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New England Literary News

Sarah Alcott Anderson's debut collection of poetry holds simple, powerful intimacies.Sarah Anderson

New verses

In her wise and elegant debut collection “We Hold on to What We Can” (Loom), Sarah Alcott Anderson reminds us of the simple rhythms, and the ripples that move backward and forward across time, touching us in the right now. Anderson, who chairs the English department at Berwick Academy in Maine and runs the Word Barn in New Hampshire, deposits us in landscapes geographic — New England, Ireland, woods, fields, front porches — and emotional. Her lines move with a powerful and understated ferocity. “We fall / and feel in charge / of something. Ourselves? / Our strong bodies?” In subtle ways, she shows the ways time moves and aims a lens on her childhood, and her children. A conversation continues so long that “voices scratch / the worn wooden table, until the ocean in our story / is far away.” These are tender poems, not soft, not sweet, but in seeming to work in opposition to a world that often seems to reject vulnerability; in that way, they pulse with strength. “We buried the shells. / We thought they were ours.” She makes us ask what belongs to us — everything? nothing? — and there is comfort in her distillation of registering loss: “as if we ever / fully endure / someone’s / turning to go.” These poems refocus our eyes, and realign the thing that moves inside us.


One story

The Boston Book Festival recently announced its 11th annual selection for its One City One Story program, which distributes a single short story in a number of locations around the city in both English and Spanish in the lead-up to the Boston Book Festival, this year taking place Oct. 16-23. This year’s selection is a story called “Dumba Chora” by Chandreyee Lahiri, who has lived in India, Africa, the Middle East, and now in Boston, and is a Geographic Information Systems specialist for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The story, set in the Sundarbans, a mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal, explores shifting societal norms, connection and disconnection, environmentalism, and belonging. “I am thrilled and proud to share the far-away horizons of my origin with the people of Boston, which has been my home for decades,” Lahiri said. The story will be distributed in early September at Boston Public libraries, as well as farmers’ markets in the area; it will be available online as well in additional translations including, for the first time, in Bengali. There will be a discussion with Lahiri at the festival in October. For more information on the Boston Book Festival, visit bostonbookfest.org.


Robin Wall Kimmerer's "Braiding Sweetgrass" won the 2021 Thoreau Prize. Dale Kakkak

A prize for ‘Sweetgrass’

The Thoreau Prize, given annually by the Thoreau Society to celebrate excellence in nature writing, goes this year to author Robin Wall Kimmerer, the society recently announced. Kimmerer, whose “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” (Milkweed) was a return bestseller when it was reissued in 2020 after its original publication in 2013, is a botanist, professor, writer, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma, and will receive $2,500 at an award ceremony on Oct. 29 as part of the Concord Festival of Authors. The prize committee cited Kimmerer’s emphasis on “the reciprocal and ethical relationship between people and plants,” noting that it embodied the spirit of the nature writing of Thoreau. The 80-year-old Concord-based Society also recently honored last year’s winner, field biologist George Schaller; the awarding of the prize was canceled last year as a result of the pandemic.


Coming Out

The Manningtree Witchesby A.K. Blakemore (Catapult)

Refugee High: Coming of Age in Americaby Elly Fishman (New)

The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboard Lifeby Kyle Beachy (Grand Central)

Pick of the Week

Kathy Detwiler of Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset recommends “Count the Ways” by Joyce Maynard (William Morrow): “‘Count the Ways’ is a masterpiece of storytelling of an evolution of a family living on a farm in a rural N.H. town. Maynard does such a fantastic job emotionally connecting the reader to all the characters in this book. The elements of young love, parenting, and surviving a horrific incident change the core of this family. Ultimately, every character evolves through their goodness and flaws. A deeply satisfying read that brought happy tears in the final scene.”

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