January 27, 2012 by Reader's Connection
Butler University´s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series begins its spring session on February 8th, with one of the co-founders of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and wraps up in April with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and story writer.
In between are the author of dazzling novels (that word was used in two different periodicals about two different books) and a poet and translator who believes that Sir Gawain’s green knight is Supernatural, yes, but also flesh and blood. He is something in the likeness of ourselves, and he is not purple or orange or blue with yellow stripes. Gawain must negotiate a deal with a man who wears the colors of the leaves and the fields. He must strike an honest bargain with this manifestation of nature, and his future depends on it.
All programs are free and open to the public.
Wednesday, February 8
Eidson-Duckwall Recital Room, Robertson Hall
This second culling from Waldman’s vast oeuvre includes excerpts from Waldman’s acclaimed Fast-Speaking Woman, and arrives up-to-the-moment, covering the Florida election debacle, September 11, the 2003 war in Iraq, and the third and latest installation of Waldman’s ongoing epic exploration into maleness, Iovis. If early work found her most engaged with the New York School, these later poems integrate her passions for Buddhism and ethnopoetics into a unique style of vocal, unabashedly current-event-laden, collagistic, wide-ranging work. Waldman’s quest to find forms appropriate to her shamanistic, didactic content is particularly compelling in Marriage: A Sentence, with its liquefied gender roles and synthesis of influences ranging from Stein to Corso: “That’s for sure for when you are married people people understand understand you do not have to answer answer a doorbell because sex sex may happen happen without delay delay. You will hear everything twice, through your ears & the ears of the other. Her or him as a case case may be be. He & he & she & she as a case case may be may be.” . . . Waldman’s untiring efforts to link language, ritual and political action come through clearly, urgently and often beautifully. — Publishers Weekly
Buddhist thought has inspired many American poets since the Beat era, perhaps few as directly as Waldman, whose latest book springs from her interest in Kalachakra initiation–a practice that moves the subject toward heightened empathy with the natural world–and a profoundly mystical, personal encounter with a manatee, transformed here into a metaphor for peaceful transcendence. Though this may sound like a recipe for New Age-y self-indulgence, Waldman skillfully synthesizes her meditations on the nature of consciousness, evolution, neuroscience, and threatened species into a vibrant poetic discourse, employing a variety of literary devices–litany, parallel texts, historical narrative–to channel the urgency of her ecological message. “Surely our conscious plans have precursors in animal brains,” she writes, and by thoughtlessly slaughtering other species humanity risks erasing a critical clue to its own nature: “sentient being’s connection to the visceral animal.” In speaking “for the wild universe,” Waldman has contributed a substantive addition to the growing body of ecopoetry. — Library Journal
Tuesday, February 21
Krannert Room, Clowes Memorial Hall
Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight beautifully captures the wit and verve of the original Middle English poem. Like Seamus Heaney (whose translation of Beowulf appeared almost a decade ago), Armitage brings his own poetic gifts to a difficult project and produces a fine and enjoyable translation. It is no easy task to keep faithful to the demands of the alliterative forms of the poem and the quirks of the northern dialect of Middle English in which it was written while also conveying the soul of the poem itself, but Armitage accomplishes both. This translation will introduce new students to the poem without alienating them with its scholarly difficulties, and it will be a pleasure for the general reader and for all who are interested in the Middle Ages. — Choice
Seeing Stars (2011)
Armitage, the author of many books of poetry and prose, is among Britain’s most popular poets (and poets are actually a bit famous over there), though this is only his second individual collection to appear in the U.S. It’s about time we started seeing his work: Armitage is drily funny, clever, technically adept, and dark, but not too dark . . . In little prose stories and dramatic monologues, Armitage manages to touch on everything from the concerns of the sperm whale (“Don’t be taken in by the dolphins and their winning smiles, they are the pickpockets of the ocean”) to “the ruins of sex” and ill-conceived ventures like “Cheeses of Nazareth (“I fear for the long-term commercial viability of the new Christian cheese shop in our neighborhood”). The moral of all of these fables might be “don’t get your hopes up,” although Armitage does let a glimmer of light show through here and there, albeit at an odd angle, as when a married couple draw a curtain in the middle of their house, dividing them for life while simultaneously keeping them “inseparable and betrothed.” — Publishers Weekly
Tuesday, March 6
Reilly Room, Atherton Union
The History of Love (2005)
The last words of this haunting novel resonate like a pealing bell. “He fell in love. It was his life.” This is the unofficial obituary of octogenarian Leo Gursky, a character whose mordant wit, gallows humor and searching heart create an unforgettable portrait. Born in Poland and a WWII refugee in New York, Leo has become invisible to the world. When he leaves his tiny apartment, he deliberately draws attention to himself to be sure he exists. What’s really missing in his life is the woman he has always loved, the son who doesn’t know that Leo is his father, and his lost novel, called The History of Love, which, unbeknownst to Leo, was published years ago in Chile under a different man’s name. Another family in New York has also been truncated by loss. Teenager Alma Singer, who was named after the heroine of The History of Love, is trying to ease the loneliness of her widowed mother, Charlotte. When a stranger asks Charlotte to translate The History of Love from Spanish for an exorbitant sum, the mysteries deepen. Krauss ties these and other plot strands together with surprising twists and turns, chronicling the survival of the human spirit against all odds. Writing with tenderness about eccentric characters, she uses earthy humor to mask pain and to question the universe. Her distinctive voice is both plangent and wry, and her imagination encompasses many worlds. — Publishers Weekly
Great House (2010)
Krauss, in her follow-up to the best-selling The History of Love, tells her story entirely through the voices of her characters. All of the elements of literary fiction are conveyed through the monologues of five people: a writer from New York, an angry Jewish father from Jerusalem, an American woman studying in Oxford, the baffled husband of a Holocaust refugee, and an éminence grise who wraps things up–but not too tightly. Readers follow the trail, set forth in straightforward narrative and flashbacks, of an immense desk, which casts its shadow (sometimes literally) over the lives of all five characters. The plot is intricate and rewards careful reading. Krauss’ masterful rendition of character is breathtaking, compelling . . . In addition, the points of view of the various narrators, taken as a whole, present a broad picture of plot and motivation . . . This tour de force of fiction writing will deeply satisfy fans of the author’s first two books and bring her legions more. — Booklist
Tuesday, March 27
Krannert Room, Clowes Memorial Hall
Too many reviews of poetry collections in the same blogpost can cause readers to break out in rashes, so we’re going to allow Ms. Gregg to speak for herself.
Two poems, one set in New York City and the other near the small town of Marfa, Texas.
You can’t call the exhausted people on
the 1 or 9 line beautiful. Especially
the drunk at the back yelling and stumbling
and grabbing the pole gracefully just
in time. Beauty has a strangeness.
The old man leaning against the cement
column at the station on 42nd (when I
changed to the N or R) has three holes
in his pants. Neon and magazine covers
about a new couple. I believe everyone
is going home. This is the way.
The Presence in Absence
Poetry is not made of words.
I can say it´s January when
it´s August. I can say “The scent
of wisteria on the second floor
of my grandmother´s house
with the door open onto the porch
in Petaluma” while I´m living
an hour´s drive from the Mexican
border town of Ojinaga.
It is possible to be with someone
who is gone. Like the silence which
continues here in the desert while
the night train passes through Marfa
louder and louder, like the dogs whining
and barking after the train is gone.
Tuesday, April 3
Atherton Union Reilly Room
Liars and Saints (2003)
The consolations of ardent faith, as well as the harsh demands of religious dogma, supply the leitmotifs of this dazzling novel of a Catholic family’s life over five decades. Meloy . . . writes with wisdom and compassion about the secret guilt that shadows three generations of the Santerre family. Yvette Grenier and Teddy Santerre marry in California in 1945, just before Teddy ships out to the Pacific. Their wartime separation sparks Teddy’s fears of Yvette’s infidelity, and when naive Yvette is moved to confess an experience of sexual temptation to her priest, his strict penalty for her “sin of omission” creates enduring tension in the marriage. When one of their daughters gives birth at age 16, Yvette contrives to pass off the baby boy as her own son, convinced that God has chosen her to bear this burden . . . The alternating points of view of eight main characters shine with authenticity and illuminate the moral complexities felt by each generation. The rich emotional chiarascuro and fine psychological insight of this haunting novel mark Meloy as a writer of extraordinary talent. — Publishers Weekly
A Family Daughter (2006)
In her dazzling second novel, Meloy continues the story of the Santerre family, introduced in her first, Liars and Saints. Abbey, age seven, is sent to live with her grandparents while her parents sort out the sticky arrangements of their divorce. Bored and suffering from chicken pox, she develops a close relationship with her uncle, launching a series of events that will eventually touch every member of the family and that form a dark sexual secret that neither Abbey nor her uncle wants exposed. Readers get wrapped up both in their taboo saga and their coping mechanisms, especially the fictionalized account written and published by a more mature Abbey. By the time the rest of the family has read Abbey’s novel, no one can keep track of where family secrets end and her fiction begins. Meloy creates the voices of this Catholic American family, and various people who orbit around them, with a keen, satirical ear. Riveting and engrossing, Meloy’s tale of a family struggling with guilt and forgiveness spans decades and crosses continents, proving her status as one of the best literary observers of contemporary American life. — Booklist
Monday, April 16
Reilly Room, Atherton Union
The Namesake (2003)
This first novel is an Indian American saga, covering several generations of the Ganguli family across three decades. Newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima leave India for the Boston area shortly after their traditional arranged marriage. The young husband, an engineering graduate student, is ready to be part of U.S. culture, but Ashima, disoriented and homesick, is less taken with late-Sixties America. She develops ties with other Bengali expatriates, forming lifelong friendships that help preserve the old ways in a new country. When the first Ganguli baby arrives, he is named Gogol in commemoration of a strange, life-saving encounter with the Russian writer’s oeuvre. As Gogol matures, his unusual name proves to be a burden, though no more than the tensions and confusions of growing up as a first-generation American. This poignant treatment of the immigrant experience is a rich, stimulating fusion of authentic emotion, ironic observation, and revealing details. Readers who enjoyed the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, will not be disappointed. — Library Journal
Unaccustomed Earth (2008)
The gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children–and that separates the children from India–remains Lahiri’s subject for this follow-up to Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake . In this set of eight stories, the results are again stunning. In the title story, Brooklyn-to-Seattle transplant Ruma frets about a presumed obligation to bring her widower father into her home, a stressful decision taken out of her hands by his unexpected independence. The alcoholism of Rahul is described by his elder sister, Sudha; her disappointment and bewilderment pack a particularly powerful punch. And in the loosely linked trio of stories closing the collection, the lives of Hema and Kaushik intersect over the years, first in 1974 when she is six and he is nine; then a few years later when, at 13, she swoons at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen’s reappearance; and again in Italy, when she is a 37-year-old academic about to enter an arranged marriage, and he is a 40-year-old photojournalist. An inchoate grief for mothers lost at different stages of life enters many tales and, as the book progresses, takes on enormous resonance. Lahiri’s stories of exile, identity, disappointment and maturation evince a spare and subtle mastery that has few contemporary equals. — Publishers Weekly