Marie Ponsot published her first volume of poetry in 1956. After a twenty-five-year hiatus, she returned to poetry in 1981 and continues to publish today in her nineties. Thus, her Collected Poems is substantial and difficult to summarize in a limited space. Ponsot often finds inspiration from her life. Subjects vary from the major to the mundane: from her divorce to non-vegetarian cooking, from grief at various loses to bird watching, from a friend’s birthday to burning old papers. She also seems equally at ease with both formal and less strict forms. To all of this, Ponsot brings a strong classical background, a poet’s eye for connections, a delightfully defiant sense of a woman’s place, especially as she ages, but, most of all, an exquisite command of language. Many lines are a joy to read aloud and will remain with the reader. For example, in “Pourriture Noble” or “Noble Rot,” Ponsot takes a refreshing view of aging, concluding: “Age is not / all dry rot. / It’s never too late. / Sweet is your real estate.” Marie Ponsot’s Collected Poems is a testament to a life well lived and an art well practiced.
It is difficult to know where to begin in describing Catherine Banner’s truly excellent debut novel. Set on the Mediterranean island of Castellamare and covering almost one-hundred years, The House on the Edge of Night tells the story of four generations as they face world wars, economic collapse, fascism, and the advent of modernity. However, this novel is so much more than that. Night begins when a young doctor with no family arrives on the island in 1914 and begins collecting the stories of its inhabitants. Those stories open each part of the book, lending the character’s stories a mythic quality. As the lives of Esposito, his descendants, and the other islanders unfold over the next several decades, a sort of quiet magic envelops their lives and irresistibly draws the reader in. Furthermore, Banner masterfully imbues the lives of her characters with a sense of continuity in the bonds of family and friendship through the generations despite the hardships they face. Overall, Night is an absolute delight for the reader and should not be missed.
For the amateur artist, working from real life may provide a significant challenge. With so many changing variables in a real life situation, working from a photograph seems far less stressful. In her latest book, however, Cathy Johnson not only makes “on the spot” sketching seem possible for the average artist, but strongly preferable.
In Artist’s Sketchbook, Johnson addresses technical aspects of sketching from real life, including supply considerations and issues unique to a variety of different environs. She also provides exercises and informative step-by-step demonstrations throughout the book. Nevertheless, her approach to “on the spot” art is what makes this book so valuable. Johnson explains that working from real life provides a depth and freshness to the end result, which may not be possible with a photograph. This result is unsurprising, as Johnson recommends seeking subjects that speak to the artist’s heart and bringing a deep, abiding curiosity to object or locale. For readers, sketching from real life becomes not a formidable challenge, but a creative opportunity for capturing the beauty of our everyday lives. Those artists who think sketching from real life beyond their ability may suddenly find themselves grabbing their sketch kit and heading for the door.
Sometimes, books arrive just when they are needed most. For many, the past few weeks since our Presidential election have been anxious ones filled with uncertainty about the future. Published before the election and without thought to its outcome, Oliver’s essays in Upstream could not have come at a better time. Inside this small book, Oliver shows the reader her world. For a brief moment, the reader walks the forest and coast with Oliver and hears the terrifying cries of the horned owl, marvels at beauty in a fish’s entrails, becomes absorbed in a spider’s life, and chuckles at the prospect of a resident bear. Oliver speaks with eloquence about Emerson, Wordsworth and Whitman, reminding the reader of these troves of wisdom. Maybe most importantly, Oliver embraces with equanimity less pleasant aspects of life: predators eat the turtle’s eggs, the injured gull dies, the town transforms when the economy alters, and Oliver changes with age, but the beauty and strength Oliver finds does not diminish despite those realities. And the same will remain for the reader, whatever the future may bring.
(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book via Netgalley.)