Posts Tagged ‘Philip Brady’

[with selections from Ordering the Storm]

Reading a good book of poems is like traveling unknown terrain at night, glimpsing in each lightning bolt a swatch of vastness.Philip Brady

A good book of poetry is a book of poems. This statement is not a tautology. A good book of poetry comprises a book of poems that are selected, ordered, arranged, and presented in a way that illuminates the vastness.

This statement is also not an equation exhibiting the commutative property: a book of poetry that is a book of good poems is not necessarily a good book, or not as good is it could be if the poems are not selected and ordered in a such way as to make them greater than their whole. The mystery, then, is how to order the storm.

It is a mystery that will not be dispelled but may be entered and engaged. An overstuffed folder accumulating pages of script for years, a hundred computer files with their changeable names and endless revisions, how to gather and sort and create a collection? How to turn them all into a book that not only a friend or an editor but also the unknown lover of poetry would want to read? Would enjoy? Would come away from having glimpsed a swatch or two of vastness? Those are the questions posed by a book residing on my desk for the past year, Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, edited by Susan Grimm.

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Once or twice I have become so addled while trying to pull together a manuscript of poems that I’ve spread all my poems around me in a circle. The first step is in finding a poem beautiful enough to make a beginning. Then the next poem seems to flow naturally from the choice of that poem. Together, a group of poems begins to tell a story. . . . The poem that belongs no place often has no place in the book. Once in a while I’ll try to cram something in, but it’s awkward, and seldom works out well. Sooner or later that tooth will have to come out. You sacrifice individual poems for the sake of the book as a whole . . . . All of this can turn the making of a book into an unpleasant process, painful, like therapy. – Liz Rosenberg

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As an African-American, published by Black Sparrow Press for over thirty years, I was outside the teensy Black literary mainstream. I was effectively alone in the Southwestern United States. To the good, this made man an instant authority on “thangs Black.” But there was no Maxwell Perkins in my future. I could “do” whatever I wanted. To the bad, I was undereducated and tended to dismiss even sound advice if vaguely perceived as racist, and did not always know what I wanted, at first. Worse, I was not clear on what my options were when arranging poems or stories into a dynamic order that would complement, enhance or further illuminate them.

Developing poetically required that I get a grasp on my initial sense of an ordered universe, which then seemed multi-leveled a the source: from within (I needed things highly organized in play and work environments); from fairly strict, vigilant and punitive parents; and, from an intense love of reading, calculated to escape the emotional and intellectual damage of the school system in which I was trapped. . . .

. . . What kind of response to I want the reader to have when they’ve finished my book, given all possible demographics? Ideally, I hope my reader will be revitalized by the end of the process, gratified, or profoundly moved. I want my reader to perhaps feel the need to linger and savor, or to simply sit with me for a thoughtful length of silence. I want to have touched them, across space and time. I want them to taste my youth and enjoy my sassiness. I want them to be excited by my concerns and ideas. I want them to bemoan my losses and, my trials. I want them to sample all life as it has defined me. I want them to have moved through my flesh. – Wanda Coleman

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I wonder whether a whole book of poems might not have affinities with a ceremony, a kind of service which would have many of the qualities of a public event to which people come in hopes of some kind of nourishment for their minds and spirits. The explicit language might be “secular” or “sacred” – I’m in favor of keeping the overt God-talk to a minimum and throwing the clichès out completely, though I’ve not always kept either principle – but I like the notion. I also like the idea of ending with some intimation of hope, some glimpse of shelter and safety in this dangerous world. My most recent book Deerflies (WordTech Editions, 2004) ended with such a poem:

Small Night Song from Oneonta

It’s good that the world has more beauty
than it needs. It’s good to walk into
the smooth Catskill night and discover

that the night has no edges, no sympathy,
no grievance against me, that any place I step
will hold me firm, not like a lover,

not like a child. It’s good to be a child,
and then for years to be something else,
and then something else. It’s a hard world

but the rain is persistent, the deer
are quiet and discreet, and for ages now
the trees have known how to dream their way up.

A man with a pack on his shoulder
saunters down the path below me, knowing
the lights he sees ahead are burning for him.

– Jeff Gundy

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Ordering the Storm includes an introduction by Susan Grimm and eleven essays by poets such as the writers sampled above as well as Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Carolyne Wright, and Maggie Anderson. Each explores their own experiences and insights in creating order from the chaos of individual poems. The book is published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center (© 2006, Cleveland OH) with the support of the Ohio Arts Council.

I read and re-read this book while collating my own short collection of 30+ poems, How We All Fly, which will appear sometime in 2023 from The Orchard Street Press (Gates Mills, OH, editor Jack Kristofco). I can’t say Ordering the Storm provided me with an algebraic equation along the lines of a + b + c . . . for sequencing my poems, but it did fill my head with images and insistent questions. Perhaps a reader of the collection will one day let me know whether they glimpse any swatches of vastness.

IMG_0768, tree

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