have you read in total? A conservative estimate would be about 2,000 books.
  11. What has been the longest gap between books? I went through a really bad depression in which I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. It was almost a year without books.
  12. What are your favorite genres? See number 3. My very favorite would probably be British mysteries. I’ve been reading those kinds of books the longest.
  13. What books make you happy? This is a weird question. Reading in general makes me happy. Books that make me smile tend to be things like comic compilations such as Calvin & Hobbes or The Far Side.
  14. What books have made you uncomfortable? Why? I don’t really like romances, mostly because they are so antithetical to real life, and the writing style tends to be formulaic.
  15. Can you read anywhere? Moving vehicle? Roller coaster? I used to be able to read anywhere, but I can no longer read in a moving vehicle without getting carsick.
  16. How do you bookmark books? I have a collection of bookmarks, but I rarely remember to use them. Usually I just use whatever piece of paper is closest to me.
  17. Policy on book-lending? I only lend books to close friends or family. My other mother and I used to exchange books all of the time.
  18. Do people know you’re a bookworm? If they know me, they do.
  19. How well do you take care of your books? I cherish my books, and I prefer to purchase hardbacks. I hate it if they become damaged.
  20. Can you read in other languages? I can read a bit in French.
  21. What is a total book turn-off for you? I hate books that contain errors in grammar and syntax, and I get really upset if a book has a bad ending.
  22. What is an essential element of a good book? For me, it needs to have good plot and character development, and it needs to be written well.
  23. Genres you rarely read? I don’t read self-help books. They get on my nerves.
  24. Do you read non-fiction? Yes, I like to read biographies, especially those of writers. I also like memoirs and collections of essays.
  25. Do you read reviews on a book before you read it? Not usually, but if I do read a review and it seems intriguing, I will probably order the book.
  26. Do you judge a book by the cover? I try not to. I learned when pursuing my publishing degree that the cover design is not always as closely married to the text as it should be.
  27. Do you read cover to cover or sometimes skim parts? I read cover to cover, and I often reread books I love, in particular series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, both of which I have read multiple times.
  28. Do you always finish a book, even if it is dull? It’s hard for me to leave a book unfinished, and I can count on my hands the number of books that I’ve actually put down without finishing.
  29. How do you organize your books? I organize by last name within genres.
  30. Favorite book this year? This would have to be The Magicians trilogy. I really, really liked those books, and I wish that there were more in the series.

Music by Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”


Burning of the Books

Typewriters wait at desks,
stories loiter outside hotels.
Far from the boiling pulp of Thunder Bay
starved spruces in wordless bogs
wait to be books.
You who leave the bookstore
will know how the snow waits
for the white fox to venture out
when hunger is spelled in his gut,
how his tracks end in a tuft of fur
and the asterisk of blood
which is the only color on this page;
the unwritten preface to your book.
It will speak to you in your study
like the claviforms on cavern walls
that have kept felling bison
for forty thousand years.

As you open the cover
an axe will strike in the north woods
and teams of draft horses will haul
great logs across the ice.
And if you read well when you read fire
the censor’s match will fail,
the heart of a pinecone will shine.
Incendiary slogans that sleep in libraries
will inspire arsons in the night.
Fireballs will crown the forests,
and in your book-walled room
the sweet smoke of a word’s entrails
will rise from ashes of the page.

~ George H Gurley Jr.