Meet The Malverns #2

It’s opening day here at the bookstore—oh boy!—and what better way to celebrate our metaphorical ribbon cutting than to ask for a book recommendation from a cheery Malvern staff member. If you encounter the awesomely named Tyler Gobble (below left) at the store, here’s what he’ll have to tell you about one of his favorite poetry collections:


Joe Hall’s second book, The Devotional Poems, is like the transcription of a journal found in a lonely, winter-beaten Midwestern woods, taken home, unfolded, typed back out—the words, but also somehow the musty stench and the hisses and the blistering wind it has brought back too—and here unleashed. I love what that wild/wise man, Blake Butler, said in that blurb of his: “[d]evoted, yes, to terror, but true too to the gorgeous black underbelly of how we’re all at once somehow together possessed.” Devotional poems, exorcisms, names for the abyss—these poems transact in that old-timey way of getting rid of the demons, real and imagined, understood and baffling. And whether it works or not—for the author, for the speaker, for you there in your demented home—the shrieks come out of the dangerous rubble and treacherous lulls of life and bring forth a new meaning to staggering and a new breath, somehow, to the broken.

To Be Imagined

Wallace StevensAmerican poet Wallace Stevens was born on this day in 1879. Stevens is now considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth-century—renowned curmudgeon Harold Bloom once called him “the best and most representative American poet of our time”—but he received little acclaim in his lifetime. As a poet, Stevens was primarily concerned with the power of the imagination to transform our surroundings. (And if, like Stevens, you worked for almost forty years as an insurance executive with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, you might be pretty keen on imaginatively transforming your surroundings, too.)

Stevens is mostly remembered for poems like The Emperor of Ice-Cream and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, gently mystical works that are often taught in classrooms by writing instructors desperate to foist a little creative thinking on their students (who will find two new ways to describe a blackbird—shiny! evil!—and then immediately resume writing the same stupid story about their best friend’s car accident).

Anecdote of the Jar

However, Stevens was not merely a domesticated daydreamer: he had some fairly feisty views about the dangerous ways in which “the pressure of reality” dulls our powers of imaginative contemplation:

In speaking of the pressure of reality, I am thinking of life in a state of violence, not physically violent, as yet, for us in America, but physically violent for millions of our friends and for still more millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be said, for everyone alive … A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of reality of this last degree.

Happy birthday to the prescient Mr. Stevens. Here’s one of my favorite Stevens poems, “The Plain Sense of Things” (and there’s an illustrated reimagining of the poem here):

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Meet The Malverns #1

Joe and FlannWith (soft) opening day well and truly nigh, it’s about time us mighty Malverinos introduced ourselves! And what better way to meet the bookstore crew than to ask each staff member for a book recommendation… let’s start with Dr. Joe, also known as the Curmudgeon in Chief (and our official pirate wrangler). What have you got for us today, Joe? Here’s what the doctor has to say…

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien was described by Dylan Thomas as, “Just the book to give to your sister if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl!” It rollicks with laughter and wit that only an Irishman can supply. While I love Mr. Joyce, his work can become such a trial to read that I forget I’m having fun. And Beckett, well I love his work to tears, but have a hard time laughing through them. But, oh, to read the madness of narrators and characters attacking each other in their sleep while the whole of Irish mythology rolls by, now that is cooking with all burners. Long live Dermot Trellis!