John Glenday’s Holiday Poetry Reads
Here’s just one book I’d recommend for holiday reading. It wasn’t really a holiday, of course. I was in Michigan working, and this wasn’t the book I’d taken with me to read, though I always do take a book of poetry with me when I travel. Poems don’t weigh much, and most collections can be rolled up in a coat pocket, or crammed into an overfilled rucksack.
I was given Heidy Steidlmayer’s first collection Fowling Piece (TriQuarterly Books, 2012) by Linda Gregerson when I was reading in Ann Arbor. Astonishing for a first collection – it would have been astonishing for a fifth collection too, there was an underassuming confidence to her work that made me hurry back to my own drafts to check why they were staying all floppy and couldn’t articulate correctly. I think good poetry does that, among other things, remind us what we’re not doing in our own work.
These are mostly tiny poems, panoramic in style, from concrete to formal, but so obviously a book by a writer who loves words – you can tell that by the way she uses so few of them to get what she wants from us. And a poet who loves the way words sound in the air. These are poems to be read out loud in a hotel room, or muttered into coffee at an air terminal – they are so keen to be alive.
She handles tricky, big themes deftly, (which means simply) – tricky because they are so easily turned to schmaltz. Themes such as broken childbirth:
I read that they dragged you
from the dark like a sea creature
and set you among babies
missing things like yourself –
kidneys or a piece of heart –
and that you flourished
The short title poem was a welcome ohrwurm in my mind’s ear for several days:
The pull of guns I understand,
my father taught me hand on hand
how death is. Life asserts.
(Best take it like a man.)
I shot a dove, the common sort
and mourned not life but life so short
that gazed from death as if unhurt.
And I had nothing to report.
Enough to say I spent most of a nine hour flight home re-re-reading the poems, figuring out how and why she was doing what she was doing in them, and practicing pronouncing her name.