“Tell It Slant”

Poet Marsha de la O

It was my day at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Yesterday, I went with Martine and two friends: All my time was spent in coordinating when and where we should meet, eat, and greet. At such a large, centrifugal event, people tend to separate going to different locations based on their various interests. So today I returned—but this time all by my lonesome. It was an altogether different experience. I bought several books, and for sheer enjoyment attended two poetry readings at the Festival’s Poetry Stage, sponsored by Small World Books on Venice Beach.

My favorite of he two readings I attended was by a Ventura County poet named Marsha de la O. With her husband Phil Taggart, she published a poetry journal called Askew. Under the masthead, she quotes a line from Emily Dickinson, “Tell the Truth But Tell It Slant,” based on the title of the following poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Marsha de la O read from her latest collection, Every Ravening Thing, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. In the cool of the morning, it was nice hearing powerful verse in the dappled light of the Poetry Stage. The audience wasn’t as big as some of the sessions of more “general interest”: The people who were there were there because they wanted to be, and because they loved feeling those frissons caused by the magic of poetry.

Marsha de la O’s Latest Collection of Poems

Following is one of the four poems de la O read this morning:

Space-time Tsunami

If most of the universe is dark energy,
why should we be any different?

Pick a wave, any wave—it’s just energy in motion,
shock, or plasma, or the wide ocean shrugging
its shoulders when space becomes time
and ‘time is not the root of our problem’.

The good ship Charon’s anchored offshore, laden
with otter pelts—soft gold they call it.
Our tsunami strikes during the Napoleonic wars,
but what’s California to Napoleon
that he should weep for her otters?   Nothing.

I had a friend who raked her fingers through my hair, gathered
a hank in a great knot, Hey, Strange Attractor, she used to say,

my binary star, my pristine, my flammable—how we orbited,
each to each.
I had a friend who convened the dead. When we spoke,
water seemed to leave the beach—the sea scrolling backwards and her,
strolling right out onto newborn land—that reckless.

Hey ferryman, come on over here, ferry, ferry, ferryman …

We now exist as thirteen egrets in the canopy of a tree
so far from water that at first they look like
paper lanterns
to the observer who has no place to stand

and still I walk through the great hall of swallows swirling
like Valkyries, like volute, like alley oop,

we do not speak, I’ll trail after for a hundred years.

 

 

 

Among the Night Witches

A Young Adult Novel About Women Night Bomber Pilots for the Russians in WW2

I don’t usually read Young Adult fiction, but circumstances dictated that I read Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz. First of all, my friend Bill Korn recommended it to me and suggested that I visit the author at last weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The which I proceeded to do last Saturday. Gwen was there in a shared booth, and I purchased a hardbound copy of her book.

Yesterday, I finally had a chance to start the book. Given Bill’s recommendation, I expected it would be interesting. It was actually written well enough to almost qualify as standard adult fiction. The book was about what the Wehrmacht troops invading Russia called the Nachthexen, the Night Witches. The term referred to young women who flew primitive old bombers at night behind enemy lines. The heroes are Valka (Valentina) and Iskra, a pilot and navigator who knew each other from childhood. Valka corresponds with Pasha, a friend from her home town who is conscripted into a rifle company.

Almost half of the novel consists of letters between Valka and Pasha, which gradually turn into love letters as Valka begins to realize how much her childhood friend means to her.

Valka (Valentina) , the Heroine

Many of the events described as well as many of the minor characters are taken from real life. Although I do not know much about the women flyers in the VVS (short for Военно-воздушные силы, or Military Air Forces), I felt that Gwen Katz did a creditable job researching her book. Added to that were interesting and diverse characters and well-plotted-out action that was exciting without being too subject to shallow wish fulfillment.  The ending, in which Valka and Iskra fly to rescue Pasha in German-held territory might be a bit much; but it is well within the standards of YA literature.

Author Gwen C. Katz at the L.A. Times Festival of Books

I am curious to see what Miss Katz will do for her next novel. And I will be looking out for it.

 

A Gathering of Readers

Looking Out from the South Entrance to the Festival of Books

For the first time since the event moved from UCLA to the University of Southern California campus, I attended both days of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was exhilarating to see so many people in one place who were united by the simple fact that they liked to read. Also, many of the attendees brought their children along because they wanted them to read as well.

Based on what was on offer, many of the books were not to my taste. I did buy titles by Jeddu Krishnamurti, Gabriel García Marquez, Magda Szabo (a fellow Magyar), Gwen Katz, and Dorothy B. Hughes; and I will probably read all five within the next couple of months.

On Saturday, I attended two panels by Times reporters, one on world travel and one on homelessness. Because the seat next to me was vacant at both panels (was it my deodorant?), I found myself answering the inevitable question as to whether I was saving the empty seat with something obscene in Hungarian.

Times Panel on Editorial Policy

Most of the time, I was in remarkably good temper. I didn’t like buying my lunch from food trucks, as there is a certain mediocrity built into the delivery medium. Three of the best remaining bookstores in L.A. were represented with interesting selections: Vroman’s Bookstore from Pasadena, Book Soup from the Sunset Strip, and Kinokuniya from Little Tokyo.

There were a lot of booths manned by authors who were using the Festival to push their books. I felt a little sorry for them, but I can understand how they felt, dishing out so much cash for so little return. (I make one exception: Gwen Katz, who was recommended along with her book by my friend Bill Korn).

It’s great that the MetroRail Expo Line is now fully operational, as I would much rather pay $1.20 for public transportation than $12.00 for parking in a distant structure. I am already looking forward to next year’s Festival.