Acclaimed Author Thomas Lynch to Read his Latest at Local Commemoration

Thomas Lynch*

Elaine Morse was a long-time Birmingham resident and much-loved member of the community until her death in April 2012.  She had the knack of inspiring joy and respect in those around her.

Among her many contributions to the Birmingham area was her service on the boards of the Baldwin Public Library and the Friends of the Birmingham Historical Museum & Park. “Everyone associated with Baldwin is pleased and honored to be offering this event in memory of Elaine, who accomplished so much for the Library and the rest of Birmingham,” said Doug Koschik, Library Director.

On Sunday, October 28 at 2 p.m., the Baldwin Public Library will commemorate Elaine by hosting a poetry reading in her honor.  At this program, the critically-acclaimed author, Thomas Lynch will read from his two most recent books of poems, Walking Papers and The Sin-Eater: A Breviary.

Thomas Lynch is a writer and funeral director from Milford, Michigan. His first book of nonfiction, The Undertaking, won the American Book Award and the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Another of his books, Bodies in Motion and at Rest, won the Great Lakes Book Award.  Two more, Booking Passage and Apparition and Late Fictions, were named Notable Books by the Library of Michigan.

Naturally, copies of Mr. Lynch’s books will be available for purchase and signing at the reading courtesy of Book Beat Bookstore. The Baldwin Public Library is located in downtown Birmingham at 300 W. Merrill Street and can be reached at 248-647-1700 or through the Library’s website at www.baldwinlib.org.

*Photo taken from McLean & Eakin

– Event information provided in conjunction with the Baldwin Public Library

Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Post by Megan Shaffer

Precision Powers Terry Blackhawk’s ‘The Light Between’

The Light Between by Terry M. Blackhawk

– Review by writer and blogger Maggie Lane

Most books of poetry are like shuffled playlists:  where you begin and where you end are beside the point. But anyone reading Terry Blackhawk’s latest collection at random will miss one of the many pleasures of the book.  The intricate order of the poems in The Light Between unfolds a progression of healing as intimate as any memoir.

Blackhawk’s divorce after a 30-year partnership sets the book in motion, or rather deposits Blackhawk in one of those “in between” times so unnerving in a culture that marks time with status updates. In between jobs, in between symptom and diagnosis, in between youth and old age, and in this collection, in between losing love and finding it again, are uncomfortable spaces but spaces ripe for discovery and for poetry.  The in-between is where Blackhawk eventually finds the light in the collection’s title.

The book begins with an empty bed and an unrequited desire for the lover who vacated it.  Desire turns to rage in “Medea—Garland of Fire,” a searing re-telling of the Greek sorceress’ revenge on the man who abandoned her for a younger woman.  Hell-hath-no-fury finds a fresh voice in Blackhawk’s hands:

These days I think emptiness

enrages most, flesh that cannot forget

its hunger turned to anger, blown

useless petals.  Among my people

women have ways of remaining 

supple with desire. Why do you scoff

at these offerings?

A cultural distaste for sexual passion in “women of a certain age” bestows on Medea a useful invisibility in her plot to murder Jason’s young bride:

I will put on a shawl

of smoke and haze.  Drape myself

in the gray peace of the dove.

I will be, quietly, like ashes

concealing fire.

But Fatal Attraction this is not. Sadness, not rage, is the weightiest emotion of the book’s early poems.  Everything reminds Blackhawk of her loss, of the years/he tossed like fish, back into the water:  the pulling down of her old roof (Who’d have thought a slow rot/ would have such fervor to it), a hearing loss, empty cicada shells, even household bills (the mute/ mail you forward, terse notes of interest to be paid).

Her sadness never turns mawkish or self-indulgent.  Bitterness is not her stock in trade.  She observes her own emotions as she observes the birds that animate the poems (Blackhawk is a birdwatcher):  patiently, precisely, with wonder and a poet’s relish of the extraordinary.

Her progression towards healing unfolds seamlessly, naturally.  In “The Eggplant” she sweeps a shriveled eggplant from behind a cabinet and sees in it a mirror of her own circumstance:

It had transformed

Silently, and without obvious flourish,

Until I poked around and found the beauty of it.

Blackhawk sequences her poems with the care of a master gardener, positioning poems to foil and highlight each other.  The eggplant poem is followed by “I Think of My Ex Husband Standing in the Sunlight” in which a frozen tree frog she keeps on her desk becomes a stand-in for her ex.  (A novel technique for dealing with those who hurt us.)  The juxtaposition of the two poems says what she will not:  she has evolved, but he’s frozen in time, unable to change.

The Light Between closes with a reversal of the empty bed that began it.  In the playful “Imagining Billy,” an unlikely sex object lounges in her bed:  poet Billy Collins in flannel pajamas.  Collins is too busy writing poems to engage her desire.  But this poem is followed by the full-fledged erotic coupling of “Into the Canopy” and a sweet love poem, “Not Wafting but Dofting,” light as the air that flows through it.

The movement from pain to healing forms the arc that structures the book, but The Light Between is more than a recovery memoir to be gifted to the newly divorced.  Vivid, precise language, not divorce, powers the book; and more so than lost love, birds populate its pages.  In fact, she can’t seem to keep birds and all manner of flying things—angels, skywriting planes–out of her poems.  The freedom of bird flight, the art of bird song, the beauty and variation of bird species all captivate her imagination and give occasion to many beautiful images. But it’s the elusiveness of birds that figures most in this collection.  Birds come and birds go, like love, like the muse itself.

Award-winning Terry Blackhawk lives and writes in Detroit.  She is the founder and director of Inside/Out, a writer-in-residence program in the Detroit school system.  The Light Between is her sixth book of poetry.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-The Light Between was published by Wayne State University Press

– Please link here for more from writer Maggie Lane

A Wife’s War

Sometimes we have to jump out of the literary mainstream to remember where it all begins. I was recently asked to judge poetry submissions for a 7th grade Enrichment Class instructed by Beverly Hills freelance writer Maggie Lane. The students had to write an original poem in imitation of a published poem. Thinking it would be fun, I pounced on the chance to review what I thought would be sweet and adorable elementary verse. How could I ever have known that these poems would in fact be mature, engaging works that left me speechless?

Read the winning submission below and you’ll appreciate the difficulty of my task.

A Wife’s War by Riley  (In imitation of “Father’s Day” by James Tate)

My husband has been at war for a number

of months now.  He is in the army, and his commander

won’t let him communicate often with his children or

me.  He lives on hope and one day soon coming

to see his family.  He has terrors in the night constantly.  The commander,

his enemy, whips him with cruel words when he catches him writing.

The never-ending war won’t let him out of its sight.

I asked his comrade about my husband, but he was unaware

of any situation.  I have written millions of letters

to my husband.  I haven’t heard back from him.

I never said goodbye to him.  I was too

angry at him.  He asked me if he should go.  I said,

“Yes.”  I can’t believe I said it.  He always called me princess, because

he loved me, and I never said goodbye, and I never forgave myself.

War did not define him.

* For the original poem: Father’s Day by James Tate

– Post by Megan Shaffer