Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dale M. Kushner

Dale M. Kushner is the founder and director of The Writer’s Place, a literary center in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Grant in the Literary Arts and has been honored by a fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation, The Ragdale Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute as a participant of their first writers’ conference on compassion and forgiveness. Her work has been widely published in literary journals including IMAGE, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, Witness, Fifth Wednesday and elsewhere. Her most recent poetry collection More Alive Than Lions Roaring was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award at Utah State Press, The Prairie Schooner Book Competition, the Agha Shahid Ali Prize at University of Utah Press and The Tupelo Prize. Her story “When You Open the Door, Where Are You?” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She will assume the position of Poetry Editor for The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling in September.

Kushner's new book, The Conditions of Love, is her first novel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Kushner's reply:
Here’s my idea of heaven: a cabin in the woods, pine-scented wind, a lake full of sky. Time dissolved and I can read uninterrupted!

For now, I’ve just finished Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. Chee is a writer who knows about the sacred, about moments of love and beauty that save us from being swallowed by a dark cosmos. In prose both muscular and hauntingly lyrical, Chee reveals the story of Fee, a sensitive Korean-American boy growing up in small town Maine. Early on, Fee is told a family legend by his Korean grandfather: they are descended from The Lady Tammamo, a demon fox spirit who assumed the form of a beautiful woman to marry a human—a shape-shifter. Fee embraces the legend, and Chee astutely weaves the image of the fox into his narrative to underscore the mythic quality of Fee’s life. The fox represents a touchstone for Fee’s sense of otherness as a soulful gay man of mixed descent and the blaze of passion that will dominate his life.

There is plenty of suffering in this book—pedophilia, AIDs, suicide—but these scourges are counterbalanced by moments of great tenderness and compassion for our vulnerable human souls.

Since I like to read widely, I’m halfway through two other books. One is a compilation of essays by Adrienne Rich: A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008. Rich’s book includes pieces on writers who, sadly, have almost faded from our literary consciousness including Muriel Rukeyser, James Baldwin, Denise Levertov and Amiri Baraka among others. Rich has always been interested in the intersection of the artist with social change and in this book she brings to the page her usual eloquent intelligence and empathic vision. In writing about the poems of Thomas Avena, she states what I take to be her own credo “… art’s critical resilience wherever human extremity seems to have crushed all responses…art is the projection of that in us which does go on responding, and also that to which our sealed consciousness opens in response.”

The second book I have open is a scholarly work to be read slowly. The Ability to Mourn: Disillusionment and the Social Origins of Psychoanalysis by Peter Homans, which takes up the issue of cultural renewal. I’m looking to Homans to help me understand what undergrids our current zeitgeist of anxiety and despair besides the obvious economic and political woes. Homans writes with homage and discernment about the origins of psychoanalysis, about Freud and his theory of culture, about Jung, Otto Rank, and Ernest Jones and their relationship to the great man and his Movement. But what I’m most interested in is the section called “Mourning, Individuation, and the Creation of Meaning in Today’s Psychological Society.” It seems, as Freud said in one of his lectures, we suffer from reminiscences, stuck in a past we haven’t fully mourned and searching for ways to regenerate our future.

Next in line to read are the following: The King in The Tree by Steven Millhauser; Until the Dawn’s Light by Aharon Appelfeld; Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle.
Visit Dale Kushner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue