Friday, June 24, 2005

Booknote: _The Woman I Kept to Myself_

This book is so good that I could not resist recommending it to one of my colleagues right away. As soon as I check it back in, I am passing it to her. Julia Alvarez, known for novels like How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, now gives us a new volume of poetry. The title is very appropriate as she is writing about her inner life. The book blurp says that "these are not poems of a woman discovering herself--Alvarez might say that's what her twenties were for-- but of a woman returning to herself." That is a pretty accurate description as her poetry takes us from moments of childhood through youth and and then adulthood.

The book is divided into three sections. Her themes are varied, and her images are colorful and evocative. She uses a simple, yet elegant language to convey a range of emotions and passions that any reader will appreciate. In a way, it is as if she was sitting addressing the reader, or better yet, as if you could hear her as she writes the lines, reading them to herself and reflecting upon them. The first poem, "Family Tree," tells of her mother writing her name down on the family tree and then how she writes her stories based on where she came from. It makes for a good opening to a great little book (it's only 156 pages). From there, she continues to write about a photographer ("El fotografo"), hairbands ("Hairbands") and signs ("Signs"); she wonders why we don't see Jesus laughing ("Why Don't We See Jesus Laughing?"), and finally notices Spring for the first time ("Spring, at Last!"). For me to choose one favorite poem is a difficult task; they are all very good. There is a bit of humor, a bit of reflection, and even some bittersweet moments. Poetry readers will find a bit of everything here. I will pick part of one poem to share, maybe because it is about the craft of writing, and how can I not like it? I see myself as a writer, but whether I get to be anywhere near as good as someone like Julia Alvarez remains to be seen. Anyhow, the poem is "Why I Write" and here is part of the first stanza:

"Unless I write things down I never know
what I think, no less feel, about the world.
I found out first in print that I prefer
white wine to red, the blues to rock,
the winter's terseness to the spring's green gab--
conclusions reached in short stories or poems. . . ."

Maybe a few lines like these are part of the reason I like this author and her work so much. These lines speak to me as a writer and as a teacher. I have learned over time that writing is a process of discovery; that is something you can use to develop your thinking, to let the ideas out to play, see where they lead. Very often I think as I write, and I use it to see what I can learn. There are things I would not know if I had not reflected about them through writing. That is a powerful bit of knowledge, in my humble view. I think many readers will find a little something that will speak to them in these poems. So, I highly recommend the book for both regular poetry readers as well as readers who might not consider poetry.

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