• The March issue of Inside Tennis magazine came out this week and contains a nice review of my book on the Southwest State University women’s tennis program, A Higher Level.
The review is brief, but positive. I had hoped for a longer review, but considering this is a 330,000-circulation national tennis magazine — one of the two biggest in the country — I’ll take it! And it’s not too bad a thing to be included in the same issue as a feature on Serena Williams, a couple of big stories on the Australian Open and another on the Davis Cup.
You can go to this site, and the digital version of the print magazine comes up. Just click on the cover, and you can scroll through the pages from that point until you reach the page with the review.
• Retired but still writing Southwest Minnesota State professor Leo Dangel has a new collection of poetry, recently published by Wayne State Press. The collection, Saving Singletrees, has earned high praise from Dangel’s former colleagues at SMSU, Phil Dacey and Dave Pichaske,
Pichaske has written a review of Saving Singletrees for the literary journal Paddlefish, and I especially like this passage: “Dangel’s strengths as a poet are those which would appeal to … farmers and college profs: his voice, his sense of humor, his fidelity to the rural landscape (natural, social, and linguistic), and the psychological depths which underlie a deceptively simple and therefore inviting ‘plain everyday presence.’ Dangel’s poems expand remarkably the more you read them.”
That has long been the key to Dangel’s greatness. He can deliver great truths, great wisdom, in the simplest declarations, the most straightforward observations of rural life — or, of course, they appear to be simple and straightforward, but really are so much more.
Dangel is nationally respected, and often nationally anthologized: His poems are read regularly by Garrison Keillor on “Writers’ Almanac,” and appear often in all kinds of online, print, and broadcast collections, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s nationally syndicated newpaper column, “American Life in Poetry.”
Saving Singletrees is Dangel’s first collection since 2004.
(And by the way: I am a former winner of the Leo Dangel creative writing scholarship at SMSU! That meant, and still does mean, a lot to me. I keep Leo’s big collection, Home From the Field, close at hand most of the time, and certainly all the time when I am writing poetry. It’s not only an inspiration, but a quality-control checkpoint for me as I write: am I getting even close to writing about rural life like he does?)
• One of the strongest things I have read in a while is a short essay by Richard Lloyd Parry called “Ghosts of the Tsunami,” which appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of the London Review of Books.
It’s a haunting piece, non-fiction that has a magical, spiritual, novelistic feel to it as Parry writes about the traumatic mental health experiences of survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
The first section of it, describing the frightening transformation undergone by a man who was untouched by the tsunami and then cavalierly visited the worst scenes of the damage and death, pulls together spectral stuff — ghosts and unexplainable, scary behavior that becomes sad and grim, and then inspiring: what happens when one man, without deliberately doing so, absorbs the grief of thousands. The essay includes stories of others with similar experiences, as well as careful description of the remote area hardest hit by the tsunami.
Parry, the Asia editor for the Times of London, is working on a book about the tsunami. The essay reminded me of some of the fiction I’ve ready lately by Kyle Minor, especially Minor’s stories about post-earthquake Haiti, where the mystical, religious and death also intermingle in strange and compelling ways.
Death shocks, saddens and stuns us. Often enough, through nonfiction or fiction, it still also has so much to teach us as we think about the dead, or read about the responses of those still living. Yet at other times, as in this passage from Parry, it seems the only thing to do is be stunned. Nothing else, nothing more. A tsunami that wipes villages away has the power to do that.
“Nearly twenty thousand people had died at a stroke. In the space of a month, [local priest Reverend] Kaneda performed funeral services for two hundred of them. More appalling than the scale of death was the spectacle of the bereaved survivors. ‘They didn’t cry,’ Kaneda said to me a year later. ‘There was no emotion at all. The loss was so profound and death had come so suddenly. They understood the facts of their situation individually – that they had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods and lost their families. They understood each piece, but they couldn’t see it as a whole, and they couldn’t understand what they should do, or sometimes even where they were.”