WLRN #FridayReads: South Florida Poets Edition

Jun 9, 2017

What are you reading? WLRN wants to know — and we'll share what we, and other people in the South Florida community, are reading every week in this space.

Tell us what you're reading by replying in the comments, or tweet us @WLRN with the hashtag #FridayReads

Cynthia Chinelly, poet and associate director of the Florida International University writing program

I am currently reading Nina Riggs’ stunning and heartbreaking memoir, “The Bright Hour.” Nina was a brilliant poet who died in February at age 39, two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Her memoir is a lyrical, honest, and unsentimental mediation on living and living with stage 4 cancer. As the great-great-great-granddaughter of the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nina uses his thoughts throughout the book as guideposts to the messiness of her dying and to her luminous determination to embrace it. What I can’t turn away from as I sit with Nina’s story is her voice. It is present and unflinching. Its glittering pulse draws me into a narrative that moves towards that Bright Hour of the title, taken from Emerson’s journal: “… to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as the World.” It is a voice that keeps me up at night.

Flower Conroy, Key West poet laureate

“Madness, Rack, and Honey” by Mary Ruefle —  this is a work that lets me forgive myself. This work resonates with any person seriously thinking about writing (or should) — not only craft-wise — which, when (if?) Ruefle addresses, addresses so deftly it seems anything but craft and more like that most uncommon thing — common sense; but this collection also resonates with respect to honest and raw emotion. One pearl I’ve still not recovered from? “It’s a sincere desire, but a sincere desire always complicates things — the universe has a peculiar reaction to our sincere desires.”

“Forest Primeval” by Vievee Francis — you asked which books I am currently reading, but this is a book I am currently rereading and will continue to reread. These poems begin before the reader in such a way that discovery is inevitable — the reader discovers herself immediately inside the poem — as if wandering into a room near the end of an intimate but not too-private conversation. Turn to any page and find yourself already immersed in the world the poet has rendered: “Since finding the baby in the slice/ of King Cake nothing has been the same,” “With our down-turned mouths, and trenches/ now on either side, evidence of our disappointments,” and “You’ll find no swans here.”  Not a word taken for granted, no moment not realized, no emotion left unexamined.

“Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue” by William Logan — whose title I misread as “Civic” and not “Civil” — when I realized my mistake, I experienced a slight depression, as a balloon slowly leaking air — though that in no way diminishes the quality and importance of Logan’s work. Acerbic and nuanced, attuned and unanaesthetized, Logan’s keen sense spares no one.  I imagine I’d perhaps be shier if Logan roasted my work, but in reading these essays, I am reminding myself which values and qualities I find necessary and pleasurable in poetry — and that’s important work. 

Nick Vagnoni, poet and senior instructor at the Florida International University writing program

I just finished reading “My Favorite Thing is Monsters,” a graphic novel by Emil Ferris. I don't read a lot of graphic novels — maybe one a year — but Ferris' incredibly detailed ballpoint and colored pencil drawings completely captivated me. In some cases, the book is the opposite of a page turner because it's so easy to get lost in the intricate cross-hatching and contours of every page. The book is the fictional sketchbook and journal of a young girl named Karen who fantasizes about being a werewolf as a way of escaping her family and her poor Chicago neighborhood. The story takes Karen through the lives of her seedy neighbors, but it's also a meditation on what it means to be a monster and an outcast. 

I'm also reading “Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive” by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed. I was familiar with Siegel from his book “Mindsight,” which explores our ability to observe our own thoughts and better understand how our minds work. “Parenting from the Inside Out” applies some of these theories to helping parents understanding how their childhood experiences may affect their current interactions with their own children. The book is very practical, yet also heavily grounded in clinical research. Each chapter comes with a list of suggested scholarly reading as well as a series of journal prompts to help readers explore and reflect on their own experiences. "Think of an experience from your own childhood where your reality was denied," reads one prompt. Exercises like this led a friend of mine to describe the book as "hiking the emotional Adirondack Trail."