Getting young people to look back even a few years is difficult in today’s iPhone world, but the book about the very nature of what it means to be an intruder and what it means to be disenfranchised, forgotten, well, a read like Henry could open up all sorts of possibilities around the confluence of literature and history, politics and humanity. In the end, though, it seems fitting that an ancient poet, nameless, evokes the humanity of beer probably way before wine making. This 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, encapsulates the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground... You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort... Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates. For the reader of Strelow’s book, the simplicity of a man dedicated to becoming a brewer and owning his own destiny is emblematic of a drunken boom and bust New World experience all the way back to the conquistadors. This book should be consumed along with a few bottles of your favorite beer, and in that swill of inebriation, the reader will be that much closer to Heinrich and the Portland of old, while gaining understanding of Strelow’s muse and the power of myth in Ninkasi, goddess of brewing. (See interview with Michael Strelow on page 125)
Walking the line in Judith Skillman’s House of Burnt Offerings
In House of Burnt Offerings, Judith Skillman uses language the way a tightrope walker uses her body—the poems are infused with grace, courage, and balance. Of course, to find my own way through these poems, as a reader, I’m compelled to step out into the air, and follow along, taut line after taut line. This can be unsettling. It takes faith to read Skillman, at times—her associative, lyrical poems frequently eschew many of the usual safety harnesses found in contemporary poetry, for example direct narrative, first person confession, or simple imagistic closure. The occasional sensation of being turned upside-down while reading this book is well worth the vertigo. There’s a quiet intelligence here, a series of deep narratives that run like underground rivers, branching widely throughout the first two sections of poems, then coming together in the third section, surfacing with force and beauty. I’m in awe of—and grateful to—the author for such an exhilarating and rewarding journey. Not usually a thrill-seeker in my reading tastes, I find myself wondering—how does Skillman convince me to go along with her on this often wild ride? Take a look at the last few lines in her poem “Swaybacked”: I enter the light called dusk. All the symbols of youth swallow, swallowed by Eliot’s violets. Tiresius—even Prufrock, who hardly knew whether to eat the bloody peach. I enter my spine as question mark. At first reading, the subject-verb structure of “symbols of youth swallow” appears to parallel the previous sentence’s “I enter…” But as I continue to read, I realize, no—it’s the symbols themselves that are “swallowed by” Eliot’s violets. OK, now my wary reader’s antennae are up. Is it the “I” in the third sentence that’s the question mark? Or is it the spine? Well, yes.
Water Rushing Log