Monday, October 23, 2006

A Trinity from Trinity

Barbara Ras is one of those friends it is sometimes hard for me to believe I haven't actually met. I may have spoken to her once on the phone, but almost our entire relationship over the past 8 or 9 years has been through emails and through our respective writing.

Barbara was the editor in chief at University of Georgia Press back then, and has since taken over and, as far as I can tell, essentially transformed Trinity University Press. Trinity specializes in her two chief areas of interests, the natural world and literature, as well as specifically Texan topics (it's in San Antonio.)

She is also a widely published and award-winning poet, and she recently sent me her new collection, One Hidden Stuff (Penguin). It reflects those Trinity concerns as well, in the context of her life and our times. She works with long lines, so it helps that she has a sure sense of rhythm. As a reader as well as a writer, rhythm is very important to me, in prose, in dialogue and especially in poetry. Appropriately then, the book begins with "Rhapsody Today." The first lines flow melodically, until a slight pause in the fourth for a fine effect, a fawn on gawky legs with "some leftover dazed grace," and so we see the fawn's motion standing still.

My current favorites among these enticing poems come towards the end of the book, like "Late Summer Night" which seems to have been written soon after her move to Texas, and reminds me of the surprising dislocation I felt after my latest move, to California. "Sometimes Like the Ocean" makes poetry from the poetics of a dream, and "Elsewhere" merges the horror of distant war with more personal loss, within the theme of motherhood. "Our Flowers" seems to contain all the elements of previous poems in the book, and contains a favorite line: " Failure is such a beautiful word for something/lousy..." I'm glad for the opportunity to read these poems, and to have them around to read again, and I'll bet you will be, too.

As it happened, two books from Trinity Press itself arrived soon after. In A Special Light by Elroy Bode is a book of essays heavy on reminicence and observation of the Texas hill country. That's not a landscape that frankly attracts me much, but I found myself beguiled by Bode's prose and his memories of times if not places we've shared. The conversational style is most obvious in the very short chapters but its flow, and Bode's way with the particular, can keep you reading despite yourself, or the call of supposedly more urgent matters.

The mail occasionally brings a treasure, and that's the word for Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez. It's a kind of dictionary of terms pertaining to the landscape, with definitions by a number of distinguished writers, including William Kittredge, Greta Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, Linda Hogan and Charles Frazier. Some 45 writers participated, in a three year first draft process with managing editor Debra Gwartney, and another year with Lopez.

My first thought was quite practical--at last a companion to reading the likes of Jim Harrison, only instead of a few line definition of "swale"in the standard dictionary, here is a full page--with history, examples and an illustration! But besides ignoramuses like me, I'm sure people who know these words from familiarity with what they denote will find something in these definitions to light them up as well. There are regional terms and words from folklore that have fallen out of use, plus examples of their use from literary works.

Start at any page and there's something interesting. Barbara Kingsolver provides a precise definition of "derramadero" right after she defines "derelict land" as "Land that has been used, ruined, and consequently abandoned by humans is peculiarly described as derelict--as if the land itself had become careless of its duties." The San Francisco Chronicle review goes into more detail. This volume becomes an instant reference resource, while itself being a connection to place and a portrait of the American landscape.

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