Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Book Evenings at Left Bank Books I loved

On Halloween, as young ones paraded in costumes along Euclid in the Central West End of St. Louis, an intimate group of literature-lovers sat inside Left Bank Books, enthralled as Qiu Xiaolong read from his book "Evoking Tang: An Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry." To make it all the more interesting, Qiu Xiaolong is the author of mysteries such as "A Loyal Character Dancer," "When Red Is Black," and "Death of a Red Heroine." (Read this fascinating profile of Qiu Xiaolong in January magazine.) The sound alone of Qiu reading in Chinese would have been enough to make a lady swoon, along with the wistful mood of the poems, and the sharply shaped natural images which so influenced the Imagist poets in the first part of the twentieth century. And stories: imagine a time when poets were like rock stars and a government minister might be assigned to pull your boots off at court!

Mary Jo Bang's fifth poetry collection, Elegy, chronicles the year following the death of her son. This one particularly interested me because of the challenges I faced in writing "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" (see sidebar for sample poems and talks at readings). I also had become particularly interested in the form of the elegy after reading Sandra M. Gilbert's brilliant book "Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies."

Mary Jo Bang is an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University. She packed the room for a touching evening of language and reflection. Afterwards, I saw a young man who works at the store who has shared conversations about how best to promote poetry evenings in context of the Left Bank Book events. "It's happening," I told him. "Your vision is happening." He at first shrugged it off thinking of how he'd have preferred this event in a larger space. "Yes," I smiled," and repeated "but your vision is happening." An older woman at the desk smiled with me, with great gentleness and affection for the younger man and his vision.

Jeff Hamilton founder and editor of Delmar literary magazine hosted an evening of readings featuring short story writier Andrew Mozina ("The Women Were Leaving the Men") and St. Louis native poet Glenn Mott ("Analects on a Chinese Screen"). What a wonderful juxtaposition of what the human soul longs for: Mozina just crack-up funny and Mott so tenderly reflective and skillful.

Janis Cooke Newman, author of the novel "Mary," gave us an expanded picture of Mary Todd Lincoln as political strategist, a supporter of emancipation, and a mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband. In Newman's debut novel, Mary shares the story of her life in her own words and Janis shared all that with us, taking us into the heart of her writing process.

Laurence Hillman in "Planets at Play" packed the room as he read from and explained principles that allow the reader to re-imagine our inner lives through the language of astrology and understand how its archetypes play on our lives.

Most precious to me? I met an acquaintance who I knew through my friend and colleague Lloyd Kleine Harvey. She and her father had been kind enough to come to Illinois for my talk "Memory: Each Day Radiant with New Meaning" based on "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" that I gave on my sister's August anniversary (see sidebar for Talks at Readings to read entire text). She was there with her man and a long-time friend. Seeing a familiar face made me feel at home in the neighborhood and more deeply welcomed into the cultural life of the city.

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  1. Janet, I love your blog! You exactly appreciate the organic quality of our efforts at literary community at Left Bank Books. In this day of mega events, the little gems of readings that we are still doing in the neighborhood, especially in the store, are still my faves. Check out my comments in our November newsletter, which I believe amplify some of what you allude to in your lovely remarks. What a great website you have! Keep it up!

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