Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review - Two new books by Miriam Sagan

Luminosity (Duck Lake Books, 2019) and Bluebeard’s Castle (Red Mountain Press, 2019) by Miriam Sagan

With two new books out this year, Miriam Sagan now has 30 books to her credit in a variety of genres—from poetry to novel to memoir. Her long tenure in the writing world includes founding and heading the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College and being a writer in residence at numerous locations.

The poems in Luminosity evoke a variety of locales, from Iceland to Wyoming to Oklahoma to Arizona to her home ground of New Mexico. Miriam’s short, spare lines and direct diction move between the natural world and the dream world, with images that span both:

     you are driving
     all night
     but have not yet
     in Oklahoma.
     In every body of water
     anywhere in the world
     the moon
     reflects back to us
     the loneliness
     of beauty.
     (from “A Funeral in Pawnee”)

The book opens with several poems from her time in Iceland, where “we stayed up so late talking about the past/it was like an extra dawn breaking.” She finds connection wherever she goes:

     a stone in the desert
     marks the presence of god

     or where a ladder

     into the night sky
     under the sign of Pisces

     with angels
     going both up and down

     like dark carp
     in the current
     (from “lifting a stone”)

In Bluebeard’s Castle, Miriam intersperses short prose pieces and poems to tell the story of her relationship with her father, giving us the man in all his perplexing complexity. A true New Yorker, a kingpin of the garment industry whose favorite movie was The Godfather, he retired at age 40 and became a freelance academic. She writes, “When my father was dying, I made two lists—one of things I liked about him, one of things I didn’t like. The lists were about the same length…You see my problem.”

photo by j perez
On the one hand, he saved her life once. On the other hand, he made some aspects of her life a living hell. In the poem “West of the Moon,” she writes, “I’m waiting/ for my childhood/ to run off/ on its bare/ skinny legs/ and grass-stained knees.” Aloof and inaccessible, her father spent much of his time being “incognito,” which she thought was an actual place—“in Cognito.” It was only after his death that she began to open “the frightening locked doors of my story.”

That journey takes us up to and through her near-death experience, and beyond. Forever accused by her father of being a reckless person (for less than convincing reasons), she takes that bull by the horns in her poem, “When I Was Young, I Put Myself in Harm’s Way”:

     hoping to get hurt
     or at least
     fall off the back of a motorcycle
     and break my heart

     how, now past sixty, I’ll still
     go out of my way
     and travel some cardinal direction or other
     saying, I just want to see
     (volcano, glacier, Miami Beach)

     before it is too late
     for me, or it,
     and put myself in the way of beauty
     and let her have her way with me.
For anyone who appreciates the power of memoir, Bluebeard’s Castle will be a satisfying read—and an apt pairing with the poems of light and shadow found in Luminosity.

photo of Miriam from
Miriam Sagan is a prolific author who has won many awards, including the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Poetry Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts, and a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa. Her blog Miriam’s Well has 1,500 daily readers. Her book Geographic: A Memoir of Time and Space (Casa de Snapdragon) won the 2015 Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Poetry.

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