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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

New poetry, an online literary festival, an honor for Ng

The Colorado River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona. The centerpiece of a new collection of poems by Susan Barba is about saving the river.
The Colorado River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona. The centerpiece of a new collection of poems by Susan Barba is about saving the river.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Verses of earth and stone

Susan Barba’s new collection of poetry, “geode," out this month from the storied and now-Boston-based Black Sparrow Press, pulses with the blood of earth and stone. Through a lens of geography and geology, Barba looks at time, and our human efforts — sometimes futile, sometimes hopeful, sometimes cruel — to make sense of forces much larger and much older than our selves. It asks how we can understand eternity, and how we can be in gentle relation to this earth that we inhabit. In the collection’s incantatory centerpiece, about saving the Colorado River, she gives a catalog of species potentially endangered or displaced, repeating “stay with me now” as the list goes on. Keep listening, she seems to urge, we’re all in this together. There is deep aural pleasure, too: “to find inside / a golden chip of spine, / a broken bit of brackish / rattlesnake: / scores of / tiny whelk, sharpened, bleached / and stillborn pencil tips.” Although not a “dependent of the river, / nor a descendant” she feels “still it is a relation / in feeling,” a relation all of us can claim to certain hills or peaks or ponds or clouds. It’s a collection of solidity inside “immensity with speed bumps.”

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A virtual festival

The 15th annual Newburyport Literary Festival, scheduled for this coming weekend, April 24-25, was initially canceled due to COVID-19, but festival organizers teamed up with new media platform A Mighty Blaze and have made the transition to an online streaming event taking place Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, May 3. [Full disclosure: I am a participating author in this year’s festival.] The full schedule is being worked out, involving a number of local authors including Christopher Castellani (“Leading Men”); Elizabeth Ames (“The Other’s Gold”); Jenna Blum; Melissa Duclos; Marjan Kamali; Kate Bolick; Adrienne Brodeur; Sari Botton; Kent Garrett; among many others. For a full schedule of readings and events, visit newburyportliteraryfestival.org.

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Local bookstores are continuing to find ways to support authors, reach readers, and stay afloat as COVID-19 has shuttered the shops. Trident Booksellers & Café continues to offer both delivery and pickup for their menu, and are now offering a special Brunch For Two, which can be ordered all day. They’re shipping books to anywhere in the United States, and like all indies, they also suggest buying gift cards as a great way to support the store. The Brookline Booksmith has released a limited-edition T-shirt designed by one of the store’s veteran booksellers, Carl Annarummo. The “Stay Local + Open Books” shirt will be available for sale through April 23, and costs $29.99. Visit brooklinebooksmith.com.

Celeste Ng spoke in February in Los Angeles.
Celeste Ng spoke in February in Los Angeles.Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu

New honor for Ng

Award-winning Cambridge-based novelist Celeste Ng, author of the bestselling “Everything I Never Told You” (Penguin) and “Little Fires Everywhere” (Penguin), recently added another laurel, having been named a Guggenheim fellow for 2020. The fellowships are grants awarded to people “who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” The purse, in varying amounts, is awarded with no special conditions, allowing the recipients to use the funds to pursue their work in the matter best suited for their needs. The Foundation receives upwards of 3,000 applications a year, and of that, approximately 175 are awarded fellowships.

Coming Out

“The Clock Mirage: Our Myth of Measured Time” by Joseph Mazur (Yale)

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“The Moment of Tenderness” by Madeleine L’Engle (Grand Central)

“Kept Animals” by Kate Milliken (Scribner)

Pick of the Week Flannery Holbrook at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H., recommends “This Is Not the End” by Chandler Baker (Little, Brown): “A young-adult novel about a 17-year-old Lake, survivor of a car crash that killed her best friend and boyfriend. But technology allows one resurrection per citizen, on their 18th birthday, and she is each family’s best choice of getting their child back. Lake must take into consideration a secret promise she made long ago to resurrect another person, who’s still alive. As Lake tries to decide, secrets and betrayals close in. This is a sad, beautiful book."


Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.