Friday, August 15, 2014

August 2014 Books

So far, August has been a month of eclectic reading, anchored by a deeper interest in poetry - see post on Josh's blog.

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
Published: 2001
Rating: 4

I was so happy to find this at a used bookstore during our summer vacation on the Cape.  Despite owning three out of the four books that furnished the selected poems in this collection, I bought it for the fifteen new (to me) poems from The Apple That Astonished Paris and twenty additional poems.

by Billy Collins

From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night,
a choir of authors murmuring inside their books
along the unlit, alphabetical shelves,
Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
each one stitched into his own private coat,
together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.

I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie
as the suicide of lovers saturates a page,
or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem.
He moves from paragraph to paragraph
as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms.

I hear the voice of my mother reading to me
from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs,
and inside her voice lie other distant sounds,
and horrors of a stable ablaze in the night,
a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.

I watch myself building bookshelves in college,
walls within walls, as rain soaks New England,
or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.

I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves,
straining in circles of light to find more light
until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs
that we follow across a page of fresh snow;

when evening is shadowing the forest
and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs,
we have to listen hard to hear the voices
of the boy and his sister receding into the woods.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Translated and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Published: 1978
Rating: 5

Yoga and meditation have become an important and integral part of my self-care.  It is a surprising path, materializing at this five-year juncture of my grief journey.  I have taken an additional step by signing up for a 200-hour yoga training course at a local studio that begins next month.  This is one of several books on the assigned reading list. 

I've always associated yoga with the physical postures in a traditional yoga class such as downward dog, warrior one, child's pose, etc.  But as stated in the introduction of this book, the real practice of Yoga is the "understanding and complete mastery over the mind" and "for thousands of years the Yogis have probed the mysteries of the mind and consciousness…"

If there is a text or "bible" for yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali would be it; a systematic compilation of ideas and practices written by a person or persons known as Patanjali in the timeframe estimated between 5000 B.C to 300 A.D. 

Sutra literally means "thread".  There are 200 sutras or short sayings divided into four sections:  Contemplation, Practice, Accomplishments and Absoluteness. 

"Within the space of these two hundred short sutras, the entire science of Yoga is clearly delineated: its aim, the necessary practices, the obstacles you may meet along the path, their removal, and precise descriptions of the results that will be obtained from such practices."

The author encourages the slow, careful study and practice of the sutras.  I imagine this book will be an important reference on my yogic journey. 

Audiorecording The Voice of the Poet: Anne Sexton
Published: 2000
Rating: 4

Anne Sexton had a brilliant but tragic life.  Winner of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection, Live or Die, she began writing poetry in her late twenties, as a way of recovering from a mental breakdown after the birth of her second child.

She wrote in the manner of a "confessional poet" - searingly open, honest autobiographical poems which explore deep feelings of pain and anguish, often related to her battle with mental illness.

I liked the small book that accompanied the library-borrowed audio recording as it had the poems she read and some of her thoughts about poetry:
Poetry "should be a shock to the senses.  It should almost hurt." 
I don't think I write public poems.  I write very personal poems but I hope that they will become the central theme to someone else's private life. 
I would like to be a photographer if the camera could work the way fingers work.  I like to capture an instant.  A picture is a one-second thing - it's a fragile moment in time, I try to do it with words.
I found this YouTube video of Anne reading the powerful, haunting poem about suicidal ideation.

Wanting to Die
By Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the corneas and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Sill-born, they don't always die,
but dazzled, they can't forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue! - 
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death's a sad bone; bruised, you'd say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon, 
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection. 

After learning about her life, I wanted to know what happened to her girls. What impact did the tragic death of their mother have on them?  

Her eldest daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, is also a writer and became the the literary executor of her mother's work at the young age of twenty-one.  I am currently reading her first memoir, Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton.  It is difficult reading about what is was like to live with a mentally unstable, artistically possessed mother.

All of her poems can be found online at Poemhunter.

I have just ordered the following books:

Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook
Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrat in Letters edited by Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames
The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton 

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: 1999
Rating: 5

There is much that I can relate to in this novel and its protagonist, Gogol Ganguli whose parents immigrated to America from Calcultta as like his, my parents also immigrated from an Asian country, Korea.

How does a young couple with no familial support survive the difficult task of raising children in a completely foreign culture?

And the children who are born in the US - how do they navigate the pull between immersion in the strong American culture while at school and with their friends and the equally strong Asian culture while at home?

I love Lahiri's writing - it is clear, concise and poignant.  She is a master at creating full, round characters within a paragraph or two.  She places the reader in the scene, either observing or in the character's head so that we feel what they feel…we understand why they do what they do….we become empathic and compassionate readers in her hands.

Here is one of my favorite quotes - how Gogol's mother, who has recently given birth, likens being a foreigner to pregnancy:
For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is sort of a lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.  It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life had vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.  Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect. 
I would highly recommend - especially if you have a large block of uninterrupted time as you will not want to put it down!

Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton
Published: 1994
Rating: 5

This is a brutally honest, searing, soul-searching exploration of a daughter's life, bound to her mentally unstable, highly artistic mother who committed suicide when she was a 21-year old student at Harvard University.

Anne Sexton's mental illness defined their family - the suicide attempts, multiple hospitalizations, bizarre behavior, domestic violence and abuse of all kinds: mental, emotional, physical and sexual - until she ended it by sitting in her running car with the garage doors closed.  She was forty-five years old.

When I say brutally honest, this is what I mean:
I say these words to know them better: I wished for my mother to die.  As much as I dreaded her suicide, I also craved it. I longed for the freedom from the tyranny of her many neuroses that seemed, in that last year, to have overtaken her personality. By that last summer I did not like her anymore.  Anne was her mental illness.  Only once in a while did I see a glimmer of her shine through the demands of this noise child dressed in adult clothing. The woman I had loved was already gone. 
I say these words to know them for the first time and to admit my greatest guilt: in the lat months of my mother's life I chose to ignore her cry of loneliness.  I refused to maker her last days less painful. In the end, I left her to die alone. 
In the margins of the book, I wrote, "WOW - crazy honest - first and foremost with herself.  Takes guts.  Takes courage to admit the truth."

Anne named her literary executor and so Linda found herself involved in two big projects: editing Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrat in Letters, published just three years after Anne's death and assisting biographer Diane Middlebrook in her research and writing of Anne Sexton: A Biography, published in 1991.

She also became of fiction writer and published four novels:

  • Rituals
  • Mirror Images
  • Points of Light
  • Private Acts

In the introduction written in 2010, Linda Gray Sexton lets us know that this is part one - the examination of her mother's life and the affect on her own whereas part two, called Half in Love (Surviving the Legacy of Suicide), she "relentlessly examined my mother's death and my death wish."

For when Linda was turning forty-five years old, the same age as Anne was when she died, she also suffered from depressions and suicidal ideation which led to three attempts - how was she going to survive the terrible legacy of suicide?

I may have to take a break before starting Half In Love.

No comments:

Post a Comment