Backlist Wednesday

Backlist Wednesday: Ancient Wonders the Modern World by Diane Jarvenpa

Diane Jarvenpa has long been a favorite poet of mine, ever since reading her first book, Divining the Landscape. Like many of us she leads several lives: poet, parent, Finnish folk singer. Ok, that last role is, admittedly, rather unique and remarkable and something she does under the stage name, Diane Jarvi.

Ten years ago, in 2005, I printed her chapbook Ancient Wonders: The Modern World. This modest chap, six poems and six matching illustrations by Sheralyn Barnes, sold out faster than any chapbook the press has published, with the possible exception of Superman: The Chapbook by Dorianne Laux. Because copies are no longer available, I thought I’d try scanning the pages and constructing a digital facsimile as small compensation for the vast majority unfortunate enough to miss the original print version.


About a year ago, Diane recorded Ancient Wonders and allowed me to make an experimental digital version. The result of that experiment is an ebook with embedded audio and is available only for iBooks.

And if you’d like to own a print version of the poem sequence, it’s included in her full length collection, The Tender, Wild Things (New River Press, 2007). Highly recommended.

Backlist Wednesday

Backlist Wednesday: Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith

Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith
Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith

The poet Thomas R. Smith visited this morning to go over some proof pages and to answer some questions I had about design possibilities for his forthcoming collection, The Glory. While we worked inside, winter held sway outside. The weather and the visit put me in mind of an earlier collection of poems by Smith, one published ten years ago, Winter Hours. Of Smith’s numerous books, this might be the most overlooked.

The design is as stark as a January parking lot at midnight in a blizzard. A lot of white space, a minimal amount of ornamentation. The author has playfully referred to the book as his “White Album.”

The book itself consists of forty poems. Each poem is seven lines long. Written during the winter of 1998-1999, these small poems lodge some daily aspect of our yearly travail through this often difficult season. Fittingly, there are a fair number of grim realities, but I think the uplifting surprises win out, glittering snow, bright sunlight, warm company. Here’s a poem that contains a little wishful thinking during our current week of below zero temperatures:


The sun comes out with a flash, as if taking
earth’s photo. The sky preens its blue feathers
on the telephone line, and sings. One can hear
a drone of lawnmowers, from the future….
Why don’t I feel happier? A small, weak hand
is tugging at my sleeve, the way an old person
who can no longer speak up says, “I’m still here….”

Backlist Wednesday

Backlist Wednesday: Perfect Harmony by Ibn El Arabi

Perfect Harmony title page
Perfect Harmony title page

Because the soul can be lost by a single glance…

With Valentine’s Day just ahead, it seems a good moment to revisit a chapbook filled to the brim with desire, overflowing with thoughts about longing, love, and eros. The chapbook is Perfect Harmony and it contains a poem written eight centuries ago by Ibn El Arabi, an Andalusian Sufi mystic and poet. Over the course of this poem, love at first sight is elevated to the level of philosophy and religion, ecstasy intensified “to the point of perfect harmony.” That this poem remains immediate and passionate all these centuries later and in another language has much to do with labors of Timothy Young; always good to have a poet translate a poet.

Perfect Harmony excerpt
Perfect Harmony excerpt

100 copies were printed in 2009 with the assistance in the print shop by the translator. The Spectrum type was set by hand, letter by letter, then inked and impressed upon pages of Ingres paper. Autonomous drawings by Dalyce Elliott accompany the text. These pages are sewn into Khadi wraps. The paper and type alone are a kind of Valentine.

In addition to the chapbook version, this poem is included in Timothy Young’s most recent book, To the Palace of Kings: Selected Longer Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2014) and is available on a CD, Perfect Harmony. The latter, an union of spoken word and brilliant musical accompaniment, comes highly recommended, is only available direct from the translator: mail $10 per CD plus $3 shipping to Timothy Young, 1610 Fernwood St., St. Paul, MN 55108.

Backlist Wednesday, e-books

Backlist Wednesday: Library Land by Jane Graham George

Library Land by Jane Graham George
Library Land by Jane Graham George

Library Land was published in 2008. At that time the author, Jane Graham George, lived and worked in Minnesota, her job a reference librarian at the Dakota County Public Library in Eagan. Not unlike the stacks and shelves among which the author moved during her workday, the poems hold a lot of variety in small compass, from swine judging to the Book of Kells. Shortly after the book’s publication, the author changed residence, moving with husband and horse to the Kapiti Coast, northwest of Wellington, New Zealand. Here’s the opening poem:


Houses vault up like medieval cathedrals
on land where once there were pastures,
oaks, raspberries, space for long walks.
Chevron-winged killdeer heralded the chaos
of buying and selling, backhoes and downed trees.

Today through the picture window of the largest home,
I imagine the heavy Belgian who used to pull a plow
in the sorghum and sweet corn right here in the 60s,
flying now over a white leather sofa, a dream version
of himself, chestnut Pegasus in slow motion.

Floor lamps and tables shatter behind his mane,
plate glass shards strike me as if they were the myrrh
of a priest’s censer, the house made transparent,
drafty and strangely like its own aspirations, Chartres
and St. Michel, the haunt of angels or ghosts.

Not of that faith, the Belgian and I stand outside,
bound as in the days of chivalry and before,
where we do no harm, are pure in friendship
and the knowledge we haven’t yet lost all ground
and live still in the green time of the world.

I’ve always admired the way the glass of the suburban window gets shattered by the poet’s vision. It’s not justice, exactly, but an elegiac acknowledgment of the overtaking sprawl of growing populations that overwrites most any pastoral or wild landscape. And I value the poet’s stance, almost optimistic, certainly fierce, when she states that “we haven’t yet lost all ground / and live still in the green time of the world.”

Library Land is now available as an e-book.
(Print copies are still available as well: click here)