Virtual Salon #11 with Martha Silano

Dear Mr. Wordsworth,

It turns out there is no tranquility.

When you read any of Martha Silano’s books, all of them fizzing with brio and invention and awe, you want to start a salon just so you can invite her. As Diane Seuss says about Gravity Assist, Silano’s fifth poetry collection is “popping with kinetic energy.” The physics references are sometimes metaphors for rising and falling in mood and body, but they’re not just metaphors: Silano’s worldview is scientific, balancing skepticism with infectious curiosity (am I allowed to use “infectious” as a happy adjective right now?–never mind, I’m sure Martha would tell me to go for broke). I read this book shortly after its 2019 publication then again this week, right after teaching Whitman, and this time I was especially moved by all of Silano’s Whitmanian reaching after connection through study, epistle, and even psychedelic mysticism (“prayer/ is like a bread line, a penny for your/ exploded mind”). There anger and grief here, too, especially about human destruction of the more-than-human world, but this restless, brainy poet often responds to crisis with praise of what continues to amaze. No one can solve all of life’s multitudinous inexplicabilities, but Silano’s asymptotic approaches are always wonderful to observe.

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

First, we would sit down to a plate of antipasti: Genoa salami, calabrese, provolone, garlic-stuffed olives, roasted red bell peppers, Italian bread. For the main course: puttanesca served over linguini, paired with a mixed-green salad with vinaigrette. For dessert: fresh peaches, fresh cream, and squares of dark chocolate. Oh, and plenty of Chianti.

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

I’m doing better than I would have imagined. At first I was too anxious to write, but once I began drafting a poem a day things got better. I also attribute my wellbeing to going running at a nearby wooded park. Thankfully, my kids pretty much take care of themselves, and I teach online for a living. The California poppies are blooming here in Seattle. If they can be bright and cheery, so can I.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

My website is marthasilano.net.

Q&A,Tethered Letters: https://tetheredbyletters.com/author-qa-martha-silano/

I have new work up at:

Women’s Voices for Change https://womensvoicesforchange.org/martha-silano-when-i-begin-to-dig.htm

Barren https://barrenmagazine.com/i-bring-you-the-uncertain-music/

dialogist https://dialogist.org/poetry/2020-week-19-martha-silano

The Los Angeles Review http://losangelesreview.org/dear-diary-martha-silano/

Rust + Moth https://rustandmoth.com/work/when-i-realized-everything-had-been-said/

SWWIM https://www.swwim.org/blog/2019/11/15/jean-and-joan-and-a-who-knows-who

The Shore https://www.theshorepoetry.org/martha-silano-pain-is-the-foundation

Thrush   http://www.thrushpoetryjournal.com/january-2019-martha-silano.html

Waxwing http://waxwingmag.org/items/issue17/28_Silano-Instead-of-a-father.php

Reviews of Gravity Assist are up at:

The Rumpus  https://therumpus.net/2020/04/barbara-bermans-national-poetry-month-shout-out/

DMQ Review https://www.dmqreview.com/micro-reviews

The Adroit Journal  https://theadroitjournal.org/2020/02/05/measuring-the-future-a-review-of-martha-silanos-gravity-assist/

My books are available at

Independent Publishing Group (IPG) https://www.ipgbook.com/silano–martha-contributor-487072.php

Steel Toe Books https://steeltoebooks.com/books/3-books/books/57-blue-positive-by-martha-silano-sp-1358827673

Two Sylvias Press http://twosylviaspress.com/martha-silano.html

Marginalia and interleavings

When you read, you think someone else’s thoughts–which is why it’s interesting and good to read books by people whose experiences are different than yours. Sometimes, however, there’s an intermediary spirit in the mix. Pick up a heavily marked used book and you end up glimpsing another reader’s mental processes, too. Students experience this all the time, through used textbooks; in a boring class, you can even get a little obsessed by trying to extrapolate a personality from the highlighter marks and marginal jottings (as a certain Harry Potter episode demonstrates).

I’ve been contemplating this, in part through the lens of a poem I admire from the November 2015 issue of Poetry by Hai-Dang Phan. You should read it, but in short, the speaker traces to understand his father through the notations he made in a Norton anthology, for an English class he pursued after emigrating from Vietnam to the U.S. As I was writing a short discussion of it in my critical book’s introduction, I also happened to serve as anonymous reviewer for an article ms that concerns, in part, interleavings–the clippings etc. readers store in their books, and that booksellers often strip out before resale.

I’ve published a poem called “Bequest” that references the one book I own of my father’s, a Bible from Sunday School. On the reverse of the title page, my father, in a childish hand, penciled a reference to a passage from Job. It strikes me now as having some eerie resonances with the last years of my father’s life. Thinking about marginalia and interleavings, I suddenly remembered: wasn’t there a newspaper clipping, too?

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Yes! My father was born in 1925, the Bible is inscribed to him in 1937, and the newspaper scrap references films from the 40s and 50s. They’re matinees, so this could even be from the 60s or later. How did it get in there, man? I guess I need to see Passage to Marseilles.

Sitting in my office Monday reading H.J. Jackson’s Marginalia, I started thinking about my own inscriptions. I make a lot of what Jackson calls reader’s indexes in the backs of books, especially when I plan to teach or review them. Here’s one from the back of Ann Fisher Wirth’s Carta Marina. This practice of making readers’ indexes goes back centuries.margins3

And that’s not even to mention crumbs, food-stains, and other signs of the reading life! The grass-chain I left in a copy of Whitman makes the book awkward to handle–it’s a fragile remnant of a gradumargins2ate school seminar held out on the lawn by Firestone library–but I feel too sentimental about that spring to discard it.

You will be relieved to know I don’t write, or store organic debris, in library books, but the remnants of other peoples’ readings don’t bother me. They clearly annoy others, because I was just wiping eraser dust yesterday out of a book of literary criticism–someone had underlined passages, and the same person, a librarian, or later reader effaced the markings. I find it more depressing, as Jackson says, when there’s no sign a book has been read before at all. Sadly, the library copy of his own book is pristine.

One thing I treasure about the older books in our university collection: some of them still have cards and signatures in the back. I often see traces there of professors long gone. For example, Barbara Hernnstein Smith’s Poetic Closure is on my shelf. The first library user, from 1970, was Sid Coulling, an eminent and much loved English professor who retired before I even arrived. I love seeing his elegant old hand. It increases my sense of participating in a community of readers. Sorry about the clementine, Sid, but as you know, scholarship is a hungry business.

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