Olsson's: The News From Poems

Olsson's is a locally Owned & Operated, Independent chain of six book and recorded music stores in the Washington, D.C. area, started by John Olsson in 1972. Olsson's-Dupont Circle is Malaika I. Robinson's home away from home, where she is often seen with a step stool in front of the poetry section. She used to pass poems to fellow English majors at Spelman College. Now the Cincinnati native reads poetry to pigeons on her Capitol Hill fire escape and writes "The News From Poems".

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Yes-or-No Answer by Jane Shore

Book CoverJane Shore writes deliberately. She avoids fluff and pomp. Jane eases words together and creates a relaxing look at human habits. A Yes-or-No Answer is her most recent work. These poems gather up hunger, loss, patience and monotony to leave a lasting impression of goodness and fulfillment. My favorite poem in this collection, Scrabble in Heaven, brings together family and after-dinner dreams. It explores loss through the familiar and gently caresses the reader into understanding the height of human life.

Scrabble in Heaven
They're playing Scrabble in heaven
to pass the time, sitting at their usual
places around the table --
or whatever passes for a table there --
Check out this new collection of poems, which offers a surprising simplicity that will relieve you of the day's trouble as you settle down with family and friends this holiday weekend.

Keep reading!
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jorie Graham

Let's be honest -- you either admire Jorie Graham's poetry or you avoid the poetry section altogether, right? Well, there are some middle-of-the road folks who may be interested in embarking on a tentative relationship with Graham. Sea Change is definitely worth diving into for a closer look at Graham's linguistic backstrokes.

Jorie Graham's latest book of sometimes searing poetry (one poem begins with a "cadaver beginning to show through the skin of the day") will capture your attention. The title poem, which dwells on "the unknown future" is not the most engaging poem, but it shocks readers out of complacency and into a world where all safety is submerged. This is not necessarily a new idea. Permanence, after all, was never promised.

"The desire to imagine/ the future" runs through one of my favorite poems in Sea Change. "Root End" towards the end of the book delves into the possibility of language and life:

what is this growing inside of me, using me -- such that the
wind can no longer blow through me -- such that the dream in me grows cellular, then
muscular, my eyes red, my birth a thing I convey
down this spiral staircase
made of words, made of
nothing but words --

Knowing that nothing is promised is one of the undercurrents of this work. The trick is to go on trusting in imagination and calm. As always, Jorie Graham manages to keep faithful readers enraptured by this delicate trust.
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Naomi Shihab Nye

The nation's capital is normally crawling with policy analysts, journalists and Mid-Western tourists this time of the year, but there were hundreds of poets in town last week for the Split this Rock Poetry Festival. Sonia Sanchez, Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, E. Ethelbert Miller, and Naomi Shihab Nye among others celebrated poetry at venues throughout the city.

So, I finally have an excuse to write about one of those legendary, life-changing poets: Naomi Shihab Nye.

"Honeybee" is a collection of 82 poems for young readers. Shihab Nye's words are never bland or too chewy. The young reader in your life will enjoy the subtle flavors and images in this recently published work. As always, Shihab Nye's poetry is also sprinkled with food for thought, which will enliven your little reader's imagination.

This year also marks the tenth anniversary of Shihab Nye's "Fuel" which includes this gem:


If you place a fern
under a stone
the next day it will be
nearly invisible
as if the stone has
swallowed it

If you tuck the name of a loved one
under your tongue too long
without speaking it
it becomes blood


the little sucked-in breath of air
hiding everywhere
beneath your words.

No one sees
the fuel that feeds you.

Poetry is always worth celebrating. Naomi Shihab Nye is one of those poets you keep turning to in every era of your life. So, pick up a copy of "Honeybee" for your favorite young person and initiate a lifetime of poetry thrill. Or give a copy of "Fuel" to a special friend.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Matthea Harvey

So this blogging thing is still new to me. I just penned a rather extensive blog entry about Matthea Harvey and lost it to a computer glitch. When my neighbor kindly lets me "steal" his Internet connection, I normally just check the weather report or read my hometown newspaper. No one told me that some blogs get lost in cyberspace and never appear on the webpage. Fortunately, for moments such as this, Matthea Harvey's poetry reminds 21st century readers that missed connections can offer an opportunity to be more in-tune with life's music.

Book Cover"Modern Life" by Matthea Harvey is a collection of poems about — well, modern life. The imagined world Harvey writes is stark and heavy. It isn't exactly a wasteland tour, but Harvey's poems offer an exploration of the recovered dreams we glimpse in puddles. Her poetry conjures up a world where items created for our ease rarely work.

Consider one of my favorites from "Modern Life":

Out of Order

Today it's about truth and hope
and there are no ha-ha's
between me and the living.
World, I'm no one
to complain about you.

Harvey, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, shares lessons on navigating modernity's trapdoors and repairing broken links. I hope you enjoy this book of poems.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Afaa Michael Weaver

Book CoverMoving beyond identity, embracing his Ibo and Chinese names, Afaa Michael Weaver's poems are sturdy and direct. He achieves the rare exception in American poetry by returning to Whitman, toward the self, to permeate the spirit and to see God.

"The Plum Flower Dance: Poems 1985 to 2005" include Self Portrait, which really isn't about the self at all. In this poem, the speaker proclaims:
I never inspect the withered assumption
of my face's petty dialogue in raindrops,
the deceptive spreading of the words
oozing from the skin to the edges of water
etched on the ground by gravity and wishing.

If you haven't read Weaver's work, then you're missing out on an opportunity to see the world differently, by looking at your own life more closely to see the lingering influence of absolute goodness.
Staff Photo

Malaika I. Robinson

Dupont Circle is Malaika I. Robinson's home away from home. She is often seen at Washington's oldest independent bookstore with a step stool in front of the poetry section. Malaika used to pass poems to fellow English majors at Spelman College. Now the Cincinnati native reads poetry to pigeons on her Capitol Hill fire escape. Malaika has worked at National Public Radio and co-edited a literary magazine in Florence, Italy.

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