As part of Summer Reads, Molly Gaudry shares what she’s planning on reading this summer.
My first year as a PhD candidate at the University of Utah is behind me. Classes ended in April, and for the entire month of May I’ve mostly been hanging upside down at Imagination Place (our local AntiGravity Fitness studio here in SLC). As an instructor-in-training, working toward certification, I haven’t had or made time to read since the end of the term, and it’s been a relief to work the body for days and weeks on end instead of the mind (even if I don’t necessarily believe in such a distinction, preferring instead to think of the body as the mind in motion). But this morning, for the first time in over a month, I cracked open a book. Marguerite Duras might have said this particular book was screaming at me from its place on the shelf. Who knows why a book screams when it screams.
The book was Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave). First I reread one dog-eared passage about Sappho, the moon, and lyric poetry. Ruefle supposes that “stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense, an entity complete in itself, recognizable at a glance.” I love that she thinks this, that she wrote this. I look at the moon sometimes and am filled with wonder: Who else is looking at this moon, tonight, right now, like me? Did you know that May’s full moon was a “flower moon” and that June’s will be a “strawberry moon”? Do you remember Calvino’s story about the moon: “I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.” In a “Music and Mantra” workshop I took a few weeks ago with mostly yogis, I decided I liked one yogi in particular and made a mental note—what the hell—to take her next “full moon yoga class” outside, in a park, under the night sky. I’m into the moon, I guess. And I was attracted to this woman’s gentleness, how kind she seemed, and how, surprisingly, she wasn’t all that “woo-woo” for a yogini who teaches a full-moon yoga class in a park every month. I wonder, What is your story about the moon?
In Ruefle’s title essay, a fair bit of time is spent puzzling out a three-line poem attributed to Hafiz:
I shall not finish my poem.
What I have written is so sweet
The flies are beginning to torment me.
“It is so simple and clear,” Ruefle writes, “the ‘figurative’ sweetness of the author’s verse has become honey, causing ‘literal’ flies to swarm on the page or in or around the author’s head. This is truly the Word made flesh, the fictive made real, water into wine. That is the honey of poetry: the miracle of its transformation, which is that of creation: once there was a blank page—scary!—now there is something in its place that is attracting flies. Anyone who has not experienced the joy, pleasure, transport, and sweetness of writing poems has not written poems. If it has never once been fun for you, you probably haven’t experienced what we talk about when we talk about poetry.”
I can’t say I’ve missed reading—or writing. I can’t say I care to read any more of Ruefle’s book or that I’ll even go on to pick up another anytime soon. Only that, for some reason, Madness, Rack, and Honey screamed at me this morning. And while I’ve spent all this time going on about Ruefle’s going on about the moon and honey, etc., there is one line from Frankenstein that she quotes that I’m sure will haunt me all day—as it haunts me now, as I prepare to go into the studio for training drills from 1:00-6:00 and then assist another instructor from 6:00-7:00 tonight. I can’t get this line out of my head: “Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” This basically sums up my own experience in that Music and Mantra workshop—I couldn’t bear to join in, kept my mouth shut but shaped into a smile as everyone else hummed, sang, or chanted; I was frightened into silence again every time I heard my own voice. And why?
Why is it—or why has it always been—easier to lay it all out on the page?
And, anymore, why is it not easy at all?
The flies are beginning to torment me.
I will read again. This much I accept—resignedly, and ashamed.
To this end, I have made a Summer Reading List. These are books I want to read, have asked to read, have been meaning to read. For months now, in some cases.
Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave (Vintage)
Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams (Graywolf)
Melissa Kwasny’s The Nine Senses (Milkweed)
Megan Martin’s Nevers (Caketrain)
Thomas G. Pavel’s Fictional Worlds (Harvard)
Porter Shreve’s The End of the Book (Yellow Shoe)
Rachel Zucker’s Mother’s (Counterpath)
I’ll let you know how it goes. . . .
Molly Gaudry‘s first book, We Take Me Apart, was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil and named 2nd finalist for the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry. Its sequel, Desire: A Haunting, will release from Ampersand Books in late 2014.