Saturday, February 24, 2018

Anne Raeff

Anne Raeff’s short story collection, The Jungle Around Us, won the 2015 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The collection was a finalist for the California Book Award and named one of the 100 Best Books of 2016 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, ZYZZYVA, and Guernica, among other places. She lives in San Francisco with her wife and two cats.

Raeff's new novel is Winter Kept Us Warm.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Although I am an active reader of novels and short stories, I think that, though I have not written poetry since I was an adolescent it has had more influence on my writing than prose. In fact my recent novel, Winter Kept Us Warm is in some ways a tribute to two poems, Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" and Eliot's "The Wasteland," from which the title of the book is taken. I believe that good writing is at its core poetic and that writers have an obligation to beauty and to language. We must care about every word, every image, and our prose must contain its own meter and rhythm. I read poetry so that I never forget this beauty, and, I hope, so that poetry fills the pages of my prose.

When my wife, Lori Ostlund, and I first got together twenty-six years ago, we often stayed up until dawn reading our favorite poems to each other. We read some of them like Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," and T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" over and over and never tired of them. In December, 2017 we decided that poetry needs to be part of our daily life again, so we reinstated this tradition, though now we have a more staid approach and read for about twenty minutes every night before going to sleep. So far Lori has been doing the reading and has also taken on the responsibility of choosing the poetry, asking for suggestions from friends and other writers. Unlike in the early days of our relationship when we jumped from one poet to another, we are now reading complete books, lingering with each volume for a few nights. So far we have been focusing on contemporary work. We have read Louise Glück's A Village Life, It is Daylight by Arda Collins, Our Lands are not so Different by Michael Bazzett, Mark Doty's My Alexandria, and Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Last week I suggested that every three or four books we read something more classic, so we are now about halfway through Rilke's The Duino Elegies. We both agree that there is some beautiful imagery in them, but since we are not particularly drawn to angels or mystical musings, we will be glad when we are finished with it. We have enjoyed all the other books, and I recommend them all. Though some of the poems make more of an impression than others, when we finish an entire collection we are left with a palette of themes and images that linger in our thoughts and imagination.

This year I have also had the pleasure of introducing my students to poetry. I am high school teacher and I have begun 2018 with a poetry unit. My students, 9th graders, have had little or no exposure to poetry. Many of them struggle with reading and anything academic. Slowly, however, they are discovering the beauty of metaphor and meter. They are learning to linger with an image, to imagine the scene that the poet has painted, to savor the rhythms, to get at the crux of the meaning. They no longer believe that a poem can mean anything you say it means and understand both the limits and freedom of interpretation. They are having discussions about God and death and love. So far we have read classical Japanese haiku, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden, Claude McKay, Dylan Thomas, Alice Walker, Gary Soto, Maya Angelou, and a pantoum titled "What I Learned from Westerns," by my friend Joe Mills. When we come back from break, they will write and workshop their own poems. When they are as good as they can be, I will read them to Lori before we turn off the light. We will savor some more than others, but they too will linger in our imaginations.
Visit Anne Raeff's website.

Marshal Zeringue