Last August I was fortunate to be in Scotland around the time of the Edinburgh Festival and all that’s associated with it, including the International Book Festival.
I was excited to see that there was a session that put together Kirsty Logan and Jón Kalmann Stefánsson. Shortly before going to Scotland I picked up The Gracekeepers at the Adelaide Airport bookshop. I was, and still am mostly, only reading books by female, non-white, non-English dominant authors. Starting on this trail showed up how much space books by white men take up in bookshops. I was pleased to find Kirsty’s book in Adelaide and it was probably the best fictional find of the summer. The Gracekeepers weaves magical realism, an almost drowned world, and circus boats, plus a huge bear.
Jón Kalman Stefánsson was a discovery from a few years ago when I came across his book Heaven and Hell in a Breton bookshop (yep, my book purchases sure do highlight my globetrotter status). It is the first in a trilogy I have since finished but at the time I only knew the first one.
The authors were paired together along a northern theme. Books set in Iceland tend to be bleak, whether a mystery, a crime story or a version of romance. I don’t know how I’d feel about them if I hadn’t visited Iceland and had it crawl under my skin. In any case, this isn’t so much about the merits of works set in Iceland, and more to do with Stefánsson’s morning ritual.
Stefánsson starts each day with a poem, coffee, and with gratefulness to the translators!
I took on his call to start each day with poetry and there have been only three or four times I’ve missed this routine in the last year. I read from works by a single author along with anthologies. Three books of poetry have particularly marked me this year. Below are the Goodreads reviews I did for each one. *I’ve been working on my book reviews so the reviews can be viewed as works in progress, the goal is to share my joy.
How Fire is a Story, Waiting by Melinda Palacio
I’ve thought long and hard about how to write about this book, along with two other books of poetry I read at the same time: Codeswitch: Fires from Mi Corazón by Iris de Anda, and When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Díaz. The three authors are based in and around Southern CA with some travels outside. Melinda Palacio frames her work through the elements: fire, air, water, and earth. She tells the story of her family, including the meeting of her parents, her father’s “sin verguenza swagger” (one of my favourite poems in the book), and her father’s time in prison. I love reading these poems over and over, in conjunction with the other two books I mentioned above. I’m going to link to a much more complete and worthy review http://latinopia.com/latino-literatur…
Iris de Anda: Codeswitch: Fires from Mi Corazón
I’ve thought long and hard about how to write about this book, along with two other books of poetry I read at the same time: How Fire is a Story, Waiting by Melinda Palacio, and When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Díaz. The three authors are based in and around Southern CA with some travels outside. Iris de Anda frames her work through the chambers of the heart: rage/coraje, love/amor, revolution/revolución, evolution/evolución. The power of De Anda’s work lies in its ritualistic nature and short phrasings that build one on the other. This is poetry to be read aloud, with a strong and passionate voice. There are no negotiations between languages, they merge, are not translated (except in the chapter titles). There is a call to action, a call to push through the pain and the hurt, and to keep fighting for our common humanity and true empathy.
When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Díaz
I read this book in conjunction with Iris de Anda’s Codeswitch: Fires from Mi Corazón and Melinda Palacio’s How Fire is a Story, Waiting. All three authors are based in and around Southern California. The power of the words these three authors put to the page cannot be understated. They stand alone and together, each with a unique voice and unique stories to share. Natalie Diaz skillfully blends poetic style and form to tell tales that have personal resonance, and tales that speak to the larger world around. There is the story of her brother, her family, tales of childhood, strung along with the tale of Mojave Barbie, a lion devouring a man and boxes of raisins, and many more besides. Words, poems and stories that will leave you wishing for more.