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Book Notes: West Windsor Poet’s Work Takes a Turn

  • Poet April Ossmann, who lives in West Windsor, will read from her new collection, "Event Boundaries", at Canaan Meetinghouse on Thursday, July 20, 2017.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2017

When April Ossmann first started planning her second poetry collection, Event Boundaries, she thought she knew what its themes would be. Her previous work had often explored the vagaries of human relationships, desires and connection, and she’d planned to plumb these complexities further.

“But then, people started dying,” said the award-winning poet during a phone interview from her home in West Windsor this week.

Her father, stepfather and brother all passed away within a span of 3½ years. She was particularly affected by the death of her brother: A late-stage alcoholic, he took his own life at the age of 49.

“As a writer, you can’t not write about that,” she said. “And so my poetry started going in a direction I didn’t expect.”

That direction, she found, was into the realm of mortality — and the gnawing question of what to make of it.

“(Poetry) has been a way for me to try to figure out how to live with all that,” she said. “And, moreover, how to live well.”

Ossmann, whose prior work has appeared in such literary journals as the Colorado Review, the Harvard Review, and the New England Review, will read from Event Boundaries on Thursday as part of the Meetinghouse Reading series in Canaan.

She has no qualms about sharing the private, particular contours of her own grief, sometimes in searing detail. In fact, she has found that there is a certain healing power in doing so.

“I know there are a lot of other people who never expected to find themselves in the suicide club,” she said. “Or in the club of people who love people with alcoholism and addiction.” But she hopes that by opening up about her own experiences, she will also help to open up important conversations about addiction and suicide, which she said are issues that often get swept under the rug because they are so tragic and so stigmatized.

She doesn’t yet know if she’s figured out how to “live well” with the knowledge that everything she knows and loves will disappear. But poetry has propelled her “further along on that trajectory,” she said.

“It’s really the perfect medium for processing these types of experiences,” she said, because it allows her to tap into her deeper, more primal intuitions about life and death. When she writes, she feels a tension between two parts of her mind: “The part that thinks it’s smart and actually in charge of things … and the unconscious, which is the part that thinks in metaphor and, I think, is actually the wiser part, that can help us answer some of those big questions if only we would listen to it.”

The act of writing, she said, helps her to quiet the chatter of her conscious mind, so that she can really hear herself.

She often thinks along such psychological lines: The title of her collection comes from the term psychologists have coined to explain the feeling of “going from the living room into the kitchen and completely forgetting why,” she said.

This familiar, fugue state happens because in that simultaneous moment of exit-and-entry, of passing over a threshold, your mind creates an “event boundary” between two domains, and files them in separate folders, so to speak.

“I remember reading an article about it in Time magazine and I thought it was fascinating,” she said. “It had a lot of resonance for me, that going back and forth, in and out of a doorway, forgetting and remembering what it is that you want.”

This notion of event boundaries ties into her explorations of life and death, she said, because she sometimes wishes she could exert more control over her own boundary of memory.

That’s not always possible. But writing poetry is.

Also reading on July 20 is Victoria Redel, an acclaimed novelist and Dartmouth alumnus whose novel Loverboy inspired the 2006 Kevin Bacon movie of the same name. She will read from her latest novel, Before Everything.

Readings from Major Jackson and Alexander Chee will cap off the series on July 27. Jackson, a poet and English professor at the University of Vermont, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry and for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry. He will read from his latest poetry collection, Roll Deep.

Chee, who writes in multiple genres and is an associate professor of English at Dartmouth, will read from his latest novel, Queen of the Night.

All readings in the series start at 7:30 p.m. at the Meetinghouse on Canaan Street. The Norwich Bookstore will be selling copies of authors’ books at their events.

Author Events

Salman Rushdie, the author whose titles include the controversial novel The Satanic Verses and the Man Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children, will speak in Spaulding Auditorium in Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts tonight on the theme of “Public Events, Private Lives.” The event, part of Dartmouth’s Montgomery Fellows Program, starts at 5 and is free and open to the public.

Susanne Dubroff, a retired social worker and writer who lives in Hanover, will read from her work at the Howe Library in Hanover on Monday at 7 p.m., with a Q&A to follow. Dubroff’s work has been published in the likes of The Paris Review, Poetry Magazine and Harvard Review. She’s also translated the work of French Resistance-era poet Rene Char and the Spanish post-romantic writer Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, and has published several volumes of her own collected works.

Bill Schubart, the author and Vermont Public Radio commentator, will lead a discussion on rural life based on his new novel, Lila & Theron, at the Kimball Public Library in Randolph on Tuesday evening at 7. The book follows its titular characters, first introduced in Schubart’s short story collection The Lamoille Stories, through their lives in 20th-century small-town America. Copies of Lila & Theron will be available for purchase and signing.

The author Geraldine North now lives in Hanover, but she was raised in rural Australia in the wake of World War II. She has written a short story collection, Butcher Bird: Tales From Down Under, based on these experiences, from which she will read selections at the Howe Library in Hanover on July 25. The event starts at 7 p.m., and a Q&A will follow the reading.

William Perry, former secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, will speak at Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium on July 27 as part of Osher’s 20th Annual Summer Lecture series. Perry helped found the Nuclear Security Project, which seeks to free the world of nuclear weapons, and in 2013 founded the William J. Perry Project to raise awareness about nuclear dangers. His book, My Journey to the Nuclear Brink, recounts his years working toward a nuclear weapon-free world. Perry’s lecture will take place from 9 to 11 a.m., and the Norwich Bookstore will provide copies of his book for purchase.

To book tickets ($25 for a single lecture) and learn more about the series, visit osher.dartmouth.edu/summer_series.

Discussions

The Quechee Library will host a discussion of Haruki Murakami’s excellent Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage on Monday. The dreamlike novel follows a lonely train engineer on his quest to authentically connect with another human. The discussion, second in a three-part series on the theme of pilgrimage sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council, will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Copies of the book are available to borrow.

On July 24, the Philip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield will host a discussion of In the Fall, the latest novel by Tunbridge author Jeffrey Lent. The book, much of it set in the White River Valley, explores themes of family, war and coming of age. The discussion starts at 6:45 p.m. Call the library at 603-675-6866 to check about the book’s availability.

Learning Opportunities

Ali Wood will lead a writing workshop at Richards Free Library in Newport on Tuesday. Wood is a former employee of the library, who recently attended the Newport Natives Writers Workshop in May. She now works as a para-educator in the Newport school district. The workshop is open to writers over 18. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

The library will also will hold a poetry night on July 27, starting at 7. Bring along your favorite poems to read and share, or sit back and listen.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.