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Planet Poetry Poetry

Twice is a charm

Merry Christmas! With 2020 heading for the dustbin of history, I’m beginning to take stock of what has been — at the very least — a year of thwarted plans.

However, it has forced me to innovate a little. And one of the best innovations was starting the Planet Poetry podcast with Robin Houghton. The latest edition carries an interview with Jack Underwood, and discussions of books by John McCullough, Caleb Femi, Maureen N. McLane, and Ilya Kaminsky. We’ve breaking for Christmas, but we’ll kick off the year with a deep exploration of the work of Mario Petrucci. The Podcast gives Robin and I a chance to chat to poets about poetry. One of the best things about it is that it has turned me into a fan again.

I have been through times this year where I have experienced the kind of anxiety that makes it hard to settle down and focus on reading, or I found I was reading but not giving a text my full attention. So it was only the second time I sat down to read Charlotte Gann’s The Girl Who Cried, that its power really hit me. It is a book I find quietly magnificent, and has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. There is nothing that’s extraneous or doesn’t feel true in these poems, and they hit you in unexpected ways.

Charlotte has agreed to be interviewed for Planet Poetry soon, about her new book, and its predecessor Noir, which I looked at here. The Girl Who Cried is definitely one of my books of the year.

I also reread Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses, first published in the 80s. It is one of those mic drop books — so brilliant that if she never wrote another book ever again, it would be enough. It made me download Crazy Brave, her memoir as an audiobook. It is only about four and a half hours long, but it is a fascinating listen, and weaves mythology and dream into the story of her childhood.

Joy Harjo is also the main editor of a new Norton Anthology, called When the light of the world was subdued, our songs came through, which I have just started. It is an anthology of Native Nations poetry and is quietly blowing me away. This, from Joy Harjo’s introduction, was very sobering.

‘We are more than 573 federally recognized indigenous tribal nations in the mainland United States …. We speak more than 150 indigenous languages. As contact with European Invaders we were estimated at over 112 million. By 1650 we were fewer than six million. Today we are one-half of one percent of the total population of the United States. Imagine the African continent with one-half of one percent of indigenous Africans and you might understand the immensity of the American holocaust.’

This anthology represent a genuine cultural landmark for Native Nations people, and a testament to their survival against all the odds. For that reason alone it seems this anthology has enormous significance.