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Book Bag: ‘Anaphora’ by Kevin Goodan; “Little” by Edward Carey


Friday, November 02, 2018

by Steve Pfarrer

ANAPHORA

By Kevin Goodan

Alice James Books

alicejamesbooks.org

The Valley is a long way from the northern Rockies — but for poet Kevin Goodan, who earned an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2004, it’s still a special place. So the Montana native, who now lives in Idaho, is coming back next week to read from his newest collection, “Anaphora.”

Goodan, who previously taught at the University of Connecticut and served as a visiting writer at Wesleyan University, also won the The L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award in 2005 for his first poetry collection, “In the Ghost-House Acquainted.”

In his new book, Goodan, who teaches at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, presents a sort of continuous narrative in verse that examines the suicide, 23 years ago, of his cousin Jimmy, a member of the Flathead tribe in Montana. Jimmy hanged himself, and one of the enduring pleas in the poems of “Anaphora” is that he not be left swaying is his noose: “someone cut my cousin down please / goodbye goodbye cut him the (bleep) down.”  

Goodan’s short poems, which, à la Emily Dickinson, draw their titles from their first lines, come from a very personal place. The author was raised on the Flathead reservation himself and is the stepson of a tribal member, and his new collection in part explores the prejudice Native Americans continue to face from whites; there’s a blunt reference at one point to “Jimmy half-breed hanging.”

He also describes a tough, physical world — Goodan spent 10 years as a firefighter for the US Forest Service — with blunt, workmanlike verse in which the lines run together without punctuation, sometimes creating ambiguous meanings, perhaps to reflect the murky circumstances of his cousin’s death: Jimmy’s suicide was evidently never spoken about by family members.

And as “Anaphora” moves to its conclusion, Goodan offers a series of elegies to his cousin, imagining at one point that he had survived his suicide attempt — or perhaps that’s he communing with Jimmy’s spirit.

“When we cut the rope / I looked at Jimmy’s face chromatic / asked him if he could breathe better now / he said my throat’s a bit dry a little scratchy / I looked at the burst vessels in his eyes / asked if the world stayed dark / he said I could see more than you ever imagined / I said Jimmy you pissed yourself / I said you kicked off / one a your boots and he said / I was dancing the half-breed fancy / like you ain’t never seen, dawg”

Kevin Goodan will read from “Anaphora” on Monday at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books.

LITTLE

By Edward Carey

Riverhead Books

edwardcareyauthor.com

Part historical novel and part eccentric tall tale, “Little” is the story of an undersized girl born in mid 18th-century Alsace who, against a turbulent background of personal loss, unexpected job opportunities and the French Revolution, becomes one of the most famous artists of her era and an enduring figure today: Madame Tussaud, she of the wax museum named after her.

Author Edward Carey, English-born but now living in Texas, has Anne Marie Grosholtz, better known as Marie, serve as the narrator of her story, and Marie’s voice is a droll one right from the start. Early on, she describes how she inherited both her mother’s prominent nose “in the Roman style” and her father’s upward-pointing chin, which left her “a little ungainly, as if I were showing more flesh than was my personal due.”

Marie becomes an orphan at age 6 and is apprenticed to a Swiss doctor, Philippe Curtius, for whom her mother had worked as a housekeeper. Dr. Curtius sculpts wax models of organs and body parts, then moves to Paris to open a wax museum and trains Marie as his assistant. They create wax heads of philosophers, statesmen and other important figures — and then, as the French Revolution erupts, the victims of the guillotine.

“Little” is a picaresque tale with many twists and turns, with young Marie eventually hobnobbing with royals and revolutionaries alike, even landing in prison at one point. The alternately playful and macabre tone of the novel is enhanced by Carey’s graphite and charcoal drawings, as well as by a sense of anthropomorphism, in which inanimate objects can take on a certain emotional depth.

But the novel is also about art, determination and making a life on your own terms. Valley author Kelly Link, the recent recipient of a MacArthur Grant, says “Little” is “exquisitely sensitive to all the warmth, vigor, humor, woe, and peculiarities of human nature, as if the writer had a dowsing rod capable of divining what hides within the human heart.” 

Edward Carey reads from “Little” Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.