An Embarrassment of Pandas

I don’t usually tell people what my works in progress are. This is for several reasons. One is that I want the creative license to dramatically change my writing at the drop of a hat. That means I don’t want people to say, “But I really liked that idea! (or character, or what-have-you.)

Another reason is because I figure there are only a few select people who really care about the writing before it’s finished.

But the biggest reason is probably that when people know I’m working on a project, they ask me how it’s going. And then I stress out about it, because sometimes it’s not going so well. Or not going at all. Or I’ve completely abandoned it and started something new. Long story short, I don’t tell people about my works in progress because I’d rather give someone a pleasant surprise than look like a flake.

So… I have a pleasant surprise! I’ve just finished a book! It’s a poetry collection inspired by the absurd names we have for animals. For example, a group of crows is called a murder. A group of sharks is a shiver. Monkeys literally come in barrels. And the book is called An Embarrassment of Pandas. (Yes, that’s the real name for a group of pandas.)

And—added bonus—my good friend Holly Black agreed to do the illustrations for me (which is why that panda on the front cover looks so svelte and put-together.) The whole thing ended up with a kind of Shel Silverstein flavor, if I may flatter myself.

I’ve got a book signing here in Provo on Dec. 2 (and I’m only freaking out about it a little bit.) The event is at 11am at Pioneer Book (450 W Center Street), and there will be snacks. Obviously. The book is perfect for poetry readers of all ages, so everybody’s welcome.

And if you want to buy it online, click here!

An_Embarrassment_of__Cover_for_Kindle

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I Explain a Few Things

i explain a few things

I Explain a Few Things is a collection by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I read a collection of his love poems earlier in the year (or was it last year?) and I liked it okay—but I felt like I might like him a little more if he were being a little less romantic and more matter-of-fact. So I picked this one up, hoping it would be a collection of non-love poems.

Here’s my impression: Pablo Neruda really liked Federico García Lorca. I figured this out because he wrote an ode to Lorca. (I’m clever, aren’t I?) But in addition to writing about Lorca, he also writes a lot like him.

I read Lorca’s collected works a while ago for my world-reading challenge. Lorca is a well-known Spanish poet, who wrote some brilliant lines and then buried them in a mountain of absolute garbage. Forgive me. But I really didn’t like Lorca. He just didn’t make any sense.

The good news is this: Neruda made sense. He still used a lot of the unexpected word combinations that Lorca inspired. And Neruda still wrote sentences that didn’t make any sense. But when you look at the poem on the whole, you at least get a full picture of the mood, the idea that Neruda was trying to convey. A few poems lost me, but most of them were fairly easy to follow; I could even follow a few of them in Spanish. (This is a bilingual edition.)

So if you want some good poetry dripping with metaphor, pick up Neruda. And if you want something even less mundane, go ahead and try Lorca. ♦

 

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks

gwendolyn brooks

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks was an impulse buy. I was already in the bookstore. It was just staring at me. I had to buy it.

Anyways. I wasn’t very familiar with Brooks’s works before buying this book. I mean, I’d heard of her—she won the Pulitzer Prize, among others—but I couldn’t tell you what she’d written.

Well, she wrote poetry, and a lot of it is race-related. This makes sense; she was a Black woman in a very unfriendly America. But with the possible exception of Countee Cullen (who I haven’t read in a while), I think she may have described Black anguish better than any other poet I’ve heard. In addition to this, she followed the rules just enough to be taken seriously at the time, reinventing the sonnet.

You may have learned “We Real Cool” in school, if you want a sample.

I don’t think Brooks is my favorite poet, but she’s probably in my top 5. Go look her up. ♥

Collected Poems of Federico García Lorca

lorca

So. I’m exploring poetry. I’m also exploring the world. Which is what brought me to Spain’s Federico García Lorca, and his entire collected works.

Which are really great, once in a while. One of my favorite poems from this collection has a section which reads, “Por tu amor me duele el aire, el corazón y el sombrero.” (Your love gives me an air-ache, a heartache, and a hat-ache.) Lorca has a beautiful gift with words.

Unfortunately, he spends his gift with words on an avant-garde approach that pushes the limits just for the sake of pushing the limits. Sometimes I can appreciate this. But … not for an entire life’s work. Like, I think it’s great to make poems that don’t make sense. But for crying out loud, please make at least 1 out of 10 follow-able.

I love the way Lorca’s poetry sounds, but I really wish it was a little more accessible. What I really want is to find a poet who uses language as clever and unpredictable as Lorca, but who still wants the reader to know what the poem is talking about. Can anyone direct me to someone like that? ♦

Zazoo

zazoo

I very seldom like a book enough to gush, but I’m probably gonna gush about this one.

I picked up Zazoo, by Richard Mosher, just before Christmas. My husband and I had an irresponsible amount of store credit at Pioneer Book, so we decided to buy ourselves books as Christmas presents. A lot of books. In fact, we weeded out our book collection, gave away a few, consolidated, and measured (with a tape measure) that we had something like 6 feet of shelf space. And then we went to the bookstore (with a tape measure) and picked out everything that looked remotely interesting.

Zazoo fell into the “This Looks Remotely Interesting” category. I had never heard of it, but it was just sitting there in the YA section, looking lonely, and it had an interesting cover and blurb, so I threw it on the pile.

Currently the best book I’ve ever read. You guys.

Zazoo is a Vietnamese girl growing up in France, raised by her “grandfather”—the French soldier who adopted her after her parents were blown up by a land mine. The book is a coming-of-age story about Zazoo’s poetry, romance, tragic lack of breasts (she’s about 13,) neighbors, and relationship with her grandfather. It also follows her emotional wrestling match with the truth when she finds out that her beloved grandfather was a killing machine in WWII and Vietnam. She slowly learns about her family, real and adopted, and about what horrible things were done by some of the most innocent people around her. And more than anything, it’s also a story of forgiveness. The book places pain and love so close together that they become inseparable.

Please go read this book. It deserves so much more attention, and it’s so beautifully written. ♥

Brown Girl Dreaming

brown girl dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical poetry collection by Jacqueline Woodson. Written at about a middle-grade level, the book follows her early childhood experiences, and how she came to love writing.

This book is simple and beautiful. It explores what it’s like to be a child, to not really understand your parents’ decisions, and what it was like to be a Black girl—in both the North and South United States—during the sixties. It also talks about friendship, family, and self-exploration.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially young Black girls who love to write. ♦

The Road Not Taken

the road not taken

Alright, guys. I don’t get it.

Robert Frost is a big deal. Everybody freaking loves him. And I read “The Road Not Taken.” And it’s pretty good. So I picked up The Road Not Taken and Other Poems. Because if I liked that one, I’m sure to like the others, right?

Yeah, I don’t get it. Can someone please explain to me why Robert Frost is all the shiz?

Yes, I just used “shiz” in a book post. ♦