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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

A poet’s funny, poignant memories and a new book of Maine immigrant experiences

Mohammed Al-Kinani's story is included in a new book of Maine immigrant experiences. (Lilit Danielyan)Lilit Danielyan

Poetic memories

In the welcome re-issue of “Old Poets: Reminiscences & Opinions” (Godine), the late poet Donald Hall who died at his farm in New Hampshire in 2018 at age 89, recounts an astonishing array of encounters, observations, and exchanges with some titans of poetry: Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Archibald MacLeish, Yvor Winters, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore. The collection is funny, poignant, desperate, as Hall, with his characteristic wisdom, enthusiasm, and smarts, makes portraits of these poets — their triumphs, vanity, passion, despair — and the act of making poems. Moments of would-you-listen-to-this gossip are balanced by insights into the creative life. He writes of the inglorious moments, and the conception that out of misery rises art: “Art’s triumph endures in a world separate from the mire and fury.” Hall loved Pound’s poetry, and “reviled him as a traitor and Fascist sympathizer.” Hall’s observations are shrewd and generous, a generosity not in the over-adoring way, but in the quality of his attention and the depth of his analysis both of the poets as people, and of the lines they wrote. Writing of Thomas and the glamorizing of the tragic drunken poet, Hall argues, and rightly: “The poet who survives is the poet to celebrate; the human being who confronts darkness and defeats it is the one to admire.”

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Newcomers and neighbors

In “Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants” (Islandport), Morgan Rielly, a Maine state representative, and Reza Jalali, a former refugee and executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, tell the stories of people who have arrived in Maine from eighteen countries across five continents. People struggle to preserve and re-form a sense of home, holding on to their histories as they learn a new language and new culture in a moment when racist attacks are on the rise and an atmosphere of intolerance and xenophobia pervades the country. The men and women profiled in the book lead non-profits, graduate from universities, run small businesses, have families. Some fled violence, war, political upheaval. Their experiences are varied, and all required courage. Each profile is accompanied by a photograph by Lilit Danielyan, an immigrant from Armenia. The book looks at the question author and tattoo artist Phuc Tran asks in his introduction: “How do we explore and value the contours and fissures in our disagreements without breaking ourselves apart, cracking ourselves asunder?” Telling stories is part of the answer.

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Role models

Michael G. Lewis aims the spotlight on 25 female warriors in his new middle grade book “Fight Like a Girl: Women Warriors Throughout History” (Fitzroy). In lively prose, and beautifully illustrated by Hila Ronis, Lewis shows the courage, resourcefulness, and leadership of these remarkable women, including the one-eyed Queen Amanirenas, “ruler of the Kushite people,” who “sat astride her large Nubian war stallion and studied the Egyptian valley below,” and under whose policies and rule “the Kushites lived in relative peace and prosperity for the next three hundred years.” Deborah Sampson was an indentured servant in Massachusetts and taught herself to read and write, as well as skills carpentry and baking. She disguised herself as a man and joined George Washington’s army to fight in the Revolutionary War. After the war, her pal Paul Revere, urged her to give public speeches about her experiences, which she did. Ching Shih, who’d been forced into prostitution as a child, “wasn’t just a pirate; she was the commander of the largest pirate fleet in history, and the most successful buccaneer the world would ever know.”

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Coming out

Manifestoby Bernadine Evaristo (Grove)

Authority and Freedomby Jed Perl (Knopf)

Lacunaby Fiona Snyckers (Europa)

Pick of the week

Gillian Kohli at Wellesley Books recommends “How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom From a Life Lived in Nature” by Marc Hamer (Greystone): “In this charming and lyrical little book, a Welsh gardener eloquently juxtaposes the grim reality of authentic mole-catching with a celebration of the natural world and all its creatures. As he perfects the craft of ridding farmers of a destructive nuisance, he poetically contemplates the role of humanity in taming the world around us. He also teaches us a lot about moles!”

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