Showing posts from November, 2010

In The Lake of the Woods

I think Tim O'Brien lives in Texas now, but this author grew up first in Austin and then Worthington, Minnesota, and tends to write stories and books that connect to his homeplace. I listened to him read and talk about writing and life last spring in Chaska, and although everyone was asking him questions about The Things They Carried, he did slip in an admission that he believes his best book is his 1994 novel In The Lake of the Woods. The comment stayed with me. I wondered why. So when I was thinking of the next MN-based novel I could take in, his title came to mind. 

The Lake of the Woods. It sounds mythic, doesn't it? Something you get lost in. 

As I read the book, I came to believe that this was exactly what O'Brien intended. The themes include deception and mystery, loneliness and memory, and I was impressed by how well these inner states fit with O'Brien's description of the setting:
"The wilderness was massive. It was a place, Wade came to understand, wher…

Snow Fruit

A wintery addition for your grateful-ladened table.  Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Joyce Sutphen

Continuing on with my Thirty Before Thirty list, I've spent several hours this past week reading Minnesota poet Joyce Sutphen's 2000 collection Coming Back to the Body. The book was given to me on my 21st birthday by a fellow English major at Gustavus (thanks, Julie!), so I've read many of the poems before. I've since been told by poet friends, however, that though poems are entities unto themselves, a collection is formed intentionally, and should be read as a cohesive manuscript, cover to cover, at least once. So, this is what I've done, and upon finishing, it's clear that each of Sutphen's small creations builds on the next until the reader arrives at the last page with a clear emotional picture of a woman challenged and changed, someone who has returned to herself.

Some of my favorite poems in the collection come from the first of the five sections--not surprising, as they explore the details of rural landscapes. But I was physically stopped at the fourt…


You go to bed, the night inky black, aware that there is a field below your window full of dusty blonde grasses, dried clumps of goldenrod, scratchy patches of sepiaed clover. There is wind, so their brittle bodies rattle against each other like reluctant bones, or swish down and back up--thin, dilapidated flags of the retreating autumn. You do not consciously think of any of this. It just is, like the woods are beyond the field, hundreds of brown arms reaching into an open sky, and you rest with this image buried in your dreams. But when you wake, you tug open your blinds, and the easy belief you held the night before of ordinary, of familiar, of something known is shocked out of your hands. No matter how many Minnesota winters you have experienced, the first snow storm of the season is always new, is always completely bewildering in its power to transform the recognizable into something other, something that is sudden, and total, and white.
You cannot believe how much snow has fallen …

Bon Iver's "Flume"

It seems that when I went into my master's program, I adopted a kind of tunnel vision and took in only art news that was of the adult literary variety, because just like I was caught blinking two years ago at The Hunger Games' unveiling, so too am I finding my jaw dropping two years after the hype at the music of Bon Iver.

"Flume" or "Re: Stacks" starts to play, and--just like I did in high school--I find myself on the floor of my bedroom, eyes closed, listening, forming my lips around lyrics I want to swallow up and make a part of me.

It is November now, but still I will roll down my car windows for this. Such music is like wind; it runs well through the trees, these empty fields, into the lungs of the coming winter.



"Solitude Late at Night in the Woods"

I The body is like a November birch facing the full moon And reaching into the cold heavens. In these trees there is no ambition, no sodden body, no leaves, Nothing but bare trunks climbing like cold fire!
 II My last walk in the trees has come. At dawn I must return to the trapped fields, To the obedient earth. The trees shall be reaching all the winter.
III It is a joy to walk in the bare woods. The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves. The leaves are down, and touching the soaked earth, Giving off the odor that partridges love.
-- from Silence in the Snowy Fields by Robert Bly