Library Picks: First Edition
Jul 24, 2018 • McKenzie Toma
A big shout-out to public libraries, y'all.
Libraries. I love libraries. I love public libraries. Being in them makes me feel safe. Everything smells good. They are an oh-so-tender, not-for-profit borrowing system that promotes knowledge and sharing. *blush* *sigh*. They are quiet and clean. There may be actually nothing more wholesome than a good library. I also just love the concept of organized lending and I think it should be more present in our society. Although, I'm not sure how sanitary a clothes library would be. Anyway, for me the opposite of evil is knowledge, making the library a thing of divine power. The democratization of information is sooo sexy. Knowing that people with lower incomes and fewer resources have access to educate themselves for free in a safe space makes me actually giddy. A library is a miraculously brilliant idea in a society full of rotten ones.
I have only lived in Asheville just shy of one year, which means I am still barely settled in, or at least that is how it feels. But, yesterday I did a thing that made me feel like a true local. I got a library card! This is always been the thing that relaxes me whenever I have moved to a new city. It makes me feel like a part of the fabric and less like a tourist. Anyway, the Asheville public library is a really nice spot. There is also a cool used bookstore within the library! The library card grants you access to all of the other locations in Buncombe County, too. Score.
Anyway, I thought it would be nice to do a monthly exercise of checking out two books, reading them, and reporting back on my findings. The library is a place where you can go to experiment. A place where you don't have to spend twenty bucks on something you're not so sure you are going to enjoy. For me, I can expand my horizons and stray from my "poetic prowess" with something like a book about, say, reptiles. Free and easy wandering.
For my first two books I chose:
1. A Southern Appalachian Reader edited by Nellie McNeil and Joyce Squibb
2. An Atlas Of The Difficult World by Adrienne Rich
A Southern Appalachian Reader is pretty good. It was published by Appalachian Consortium Press in Boone in 1989 and it's contents include works by dozens of lesser known and popular regional authors, poets and lyricists. James R. Stokely, Jr. has a poem in the book called Molly Mooneyham, which is a narrative told in first person about a woman from the mountains nearing the end of her life, as she reminisces about her difficult but adored country existence. Its a delight to read with bouncy, local language.
"I like to have my feet on Catalooch earth
And my eyes on the hinges of heavens.
I love to tell the old, old story;"
"I never had a doctor to catch my babies;
just shared with Granny Haun and my man
the miracle of creation.
He died a month before Timothy was born.
I've been forty years a widow
But in each sparkling eye I see his shadow.
I loved to watch their crinkly little faces
Tune up and squall - Lord be! -
And then I like it when they took my breast
And grew quiet like something far and lost
And never been on this earth before."
The second book An Atlas Of The Difficult World by Adrienne Rich is a an amazing 13 poem series about a sad America published in 1991 after the Gulf War. I would highly recommend this book and it was my first I've read of Rich, but will certainly not be my last. The poems are straight-forward and punchy but have a surrendering quality. This poem hit my right in the gut, woke me up. Like great poets, Rich finds those moments of blankness and gives them shape and texture through language, leaving you completely shocked by the mass of something previously silent or inexplicable.
"I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are."
Until next time!