Inner and outer worlds
marry in brash, new voice.
MY FAVORITE APOCALYPSE by Catie Rosemurgy. Graywolf, 2001.
|An inflatable kayaker
prepares to meet his maker, first day on the Lower Rogue, Rainie Falls.
Rodney Jones, a poet and editor not usually given to hyperbole,
writes on the jacket of this startling first book of poems: "Anyone fearful
of prodigious imagination should get out of the way of My Favorite Apocalypse
fast. Catie Rosemurgy is coming like a steamroller. ...She is bluesy, Plathy, magnificently
unabashed, yet possessed of real gifts for rhapsody and tenderness. The reader who
is not hers after 20 pages needs a blood transfusion."
Rosemurgy's is a compelling new voice in our midst, unafraid to
call attention to itself in brash, colorful tones. Check out this private version
of femaleness set against the backdrop of rock and roll; see how the internal and
"Twelve and Listening to the Stones"
Yeah, you got satin shoes. Yeah, you got plastic boots.
-- The Rolling Stones, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
If I had a best friend, I might not tell her that once you find
and can tighten them, you can bring the ground
up to your face, bring the earth you're standing on
up through your body, until you can breathe
the grass as it comes through the dirt.
I might not tell her
I have muscles no on can see.
Not only can I keep rhythm and bring it
inside me one beat at a time, I can also clench
right in front of the paperboy's face until I feel a fist
loosening its grip on the largeness
inside me. The most he can see about me,
even if he looks impossibly close,
are the barely colored wisps of hair against my forehead.
They might tremble.
The poems move from the volatile to the serene, the profane to
the sacred, from Yeats to Mick Jagger. And they display numerous signs of artistic
distinction: images skillfully woven into the narrative, a deft synesthesia of sense
perception, and leaps of surreal association that sometimes remind one of Lorca (or
of Thomas Rabbitt, Rosemurgy's mentor at Alabama). Rosemurgy's diction is simple,
plainly spoken, and the syntax is quite straightforward. Yet the line breaks create
discrete, transformative junctions of thought, as in "The Feeling of Accomplishment
I Get When He is Pretty":
he's the one who breathed the past
down my arm, the one who held
his skin and bone together
so handsomely. He's the one
I had to get rid of.
While it is true that some of the poems in My Favorite Apocalypse
do not maintain the same level of craft and intensity, overall this book is a
fascinating portrayal of a young woman's responses -- sexual, emotional, psychic
-- to the cultural icons of our recent century. It is an account that is often humorous,
as in this first stanza of "Mostly Mick Jagger" (included in The Best
American Poetry, 1997):
Thank god he stuck his tongue out.
When I was twelve I was in danger
of taking my body seriously.
I thought the ache in my nipple was priceless.
I thought I should stay very still
and compare it to a button,
a china saucer,
a flash in a car side-mirror,
so I could name the ache either big or little,
then keep it forever. He blew no one a kiss,
then turned into a maw.
This is an impressive debut collection. Five stars. Thumbs up. Check it out.
Novelist Blake Nelson (forthcoming: User) and poet and translator Sam
Hamill (BOA 2002, Gratitude and Dumb Luck) read at 7 pm Sept. 15
at the Studio Theatre, Performing Arts Center, Newport, OR. $7 at the door. ...Lane
Literary Guild's kickoff program (upstairs at the Eugene Public Library) features
acclaimed writer John Daniel (Looking After: A Son's Memoir). Daniel
reads at 7 pm Sept. 18 from his forthcoming book of essays, River of Solitude:
A Winter in the Rogue River Canyon, scheduled for 2002 publication. Eugene poet
Maxine Scates is unable to join Daniel, but her reading will be rescheduled.
...Yanling Lee Johnson (Women's Qijong) reads at 7 pm Sept. 19, Mother
Kali's Books. ...Richard Seidman reads from his new book, The Oracle of
Kabbalah, at 6 pm Sept. 19, Tsunami Books. ...Lauren Zimmerman reads from
Called at 7 pm Sept. 21, Barnes & Noble. ...Celebrated novelist and essayist
Joan Didion reads essays from Political Fictions at 7:30 Sept. 24,
Portland's First Congregation Church. Tickets $10. Literary Arts (503/227-2583. ...Noted
environmentalist David James Duncan reads from his new book, My Story As
Told By Water (Sierra Club Books, 2001), at 7:30 pm Sept. 26 in 175 Knight Law
Center. Free. ...Erich Witchey signs Writers of the Future, an anthology
that includes his short story, "Dreams and Bones," at 1 pm Sept. 29, Tsunami
Books. ...Springfield playwright Dorothy Velasco (Plunging Into Writing)
speaks at 7 pm Oct. 4, Amazon Community Center. $5 donation non-members. ...Award-winning
science writer Stephen Jay Gould speaks at 7:30 pm Oct. 4, Arlene Schnitzer
Concert Hall, Portland. Info at Literary Arts (503/227-2583). ... Poets Kim Addonizio
and Joe Millar read at 7:30 pm Oct. 9, Tsunami Books. ...Local editor Colleen
Sell and writer Stephanie Barrow discuss A Cup Of Comfort at 3
pm Oct. 14, Barnes & Noble. ...Coming in early Oct., Tsunami hosts readings by
Oregon Book Awards winners and finalists, TBA.
Where Less is More
Memorable gardens can
be found in tight spaces.
Garden tours have become a popular, low-cost way for non-profit
groups to raise money. Many gardeners are proud and happy to share their gardens,
and other people love to look at them. It's a wonderful way to get ideas for your
own garden. That said, I must own up to being a lousy garden tourist myself. I just
don't have the stamina to visit half a dozen or more gardens in one day. When I find
one I like I tend to stay there for a while, digest it and go home.
All the same, there is one tour I have really come to look forward
to. It is three years old, and I have gone every year and visited every single garden.
It's the Cracked Pots garden tour in Portland, and I go on a bus, with other members
of the Eugene-based Willamette Valley Hardy Plant Group. Going with a group imposes
the discipline I don't have, of course, but this is one tour I might finish anyway.
Cracked Pots is a non-profit group dedicated to making and using
garden art from recycled materials. Needless to say, the tour provides ample opportunity
along the way to buy some of these moderately priced creations, which vary from OK
to terrific. The quality of the art did not seem quite as good this time as in previous
years (is it possible the supply of great recycle-able objects is running low?) but
there was nothing wrong with the quality of the gardens. Every year I am delighted
by their charm and originality.
Many belong to artists, designers and their friends, so it is no
surprise that they contain a lot of original art. There is also an abundance of re-used
materials and inexpensive, owner-made features that range from sophisticated summer
studios to funky chicken houses. It doesn't hurt that Portland is blessed with diverse
neighborhoods, an abundance of older houses, and an urban yet mellow ambiance.
Of the houses on past tours that stand out in my memory, one was
a fine 1915 frame house, lovingly restored by the architect owner, on an orderly,
well-maintained street. Another was a tiny, recently rehabilitated crack house which
the new owner had adorned with Tibetan prayer bells and multicolored paint-work to
improve its karma.
Like many places on Cracked Pots tours, these gardens have an urban
feel and they are small. I'm sure it is no coincidence that my favorite Eugene tour
was KLCC's of 1999, when all the gardens were in Eugene's Westside neighborhood,
which is about as close as you can get to Portland without leaving town. That tour
also featured some memorable gardens in tight spaces. There is something about small
gardens that I particularly like. They are more intimate, they relate more closely
to the house, and every individual feature has more impact. One thing I've learned
from garden tours is that no yard is too small for an outdoor sitting place, and
more often than not it becomes the heart of the garden.
One of this year's best offerings was surrounded by commercial
and industrial property, views of which were effectively screened out by plants and
a series of (recycled) structures that didn't look at all like a fence. Within the
boundary, planting was severely limited by outdoor living (a studio, hot tub room
and shower) and the lack of sunlight, but every conceivable planting spot was used
imaginatively. Other gardeners, with other priorities, manage to pack extraordinary
plant collections into tiny city lots: porches, driveways and even walls become container
gardens. Vines, and vertical structures to support them, are extremely popular!
Looking at little gardens in all their variety makes you appreciate
that a tight space may be as much a gift as a limitation. Small gardens are easier
to maintain in finicky detail without resorting to pesticides or peace-destroying
power tools. There is less opportunity to be overwhelmed by situations that can make
gardening feel like a chore; you spend less time weeding and more time being creative.
Small gardens involve less material, less water, fewer plants. They are less about
wealth and effort, and more about thoughtfulness and careful choices. That's what
makes them so engaging.
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