Wednesday, 22 October 2014

In the grips... (reading lists and actual reading)

Over the past month I have been catching up with my always lengthy and always lengthening PhD reading list. This list includes academic tomes as well as individual poetry pamphlets and collections. The poetry reading usually slings me back and forth across decades and centuries and to writers based all over the world.  Recently I've been discovering Canadian writers published in the 1980's, a time period during which I was too young still to engage with the world of adult poetry.

My poetry highlight of the month comes from Robert Bringhurst's 1986 collection Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music. His sequence near the end of the book titled 'The Blue Roofs of Japan' contains an interlinked score / dialogue between two voices and these are laid out on the page with overlapping text: one voice in black ink, one in blue.

The words of the speakers together form this spidery tattoo of language on the white page, language that shapeshifts as the poem progresses.  Weeks after reading the sequence for the first time, I am still thinking about the delicate blue text beneath the black, the words laying over and under each other like song, and the surprising way the lines sounded as I read them aloud--glancing between pages, imagining a duet.

And alongside of the PhD reading, perhaps as a late-in-the-day hangover from a too-brief fiction reading stint in the summer--my prose indulgences of the moment.  These books are not on any reading list, and they certainly cause a distraction from the more serious studying I should be up to, but the books eye me seductively from my bookshelf whenever I walk past it, and eventually (with a sigh of delight, mind you) I reach out and grab the next one I've been looking forward to reading, the next novel I'd been biding my time for, hoping to find some hours during which I can lose myself in their worlds.

For the past 18 months or more I have been reading two authors simultaneously: Lucy Maud Montgomery and Stephen King.  I wonder as I type this, whether their names have ever been in the same sentence before?  Their writing is so different from each other, so exquisitely diverse.  I have been reading and listening to Montgomery's short stories and novels (available in audio at Librivox.org) in a particularly intense period of time.  Because of her style and way of looking at the natural world, I have found myself utterly immersed in contemplating the sky, the movement of cloud, the quality of a sunrise or sunset, the slant of rain and the autumnness of leaves.  Her language is as rich and succulent as a really good piece of cake and when I finish one of her stories, I remain in a dreamy, moving state for weeks, and until my days ache without her words...and I choose another one of her novels and start the process all over again.

Meanwhile...quite without warning, I have been pulled, mayhaps willed, back into another of my happiest reading pleasures: King's The Dark Tower series.  (currently finishing book 5)

So different from Montgomery, the landscapes of Mid-World are moody and stark, they ripple with tension and deeply involved plot and character.  For weeks at a time, Roland, Susannah, Eddie and Jake seem to look at the earth, to engage with the dilemmas of the modern world going to ruin. I become absorbed in King's characters and their journey. The rose at the heart of their quest becomes my own and I dream gunslingers and billy-bumblers while I'm reading.

And so it is, perhaps an apt coupling: daydreams set off by Montgomery's landscape description and night dreams prompted by King's epic tale.  And in between is the marrow, the poetry and creative writing critical engagement, the grist I tangle and wrestle with, hold and applaud. All of this poetry and prose that I devour, that holds me week upon week as I read myself from summer to autumn, from autumn-ing toward winter.

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