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Keep an Eye on the Library Archive

As the newspaper headline said, “Salida library is best in the U.S. for size of city.” And who doubts what you read in the paper?

This headline happens to be from 1922. Today’s Salida Regional Library is typically around the 90th percentile in the Library Journal’s annual index of libraries.

And too, the article doesn’t report any objective assessment of libraries but rather a declaration by a visiting Knights of Columbus lecturer: “Salida has the best library I have seen in any place of its size and I have visited nearly every public library in the United States.”

The lecturer, Mr. Peter Collins, “has been on the lecture platform ten years, he has covered 350,000 miles of territory in the United States and he holds the record of having answered more questions than any other publicist in America.”

The newspaper at the time did not use the Oxford comma in that sentence, but presumably Mr. Collins would have.

Joy ran across this little article while scanning old reports about the building of Spiral Drive, which she has posted on the library’s archive website, along with very interesting photos from the Bob Pierce Collection.

You can start at the library website, salidalibrary.org. Then click “The Salida Archive” tab, and then choose “Local Lore,” and then “Spiral Drive.” Or choose another topic, such as “The legend of Loyal Duke.”

Or the one about the “Two Evangelists.” No, they don’t walk into a bar … they were kidnapped at gunpoint in front of the Sherman Hotel at First and G streets. I don’t think it’s so rough a neighborhood now.

In any case, the man with the gun reportedly told the preachers “Salida wanted its women and its bootleg and that we could not stop it.” They were whisked into a waiting car and taken to Wellsville and eventually abandoned. But there’s still more to the story. Take a look.

Joy has been steadily adding fascinating material from the library archives to the website, digitizing photographs, documents, manuscripts, reports.

The “Photo Archive” tab lists 19 photo collections with hundreds of historical photos. For example, the Bob Pierce Collection includes photos of the construction of Spiral Drive and the remarkable puffing steam shovel hanging precariously on the side of the hill. It looks almost Sci-Fi, or Steam Punk, or like something out of the movie “Beetlejuice.”

The other tabs—Collections, Local Lore, Narratives, Histories—include such things as “The Lago-Salida Connection,” a history of Italian Americans in Salida; historic building and architecture surveys; an incomplete but useful collection of old assessor cards (with photos) for Salida properties;

Some older city directories and phone books (the library has many more in print); “A History of Chaffee County Schools, 1860-1986” which is a typescript put together by the Chaffee County Extension Homemakers along with the Western Fremont County Homemakers plus a variety of clubs in the area;

The letters of William Dulles to his father Rev. John W. Dulles in Philadelphia written in 1881 on his trip to, and stay in, Poncha Springs. He had occasion to visit Bonanza, and I’ll let you find and read that part.

Later, he said, “Again I am in Poncha and very glad to be here, for it is a pleasant place, and quite homelike, whereas Bonanza is decidedly the reverse.” But surely Bonanza is more pleasant today.

Of course there’s more. Keep an eye on the library archive—our digital local history will continue to grow.

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Recommending a book of poetry widely is a dicey thing

Recommending a book of poetry widely is a dicey thing. There will be many false hits. It’s like telling people to read the Bible: “If only you would see what I see …” But, if you’re not called, you’re not called.

However, I’ve read a new book of poetry twice now, and it might be one of the more universally appealing collections I’ve seen.

The book is titled “Going Down Grand: poems from the canyon.” Note that I said a “new book of poetry” rather than a “book of new poetry.” Much of the poetry is from the last thirty years, but some is older, such as Mary Austin’s from 1926 and William Wallace Bass’s from 1909.

When the book arrived, I did a quick bit of rhapsodomancy, flipping randomly to pages, reading passages here and there. I said, “Oh,” wrinkling my nose; but I began at the beginning and oh was I wrong. Lesson learned.

If you love the Grand Canyon as a hiker or a boater, you might really love this book. I peeked in the canyon once from the rim and so know it only from the experiences of others, and yet I was intrigued and moved by the collective effect of this book.

Poem after poem, these people—“cowboys, explorers, river-runners, hikers, artists, geologists, rangers, and others”—attempt to express the immensity and grandeur of the canyon, its unique beauty, and the overwhelming sense of how small and brief is the human experience on Earth.

Each poem brings a different view and style to what are fundamentally the same experiences. Reading them is like slowly walking around a sculpture.

Some approach the canyon from the scale of it, the depth, the silence, the colors; others from analogies to other experiences, from reflections prompted by the feeling of insignificance, from camaraderie and the connection with others over time.

Just when I tired of the idea of the canyon as a wound or gash and was thinking maybe it’s more a revealing, in the manner of Michelangelo’s chisel, here comes a poem with that reflection.

One favorite is “Eating fruit at the Grand Canyon—a song to make death easy” by Diana Hume George. It takes several of these perspectives, beginning “Since this great hole in the earth is beyond / my comprehension and I am hungry, / I sit on the rim and eat fruit / the colors of the stone I see, / strawberries of iron cliffs, sagebrush melons …”

And we end at “a place so deep and bright / it has no needs, and we wonder / what we’re doing here on this fragment / of galactic dust, spinning, cradled, / awestruck, momentarily alive.”

There are some beautiful evocations of the silence. I can’t find the lines but the image and feeling remain of tourists leaning in towards the canyon by day but reflexively pulling back as dusk falls and the black silence of the dark canyon rises before them.

One poem begins with a quote from John Muir: “The prudent keep silent.” But I’m glad these poets did not.

Quickly: The book is beautifully made by Lithic Press of Fruita, Colorado, and cleverly designed like a guidebook so that you could carry this on your next canyon trip. It is edited by Peter Anderson and Rick Kempa, a work of love, for sure.

The poems sweep through beauty, history, geology, wildlife, people, personal experiences, and spiritual insights. Even the clever ones are self-effacing, as if no one can make this trip without humility.

Omission can be very powerful

How something is said matters. Think of someone you would like to hear say “I love you” to you. (Even if it would complicate your life.) Hear the difference—certainly, it’s different from “Love you” called over a shoulder, or “Luv ya!”

The “I” matters a lot. But then, so does the “you.” We probably all know people for whom saying “I love” is enough. There are two forms of that—the person who is more in love with being in love than being in love with you, and then the person who has genuinely developed a kind of transpersonal love, in which you still matter but in a different, universally inclusive way.

This column isn’t about love. It’s about “Omission,” the title of an article by John McPhee in a recent issue of The New Yorker (perhaps the most well-read magazine in our library’s collection).

You might wonder, should we consider Mr. McPhee expert on this matter? He can certainly be free with words, but then that’s exactly the kind of person to look to for experience. Is the person who never writes more than a haiku the person to go to? We’d have to see the first drafts, I think.

The article is about “choosing what to leave out,” which can be hard. A full page into the article, there comes the thesis statement: “Writing is selection.” Before and after is much memoir, and it is all very engaging and eventually comes around to a very satisfying conclusion.

Still, it made me smile to come upon this thesis so far in. Yet the first page of memoir sets up the thesis perfectly. Leisure can be rich.

McPhee says, “At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not it stays out.” This delighted me because, if you remember, it is the Marie Kondo way of tidying up. You throw every piece of clothing you own on the floor and go through it one by one. Does it bring you joy? Keep it. If not, throw it out.

Of course there’s more to it, and McPhee explores the territory. He is also a writing teacher, so he knows the quotes. Michelangelo: “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”

He quotes what he calls one of the world’s most venerable cliches, from Hemingway’s idea of a Theory of Omission: “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway said that if a writer knew enough about what he was writing about, he could eliminate what he knows, and if his writing is true enough, the reader will have a feeling of those things.

There must be a certain truth in this. I’m not sure how far it goes with “I love you,” but context matters, of course. For me, the risk is that extreme spareness is an invitation to sentimentality. Precision can be sacrificed for a kind of group hug.

The process requires care. Omission can be very powerful—the white space in a painting, the silence in a symphony.

And the justifications can be many. I another bit of remarkable memoir, McPhee finds himself at age nineteen alone in the painting studio of General Eisenhower, who is explaining some of his feelings behind a still life of fruit.

McPhee asked, “Why have you left out the grapes?”

Ike said, “Because they’re too God-damned hard to paint.”

Richard Smith’s Artwork – Do Not Miss This Show!

I’ve enjoyed seeing people looking at Richard Smith’s artwork hanging on the library gallery walls. (As in: we don’t have a gallery, but we have gallery walls.) They tend to stand for a while in front of a piece, intent, sometimes much closer than even our narrow confines require.

The work rewards the time and the close inspection. Richard Smith has been taking photographs for many years, and this show is a good sample of the many things he does with his photographs.

There are a couple of photographs, straight up. He explains in a brief intro his terminology. “A photograph is generally not manipulated and is printed on an ink jet printer.”

“A photo compilation builds with images from diverse places and times, often interrogating an idea or feeling. A photo assimilation builds with images from the same area to create and “assimilate” my sense of that place.”

Thus, people stand and peruse the works. The images are evocative without being sentimental. The photo assimilation titled “Kafka’s Alley, Prague” is a good example of a complex piece evoking a mixture of feelings from a visit to Prague.

It’s a portrait of entire city but in one “snapshot.” There’s the famous clock, a crow echoing a man walking, a child, architectural elements and textures and patinas all reconstructed into an alley, of which there are many in Prague.

But you can also stand and examine carefully the untouched photograph “Shanghai Overpass,” shot on a bus from the airport, a first glimpse of the city. It, too, is full of engaging details. You might want to bring a magnifying glass when you visit the show.

Then there’s “Sand Dunes: looking west and waiting,” a photo assimilation that many people have peered at. It’s really a delight as a landscape and an abstract painting, both. It’s not so editorial, if you will, inviting inspection of its content. It’s about shape, color, and space.

Whereas “Triptych: the state of religion in the 10^th century” is more explicitly about its content. It even has an accompanying text. But it’s also not merely ideas, being an image with shape and color.

Then, I might put “Meditating on the seasons” in between them, if I were actually categorizing them. Which I’m not. They are all rewarding works.

There’s a stretch of mixed media pieces along the outer wall that I like a lot. As terminology, mixed media is self-explanatory, but only in a general way. Richard’s includes photos, acrylic, wax, pen & ink, watercolor, metals, and “whatever.”

“Autumn and Eve” is a mixed media work based on the experience of Gray’s Creek up Marshall Pass, followed by “Autumn, elemental avalanche” and “Morning breathing drying grass.” I really like these.

But then there’s the delight of a sudden change: the photo assimilation “New York Loft.” It made me smile to jump to this from the autumn pieces. And I like Richard’s “Angel of Shavano,” too. Heck, I like them all.

The other photograph in the show is “Garden at Versailles,” a beautiful and fascinating image. Richard was there in the middle of winter, and they had the garden to themselves. Worth freezing for.

Then back to a compilation, “A Dragon Comes,” which is a larger image completing quite a range of work.

One can snap a thousand pictures and pick out a few good ones as one approach to photography. And then there’s Richard’s, which is reflective, meditative, narrative, and meticulous. Do not miss this show.

Announcing my Retirement

I thank Ryan Summerlin for a well-done article in Friday’s paper announcing my retirement from the library. We talked a long time, and he made a good distillation of the conversation. Also, he picked a good photo in that I wasn’t slouching too badly, which will please my mother.

Vocabulary was a challenge. Retirement is not quite the right word. I’m not really in a position to retire they way most people think of the word. But then, “resignation” has a cloud hanging over it. “Termination” is frightening. “Conclusion” leans toward the euphemistic, not unlike “moving on.” Some might choose “desertion.”

“Departure” is neutral enough, I suppose. “Denouement” we might say over a polite cup of tea. I’m not going anywhere, and nothing is wrong, either with me or the library, and eventually I’ll work for an income again. I just don’t know the word for all that.

The right word is sometimes very important. We used to have Story Hour at the library, because it was, in fact, an hour long. There were stories, then vigorous singing and dancing to dissipate a lot of energy, and then more stories until parents returned from errands or coffee.

Now we have Story Time, and the time is about a half hour, for various good reasons. But note that at this Wednesday’s Story Time, at 10:00 a.m., we will have a party along with members of the Salida Sunrise Rotary Club to celebrate the first six months of Imagination Library.

There’s a pretty good chance you know about Imagination Library, since in the first six months fully half of eligible children have been signed up. But the glass is half empty: There’s another half to sign up!

Imagination Library is for any child from birth to five years old. Each child will get a book a month in the mail—for free—until his or her fifth birthday, at which point the last book delivered will be about going to Kindergarten. Salida Sunrise Rotary will worry about the funding; all a parent has to do is sign up.

The books are carefully chosen according to age, and many are well-known titles. It’s such a good program and a simple and marvelous equalizer in a community. Early exposure to lots of books improves early literacy skills and helps all children be ready to learn when they enter school.

There are other programs seeking this effect, such as “1000 Books Before Kindergarten.” I believe the magic number is more like 500, but regardless, if most of us intend to read 500 different books to a child before Kindergarten, we will need the help of a library. And why not? You can read thousands and thousands, if you like.

Note that I said “to read 500 different books to a child.” The desired effect is not had by piling 500 books around a toddler. The interaction of parent and child, the voice and engagement of the parent, the intimacy of sitting together quietly intent on a story—all of this is important.

It’s relatively easy to incorporate this into a day. Reading “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat” is not like committing to “War and Peace.” (Of course, reading “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat” 500 times might be.)

Still, having books in the home is an important aspect of developing literacy skills. Imagination Library is one easy way to do it. Come to the celebration Wednesday at 10:00, and if you haven’t signed up yet, come do that, too.

Celebrate Bad Poetry Day!

We made note of “Bad Poetry Day” two years ago, having just missed the chance to celebrate it. Then we missed it last year, I’m not sure why. Now, we have our chance again. Bad Poetry Day is tomorrow, August 18th .

Someone invented it for whimsy’s sake, which is better motivation than produced Hallmark holidays, invented for commerce. Actually, I’m not sure that Hallmark itself (it is a “person” after all) ever invented a holiday, but Bad Poetry Day would have been an appropriate one.

The same person who named Bad Poetry Day also named Family History Day in June. I’m much, much more interested in bad poetry than family history.

But no one sets out to write bad poetry, except in celebration of the day, and this makes it awkward to celebrate. Who wants to win? To be feted?

Perhaps it should be honor’d in the breach, in a way—that we should celebrate good poetry.

What’s good? Shakespearean sonnets, of course. Baxter Black, someone says. Poetry remembered and recited as its main form of transmission is almost certain to be different from that which is written and read.

Poetic forms used to serve memory, but even modern free verse can be memorized, and not simply by brute force but with the aid of rhythms and accents (and meaning) poets can hardly keep out of their work.

It’s really no harder to remember “The winter evening settles down with smell of steaks in passage ways. Six o’clock …” than it is “Once up on a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary …”

Or, “The house was quiet because it had to be. The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind: the access of perfection to the page.”

Sometimes, you read on the subway. Other times, when, as Wallace Stevens said, “The house was quiet and the world was calm. The reader became the book; and summer night was like the conscious being of the book,” you read in utter peace and stillness.

You’re not being transported away from anything but rather into something.

School is starting and Mumford & Sons are coming, but there will still be pauses in the day when you might pick up some poems. The library has plenty of poetry, both upstairs and in the annex, in books and in magazines. So it’s easy to keep some at hand.

If you have no preferences yet, you might keep Garrison Keillor’s collection “Good poems” on the coffee table, or his other one, “Good poems for hard times.” Or Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz’s collection “A book of luminous things.” Or “Upholding mystery: an anthology of contemporary Christian poetry.”

You might imagine there are others. “Wheel and come again: an anthology of reggae poetry.” And “When she named fire: an anthology of contemporary poetry by American women.”

A Baxter Black fan may not like Charles Bukowski but may enjoy “The big roundup,” another anthology. I revere certain poems by T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, but not all of them.

So far, though, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Todd Boss and Matthew Dickman. I liked all of Stephen Dobyns’s “Cemetery nights” and “Common carnage.”

Don’t worry, I’m not stuck on white males, dead or alive. I’ve greatly enjoyed everything by Kay Ryan. I remember Linda Pastan, Lucia Perillo, Wislawa Szymborska, Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, Daisy Fried.

What I’m saying is: It’s so easy. Honor “Bad Poetry Day” with great poetry.

Just the kind of thing you might find in a library book sale

I just finished an impressive novel from 1979, “Offshore,” by Penelope Fitzgerald, for which she won the Booker Prize. Fitzgerald started her literary career in 1975 at age 58. The novel is impressive for being smart, efficient, witty, exotic (most of the characters live on barges along the Thames), and short but full.

This is just the kind of thing you might find in a library book sale. And wouldn’t you know it—the library is having a book sale Saturday. That’s right. A back-to-school sale instead of the usual Halloween sale.

The allotted space in the library basement is filling up, and there’s no way we’ll make it until the end of October. So make a note-to-self: this Saturday, August 15, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the library.

In the sale, I’ve spotted books such as the specialized cookbook “First Meals” (better than Last Meals) and “No salt, no sugar, no fat” (yum). There’s “50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know” (with a bargain price sticker) and “How to Know God” (take her out for tea) and “The Geometry of Love” (I’m guessing a triangle).

I’m also recently done with a new book from 2015, which is not to say I finished it. It’s a fat book, which is par for the course for history lovers: “Madness in Civilization: From the Bible to Freud, from the madhouse to modern medicine” by Andrew Scull, a professor of sociology and science studies at UC-San Diego.

It’s a fascinating topic. The introduction begins on the cover: “From the eighteenth century onwards, it had become commonplace to see nervous illnesses of a milder sort as part of the price one paid for civilization … Insanity, alienists and their allies argued, was disease of civilization and of the civilized.”

Which is not to say our responses to it were always civilized. The history of lobotomies is worse than one might imagine from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The author’s narrative is perhaps properly distant, as the work of an historian, but it’s easy to imagine vividly these scenes from operating rooms to asylums across the centuries.

When the first American lobotomists worked, neurosurgeon James Watts performed surgery while neurologist Walter Freeman asked questions of the patient and kept transcripts of the replies (so as to judge when to stop cutting brain tissue).

In one transcript, Freeman asked the patient what was passing through his mind, and after a pause, the patient said, “A knife.” It’s hard to imagine oneself in the patient’s place.

The author ends by predicting that madness will not, in the end, prove to be reducible solely to biology and the body—a position largely held in modern medicine. “The social and cultural dimensions of mental disorders, so indispensable a part of the story of madness in civilization over the centuries, are unlikely to melt away … Madness remains a fundamental puzzle, a reproach to reason, inescapably part and parcel of civilization itself.”

It’s also hard to imagine our civilization changing in ways that reduce the causes of madness, even if we knew exactly what they were. There are an amazing number of us on the planet, and we’ve never been so closely connected.

Madness may be the proper response. We were given dominion over the Earth and proceeded to eliminate most of our natural predators and competition, so that now we compete only with ourselves.

The options for “dropping out” diminish generation by generation. This prospect alone might be enough to drive one crazy.