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April 2020

Ghazals of Ghalib

Ghazals of GhalibGhazals of Ghalib by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My friend Kristen called this book "poetry-nerd crack." Indeed. This isn't rich poetry, but quick aphorisms that either bite or not. From profound sober wisdom such as "The fact of death is always in sight; it's shared by all this world's scattered pieces" to funny observations like "when you're in a bar, you can't stay too intelligent."

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Kyrie: Poems

Kyrie: PoemsKyrie: Poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Like the beasts in their holes,
no on stirred--if not sick
exhausted or afraid."

I've been bingeing poetry since this at-home season began. Having run through most of my t0-do list, I was looking back at some best of lists in order to see what I might want to order next and this volume was included in one: A series of poems about the 1918 flu pandemic.

These are beautiful, harrowing poems. When published the book was trying to tell people about an experience long forgotten by most. Survive the war but not the sickness. One family struck down while the neighbors never got ill. Anger and fear at strangers. Envy that those who were well. The second wave. Funerals with few people. Dying at home in the bed where they had given birth. Prayers to God.

We have now had some of these experiences are selves and will likely experience others. Here are words to help us grasp our time.

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Whispered words

Here are a handful of sentences and phrases from the first chapter of Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki's The Whispered Word that particularly resonated with me:

  • Even as we speak, God is calling all worlds, and thus even our world, and ourselves with it, into being.
  • To exist is, by definition, to be receiving a word from God.
  • God's creative word is given as invitation and as promise.  As promise, it suggests that which is truly possible for the emerging reality; as invitation, it calls that reality toward precisely this invited becoming.
  • God's word to us encounters the realities of our distant and immediate past with the possibilities of what our immediate and distant future might yet be.
  • God's creative word meets our condition, emerging quietly and most often unnoticeably in the midst of who and where we are.
  • There is no situation, no matter how dreadful, beyond the creative and transformative power of God.  The word of God is incarnational, clothed in the flesh of the past, but offering the possibility of a new future.
  • There is never a moment when God does not offer a formative word.
  • It's as if God has created us not as individuals unto ourselves, but as participants in a world; we are created for one another.
  • We are never addressed by God as if we were the only creature in the universe: We are addressed by God as a living participant in the fullness of God's creative work.
  • Because the word takes in all our circumstances, the word offers us that which we can really become; it is an achievable word, and to that extent it is an empowering word."

For Keeps

For Keeps
By Joy Harjo

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

Climate Justice

Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable FutureClimate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future by Mary Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Robinson shares some of the struggles to get to and to implement the Paris Accords and also the stories of various climate activists from around the global with an emphasis of how climate action intersects with human rights and inequality work. I was hoping for some more intellectual substance, but the stories are good.

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Every Riven Thing

Every Riven Thing: PoemsEvery Riven Thing: Poems by Christian Wiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"It made little sense to love, but love we did,
flinging ourselves out of ourselves like a river
striking rock
--suspended upended bits of light
grown gloriously plural--
before the tug and the rush and the roar of us onward."

I've had this collection on my to-read list for eight years and so glad I finally read it as part of my quarantine-binging on poetry (there's not going to be any left on my to-read list).

So many of these poems spoke powerfully to me, with evocative images and phrases. A marvelous work.

"Lord, suffer me to sing
these wounds by which I am made
and marred, savor this creature
whose aloneness you ease and are."

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Engine Empire

Engine Empire: PoemsEngine Empire: Poems by Cathy Park Hong
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't care for this collection. A line like "the room thrums with zither/ the thip of pick against rack of strings" feels too clever, and thus inauthentic. I really didn't care for the first section, set in the American West during the Civil War. I feel as if the work could have benefited with a good study of John Neihardt's Cycle of the West before being written.

There were these fitting lines in the poem "A Wreath of Hummingbirds:"

I am afraid
I will infect you

after a virus clogs the gift economy:
booming etrade of flintlock guns sag,
Status updates flip from we are all
connected to we are exiles
What bullshit

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The God of Small Things

The God of Small ThingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Roy writes such good sentences, rich in description, evocative, witty. The best chapter of this book was the last one. But I really didn't find the story all that engaging or good. Often it was distracting with too much subplot or minor characters. I've read both her novels, but enjoy the essays, speeches, and interviews I've read much more.

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