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New England Literary News | Nina MacLaughlin

Prize-winning poems measure grief; literary groups win NEA grants

An illustration from “<a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0998317217/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=bostoncom02-20&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=0998317217&amp;linkId=2e8980d8e5bfe1c5c59f0d6662317c20" shape="rect">An Assortment of Animals.</a>’’

The eye of grief

“What is the relation between the work of annihilation and the work of writing?” asks poet Kristen Case in her luminous new Gatewood Prize-winning collection “Principles of Economics’’ (Switchback). The poems stand face-to-face with grief — for her father (the late Karl Case, an eminent Wellesley economics professor), for a lost love — and looks into its bottomless eye with tenderness and curiosity.

Case, who teaches at the University of Maine, won the Maine Literary Award for Poetry for her previous collection Little Arias’’ (New Issues). The new book is in conversation with Homer, Milton, Shakespeare, and Thoreau.

Images and figures — Achilles, pigeons, hollows, feathers, breath — appear and reappear like shadows, in an interplay of light and darkness, the actual and the ethereal. Dactyls, she tells us, were a “mythical Greek race of healer magicians,” said to have brought the alphabet. It makes one wonder whether certain poets serve that role now. Case will read and discuss her work on Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. at the Newhouse Center Lounge at Wellesley College.

A fine ‘Assortment’

The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, a nonprofit which supports local writers by offering quiet space, networking opportunities, and classes, recently published a lively, playful anthology of animal-based poems for kids, written and illustrated by a number of local well- and lesser-known writers and artists. An Assortment of Animals’’ includes birds, bears, slugs, and hamsters, jellyfish, dragonflies, giraffes, and anteaters. Jane Yolen writes, among a few others, of the turkey vulture: “Turkey vultures can smell you,/ can tell you/ Are dead,” and Joy Nelkin Wieder’s illustration shows a zombie-like crowd of scavengers. Caldecott Honor recipient Brian Lies’s “Consider the Slug’’ is another highlight: “We’re reclusive, we’re reviled./ But our manner? Gentle, mild!” The variety of creature, illustration, and poetic form makes this a welcome addition to bedtime reading.


40 grant recipients from Mass.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced its arts-organization grant winners, and Massachusetts was the recipient of 40 grants totaling more than $1 million. A number of these grants went to local literary organizations and magazines, including Amherst-based Massachusetts Review ($10,000); Boston University’s AGNI Magazine ($15,000); and Emerson’s journal Ploughshares ($10,000). The Design Museum Boston received $45,000 to support the publication of “Bespoke Bodies: The Design and Craft of Prosthetics.’’ The Care Center in Holyoke will get $10,000 for a series of talks by poets and writers. Tupelo Press in North Adams and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown will both receive $20,000. Chen Chen, a Waltham poet and the Jacob Ziskind poet-in-residence at Brandeis, received a $25,000 creative writing grant. And elsewhere in New England, Maine publisher Alice James Books will receive $35,000.


Coming out

Be with Me Always: Essays’’ by Randon Billings Noble (University of Nebraska)

The Book of Ruin’’ by Rigoberto González (Four Way)

Gingerbread’’ by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead)

Pick of the week

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends Where the Crawdads Sing’’ by Delia Owens (Putnam): “Written with a lyrical, exquisite voice, Owens’s debut is a bit mystery, a bit love story, set in the magical Outer Banks of North Carolina.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.