The predictable if happy consequence of spending time with fellow book peeps is that discussion, however beautifully untethered from wage slavery, free as scrub jays, elevated (here at 6,500 feet in the High Sierra) is that it is so darn bookish. As a result, I will return to OC this week with recommendations, and even more books. If there is one area in which acquisitiveness is not only forgiven, but encouraged, it seems to be this one. The more you read, alas and whoopee, the more you have to read. That's some catch. And I am, of course, always trying to get caught. Here's the logo of the tribe I have belonged to for the past couple of weeks, a temporary, DIY, circus-tent caravan in Squaw Valley, California action-packed with poets, fictionalists, non-fiction storytellers, screenwriters. I'm the one on the left.
I took enthusiastic if sloppy notes during Poetry Week, which arrived first, and this year
eatured Sharon Olds, Robert Hass, Evie Shockley, Forrest Gander and Brenda Hillman. Damn, what a line-up. Each offered a craft talk in addition to leading workshops, and the week culminated in readings by each at their very best. It was almost overwhelming, as in too much of a good thing was, well, just right. Olds is a “first thought, best thought” kind of natural word-worker. She read a poem about waste. Not as in “want not.” As in compost, about the cycle of consuming and eliminating. About poop. I saw her read at Naropa for a big celebratory academic and cultural wing-ding honoring Allen Ginsberg a decade or so ago. Now she is winning Pulitzer Prizes and like that.
Robert Hass, former US poet laureate, is some kind of genius bodhisattva avunucular Dumbledore of vernacular wisdom and a human Dewey Decimal to boot. He appears to possess perfect memory, possibly photographic, but for sure phonographic. He reads everything, and pulls entire poems from the invisible river flowing just above his head, strong shoulders and empathetic face. He asked what I was reading, which I assume neither of us really was all that interested in. Being a reasonably clever bibliofella I moved us directly to his recommendation: James Salter. When the former poet laureate suggests a writer whose novels and short stories you have not got to, you quickly try to catch up. “The new novel,” said Hass, “the sex one!” I ordered All That Is that night, from Powells. And as it happens (I love that phrase, name of a CBC radio show) the local Truckee thrift store had a copy of Salter's short story collection, Dusk and Other Stories. Reading the first of those short, short sentences telegraphing their hurt, edgy recreations of expat alienation and lust seems a good place to have at last started.
Forrest Gander is a kind of language poet, a translator and more. He wrote about dance and danced himself there at the podium. Brenda Hillman's experimentation, not as in some self-aggrandizing affect of avant gardism but in the sense of seeing what works, how it works, plays with forms long and short and surprises me always at its architecture. Plus, she is political as regards war and ecology. And Evie Shockley? I don't know if I have ever heard a