Frozen Latitudes, Therése Halscheid‘s new book of poems has just been released by Press 53. Her other collections are Uncommon Geography, Without Home, and Powertalk. She received a Greatest Hits chapbook award by Pudding House Publications. Her poetry and essays have appeared in such magazines as The Gettysburg Review, Tampa Review, Sou’wester, Natural Bridge. Since 1993, she has been an itinerant writer, by way of house-sitting. Simplicity has connected her to the natural world and has been the focus of many poems. Her photography has appeared in juried shows and chronicles her nomadic lifestyle. She teaches for Atlantic Cape Community College in NJ, visits schools, and has taught in unusual locales such as an Eskimo village in northern Alaska, and the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Recalling Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, I’d like to at least borrow from his title and talk about “A Moveable Bedside.” And that’s not because I have so many, many, many lovers that I can’t decide where to rest my tired head. It’s because, well, I’m just a house-sitter. That’s how I’ve been writing for several years. Traveling light is one sure way to keep the book stacks in check.
Usually when I journey, I consider location and what types of books I must have with me, to either coincide with my adventure or for pleasure reading, or to assist what I am working on. There are a few that fall into my traveling book bag, no matter what. One is Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. This book – which gets placed on every night table – includes 81 timeless poems that teach me how to live. What is amazing about this 2,500 year-old text is how each poem’s message continually evolves. I mostly use the book as a divination tool, by opening at random and focusing on the poem that is revealed. Then apply that wisdom to daily events. If I happen upon the same poem, the wisdom shifts although, of course, the words never do. I recommend this book because it will resonate with you, according to your own understanding. There is an interesting story about how the Tao was written. Lao Tzu was an old philosopher who kept observing the Chinese Provinces vying for supremacy, and he was growing tired of the rivalry amongst leaders of his time (sound familiar?). And so he decided to leave the city and live his life in the mountains. But it so happened the gatekeeper had received an oracle that suggested something important was coming his way, and that he should not let it pass. Along comes Lao Tzu on his oxcart and the gatekeeper, remembering the oracle, told Lao Tzu he was not allowed to leave until he shared all that he knew. It is said he parked in the grasses and there wrote his 81 poems, then handed them to the gatekeeper, rode off and was never seen again.
Another book-by-the-bed that has been a constant since its release is Wild Iris by Louise Gluck. The poetry astounds me on many levels, and I am not yet tired of learning from the collection. Gluck’s poems are written in the language of flowers and yet there is hardly anything flowery about them. It is an ethereal collection, where flowers voice their observations of the human’s world, or a flower offers something about itself, its purpose, or how it perceives the poet as gardener. These personae poems combine with others that are in the poet’s voice, and all combine to address the poet’s existence, her failing marriage. An interesting backstory of the writer’s process comes from an interview I read where Gluck actually created this collection in one summer – over a brief period of six or seven weeks, I believe. The poems flooded out of her and she gave in to a rather overwhelming need to write daily.
An important essay collection that has been tagging along, to land upon these various bedside tables is The Next American Essay, an anthology edited by John D’Agata. The collection embraces essays that take creative risks: lyrical essays and stylistic hybrids in which form is just as exciting as content. The lyric essay is a form I am experimenting with, and I so enjoy being fueled by accomplished writers whose works are acknowledged. Essays in this collection are as varied as their authors and include Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, David Shields, Susan Griffin, John McPhee, Barry Lopez, among others.
Am I allowed to include my relatively new iPad, and my recent inclination to download books? The Pad most definitely shows up beside my bed(s), and even finds its way onto the pillow(s). It’s pink rubbery case flips back to expose a luminous text. Because this is a new way to read, I have but a few titles to share. One is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. And – though I’m not sure why – I suddenly wanted Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground one night. These are books I can read without lamplight, or tiny contraptions that work as flashlights that clip to a bedrail and bend any way you want.
That’s all? you might ask. Not really. This is what I currently have on my person. What of other books? Well, luckily I can resort to bookshelves in the attic that was once my childhood bedroom. There is a family residence that I visit, and frequently pluck something off the old shelf. I’ve also been invited to read books in the homes I care for. This has exposed me to art books and literature that I would not have selected on my own. And magazines – it’s always good to drop the latest issue of The Writers Chronicle or Poets & Writers or The New Yorker into the traveling book bag, and plop them atop the bedside heap – or a contributor’s copy of journals in which my work has appeared. These magazines are as exciting for me as works by a single author. They broaden my world. I learn of others whose works I might not have known in any other way.
There are books that remind me of my life on the road. They are visitors of a place. Recent visitors include: Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, From Our House by Lee Martin, and Townie by Andre Dubus III. Seems I have been reading memoirs of late, because I am currently focused on nonfiction.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” This Hemmingway quote inspired the title for his posthumous memoir. I feel the same about books – wherever you go, no matter what the bed or bedside – a good book remains inside you!
What’s in your feast? To what genre does the biggest chunk belong? What’s in closest reach?