Monthly Archives: March 2012

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

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Nicola’s Books Stacks Stellar Appearances This Week

Dust to DustNicola’s Books in Ann Arbor has plenty on tap for local readers this week.

On Tuesday evening, actor and author Benjamin Busch will be appearing at Nicola’s Books for a discussion and signing of his memoir, Dust to Dust. Busch, who currently lives in Reed City, Michigan, was born in Manhattan and grew up in upstate New York. He is an actor, photographer, film director, and a United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer who served two tours of combat duty in Iraq. In addition, he has appeared in the HBO series The Wire, Homicide, The West Wing, and Generation Kill.

Acting aside, Busch’s memoir is a heavy, thoughtful read that utilizes the elemental (water, metal stone, blood, etc) as device for examining the brevity of our existence.

Dust to Dust will hit stores this Tuesday, which happily coincides with Busch’s appearance at Nicola’s. The discussion and signing will take place on March 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm. For more on Benjamin and Dust to Dust, try this recent piece in the Detroit Free Press.

The Boiling Season: A Novel

Also appearing this week at Nicola’s Books is author and debut novelist Christopher Hebert. Hebert is a graduate of Antioch College and earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, and was awarded its prestigious Hopwood Award for Fiction. Currently, he teachers at the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville with his wife and son.

The Boiling Season, Hebert’s debut novel, is a stunner thus far (I’m halfway through), and I’m quite shocked Hebert isn’t getting more airtime for this richly detailed and beautifully written work.

Hebert’s discussion and signing of The Boiling Season will take place Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm. For more with Christopher Hebert you can link to this Metro Pulse interview.

Nicola’s Books is located in the Westgate Shopping Center at 2513 Jackson Avenue in Ann Arbor. As always, events are subject to change so please call first before heading out the door (734.662.0600).

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Author Duhigg Sheds Light on ‘The Power of Habit’

Got a few habits you’d like to break? A few well-worn behaviors you just can’t control? Do you wonder why you head to the vending machine for a candy bar each afternoon, drive to Starbucks on autopilot, or can’t quite get those healthful patterns down?

Apparently it’s under your control.

Check out this New York Times review of author and reporter Charles Duhigg’s latest work, The Power of Habit. Duhigg’s recently published work may sound a bit dry, but his book has been garnering both high interest and praise.

The Power of Habit has been making the media rounds and was recently featured in Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them and How You Can Harness the Power of Habit on NPR’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition segments. For more from Duhigg on the science behind habit and its impact on marketing triggers and our day to day behavior, check out his recent article at Slate.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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‘Coney Detroit’ Zeroes in on Killer Dogs of the “D”

“Embrace the Coney culture!” In case you didn’t know, Detroit is the world capital of the coney island hot dog – and yes – they are that good.

Wayne State University Press will soon release Coney Detroit by Katherine Yung and Joe Grimm. Check out the Detroit-based book trailer here, and be sure to stop in at the Wayne State University Press site for more information on Coney Detroit and other fine titles.

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

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Writers Converge at AWP Conference in Chicago

Check out this year’s fabulous list of presenters at the 2012 AWP Conference & Bookfair. The event takes place in Chicago from February 29 – March 3, 2012 and promises more than 550 presses, publishers, and “nonstop literary commotion!”

Held annually in a different region of North America by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the conference is designed “to celebrate the outstanding authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers, and small press publishers of that region.”

The mission of the AWP “to foster literary achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing,” is indeed a noble one. If you aren’t going to make it to Chicago this year, you can plan ahead by visiting the list of AWP’s future conference sites.

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

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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