The Ask and Some Answers
Keetje Kuipers’ first book of poems, Beautiful in the Mouth (BOA Editions, Ltd., $16), is a fresh venture into various landscapes: physical, emotional, imaginary and remembered. Divided into five sections, the book includes poems that are set in Manhattan, Paris, Minnesota, some wild western state (perhaps Oregon, where Kuipers attended graduate school, but more likely Montana, where she teaches at the University of Montana) and points in between and beyond. No matter what the setting, though, readers are always in the presence of a brave and talented observer.
Her images startle with surprising accuracy. A hammock “swings on the porch / like a crippled moon.” In autumn, “the low sun plays a different tune on the accordion of light / made by slim trees at the meadow’s edge.” A couple returning to their city apartment comes home to find, among other things, “dinner plates stacked like scoured turtle shells.”
But strong images, while gratifying, aren’t enough to make a strong book. Kuipers brings a questioning kind of wisdom to her explorations, making the reader a willing participant in these wanderings. While the first four sections flit across a range of themes — desire, longing, obstinacy, looking for home, looking for escape — section five is one long keen.
This part of the book strikes me as the strongest, perhaps because it consistently addresses the hard subjects of loss and death. In the poem “My First Lover Returns from Iraq,” the speaker nakedly admits, “I’m ashamed to want you still, inside me / now as you were then, though you’ve been / dead these three months, the shrapnel / strung through your lungs like ribbon”.
The book ends on a thread of hope with the poem “De-Icing the Plane,” whose last line is “Soon we will fly.” This can be construed as reaching a desired release, but it also carries the chill of our final departure. Given Keetje Kuipers’ fine instincts and skills, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be doing more traveling through the grace of her adventurous lines.
Keetje Kuipers and J.T. Bushnell read at 3 pm Wednesday, April 21, in 111 Alder Building, UO, and at 8 pm Thursday, April 22, in the UO Knight Library’s Browsing Room. — Cecelia Hagen
“Geology makes me feel insignificant,” Charles Goodrich tells an ant that’s climbing his leg. There’s a quiet, light joke in this admission, which comes in the “Fall” section of Goodrich’s Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden (Silverfish Review Press, $14.95), a collection of short pieces arranged by season but spanning more than a single year. Goodrich might feel insignificant next to the Columbia Gorge, but what he does, repeatedly and gracefully, is locate the significance in the small and overlooked: a crow’s gangly call; a shovelful of new potatoes; the first frost; the gift of bean seeds; the changes that pass through a garden as seasons change and things grow, bloom, fruit and rot.
“Dispatches” is a smart word for Goodrich’s lovely, observant, half-page pieces, but you might also think of them as snapshots, each freezing a moment, a vision or a memory. Each is neatly pruned of excess words, unnecessary sentimentality or distracting overgrowth; what remains on the page is as elegant and seemingly effortless as a branch just beginning to bud. You needn’t be a gardener to appreciate the feelings and thoughts gardening inspires in Goodrich — not any more than you needed to go live in the woods in order for Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to resonate with you. Goodrich transforms the act of growing things into a lens through which meanings change; dead creatures and baby teeth are soil food; a convent whispers its garden’s history; St. Patrick’s Day is for planting potatoes, not dyeing beer green.
These dispatches are engrossingly calm and disconcertingly personal. Goodrich’s wife and son appear, and his past weaves in and out of his life in the garden, where he tries to hear the corn growing and, in one heartbreakingly gentle piece, buries a beloved pet. The last line of that piece, “Calico,” might be the most exact, impressive display of how Goodrich can turn an ordinary moment into a precise momument to the weight of small things. I can’t possibly quote just part of it. I’ll leave it for you to find the whole treasure. Charles Goodrich celebrates the release of Going to Seed at 5:30 pm Thursday, April 22, at DIVA. — Molly Templeton
History isn’t like the present, but sometimes we use it to look at ourselves. In Helen Frost’s Crossing Stones (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009; $16.99), four teenagers from a world of farming deal with huge issues during WWI. The novel in verse uses the suffragists’ movement, Hull House and the idea of settlements, the flu epidemic and other historical backdrops to tell a complex tale of identity creation and reclamation. That means the book is a mix of contemporary concerns and the realities of the time period it covers.
Frost, who writes poetry (the most recent is as if a dry wind, Pecan Grove Press, 2009; $17) and young adult prose poetry novels, won a Printz Honor for her 2003 YA book Keesha’s House. The story in Crossing Stones shares some feelings with Anne of Green Gables, which is acknowledged openly as one character buys the book and reads it aloud to an ill sibling, but it also gives voice to an independent young woman who doesn’t want to lose her ideas and very self in marriage. The tale vividly depicts the difficulties for families left to run farms without the young men who went off to war or the young women who went to work to replace the men. Frost doesn’t sugarcoat war, love, loss or the intensity of hatred that met women who wanted the right to vote. It’s a smart, lovely book with some memorable lines and a deft feel for a certain sort of history.
Frost will be here April 20-25 for the Young Writers Association’s annual Glitterary Festival (full disclosure: I used to be on the YWA board). The gala events kick off at 5:30 pm Tuesday, April 20, when Frost reads with poet Pamela Steele at the Eugene Public Library for Lane Literary Guild’s Windfall Reading Series. Glitterary, a literary festival for all ages (but especially for kids and youth) takes place 11 am-5:30 pm Saturday, April 24, also at the library, with Frost leading a writing workshop for kids/youth at 1 pm. Frost leads a poetry-writing workshop for adults at the library on Sunday, April 25. More info and details at http://wkly.ws/hg — Suzi Steffen