Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Alone In Harmony"



Raised in Paradise, Anna Quimpo Maguire published "Searching For The City Of Love" in 2016, when she was eighteen. Since then she has established Three States of Mind (threestatesofmindpress.com), "an inclusive poetry press," with presentations scheduled in Los Angeles and beyond.

Her new book features nearly sixty short poems "about personal struggles and finding self-love through it all. … This book is intended to help others find peace in being alone."

"Alone In Harmony" ($12.99 in paperback from Three States of Mind Press) is borne out of the poet's realization that strength comes, perhaps can only come, from wrestling with those things that appear good at first but that turn and bite us.

The opening poem, "Gone," sets a somber mood.

"I have lost myself these days/," the poet writes. "It all comes out to play/ I have killed the life inside/ Or is it trying to hide/ I have taken in too many lines/ that are going to kill me over time/ I do not know where I stand/ I do not know who I am."

Drugs bite back. But "lines" has a larger reference, to all the come-ons we are prone to fall for. Even the well-meaning are not especially helpful. In "What I Have Dealt With," the poet says, "You think you know me/ When I do not even know me/ … You think you met me/ When I do not even get me…."

In response, the poet moves inward, toward "Self-Love," which contrasts with others' social expectations. 

"I cannot love myself/ When I have to give it to everyone else/ I have been too selfless/ It is time to be selfish." In "Giving Up, the poet asserts, "I am the creator of my own fate/ In my hands is a clean slate." 

But life is not so easy. In "Darkness," "I am searching for a high/ Dying a little every time/ All I need is love/ I pray, looking above/ This is hurting far too much/ Living day to day and such/ Let me find the light/ Let me get things right."

There is painful self-discovery along the way, but, in the end, a ray of hope, a way forward.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Underground Railroad"



Colson Whitehead won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his searing novel, "The Underground Railroad" ($16.95 in paperback from Anchor/Doubleday; also for Amazon Kindle). He is scheduled to speak at the Shasta College Theatre in Redding on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the school's Community Speaker Series. The event is free and open to the public; details at bit.ly/2QAGdWu.

The story begins with Cora, a young slave on a Georgia cotton plantation before the Civil War. The stunning audio version is voiced by Bahni Turpin who, as Publishers Weekly put it in a starred review, "takes great pains to handle the nuances of dialect without resorting to caricature." Caesar, another of the slaves on the Randall plantation, surreptitiously invites Cora to join him in his departure through the "underground railroad."

Whitehead imagines an actual railroad, hidden in a series of massive tunnels under the South, maintained by abolitionists. Cora can hardly believe what she sees. "The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables--this was a marvel to be proud of. She wondered if those who had built this thing had received their proper reward." 

Lumbly, the station agent, replies: "Every state is different. … Each one a state of possibility, with its own customs and way of doing things. Moving through them, you'll see the breadth of the country before you reach your final stop." 

Cora will take the name "Bessie" in South Carolina, becoming a nanny to the Anderson children. Her treatment is a far cry from the unspeakable horrors the Randall brothers inflicted on their slaves (Big Anthony is tortured for days; then, "visitors sipped spiced rum as Big Anthony was doused with oil and roasted"). But it becomes clear the state is no haven for runaways.

More escapes. There will be journeys on the underground railroad to North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana. Throughout, the slave catcher Ridgeway haunts Cora's path; the final bloody confrontation speaks volumes. 

Possibilities? Maybe. But even at times when Cora experiences relative freedom, she realizes that "whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden."

Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir"



Apricot Anderson Irving (apricotirving.com) describes herself as "a recovering missionary's daughter"; when she was six, in 1981, she and her "parents moved to the north of Haiti to be missionaries--not far from where Columbus sank the Santa MarĂ­a."

Later she pieced together their complicated relationship with Haiti. It's told in "The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir" ($26 in hardcover from Simon & Schuster and available at the Chico Library; also for Amazon Kindle). Irving's exquisite prose focuses on her parents, and especially her dad, Lee Anderson.

"My father, a missionary agronomist," she writes, "is a man of the earth, his fingernails perpetually stained with berries and dirt. His first language is trees. …" Her mother, Flip Divine, "a skateboard city girl with curls that bounced against her backpack, waltzed into his life without a permit (or so he claimed)."

The book details the missionary service in Haiti as the family expanded to include little sisters Laura Meadow and Rose Ember. Apricot's mother experienced misgivings about the privileges she as a white missionary, a blan, received. "'What am I doing here in Haiti?' she asked the family journal. 'Has God brought me to Haiti to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle? I don't think so.'"

Apricot's relationship with her father is fraught (both are strong-willed), and her memoir is unstinting in its honesty. As a kid she loved the lizards; as a teenager she felt imprisoned; as a daughter she observed her parents' fragile marriage. 

Years later she returned to Haiti to cover the horrendous earthquake of 2010 for This American Life. Earlier she had realized that "beauty, it seemed, had been here all along: a wild summons, a name for God that did not stick in my throat. It felt suddenly absurd that as missionaries we had come to teach Haitians about God. God was already here. Maybe our only job was to bear witness to the beauty--and the sorrow. Without denying either one." 

Irving is scheduled to appear at the Chico Library on Thursday, October 11 at 6:30 p.m. for a reading and signing. The event, sponsored by Chico Friends of the Library, is free and open to the public.