Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a swarm of biting midges. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to a handful of books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.
Joy Cohen, Guernica Editions, 344 pages. $21.95.
The wood grain formed rivulets, the veins mapping years of growth and drought.
Middle-aged Vermont reporter Polly Stern is tired of writing about quilters and manure runoff. At a local reunion of members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (see "On the Road," page 24), she hears a pair of personal stories that cross the generation gap and ignite her imagination. One serendipitous meeting leads to another, and soon Polly is flying around the world collecting oral histories that she transforms into semi-fictional narratives. In the Dominican Republic, she explores a thriving Jewish refugee community; in Spain, she relives the fight against fascism; in New York, she delves into the immigrant experience. The uncanny common factor? Every story that Polly hears takes place in 1937.
Cohen's thoughtful first novel alternates between the heroine's meditative first-person narrative and the more eventful stories she hears and retells. As she grapples with a midlife crisis and a family secret, Polly gains insights into her own Jewish identity and the recurring patterns of love and hate, conflict and cooperation, that bring the human family together.
Going to the Tigers: Essays and Exhortations
Robert Cohen, University of Michigan Press, 134 pages. $19.95.
[A] license to cut loose gives permission for just about anything — the irrational, the non sequitur, the digressive...
If you ask me — and, to be clear, no one did — a writer needs exactly two books about writing: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White and Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block. Most other examples of writers writing about writing — excuse me, the craft — are dull, masturbatory exercises in vanity. The books about writing that are worthwhile tend to be those with a unique angle or viewpoint, such as novelist Robert Cohen's new collection.
In the course of 11 insightful essays, the Middlebury College professor of English and American literatures delivers less of a manual on process than an entertaining defense of cutting loose, of voice, of duality and — one of this writer's favorite literary tools — of digression. Threading his treatises with self-deprecating humor and examples from authors who influenced him, Cohen subtly illustrates one of the cornerstones of good writing — show, don't tell — with elegance, wit and style.
The Woodchuck Travels Through the Garden Seasons
Ron Krupp, Onion River Press, 186 pages. $20.
They bring color to the spring landscape and to our diminished lives after a long winter.
The "they" in this quote refers to early season bulbs such as crocus, snowdrops and scilla. In this section of Ron Krupp's third book in the Woodchuck gardening series, the Vermont author provides tips on purchasing and planting bulbs and creating an "ongoing show of color" in the garden.
A gardener and educator with more than 50 years of experience, Krupp organizes his book by season. He starts with his favorite, autumn, when "[m]aple leaves glow along with perennials like goldenrod and purple New England asters, painting the Vermont landscape in a palette of color." By the time spring arrives, the gardener is more than ready for early season flowers. Krupp suggests buying "top-quality" bulbs that are "large, firm, and of good color" and planting them "at a depth of two to three times their height."
Offering both pleasure and wisdom, Krupp's book is one that gardeners will pull from their shelves every season to unearth a flower poem or a garden idea.
A Life Derailed: My Journey With ALS
Nate Methot, Onion River Press, 257 pages. $17.99.
I barely had the strength to reach the basket from the foul line without jumping.
At 25, Nate Methot was just beginning a career as a securities broker in Montpelier when he experienced early symptoms of ALS, a motor neuron disease that weakens muscles. The life of the South Burlington native and University of Vermont graduate would quickly flip upside down as the disease disrupted his active lifestyle, which included basketball and hiking.
Over the course of his memoir, Methot documents how ALS attacks his very sense of identity, forcing him to rebuild himself with each setback. The life he knew and the life he planned have been irrevocably altered, forcing him to change his outlook to maintain hope. The author tries to look on the bright side, citing the love of friends and family and the pleasure of good food, but the challenges of living with ALS push him to his limits. It's a frank and confessional story. Methot paints a vivid picture of a young man's struggle with a debilitating condition.
Renee Rossi, Kallisto Gaia Press, 40 pages. $12.95.
How is relationship the sharing of one's solitude with another?
Unpacking themes in Renee Rossi's poem "Irresponsibility in Everything," excerpted here, could take days. They include youth, old age, power, feminism, cosmic pain, lost love and past lives. The work's subhead, "Title line after Marina Tsvetaeva," suggests even more complexity. The life of Tsvetaeva, a 20th-century Russian poet, was "charged with self-interest, pomp, a tone of near-hysteria," Mary Oliver wrote in a 1992 Washington Post review.
Each of the 23 poems in Rossi's chapbook inspires the reader to dig deeply, to explore beyond the written word. Some works reference those of other artists, including poet Mary Ruefle, sculptor Käthe Kollwitz and painter Cy Twombly. Others are intimate portraits of Rossi's life, such as the title poem, a paean to tender moments with her son.
Currently an Ayurveda practitioner, Craftsbury Common's Rossi practiced Western medicine for 30 years and has published the full-length poetry collection Triage and two poetry chapbooks: Third Worlds and Still Life, which won the Gertrude Press Poetry Prize. A career devoted to health seems just what the doctor ordered for heartfelt, engaging poetry.