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The Truth about Small Towns

September 12, 2011

It’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week and that means it’s time to appreciate the people who talk about books with me.  They form a kind of small town in the middle of the blogosphere, a place where I feel like I am known and my comments are valued and usually understood, even if I’m not always able to articulate exactly what I mean on a particular day.

There’s a small town’s worth of book blogs I like to visit, listed under “Book Blogs” on my header.  These are the places I live on the internet.  There are a few places I always walk by on my way home, because I feel like I’m invited in–Avid Reader, Care’s Online Book Club, Bermuda Onion, The Feminist Texican Reads, Boston Bibiliophile, Savvy Verse and Wit, Life With Books, Wuthering Expectations, Pages Turned, and The 3 Rs. And there are places I frequent, where I spend time as often as I can–Bookgazing, Jenny’s Books, Shelf Love, Sophisticated Dorkiness, and Things Mean A Lot. There are even a few places where they leave the door open for me and I come by every day to talk about raising children, bread, gardens, and hopes, in addition to my inevitable remarks about what I’m reading: Harriet the Spy, Life in Scribbletown, Kitties, Kitties, Kitties, Readers Guide, Permanent Qui Vive, and Lemming’s Progress.

The truth about small towns is that you can’t get away with much, because these folks know who you are and where you live. But that makes me feel more responsible for saying something worth hearing and trying not to repeat myself.  Thank you all for being part of my virtual small town.  I have a poem for you, written by someone who is part of the small town where I live my real life . It’s my favorite one from David Baker’s volume The Truth about Small Towns:

Yellow Lilies and Cypress Swamp

So green against the standing water they’re
nearly black, the sudden, wild lily stalks
cup their flames like candlesticks beyond which,
as though it bears no end, the cypress swamp
continues into steam and smoke. How
lilies grow here is anybody’s guess—
an errant seed buried in some bird’s wing.
Or they caught a hard spring blow, floating down.
they bloom amber in landscape hazed dull green,
darkly cool, yet dangerous enough we
must watch our step or fall upon the strange,
hard cypress knees bunched around each trunk.

And how the cypresses reach through shallow
pools for sturdiness, thickened at the base,
stretched like softened sinew. They span upwards
of seventy feet, delicate, high, arched
canopy of leaves, gauze-white in the light.
Above water their short knees go rough, dry.
Below they’re veined, yellow-red, like agates
broken open or the small, torn tissues
of a body turned stone by cold neglect.
They shine in a black, clean foot of water—
mosses cling to them. Wild lilies burning
in a cypress swamp. We wish to hold them.

High, lighted altar. Pews of fine-planed board.
And mourners filing past the burnished, closed
casket to kiss his photograph, to touch
the bright brass fittings, say their goodbyes now
that it’s too late. When the preacher stands
to lead us all in song, we recall beauty
is most likely in these solemn places.
Not the song, too pious and commanding,
not the stained-glass lighting or white candles
thawing onto hand-rubbed ebony, not
the few friends torn apart, here to heal,
but like a sudden slash of blood in wind one
redwing blackbird flashing past a clear pane
under which spreads a fist of lilies in a vase—
like landscape cupped, held, kept. One gorgeous flame.

To celebrate all of you who provide or visit these places where “beauty/is most likely,” I’m giving away my copy of this volume (The Truth about Small Towns), one I bought in the local college bookstore. To enter, put your email address in the comments by the end of the week, and the winner will be chosen by a random drawing and announced here next Monday morning, September 19 (which is talk like a pirate day, by the way).

44 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2011 7:04 am

    These kind words mean a lot to me this morning. I woke up feeling a little less than stellar today (lack of sleep doesn’t help) and turned to my favorite blogs. What a delightful surprise to read this.

  2. September 12, 2011 7:31 am

    That’s the good thing about how book bloggers have an appreciation week–people like me don’t always show appreciation to those they value most.

  3. Karen D permalink
    September 12, 2011 7:34 am


    you know my email address, I think, but I’m not really part of the book blogging community, given that I don’t have a blog.

    I think there MAY be a typo in your transcription of the poem above. (Poetry uses language in nonstandard ways, though, so I might be wrong.) Is the first stanza really meant to include the phrase

    yet dangerous enough we
    must watch our stop

    or ought we to be watching our steps?

    I love the poem, as per usual.

  4. September 12, 2011 7:43 am

    Karen, you’re definitely part of the community because you comment! Also you are the person who started us all playing trivial pursuit for booklovers on Friday! Thanks for the proofreading–I can’t say if it was a Freudian typo, but the word actually is “step.”

  5. September 12, 2011 7:57 am

    You have my email address, so I won’t post it here. I hesitate to sign up for anything that could yield me one more thing to pack, but I very much liked this poem and would like to read more.

  6. September 12, 2011 8:04 am

    Don’t worry, Harriet. It’s “wafer-thin” as most volumes of poetry are.

  7. September 12, 2011 8:14 am

    Beautiful poem. You are making my lists of books to read long enough, but I will try some of these other blogs as well for my late night meandering. Sign me up.

  8. September 12, 2011 8:21 am

    Ronna, that is the biggest problem with reading book blogs; your list of books to be read gets so long… But that’s kind of a good problem.

  9. September 12, 2011 8:31 am

    I love the idea of developing an online small town. Having just moved back to a real small town, the idea makes sense to me 🙂 I loved that poem, so enter me in the giveaway.

  10. September 12, 2011 8:35 am

    It took me two decades to be able to appreciate the accountability of living in a small town. (But it only took me one to learn to look into cars when I pass them, to see who is in there.) The metaphor was inescapable.

  11. September 12, 2011 8:37 am

    Thanks for the kind shout-out. I’m not sure that I want anything from that particular bookstore.

    Like the contrast in the last few lines – bird, window, white lilies, etc.

    • September 12, 2011 8:44 am

      It took me a while to go back into that bookstore, as you well know, but that’s another truth about small towns–you can’t just avoid places (or people) for very long, because there aren’t enough of them.
      Anyway, I’m bringing you the Amy Navrocki volume of poetry on the 22nd when we come to see you on our way out to Grinnell.

      • September 12, 2011 8:46 am

        Nawrocki. I have to look that name up every single time I type it, or else I get it wrong.

  12. September 12, 2011 9:49 am

    ❤ Thank you! That's so sweet of you to say. You're one of my favorite bloggers, too! 🙂

  13. September 12, 2011 10:01 am

    Thanks so much for the shout-out this morning (actually, I saw it late last night). It’s good that I am challenged to read new blogs, and this kind of post helps immensely.

    Watching a TED talk this morning. A presentation ( by a “spoken word poet.” As someone who reads a lot of poetry, and presumably hears a fair amount as well, do you see/feel any differences between spoken word poetry/slam poetry and the more traditional forms? Do “poets of the page” look at a poetry slam and think, “Well, they need to perform their art because the words themselves aren’t good enough”?

    • September 12, 2011 10:32 am

      Hmm. I have lots of responses to this, but no answer.
      –As you know, my small-town situation in real life has kept me from feeling able to go to many of the poetry readings that take place here.
      –I do love hearing and performing poetry, but also agree with the theater student (at UMCP) who once told me that poets are the absolute worst people to read their own poems.
      –It would be really snotty to say that what’s on the page must be better than what can be performed out loud. But I’ve heard people say things like that. It amuses me to hear it about Shakespeare.
      –I think there’s a lot more room for study of the differences between reading and performance. Why academics aren’t more interested in this baffles me. Perhaps it’s that linguistics has been a bit moribund as a discipline, since it tied itself in knots back in the 1980s.

      • September 12, 2011 2:34 pm

        my favorite part of the poem was where she sang a little phrase of “mama told me there’d be days like this”

  14. September 12, 2011 11:17 am

    I hope you know how much your blog is appreciated! I love stopping by for beautiful words or some wonderful trivia.

  15. September 12, 2011 11:20 am

    Thanks for putting me in such nice company.

    • September 12, 2011 11:29 am

      It’s eclectic company, and that’s for sure. You’re not being sarcastic, I hope? I admit with trepidation that I come by your blog regularly, since I hardly ever feel qualified to comment.

      • September 12, 2011 11:44 am

        What, sarcastic? Entirely sincere. The variety and quality of those blogs is something else.

        I save my sarcasm and mockery for myself.

        I have great doubts about “qualified.” I sometimes wonder if I close off my arguments a bit too much, which might deflect commenting or participation. i try to make it up by keeping the comments section jumpin’ ,whenever possible.

        • September 12, 2011 12:10 pm

          I wonder about closing off comments sometimes, too. And I don’t think you do that; it’s nice to have an ending that’s not a question. We don’t all have to fish for comments (even when we see ’em jumping)!

  16. September 12, 2011 11:37 am

    Argh, me matey…I love that we are neighbors in a small town. I would love to be entered into the giveaway for a volume that has such beautiful lines as these:

    Pews of fine-planed board.
    And mourners filing past the burnished, closed
    casket to kiss his photograph, to touch
    the bright brass fittings, say their goodbyes now

    Thanks for the giveaway.
    savvyverseandwit at gmail

  17. September 12, 2011 11:45 am

    “neighbors in a small town”…now I’m singing that Mr. Rogers song…”will you be mine?”
    It’s always interesting to hear which lines a person will pick out as favorites, isn’t it? I can’t back away from the one about “a sudden slash of blood in wind,” myself.

  18. September 12, 2011 12:49 pm

    I’m not generally a fan of small towns – city girl at heart. But I do like your characterization of the book-blogging community as one, and I’m glad to be one of your favorite neighbors (it’s entirely reciprocated!). And as I lack proper appreciation for poetry, I’m not entering the giveaway :-).

    • September 12, 2011 10:08 pm

      I have become more of a fan of small towns out of necessity. But perhaps my metaphor should have been a bit more intentional–I’ve built my own small town by choosing only what I want for my list of book blogs!

  19. freshhell permalink
    September 12, 2011 2:10 pm

    Thanks for the plug! You don’t have to put me in the hat for the book, though. 🙂

  20. Jenny permalink
    September 12, 2011 2:57 pm

    It’s wonderful to be part of your small town, Jeanne — I wander by your place most days, too! And I’d love the book if I win.

    • September 12, 2011 10:10 pm

      “Wandering by” really is some of the right feel for blog visiting, isn’t it?

  21. September 12, 2011 8:53 pm

    That is a lovely poem. And thank you, Jeanne–the feeling is mutual. 🙂

    • September 12, 2011 10:11 pm

      Glad you like the poem, and that this week marks a year since we got matched up for an interview and discovered each other!

  22. September 13, 2011 10:50 am

    I am new to your blog and happy to have discovered it during this week of BBAW. I really like what I see. I’ve never lived in a small town but have often thought I’d like the opportunity, at least for a short time.

    This is a beautiful poem from David Baker’s book. Thank you for posting it and hosting a giveaway of your book.


    • September 13, 2011 10:02 pm

      The most fun thing about a small town is that everybody knows who you are. The least fun thing is that you can never escape their impressions that they know who you are already.
      Glad you like the poem!

  23. September 13, 2011 3:46 pm

    Great post & poem, thanks.


    Home is a faraway place.
    The womb where you rested,
    the village where you were born,
    the neighbourhood where you jumped and played,
    those aren’t home.

    If you go back before you were a man,
    that’s where your home is.
    No, not even there, go back further.

    just try yelling without yearning
    in the simple voice of an animal.
    what the beast returns to,
    the pure land, that’s home.

    Men won’t do anymore.
    Animals, mistreated over thousands of years,
    transcending greed and foolishness,
    are standing up bare in golden sunset.

    So nowhere on earth, that’s home

    Ko Un

    • September 13, 2011 10:03 pm

      I like it–a poem as a reply to a post about a poem!

  24. September 13, 2011 8:05 pm

    *blush* You know I heart you too! This is such a great description of the way I feel about book blogging. Everyone is so kind and awesome and when I ever think about quitting (because of my rotten commute), I always change my mind because y’all are all so fantastically great.

    • September 13, 2011 10:04 pm

      Commutes change, but talking about books is forever.

  25. September 16, 2011 11:24 am

    Awesome bloggers mentioned here, many that I follow… two that have been a BEA roommate

    • September 16, 2011 4:49 pm

      Isn’t it fun to meet bloggers in person? As Marie of Boston Bibliophile said this week, it feels like I have a friend in any city I travel to!

  26. September 16, 2011 12:48 pm

    What a perfect analogy for blogging … a virtual small town where we go about and visit our neighbors and see what they are doing. I love it!! And, of course, you pick a poem to go with it!!

    • September 16, 2011 4:50 pm

      Of course. Looking at the title of that volume next to the BBAW topics suggested the metaphor, actually.

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