Maine-based illustrator Jamie Hogan, who lives 3 miles out to sea on Peek’s Island, became aware of light pollution after reading a newspaper article about it. It ignited something in her mind, and she wrote and illustrated a children’s book about exploring and defending the dark. “Skywatcher” (Tilbury House) tells the story of Tamen, who learns about the stars in a book, but when he goes outside in the city where he lives, can’t find them. “Where are the stars?” he asks his mom. “The city outshines them,” his mother tells him. They take a long drive together, out into the wild, where they set up a tent, and light a fire, and look up. The book reminds us — especially as we spend more time gazing at the glowing thing in our palm — the importance of aiming our attention upward, that seeing the Milky Way sweep across the sky reawakens our relationship to the universe, and makes us know that there’s a much vaster world than the one illuminated by unnatural light here on earth. The end of the book includes resources for kids who want to become skywatchers and help curtail light pollution. The book is a celebration of the darkness, the mysteries of night, the importance of keeping places unpolluted by overlighting, and, most of all, as Hogan said in an interview, that “there’s wilderness out there, and there’s also wilderness within us, and we need to be connected to it.”
Ralph Culver’s first full-length collection, “A Passable Man” (MadHat), gives the feel of a fire outside at night — something warm and smoldering in the cold, something flaming, and temporary in its burn. We are alive right now, these poems seem to say, and that will not always be the case. Culver, who lives in Vermont, aims his attention on the push-pull of the fiery present, its quotidian joys and pains: a woodpecker at the suet, new ice skates on fresh ice, mending with thread, and the losses present and long-gone that haunt in their various spoken and unspoken ways. “We gather/ in the space of our flesh/ to witness/ what never can happen again,/ not ever,” he writes. In one poem, a boy finds a rotting corpse of a dog, detaches its head, mounts its skull on a stick and walks to a playground. These are physical poems, attuned to natural rhythms and those rhythms’ effects on spirit and body both. “The fires cannot feed without eating its home … the wave craves the loss of itself.” Quiet wisdom, which is the best kind of wisdom, live in his lines.
“You Never Get It Back” by Cara Blue Adams (University of Iowa)
“An Inventory of Losses” by Judith Schalansky; translated from the German by Jackie Smith (New Directions)
“A Different Distance: A Renga” by Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr (Milkweed)
Pick of the week
Read Davidson at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge recommends “Book of Mutter” by Kate Zambreno (Semiotext(e)/Native Agents): “to write is to cast a spell/ and Zambreno is a sorceress,/ this book, a whispered incantation.”