Monday, November 30, 2009

Bear Star Author Makes a Top-Ten List

After Publishers Weekly weighed in with a top-tenner that included nary a woman (this in a year that included new books by both Alice Munro and A. S. Byatt), I wasn't especially hopeful that a male HuffPost blogger's list would be more representative, and it wasn't--until I got to number ten, which I quote in full: 10. Melissa Kwasny, Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed). Much of the innovative poetry written in America is published not by the big houses, but by independent presses like Milkweed, and its many smaller siblings. Too often, our poetry is obscure, willfully ignorant of realities beyond the immediate self, and pathetic in its complaint, narcissism, and soullessness. Moreover, the language tends to be prosaic, when it's not self-consciously experimental. Kwasny falls into none of these traps; she writes romantic-environmental poetry of a high order, communing with nature in a language that never sells itself short. Can we imagine ourselves, gluttonous twenty-first century Americans, in a better relationship with nature? Can we see ourselves beyond artificial separations between the animate and the inanimate, between the sensate and the inert? Kwasny shows how, as she refuses to back down under the pressure of material degradation. (The rest of Anis Shivani's list can be read here: .)

Bear Star, definitely one of the "smaller siblings" Shivani refers to, published Melissa Kwasny's first book of poems, The Archival Birds, in 2000, and since then her poetry book Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006) won the Idaho Prize. Now this, and yes, Reading Novalis in Montana is excellent, and I'm glad Anis Shivani saw fit to list a poetry book in his top ten. Kwasny has also edited Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800-1950, and--just out--I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, coedited with M. L. Smoker (Lost Horse Press).

Here's a poem from The Archival Birds. I hope it will inspire you to read more of Kwasny.


Clean and robed, I carry
in small buckets
the cloud-filled remains
of my quarter tub of water.
The garden lacks light--
only that far corner
I planted in borage
for my eyes, the wide cloths
of comfrey for my back.
The rose spines are tall,
too thin like the sick
men on our streets here,
but they continue to blossom.
Forget-me-nots huddle,
girls on a school yard
who never try their bounds.

Basho wrote of peasants
who dressed in their finest
to cross the high passes.
I check to see if the plums
are still here, if the calla
has returned from last season.
The buckets are my excuse.
Dry earth, from which so much
pushes out, is unbreakable.

(c) 2000 by Melissa Kwasny

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