Thursday, July 05, 2007

gifts of light and grace

IF YOU CAN'T win me over with a night-long Walpurgisnacht of who-the-hell-cares conversation over a crate of ice-cold San Miguel pale pilsen, the next best thing if you're in the mood for gift-giving are books, books, books. So damn easy to please, yours truly.

Come on, let me boast what I recently acquired for which I thank God the dictionary has a word called gratitude:

* A Book of Luminous Things. Edited by Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel laureate for Literature, this international anthology of poetry is a gift from my wife Arlaine. This book does live up to its title, truly a collection of brightness. Milosz states in his introduction that the purpose of this personal and eclectic collection is to present poetry that is "short, clear, readable, and...realistic, that is, loyal toward reality and attempting to describe it as concisely as possible."

Indeed, the poems in this collection have a clarity and immediacy that would appeal to even the most poetry-averse reader. Most of the selections are from classical Chinese and 20th-century American and European (primarily Eastern European, Scandinavian, and French) poets. The poems are grouped by intriguing headings ("The Moment," "The Secret of a Thing," "A Woman's Skin"), and Milosz has written brief prefaces to many of them, creating an unusual sense of dialogue between editor and reader.

"My intention," says Milosz, "is not so much to defend poetry...but rather, to remind readers that for some very good reasons it may be of importance today." This refreshing and wise anthology is recommended for all collections

Milosz's introduction is passionate and enlivening as he guides readers toward his vision of poems as forms of enchantment. A review succinctly sums up Milosz's magic in this volume of inflamed voices: "He deepens and extends the readers' understanding of his poetics and the poems he has so lovingly chosen. There are plenty of American poets here, quite a few Chinese poets, and a diverse scattering of Europeans, but place of origin isn't as significant, ultimately, as place of arrival: a poem that speaks to everyone in every land."

* Grace (Eventually). The latest collection of essays by Anne Lamott, this book is a present from my friend Cathy Viado Bradly. Lamott's topics may sound boringly profound--the world, community, the family, the human heart--but she perks it up with the pitch-perfect humor of her wisdom as she tackles "the missteps, detours, and roadblocks in her walk of faith."

Consider her tongue-in-cheek testimony: "I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace's arrival. But no, it's clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark."

Consider, too, the chorus of praise for her writing:

"She's funny and she tells the truth, and truth and laughter are two things we need more of." (New York Times Book Review). "Lamott writes essays that are howlingly funny mini-sermons, reminding us of what's important in life... her quirky, funny perspective are nothing short of a salve for tired souls." (Los Angeles Times Book Review). "A cause for celebration...nothing short of miraculous." (The New Yorker).

"Anne Lamott is a walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath." (San Fransisco Chronicle). "A ferociously smart, droll, and original writer... transcendently lovely. (Entertainment Weekly)

Enough said.

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