Monday, April 2, 2012

A novel of poetic beauty

Sometimes prose is poetry. As National Poetry Month kicks off, I want to shout out THE WOOD WIFE, a book that’s new to me but has been around since 1996 and won the Mythopoeic Award.
I ordered it after reading a good review and because I’m a fan of Terri Windling’s skill as an editor of many fantasy and horror anthologies. One of my all-time favorites is THE FAERY REEL, which she co-edited with Ellen Datlow.
I haven’t finished reading THE WOOD WIFE (about 2/3 inhaled), so this isn’t a review. It’s more of a love letter to a story that keeps fascinating me and to words that make me pause and sigh.
And because it’s about a fictional poet, Davis Cooper, and filled with snippets of his poetry, it’s perfect for National Poetry Month. The book isn’t a verse novel it’s just filled with poetic language, pieces of Cooper’s poems and musings on arts of all kinds.
The hills call in a tongue

I can not speak, a constant murmuring,

calling the rain from my dry bones,

and syllables from the marrow.—THE WOOD WIFE, Davis Cooper

This story is as elusive as its shapeshifter characters, making you question what is real, what is imagination. But it is solidly set. Windling, who is also an artist, paints the scenes with vivid words that carry the reader to the wild desert and hills surrounding Tucson:
She turned slowly, and saw the great white stag pick its way up the rocks of the creek. His eyes were black as a starless night. His hide was velvet, his horns were ivory, he was made of more than flesh and bones. He gathered the dying light of the sky into his being, like a radiant star.

The protagonist, Maggie Black, is forty and a respected poet herself who inherits Davis’s house after his strange death, which appears to be murder. She goes to check it out, not intending to stay but interested in the mystery and any writings he may have left behind. She finds herself enchanted by the desert and its magic and drawn into something beyond time and space.

The Drowned Girl leaves wet footprints,

plaits her hair with pond weed, fingers

white as milk, as death, as loneliness,

upon root, wood, black stone…--THE WOOD WIFE, Davis Cooper

At one point Maggie is surprised to figure out that she’d always seen Davis’s poems as set in England where he was born. But instead of lush, green woods, she realized he was writing about the desert landscape. Her new friend, Fox, responds: “What does it matter whose head those images came from? ‘Poetry is a conversation not a monologue,’ Fox quoted Cooper in a passable English accent. “A writer can only put the words on paper; the vision has to come from the reader, right? It’s language, not paint, not film. That’s the beauty of it to me.”


Anyone want to have a conversation on poetry, on this book, on the beauty of language?


Julie Dao said...

How gorgeous is that?! I love poetic prose. The description of the stag is so beautiful. Thanks for the recommendation, Tricia!

Bish Denham said...

Oh, I've added it to my list! The quotes you given are stunning.

Unknown said...

You sold me. What an intriguing review.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Julie: It is sooo gorgeous. I know you love beauty of all kinds. This book also explores music!

Bish: I'm excited to hear that, Bish. I think you will love the way she describes this world.

Laraine: Yay! I do hope you enjoy it.

Jemi Fraser said...

Poetry is a conversation not a monologue -- love that!! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: Isn't that a great line? This book is full of lovely and thought-provoking sentences.

Donna said...

I can't believe I haven't read this! I'm a great fan of Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. I'll put THE WOOD WIFE on my list, right after THE BEASTLY BRIDE: TALES OF THE ANIMAL PEOPLE, their 2010 anthology.

Catherine Denton said...

This sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing the love (and for your sweet words on my blog).
Catherine Denton

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: I was excited when I discovered it. You are so going to love the myth, shape-shifters and mystery in this, not to mention the gorgeous language.

Catherine: I do like to shout out when I find something amazing like this.
(and I love to visit your blog.)

Christina Lee said...

The writing is gorgeous!!

Phoenix said...

"Poetry is a conversation, not a monologue." - YES. Wow, yes. I think this exactly sums up what I love most about poetry - the give and take, the conversational tone, the dialogue of it. :)

Thanks for a great post - very inspiring and it's got my brain whirling now!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Christina: Isn't it???

Phoenix: Thank you. I love whirling brains (no, I'm not a zombie). Just visited your blog and love the poetry samples you put up.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

whoa! this sounds cool! I'm completely intrigued now especially after reading Caroline's brilliant novel in verse May B. It wouldn't have occured to me to read a novel in verse before.

Suzanne Casamento said...


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Terry: This one's not in verse but, oh, it's lyrical. And I loved May B!

Suzanne: :D:D