Poem-A-Day: Justin Jamail

I come from a ridiculously large family. There aren’t very many writers in it, and even fewer poets. Besides me, I’m not sure there are any other academically trained poets in our branch (meaning immediate to five generations, from my great-grandparents’ generation to my children’s) other than my cousin Justin. His first book of poems has just come out — and you should absolutely go out and get a copy now, I’ll wait — and he will even be reading in Houston on May 21st at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore. So, you know, if you’re in the area, come join us. He’ll also be reading in Montclair, New Jersey, on April 25th at 7 p.m. at watchung booksellers.

(And if you’re in my family and reading this and know who else among us is an author of literature of any sort, then hey, please let me know.)

In the meantime, please enjoy this marvelous poem by Justin Jamail. Every time I read it I enjoy it even more. Remind me some time to tell you a bunch of stories about him.

***

The Book of Praise
.                – after Sidq Jaisi

My God! This line has no peer – truly
it is not the beginning of a poem but the rising
of the sun! Such felicity, I am sure, cannot
be humanly acquired – the creation itself
is less astonishing. We must have a new calendar
for who now could do anything with pride
beyond the scope of this monument? Yes, yes,
it is true, and the volta of this sonnet, is it not
like the shaking of the earth? Oh, but our joy
now is equaled by grief for our future selves
who in a few moments must endure the end
and by pity for our ancestors who could not
have known the extent of earthly perfection,
though they deceived themselves and felt glad.

***

photo by Amber Reed

Justin Jamail is the author of the book Exchangeable Bonds and his poems have appeared in Hanging Loose, Ladowich, The Hat, and many other journals. He is the Deputy General Counsel of the Metropolitan Opera. He grew up in Houston and now lives in Montclair, NJ.

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Another Place You Can Get Your Virtual Hands on FINIS. (and Even Read It for Free If You Want To)

I’m going to take one short break this morning from posting poems — DON’T WORRY, THERE WILL BE ANOTHER POEM THIS EVENING — to let you know about something new and interesting that has popped up.

Some of you know that I have a book of fiction out there. It’s a novelette, or essentially a short novella. The title is Finis. (and its blurb is below the main part of this post).

Some call it magic realism; some, urban fantasy. Most people call it unusual, and the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been excellent.

Finis. comes in both print and ebook format at Amazon, and the print edition is illustrated by Houston-based artist Lauren Taylor. The ebook edition isn’t illustrated, but it is widely available everywhere ebooks are sold. AND NOW it’s even available at a new online destination called Myth Machine.

What, you might be asking, is that?

Basically, it’s a new start-up designed to better promote books and connect them to fandoms. They’re interested in building the ultimate book-centric comic-con online 24/7/365.

What makes Myth Machine even more interesting is that you’ll find a bunch of authors here who might ordinarily fly under the radar, writing in a variety of genres.

Why, you might also be asking, would I go there for the ebook edition of Finis. when I can get that basically everywhere else too? Well, you can also read Finis. there — in its entirety — FOR FREE. And at the moment, that’s the only place authorized to offer the entire text (book discussion guide in the back and everything) to the public for free. (The benefit of buying the ebook from them is that you can escape their site’s ads, relatively unobtrusive though they are.)

I’ll be honest, Myth Machine is both a new venture and a new type of venture for me. I’m excited to see where it goes, though, and will be interested in how it grows. Let me know what you think.

***

Read on to learn more about Finis.:

Elsa’s family grows more unkind by the week. Her boss, a seven-foot-tall rage demon, has control of everything but his anger. And her cat wants to eat her. Things could be better.

In a world where one’s Animal Affinity is a sign of maturity and worth, Elsa’s inability to demonstrate hers is becoming more than a disappointing nuisance; it’s becoming a danger. She has no confidence she’ll ever conquer her Plainness by “blossoming.” She also fears both the wolf packs that prowl her neighborhood and being stuck in a life plummeting rapidly from lackluster to perilous. Fortunately, she has a cousin and a co-worker who know her better than she knows herself and can see through to what society won’t.

Finis. is the magic realism of our time, a story of finding one’s way to the end of things, of persevering through the dregs of life to discover something more.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR FINIS.:

“It’s not often I get that viscerally emotional on behalf of a fictional character. In a setting of overt fantasy, Angélique Jamail has created some of the most real people I’ve encountered via text in a long time.” – Ari Marmell, author of Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Widdershins Series

“A silver vein of irony runs through Angélique Jamail’s fantastic Finis. It is a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness. In a place where everyone is different, Elsa is the wrong kind of different, and that means facing pity, discrimination, danger, and sharp teeth. Dive into this story, readers, and confront them for yourself; it may just change the way you feel about things…” – Marie Marshall, author of The Everywhen Angels and I am not a fish

 

Poem-A-Day: Book Spine Poetry

My posting today is quite late because tonight I took my AP Gothic Lit. students on a field trip: a ghost tour.

Yes, it was just as interesting as it sounds. No, I was not the tour guide. Yes, there was a lot of history. No, no one ended up possessed. Yes, I did get some really cool pictures of orbs.

In honor of tonight’s generally harmless spookiness, I’m posting a book spine poem from this past year’s Hallowe’en mantel. Ever since my husband built me one a few years ago, I have taken great joy in decorating my mantel for the holidays. The Hallowe’en mantel is, so far, my most elaborate. Because the mantel is in our library (which is another way of saying the-room-which-most-people-would-call-a-living-room-but-we-didn’t-put-the-television-in-there-and-instead-lined-the-walls-with-bookshelves-and-then-filled-them-with-our-books), I always make book spine poems as part of it.

If you’ve never seen a book spine poem, you’re in for a treat. These are a special kind of found poem that should become immediately obvious as soon as you see one.

Please feel free to make your own book spine poems and post pictures of them here in the comments section. That would, in fact, make my day!

 

lost / in the land of men / lonely werewolf girl / one hundred years of solitude

Author Event This Weekend

Hey there.  🙂  For any of you in the Houston-and-surrounding-areas area this weekend, I’ll be appearing on Saturday at BrazCon, which is a book festival and comic con aimed largely at the YA set but really open and friendly to all ages. It’s a free event, happening all day. I’ll be speaking on two panels and signing books, so please come by if you’re around and say hello!

Click on this link to see more about the event, including author and artist lists and a full programming schedule. Spoiler alert: there’s a LOT to see and do here! In addition to a veritable slew of authors (myself included), you’ll find workshops on writing and drawing (with Mark Kistler, no less!), a cosplay contest, anime, video and card gaming, fandom paraphernalia (including, if I understand correctly, Daniel Radcliffe’s wand he used when he played Harry Potter in the films), and Houston’s Quidditch team. Plus Star Wars. And Doctor Who. And more I haven’t listed here. Check out their website for further details.

Sounds pretty fabulous to me. I hope to see you there!

Whom I’ve Been Reading: Marcus Sedgwick

Although my favorite thing to read is a novel, I also love linked collections of short stories. The forgiving nature of a series of discrete narratives doesn’t make me feel guilty when my schoolwork prevents me from reading a novel straight through.

Sometimes these collections are linked by place; there are many of these. Others are linked by characters, such as Justin Cronin’s Mary and O’Neill. By an object: Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Some by concept: Her Infinite Variety by Pamela Rafael Berkman. Sometimes by theme: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer.

And sometimes a collection is linked by all of these.

Printz Award-winning Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick contains seven linked stories which travel backward in time on a remote and unusual island near the top of the world. They explore the themes of love and sacrifice in the myriad ways that love and sacrifice impress themselves on our lives, sometimes obvious and sometimes not. But the writing is never obvious, never predictable. Sedgwick’s work is often, I think, categorized as YA, but even if you don’t usually read in that category, give this one a try.

Eric and Merle are two characters who orbit each other in time, meeting each other in different ways. Sometimes in love, sometimes bound by a family relationship, sometimes tossed together by external forces, their interactions show the breadth of love and sacrifice. The writing is lush without overpowering the reader. The stories are based on an actual historical painting, Midvinterblot, but everything else in the novel comes from Sedgwick’s own imagination.

Honestly, I don’t know what else to say about this book that won’t give too much of the story away. Aside from the writing being enjoyable even down to the level of the sentence, I love the structure, how each story is illuminated by a subsequent one, how the orbit comes around in such a satisfying way, how the island itself is a character, how the names of the characters evolve, how the dragon flowers on the island and the image of the hare anchor the narrative. There is a hint of the fantastical in this book, but I wouldn’t call it fantasy; magic realism is more its purview.

This novel-in-stories accomplishes what the 1994 film Being Human tried to do but couldn’t. Midwinterblood captures two important facets of the immensity of human experience with crystalline clarity. And like a faceted prism, this story reveals a depth of possibility in every interaction, that we are part of something larger than ourselves. That love and sacrifice cannot be contained. It asks the question, is life truly this rich?

And so, it is.

What I’ve Been Reading: Student Edition

I asked all the students in my sophomore English classes to recommend a book they’d read for pleasure — one not assigned for school — in the last five years. It had to be a book they liked enough to recommend it to someone — in particular, their classmates, as we embarked on the new free choice reading unit in my curriculum.

Here’s what they came up with! Any books here you’re interested in? Any you’ve read? Please leave a comment below.

 

sophomore recommendations 2016

***

P.S. — The subtext of this post (and its chronological distance from the last one) should indicate to you I’ve been really busy getting the new school year off the ground. You would be correct in that assumption.

P.P.S. — I shamelessly gathered the inspiration for this post from John Scalzi’s New Books and ARCs posts, which I find interesting, that he puts on his own blog Whatever, which I find marvelous. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Whom I’ve Been Reading: Patrick Rothfuss

You know how sometimes books will have author’s notes at the beginning? Have you ever read one that told you from the get-go that you should probably not read the book? That it wasn’t really much of a story, and that the author’s army of industry professionals (agent, editor, publisher, etc.) would probably prefer he not say any of this to you at all? That if you hadn’t read any of the author’s other works, this was the exact wrong one to start with?

Last week I read that book: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss.

I haven’t read Rothfuss’ two novels yet, I will admit, so I was breaking a “rule” as well, and I’m glad I did, because The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a strange and marvelous story that demonstrates in unapologetic, beckoning prose that sometimes rules aren’t as important as we think they are.

This weird tale of Auri, a waif who lives in the tunnels beneath a setting in Rothfuss’ other books, glories in an inexplicable naming system and an outward premise which perhaps doesn’t pay off. With no dialogue and arguably one character, it defies the expectations of what mainstream fiction does and contains. But I think we need more books like that. It’s just one more way of diversifying what’s available in the marketplace.

I don’t want to tell you much about Auri’s story. For one thing, I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s a quick read, maybe 30,000 words, and part of its magic is in the strange way things are revealed — or not revealed, as the case may be. (It’s definitely a tale for open-minded readers.) But for another thing, I’m not really sure what I would tell you about her story.

Is she an unreliable narrator? Perhaps. Her voice — by which I mean her thoughts — traipse into the realm of mental illness, but in a charmingly benevolent way, if you can imagine. Auri is in some ways a broken girl. But there are moments when I believed it okay: she has found her way in the world, and once I accepted that her world is not my world and that the rules of my world don’t necessarily hold sway in hers, Auri’s differences melted away and I found her to be relatable, and ultimately reliable, too. I found I cared for her tremendously.

Does any of that make sense? Maybe not. Does her story? I’ll let you decide for yourself. I will say that the first few chapters had me bewildered, but I persevered, and on page 84, something so unexpected happened I laughed out loud for several minutes. I couldn’t have appreciated that moment, though, without having first absorbed Auri’s voice and thought process and the mechanics of her daily life. And what followed that funny moment was poignant because, in deft fashion, Rothfuss allows the reader to understand more than the character does in the moment of a scene, and so we can have all the feels while the character has the noble struggle. And he does this without condescending, with patronizing Auri.

Auri’s life is shadowed by past trauma and brightened by future joy. And while it would be a disservice to you for me to explain how the end of the book breaks the rules, I ask you to consider what the rules of story are for. We learn in school that stories must have conflict in order to be stories, and that this conflict must be resolved for the story’s ending to satisfy. But beyond those intelligent guidelines, the details are open to interpretation. If there’s one thing Auri’s story teaches us — both in its details and in its execution — it’s that we can’t always assume that our expectations are fair. And we shouldn’t.

Stories break rules sometimes. They defy expectations, surprise us. They innovate. And if they don’t? They’re not likely to rise to the top of my TBR list.