Poem of the Week, by Rebecca Foust

I had another poem all ready to go this morning. Then I got a text from a distant city where someone I love lives: “Went to the tree lighting last night but the crowd was so huge that we got afraid of being in the middle of it so we watched from afar.” This text and the following one, “Avoiding crowds at all costs,” felt like the capper to a hard week of hard news. So I turned to my file of comfort-poems, like The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, like Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, like To My Young Friends Who Are Afraid by William Stafford, but none of them felt right. Then I read this one, by Rebecca Foust, and it struck the right chord. Poem of the Week.

– Rebecca Foust

Some things we believe cannot be redeemed.
But in a valley the Railroad finally forgot,
the silted, slugged ditch we would not eat fish from
runs again, a river, rilled as before
by clear water, not black. Grass grows back
between tracks and rails. Limestone spalls
hewn from the mountain heal into soil.
Stumps heaped with live coals, split, and winched out
in spring frail a new circlet of green.
Panthers are seen. A son is born blue, and lives.
Some things we believe cannot be redeemed,
but the dawn, as yet, is diurnal. The woods keep
a hushed vigil, then rustle with life we can’t see;
small ponds well from the ground while we sleep.


For more information on Rebecca Foust, please click here.

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What I’m Reading, November 2015

Reading list, November 2015My son recently returned from a year trekking in Nepal and Australia, where he migrated from hostel to tent to hammock to hostel, living out of a single backpack and waiting tables, bartending, reading and writing nonstop. Each month he would post a photo of his current book supply lined up on a wooden floor. I loved those photos, which is why I’m totally stealing the idea from him.

1. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elana Ferrante. This is the fourth and final of a quartet of novels set in Naples (translated from the original Italian) about the intense, lifelong, always-challenging friendship between two women. From girlhood to old age, these books track their lives against the backdrop of a gritty neighborhood in a gritty city in a rapidly changing country. I was obsessed with these novels and read them one after another as fast as I could (which is not fast; I’m a slow reader). I can’t even tell you why they absorbed me so utterly; they tell instead of show, they are full of minute, step by step description of action, both women frequently annoyed me . . . and yet I couldn’t put them down and will never forget them. Highly recommend.

2. We Forgot Brock! I picked this book up at a book conference in Los Angeles at the end of October, read it through on the spot, and immediately began gnashing my teeth that I hadn’t thought this idea up myself –about a little kid and his invisible friend, both of whom are hilarious beyond measure– and written this book myself, so that then I could look at it and feel full of happiness that I had done something worthwhile with my life, instead of looking at it and feeling jealous that nooooo, somebody named Carter Goodrich had written it. AND illustrated it. Curses! Carter Goodrich happened to be sitting at the table next to me at the time, and I told him how jealous I was, and he turned out to be a really great and funny guy, which was even worse because I couldn’t be pissed at him. Go out and read this book because I guarantee you will love it.

3. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. I have been reading Anne Tyler novels all my life. She’s one of my favorite writers. This one was a tough read for me, different from her others in a way I can’t pinpoint. Maybe because it felt too close to some aspects of old age as I have observed them? Not sure. I recommend it anyway.

4. Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler. A few years ago, when Bossypants (by Tina Fey) came out, I lay on a window seat in my friends’ house in Canada and read it straight through, laughing out loud the entire way. Amy’s book is a worthy successor, or maybe a lady-in-waiting, to the throne of Hilarious Badass Women Who Write Disjointed All Over the Map Books. Amy and Tina are fearless and confident in the way I want all girls to be fearless and confident.

5. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I was at the launch reading of this book, at an old church-turned-public-library in Greenwich Village, at the end of October, and I was electrified by the reading. This book is co-written in two voices, a black teen and a white teen. It takes as its central event the brutal beating of the black teen and spirals out from there into a personal exploration of what it means to be white and what it means to be black in the  same school, same neighborhood, same city. A fast and intense and thought-provoking read.

6. Between Me and the World, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 150 slim pages of pure, intense, distilled thinking and experience of race, the assumptions of human beings on what race is, and how those assumptions play out in the everyday life of those considered by themselves and others to be black or white. All of which serves as the framework and context for the murder of Coates’ friend Prince Jones. This is an astonishing, disturbing, brilliant and profound book told in eerily calm words, a letter from a black man to his black son, written and framed in terms of the physical body, on what it means to live in this country.

7. Maybe a Fox, by Kathi Appelt and me. I read this thing for the seven zillionth time this week, changing a few pronouns and swapping out the word “gulped” for anything else that would make sense in its place. (How many times can one smallish novel contain the word gulped? Not nearly as many as we had, I can tell you that.) My lovely friend Kathi and I, inspired by 1) a poem about a fox and 2) the fact that we adore each other, started writing this book together a bunch of years ago, and I just went through it for the last –please dear God let us hope– time, because it goes to print next week. How many times did we re-write this sucker? We have no idea. We don’t even want to know. Suffice it to say that our eyes are glazed over, our brains are fried, and we are both in need of strong drink.








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Poem of the Week, by Franz Wright

Me last Thursday, on the way to the airport and halfway into a deep conversation about religious extremism with my Somali-born Uber driver: “It horrifies me. How does the longing for purpose and passion that every young person has turn into the belief that their god is the only god, and that their god justifies murder and mayhem and terror?”

Him (31 years old, handsome, laughing, who along with his Somali-born wife works full-time on different shifts so that they can trade off taking care of their four little kids): “I will tell you something. I almost became one of them.”


“Um. . . you did?”

“Yes. After we fled the civil war in Somalia we lived in Nairobi for three years and I went to a new mosque. I was 18. And the leader taught hate. I began to be filled with hate and to think that others should suffer and die.”

“What changed?”

“I felt my heart turning hateful. And I decided to bring a notebook to the mosque with me for one week. I had one column Hate and another column Love and I kept track of what he was teaching. At the end of the week it was all hate. And I stopped going to the mosque.”

“And now? Did you find a mosque in Minneapolis that feels right to you?”

“I don’t go to any mosque anymore. I don’t raise my kids in any religion. If I want to pray, I pray inside my own head. My religion is two words only. You want to know what they are?”

“I do.”

“Don’t hate.”

Poem of the week, by Franz Wright.

– Franz Wright

What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.


For more information about Franz Wright, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Kathleen Jamie

When I was a child the story of the Pied Piper, who lured the children of Hamelin out of town and  into the side of a mountain, from which they never appeared again, held a dark fascination. Typing that last sentence out made me realize that it still does. The piper with his irresistible tune, the children who willingly followed, the finality of the mountain closing behind them: something about that story is enchanting in an awful way. This poem, which feels translated from a long-ago time (even though it’s not), brings me right back to the feeling that those old legends and fairy tales –the Grimm versions, not the sanitized Disney versions, conjures up in me.

The Hinds
– Kathleen Jamie

Walking in a waking dream
I watched nineteen deer
pour from ridge to glen-floor,
then each in turn leap,
leap the new-raised
peat-dark burn. This
was the distaff side;
hinds at their ease, alive
to lands held on long lease
in their animal minds,
and filing through a breach
in a never-mended dyke,
the herd flowed up over
heather-slopes to scree
where they stopped, and turned to stare,
the foremost with a queenly air
as though to say: ‘Aren’t we
the bonniest companie?
Come to me,
You’ll be happy, but never go home.’

For more about Kathleen Jamie, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Al Zolynas

This morning at breakfast I learned something about my grandfather, who died when I was seven, that I never knew before. I’ve been thinking about him all day now in the light of this knowledge that I didn’t have before, how it recasts the image in my mind and heart of who he was, how he lived, what he loved and what he missed. This poem, which I’ve loved for a long time but never posted, came back to me as I thought, along with a quote from William Faulkner from Light in August: “Man knows so little about his fellows.” Poem of the Week, by Al Zolynas.

The Hat in the Sky
– Al Zolynas

After the war,
after I was born,
my father’s hobby
(perhaps his obsession)
was photography.
New fathers often become
photographers, it seems.
But he took pictures of many things
besides me,
as if he suddenly felt it all
slipping away
and wanted to hold it forever.
In one of the many shoe boxes
full of photographs
in my father’s house,
one photo sticks in my mind,
a snapshot
of a black hat
in midair,
the kind of hat fashionable in the forties,
a fedora – something
Bogie would wear.
Someone has thrown it
into the air–
perhaps my father himself,
perhaps someone in an exuberant moment
at a rally or gathering.
It’s still there,
hanging in the sky
as ordinary and impossible
as a painting by Magritte,
and it’s impossible
how it wrenches my heart, somehow.
At odd moments in my life,
that hat appears to me
for no discernible reason.

​ For more information on Al Zolynas, please click here.

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Come to my National Novel Writing Month kick-off talk tomorrow, Nov. 1!

Shack, inchwormGreetings, all New Englanders who live near Westport, Connecticut!

This quote from E.L. Doctorow has mantra’d me through many a novel:

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Are any of you out there also long-form writers? Have you ever sat down in front of that blank screen and wondered how the hell you’ll ever come up with 100 words, let alone 50,000?

If so, and if you’re anywhere near Westport this Sunday at 2 p.m. (November 1), please come hear my National Novel Writing Month kick-off talk at the Westport Public Library. Free and open to everyone – I’d love to see you there!

For more information, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

Blue man group rejectA few years ago one of my favorite people and I were having dinner on the rooftop patio of a restaurant, wine for her, a gimlet for me, both of us chattering away. At one point our conversation touched on the topic of suicide, something we both had experience with, and I remember her saying that no matter awful life could be and had been, something in her always wanted to hang around if only to see “what would happen next, ” that even at its worst, life was fundamentally interesting. I told her that my best advice to myself is usually “Wait.” I read this poem today and thought of that night, and my friend. “Trust the hours.”


– Galway Kinnell

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.


For more information about Galway Kinnell, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Jack Gilbert

Pete in first snow, 2011That 30-pound wonder to the left there, in that tiny photo, is, variously, Sweet Pete, Pete, Petey, Pedro, Peter, and Little Guy. He has been, variously, captivating, surprising, startling, annoying, tiring, and delighting us for 12 years now. He’s one of those dogs you sometimes wish weren’t as smart as he is. I remember, back when we first got him, watching him observe people opening the door to the kitchen, a door that we kept closed in order to keep him out of there. When he thought no one was in the room (I was stealth-sitting in a far corner), he jumped up, braced his front legs on the door, and began batting at the knob with his right paw until presto, the door opened, whereupon he raced into the kitchen and gobbled down an entire cooling rack of oatmeal scotchies in the 2.5 seconds it took me to race in there after him. He has taught himself how to do many, many other things in the intervening years. He can read my mind and I can read his. Right now he’s asleep at my feet, having ascertained the situation: She’s tapping at the thing again. She’s still in her pajamas. In about an hour she’ll put on her jeans and sweatshirt and come at me with the leash. I might as well take a nap until then. When I read this poem by Jack Gilbert, who is one of my favorite poets, I thought, you know what? If we have to come back to this world, coming back as a dog might not be so bad.

– Jack Gilbert

I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s Dalmation. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on their lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.


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For more on Jack Gilbert, please click here.

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Nanowrimo Kick-Off Talk!

Voyage of Life, every dayDear readers, writers, fellow humans,

I’ll be giving a talk –“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer”– to kick off National Novel-Writing Month on Sunday, November 1, from 2-3 pm at the fabulous Westport Public Library.

I’ve been working on this talk for a long time, maybe 25 years or so, which is coincidentally (or not!) about the same amount of time I’ve been writing novels. It’s a thrill to be speaking at such a hallowed place, and I’d love to meet you there.

Come on, come all, no reservations required.



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Chicago dwellers! Reading from Firefly Hollow this Monday, October 20.

Firefly Hollow coverDear Chicago readers and friends,

I’ll be reading from my new children’s novel, Firefly Hollow, at the wonderful Anderson’s Bookshop in La Grange, Illinois, this coming Monday, October 20, at 7 pm.

If you’re in the area, please come by. I’d love to see you there.


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