Compiled by Mary Vuk

I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Ah, to loaf and invite your soul, and loaf while observing a spear of summer grass. Long ago, before we got really, really busy (remember that?), summer held out the promise of loafing: luxuriating in a string of endlessly long days in which we could do what we pleased, or do “nothing,” if that is what we pleased.

Summer beckoned siren-like in June with this promise of endlessness. There was time (and then some) for everything we might want to do – swimming, baseball, picnics, sitcom reruns (did you love Lucy?), yes, even time for reading a book (or perhaps three or four).

Maybe we exaggerate the claims on our time that would keep us from a enjoying a long day of gentle summer reading while perhaps sitting beneath a large leafy tree, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of spears of summer grass, cell phone off, IPod-less, while soft breezes rustle through the trees and birds sing. There we would sit immersed in a book.

This month, the folks at Woodland Pattern have reviewed a few books which they think you might enjoy as you loaf and invite your soul this summer.(All of them are available at Woodland Pattern.)

Reciprocal Distillations
Clayton Eshleman
Hot Whiskey Press, 2007
Reviewed by Chuck Stebelton, Literary Programming Manager

Reciprocal Distillations is the second book of Eshleman’s own poetry to appear since he published his lifelong translation project of the great Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. Each poem in Reciprocal Distillations is written in response to a visual artist, a practice that Eshleman has engaged frequently since his 1967 book Walks. Using a density of image that supplements the act of viewing, whether a Henry Darger panel (“No matter how many carnivores he releases, / the Vivian Girls are trillion in a field.”); or a classic Caravaggio, each poem produces an indelible image of the original. Eshleman’s language in response to the visual is an intense and sometimes playful distillation of experience.

Incubation: A Space For Monsters
Bhanu Kapil
Leon Works, 2006
Reviewed by Marie Larson, Public Relations, Membership Manager & Newsletter Designer

This is a vibrant, bleeding text of borders, immigration and otherness, narrow escapes and loss. Kapil creates division after division as the narrator splits her identity and world like a gecko amputating its tail. Here the tail is the character Laloo, a Punjabi-British hitchhiker in the U.S. – a prior self/history and extension of the narrators own body, watched and relived with an intimate anxiety and compassion. The “she” in this book claims all pronouns. From the hot and sticky to the machine, she is prior and present self, mother and baby, a hybrid “other” continuously expelled by her surroundings, a monster among cyborgs, a monster and cyborg. What’s the difference? Kapil offers up this:

“In horror films, you can’t always tell if it is a cyborg or if it is a person, whereas monsters are always identifiable as such by their long black hair and multiple arms, retracted into the torso during lovemaking and hitchhiking, because even monsters fall in love, want to make a go of it.” (12)

Incubation is beautifully written, raises questions of subjectivity and singularity, and although it covers challenging territory, this book is completely readable. It hitchhikes across borders of geography, ethnicity, body, sexuality, gender and identity. It questions and talks with the reader offering up salient advice.

Two Kinds of Arson
Brandi Homan
Dancing Girl Press, 2007
Reviewed by Julie Strand, Educational Coordinator

This new chapbook by Brandi Homan, editor of Switchback Books Press, begs to be read. These poems deliver punch after punch. The combinations of images and words interact in ways you couldn’t have imagined, to create new and pleasing sensations and meanings.The challenging images and vocabulary do not make this collection inaccessible.The poems go from Kawasaki motorcycles to dresses with polyester loofah sleeves, binary stars to machetes, kerosene to high school dances when the speaker doesn’t want to get her “picture taken and leave the dance early / because [her] head’s full of streamers and cardboard stars.” If you are also a person who is full of “cardboard stars and streamers,” pick up this book.

The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History
Josephy M. Marshall III
Penguin, 2005
Reviewed by Carolyn Elmer, Distribution Manager

This is a fascinating portrait of the Lakota leader, (1842-1877), and his culture written by a Lakota author who was himself raised by descendants of the community in which Crazy Horse grew up.The book, based on the Lakota oral traditions, stories passed down in Marshall’s family among others, reflects the author’s long-standing admiration for Crazy Horse. This book is for those interested in reading about Lakota history, culture, and leadership.

The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo
Edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman
University of California Press, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Vuk, Staff Writer, Riverwest Currents

There is something strong and immortal seeming about César Vallejo’s poetry, as if he did really write in stone. Reading him reminds me of reading Akhmatova (although I can’t explain exactly why). This hefty volume contains Vallejo’s complete poetry – 799 poems translated by Clayton Eshleman over a period of 40 years. It is a bilingual text, with the Spanish and English texts appearing side-by-side. Vallejo was born in Peru in 1896 but lived in Paris for most of his adult life and died there in 1938. Eshleman has appended 50 pages of scholarly notes, as well as an afterward in which he describes his own experiences as a person and poet, during his 40-year encounter with Vallejo as translator. His afterward is moving and interesting.

The ideal reader of this volume should be prepared to open and close it many times and engage with it perhaps over a lifetime as Eshleman has. It is soulful, deep stuff. You will walk away from even a brief encounter full of spirit, and when you need another infusion, Vallejo will be there for you again and again.

“Now,/between ourselves, bring/your sweet persona by the hand/and let’s dine together and spend a moment life/as two lives, giving a share to our death./Now, come with yourself, do me the favor/ of singing something/and playing on your soul, clapping hands.” from Clapping and Guitar, César Vallejo.

What a lovely invitation to accept on a long, lazy summer day

Riverwest Currents online edition – June, 2007