Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Reviews & Recommendations

Holy Overflowing Bookcases, Batman, I have a TON of books to tell you about!

Here are two I'll share with you today--


An Absorbing Errand: How Artists & Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, by Janna Malamud Smith:

For those who know me, you know I love nonfiction books about creativity and anything that can make you a better writer or artist.  This book is exactly that.

What I love about it is how each chapter shares a problem, struggle, or challenge we have in our creative process, then offers a way to not only overcome it, but use it to be a better at your art.

Here are the topics/struggles some of the chapters look at:

Going Public

"Going Public" is an interesting chapter because it really looks at the privacy it takes to make art, then bringing it out into the public world.

Here's a something Janna wrote about poet Elizabeth Bishop, which I think shows the gift this book offers, learning about other artists to better learn about ourselves:

Elizabeth Bishop found the privacy she needed for while by "ex-patting" herself to Brazil.  She made a new life for herself far from America, and far from everything familiar in her old one.  Her lover built her a studio which stood apart from the bustling main house, itself up in the hills of rural Brazil.  On the wall of her workroom, Bishop tacked up photos of Charles Baudelaire and her close poet friends Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell.  She removed herself from public view and carefully chose the eyes that could see her as she worked--as she lived...the distance itself helped her get free of the pressures of "poetic ambition" which had contributed to her misery in her native land.  She felt inadequate, and compared herself unfavorable to all the poets she met.  In her own eyes, she continually fell short, even after considerable success.

...The actual distance between Brazil and New England aided her.  The studio helped.  But such concrete aids were not the only ones needed by her, or by many people, since much of one's sense of privacy is psychological. Our own minds are our first public, and they can be as harsh as an audience as well encounter. . .Whatever accommodation you manage, one day the more solitary phase ends.  You finish the book or poem or painting or musical composition.  And however you have carefully arranged geography, furniture, and psyche to create a sheltering space, the internal sojourn is now over...

She goes on to talk about getting your art out in the world and Walt Whitman being "his own best tout."  (I recently heard on NPR Walt Whitman was able to buy a house by what he made on self-marketing his book, Leaves of Grass.)  And continues letting us learn about ourselves through others.

This is what I love about this book is that you don't feel alone in your insecurities, fears, concerns, struggles as an artist while reading it.

You see other artists struggle.  Elizabeth Bishop felt inadequate!

And while she offers wonderful stories to help each artist improve their own artistic lives.  It shows us how so many of have these struggles and the positives we are rewarded with in our artistic lives if we move through them. But she never says, "do this, this and this."  What she does is guides us, gives us the choice of how to proceed with our own life.

I loved Janna's writing style in that it too offers a kindness, a gentleness, but with powerful stories, ideas, comments, and details.

This is an amazingly well-researched book, I'd recommend.

Oh, and here's another great write-up about the book that mentions the Four Insights towards mastering your art by Susan K. Perry in Psychology Today--If you go there is has the comments behind the four insights written out :

Four Insights


Highly Recommend:  An Absorbing Errand: How Artists & Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, by Janna Malamud Smith



What a poetry book looks like after being dropped in the bath-- it held up pretty well!

An Individual History by Michael Collier:  This is Michael's 6th collection and while he definitely is known in the poetry circles, I admit he was new for me.

What I loved about his book is that while it was in a narrative, accessible style, his poems are interesting and feel as if they each have a reason for being written.  I know, that sounds odd--don't all poems have a reason to be written?  Well, many do, but some seem to slide off course a bit.  Michael's poems don't. He mixes personal history with public history--poignant poems with an emotional connectedness that I don't always see with poets.  Some tough sub

Of course, one of my favorite poems is rather humorous and unexpected in the collection--and maybe that's why it stands out--"In Certain Situations I'm Very Much Against Birdsong," which begins "When poets put the sound of birdsong in poems/it's a form of babytalk that gives me the creeps."

And I loved the poem "Object to be Destroyed" about a painter that ends with: "the unblinking stare/and hypnotized myself/with what I thought I loved." Absolutely a beautiful close, a line I wish I'd had written.

Beautiful lines throughout.  Many poems about deeper subjects, but a good mix of light and dark in here, you don't feel as if you spent the day chewing bubblegum after reading his poems, but you also don't feel as if you spent the day watching CNN.

(Oh, and a side note: I've never met Michael Collier, but when I mentioned his name to a friend, she had and said he was a really nice guy.  His kindness came through in the poems for me, something I can't really explain, but I could feel it.)


~ Kells

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1 comment:

  1. I'd like to second the comment that Michael is a really nice guy. He is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and is super supportive of other writers. An interesting and lovely person.


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