Lucille Lang Day is the author of a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, which received a 2013 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award and was a finalist for the 2013 Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. She has also published a children’s book and eight poetry collections and chapbooks, including The Curvature of Blue, The Book of Answers, and Infinities. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in more than 100 literary magazines, such as The Cincinnati Review, The Hudson Review, The Paterson Literary Review, and The Threepenny Review. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for many years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive museum in Berkeley. Find out more on her website and Twitter.
The books by my bed are always a mix of ones I’ve recently read and have yet to put away, ones I’m currently reading, ones I want to read, and ones I’ve already read but want to take another look at. Here’s what’s in the pile today:
Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way (Fisher King Press, 2012), edited by Patricia Damery and Naomi Ruth Lowinsky: Damery is a novelist, Lowinsky a poet. Both are Jungian analysts. Lowinsky’s first two poetry collections, Red Clay Is Talking and Crimes of the Dreamer, were published by my press, Scarlet Tanager Books, and I have read all of her previous and subsequent books except Marked by Fire, a collection of personal essays in which thirteen Jungian analysts describe the life-transforming experiences that led them to the Jungian path. So far, I have read only the first essay, Patricia Damery’s “The Soul is a Riddlemaker: Three Lessons.” In this story, Damery analyzes a mysterious dream in which she must find a manitou, which appears in the dream as a large black bird but also turns out to be, Damery learns in her waking life, a spirit or force that permeates the natural world in some Native American religions. This is a tale of dipping into the source of one’s spirituality and creativity, and one does not need to be a Jungian either to appreciate it or to learn from it. I certainly will read the rest of the book.
Personal Effects: New and Selected Poems (Blue Light Press/1st World Publishing, 2014), by Daniel J. Langton: Langton, who teaches English and creative writing at San Francisco State University, was encouraged by William Carlos Williams, but his poetry is more reminiscent of Robert Frost’s. Personal Effects, his seventh poetry collection, contains many sonnets and other poems written in form, but Langton makes these forms his own. He has invented a subtle sonnet rhyme scheme (ABCD/ABCD/EFG/EFG) that he uses to great effect. The insights of these sonnets range from the political (“There is a tax on flowers where I live”) to the philosophical (“Life teaches, art reminds”) to the startlingly wise (“we know who’s dying, not who’s being born”). All of the poems, whether free verse or formal, display a narrative sense that is often conspicuously absent in contemporary poetry and introduce us to characters—some real, others fictional—we come to care about. The poems are accessible, and I believe they will prove engaging to people who don’t usually read poetry as well as to those who do.
Arroyo Literary Review, Spring 2014 issue: Arroyo is an annual literary journal published by California State University East Bay. It is edited by graduate students working under the direction of faculty member and poet Susan Gubernat. Because I serve on Arroyo’s advisory board, I am always eager to read it in order to confirm that this is indeed a journal in which I want my name to continue to appear. It has never disappointed. The many excellent poems and stories in the 2014 issue include Alan Feldman’s “What the Pig Meant,” a poignant poem about memory loss, and Dallas Woodburn’s “Goosepimples,” a short story that upends the politically correct victimization narrative by showing us a young girl who tries to seduce her soccer coach.
The Mexican Man in His Backyard: Stories & Essays (Roan Press, 2014), by Stephen D. Gutierrez: I first read this book in manuscript form and wrote a blurb for it: “Illuminating the beauty and confusion of Mexican American life in Los Angeles and Fresno from the 1960s to the present, the stories and essays in The Mexican Man in His Backyard are simultaneously personal and universal. Stephen Gutierrez captures a particular culture in particular places and times, but he also probes many themes—such as aging, death, parenthood, coming of age, and workplace politics—that are relevant to everyone. The characters are memorable and the stories linger, causing tears or laughter long after the book is closed, the last word read.” In this collection, the distinction between “story” and “essay” is blurred. Some of the pieces were originally published as personal essays, others as short stories. I find myself going back to them and asking myself, What is a story? What is an essay? What is fiction? What is nonfiction? Why does it matter?
Hear Where We Are: Sound, Ecology, and Sense of Place (Springer, 2013), by Michael Stocker: This book was a gift from a friend who heard the author speaking on the radio. She thought it would interest me (and she was right) because I have studied biology and worked as a science writer and science educator. This book inverts the familiar premise that sound is something that conveys information and affects the listener. Yes, it does these things, but there is another way of thinking about sound, and the inversion results in a focus on sound as something that humans and other hearing animals use to establish relationships with their surroundings. It also reveals sound as an important aspect of place, just like visual imagery. I learned all of this just by reading the back cover. Now I want to know the details of how it works, so I look forward to the book.
The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), by Alicia Suskin Ostriker: I just started reading this new poetry collection by Ostriker, whose work I have been following for about forty years. The many subjects she has eloquently addressed in previous books include childbirth and motherhood, aging, the nature of love, and the search for God. The poems in the new collection, which appear simple but are exquisitely crafted, feature three characters (you guessed it: the old woman, the tulip, and the dog) who reflect on everything from the nature of a blessing to the sight of deer on a hillside to the experience of drinking to promises to oneself, just for starters. I expect these characters to take up many significant questions of the sort Ostriker has always grappled with. Giving the dog the last word, the poems are wise, witty, and philosophical. They are also so much fun to read that I will sign off now so that I can get back to this book.
Who can answer Lucille’s questions: What is a story? What is an essay? What is fiction? What is nonfiction? Why does it matter?