Sunday, April 18, 2010

I went shopping at the new Elliott Bay Books on Capitol Hill yesterday. It's a nice open space, with high ceilings, exposed wood, plenty of natural light. It has the same kind of feel as the old store: a hallowed place for books, with wood shelves along the walls and aisles, as well as tables of books everywhere. The main difference is the store is mostly in one main room now, and not the rabbit warren of multiple rooms and levels that the old store had. There is one small separate area upstairs, and a separate area for the cafe (under construction). And the reading area is down a set of stairs, in a basement room in the back. The store was packed with customers yesterday, so hopefully all bodes well! Congratulations to Peter A and crew!


I bought two books of poems there: Allen Braden's A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood, new from The VQR Poetry series, and Phantom Noise, new from Brian Turner and Alice James Books.

I have known Allen's work for years, and published some of his poems back when I was at Floating Bridge Press, and it is so good to see this full collection. He weaves together themes of contemporary love with family memory and farm work and hunting images. One of the frameworks for the poems is a series of sonnets titled "Taboo Against the Word Beauty . . ." One is "Invocation", another is "Epistolary Version" and others are "Elegiac Version" and "Troubadourian Version." They are each pretty amazing. Here's one:

Taboo Against the Word Beauty: Troubadourian Version

My life without your love: everywhere
the chalk goes, something's left behind.
On the other hand, antlers dropped by deer
are loved to nothing by porcupine.
In spring, they say, a young man's fancy turns
to this. Meanwhile the swollen Green River
uncovers record snowpack in the mountains,
plus the latest fancy of a serial killer.
Why test your notion of romance by limitations
to skin and bone? A lace of fascia warm
as gentle love when flesh is splayed open.
Disrobe and clothes forget their human form.
I'd cinch a cord around your throat and take
you from behind. I'd do it for beauty's sake.


Brian Turner's new book covers a lot of the same ground as Here, Bullet. Though the narrator seems to be home from war now, and having bad memories, PTSD problems, relationship problems, and the like.

This one poem blew me totally away (no pun intended):

In the Tannour Oven

Stitched into the gutted belly of the calf:
a fat young lamb, dressed and cleaned,
its organs removed from the cave of bone.
And within the lamb: a stuffed goose.
And in the goose's belly: a mortar round.
And within the mortar round: a stuffed hen.
And in the hen's belly: a grenade.
And within the grenade: a stuffed thrush.
In the thrush: a .50 caliber bullet.
In the .50 caliber bullet: seasoned
with murri, oil and thyme -- a wedding ring.

Ah, love -- when you undo the stitches,
take your time. I have love letters
stuffed inside me, these tiny bodies
made heavy by their own labored breathing.


I love how this poem captures the insane Trojan Horse/nested dolls quality of war, violence, trauma. How we get all wound up in entangling binds of country, history, religion, fate -- both on a national level (the silly wars we are stuck in) and on a personal level (the soldiers who come home scarred, and unable to let it go).

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