Denise Duhamel’s “Blowout,” a love letter

Blowout (2013) by Denise Duhamel
review by Marina Buckler, Reference Librarian

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes according to plan? Where there seems to be no end in sight? How about one of those years? Denise Duhamel has, and her latest collection, Blowout, describes that year in excruciating detail.

The collection begins with the decline and downfall of Duhamel’s marriage; the opening poem is an account of she and her husband witnessing an argument between another couple on the beach. As they banter and guess, the discussion  quickly escalates into their own argument, an illumination of their own issues. In the next poem, she describes folding laundry while listening to daytime television, and we learn that, 10 days after listening to a television segment in which she learns that “a relationship is over / when one of the parties shoots a look of contempt at the other,” her husband has left, and several poems later, in “Tina and the Bruised Hearts,” the reader witnesses the unauthorized draining of Duhamel’s bank account  by her now-estranged husband, looped with a panic regarding overdraft fees, and the unexpected camaraderie we sometimes find when we are humbled and forced to ask for help.

In the poem immediately following “Tina and the Bruised Hearts,” the reader learns that Duhamel’s father has died; that her apartment flooded; that she’s lost her job. Her disappointment and sorrow are, even only seven pages in to the first section, tangible. She hides nothing, seemingly–all of the embarrassment and subsequent shame are loaded in with moments where Duhamel tries to digest a lesson, and loses it. She writes, in “Takeout, 2008″:

My sister, my brother-in-law, and I order Chinese takeout
on New Year’s Eve and my fortune reads
“You have to accept loss to win.” This makes me almost hopeful–
and maybe, for a moment, even gives me a way
to make sense out of 2008. I am going to keep this fortune, I think,
but then promptly, accidentally, throw it in the trash.

She feels pretty bad for herself, admittedly–or maybe she just feels pretty bad, hopeless in a way that is new to her. She’s powerless over these events, and struggles to bring herself out of it. Again, in “Takeout, 2008,” Duhamel reminds us that she’s able to suffer, but that she’s not suffering blankly–she is simultaneously observing that suffering, participating in her pain but also producing from it, and finding a way to live. She writes,

Did I tell you this year I have gotten on my knees
and prayed for grace and peace of mind to get through the next hour?
I know there are people with missing children, not missing husbands.
I had my father 47 long years. There are people without a place
to sleep tonight. I know that.

It’s difficult to imagine a year quite like Duhamel’s–admittedly not the worst year on record, but riddled with the types of ego blows that can be difficult to recover from. But she continues. She writes. And it is as though she is singing to herself, reassuring herself. Undoubtedly, Duhamel is suffering a great deal, but she is also making a choice to ask for grace and peace of mind, to summon the strength to continue. And in this context, one can read Blowout as a love letter.

Throughout, Duhamel writes with a style that is pithy and referential, rich with context, self-aware, and cultural (one poem parallels Duhamel’s divorce and Madonna’s, others are descriptions of movies about divorce). The collection as a whole is practiced and brave, naked and confessional, and in those things, human. Blowout is, at many points, uncomfortable to read for how bare the narrative is. But, in the discomfort it causes, it is also oddly comforting. “Look,” she seems to say, from the safe distance she’s gained, “I’ve done it. Here is the proof. You hold it in your hands.”

And she has. As the book progresses, it becomes much less about the sort of visceral pain the reader had grown accustomed to watching Duhamel work through in the first section. The collections grows into something funny and awkward, with poems about very early experiences with the opposite sex titled “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” “Fourth Grade Boyfriend,” and “Lower East Side Boyfriend.” It even includes poems about historically significant events, like “Cleopatra Invented the First Vibrator.” In fact, by the end, the collection isn’t just metaphorically a love letter–it is actually full-blown, with the last several poems in the book about Duhamel’s new love interest, cycling back through, reemerging with heart open again, practiced. And brave.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Murakami’s 1Q84

1Q84 CoverRemember that childhood novel that had you holed up in your room for hours? Forgetting the world? Remember the innocence with which you solemnly undertook the journey, the experience of being changed profoundly by the story, the way reality melted into the background and you stopped only for hastily prepared meals, sustenance for the long road ahead?

It has been too long since I’ve felt that way. It seems to me that more than spa days, vacations, or binge watching Orange is the New Black, a day spent in bed with only a book is a fundamental, essential renewal. You emerge blinking into the light, sorry and sad but feeling all the more strongly the ground beneath your feet and the heights to which you might rise if you only try. You want to be a better person, make art and useful things, love well and be happier. Remember what that’s like?

I’m happy to say I felt that way after 1Q84. This is the long-weekend-stay-in-bed book of your teenage years, grown up. And I mean really grown up. Ages 21+.

Murakami is one of the most refreshing writers today. He has much in common with other magical realists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and postmodernists like John Fowles, and he has cited Kafka many times as influential in his development as a writer. I even think maybe there’s a bit of Ray Bradbury in his fascination with the innocence of teenagers. But his worlds are stranger than all of these – places where your unavoidable fate can spring upon you at any moment, where characters act as spirit guides or symbols, where the line between real life and that of the mind is not only blurred but unimportant, beside the point.

He does monotony so well – like Hemingway, he can describe the preparation of a simple meal in captivating detail – and while the fantastic often occurs in his novels it is with all of the real world’s frustrating ambiguity and complexity. If you’ve read one Murakami story, you’ll know not to expect answers or resolution or happy futures in the next. You may receive them, but they’re unpredictable and without warning.

Two Moons

Moons, SpontaneousPotato

Just like the two moons observed by the main characters Aomame and Tengo in 1Q84, things appear suddenly and then have always been there. You cannot ask why or how, but while confused you are equally satisfied with the accuracy of it. This is just like reality, you think, only more so.

During 1Q84 I was at turns horrified, outraged, bewildered, frightened, tense, exhilarated, in love. It was the best kind of love story – like an Austen novel or a modern sitcom, the couple keeps almost meeting, almost uniting, almost… Until you think if it does happen you might die of relief. All this is wrapped in the strangest of all Murakami’s plots, with deep horror and darkness as a constant thread. Like Orwell’s 1984, from which the novel’s name is derived, it is a story of escape, too, of consequences and existential confusion. Though I promise you it’s not as bleak!

Aomame is a personal trainer with a highly dangerous part time job. In a sense she is quite like Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, with hardened principles, a blunt conversational style, and a tendency toward calculated violence. But she is much more human. This is a literary novel, and her character has a degree of warmth beyond Larsson’s ability. We see all her fears, her regrets, the things she loses and rediscovers, including hope for a new life. It is easy to identify with Aomame, even as we learn she has “not an ounce of fat on her body,” and even as she descends into an underworld populated by cult members, victims of domestic violence, and Little People from another world whose air chrysalises reveal the specters within.

Tengo is a mathematics instructor and unpublished novelist whose easy manners and quiet strength are immediately recognizable: remember that smart student in high school who didn’t look the part? Like a bear he stood tall and shaggy above the rest of us, and excelled almost accidentally in all he did, sports or music or scholastic pursuits, but we could never fault him for his success as his demeanor was never one of pride nor aggression, but simplicity and unobtrusive kindness. His passion, when it emerges, is a welcome surprise to his students and his mentor, and women find him magnetic. But Tengo cannot be envied – like Aomame, his childhood was a strange and difficult one, and he made his own way without a fuss, never asking for much. His passivity and easy-going disposition lead him into trouble almost immediately in 1Q84, as he becomes embroiled in a literary scam that brings him to the same underworld, where fiction is made real and weather makes strange changes to the human reproductive system.

Air Chrysalis

Air Chrysalis, A Fish Named Seymour

About halfway through this novel you may find yourself deeply offended. I don’t blame you – but as with all that Murakami creates, it’s never as simple as you’d wish. All I can say is that I’m glad I kept reading. A spoiler free review (I think I have succeeded in that, so far) makes it impossible to reveal any more.

Often fantasy can leave us feeling hollow – think of the swift wave of depression that followed the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, when audiences exited the theater into the bleak grey cold of December, greeted by parking lots and strip malls, and wondered how humanity could create two such contrasting images. Was the real world worth it at all? If we couldn’t live in harmonious congress with the hive mind of a giant beautiful tree and floating islands (I don’t know, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film), what was the point of living at all?

Such is not the case with Murakami. First of all, it’s summer in the seacoast, which helps! But much of the fantastic in the novel is horror, the depths of the human psyche revealed. The metaphor of the Little People’s air chrysalis isn’t one inside which you’d care to live. And even if taxi drivers, talking cats, and breathtaking seventeen-year-old girls don’t appear out of the blue offering adventure and guidance as you leave your home today, after reading 1Q84 you’re still in a place of deep reverence for the world and its possibilities.

That is what the best novels do.

HarukiMurakamiHaruki Murakami is an excellent, strange, reserved author who began his career after successfully running a jazz club. We can all learn something from his regimented schedule of swimming, running, and writing. Good news! The English translation of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, will be released next month. For a more traditional bio, visit his Random House page. See also the Paris Review interview.

Something Different: Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Review by Stacia Oparowski girls

I was going to post another graphic novel review this week, but yesterday I picked up Girls Like Us by Gail Giles and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a short YA fiction novel, around 200 pages, but it deals with some important and heavy issues.

Biddy and Quincy graduated from their high school’s special education program. They learn slowly; Biddy can’t read and Quincy can’t write. But that doesn’t make them stupid. When they learn that their families can no longer care for them, they are placed in an apartment together as roommates. The apartment is above an elderly woman’s garage. Biddy’s job is to take care of the woman and to clean the house. Quincy cooks and works at the local grocery store. While the setup takes some adjusting, the two girls eventually form a bond with each other and with Ms. Elizabeth, the elderly woman they look after. Quickly, though, things take a turn. One of Quincy’s co-workers, Robert, gets fired for harassing Quincy at work. He starts waiting outside her job at night to threaten her. She doesn’t say a word about it, because she thinks no one would believe a “Speddie”. Meanwhile, Biddy is dealing with issues from her past that resurface whenever she sees a boy. With the guidance of Ms. Elizabeth, Biddy and Quincy overcome the darkest moments of their lives–together. They learn kindness, empathy, manners, and most importantly self-worth.

The novel is written in the alternating diaries of Biddy and Quincy. Each girl keeps a journal on tape, since neither of them can write very well. Their personalities are extremely different: Quincy is tough, suspicious of others, and doesn’t like to be touched. Biddy on the other hand is loving, gentle, and timid. They are both wards of the state, and that’s why they are housed together after high school. A special program allowed them to live with and take care of an elderly woman who can’t walk due to dizziness caused by a problem with her inner-ear.

It was interesting to experience things through the eyes of Biddy and Quincy. Quincy’s diaries especially highlight the discrimination people with a mental disability experience, even from those who mean well. She often gets frustrated because she can tell when people think she is stupid.

One of the ladies tell me and Ms. D. that I’m gonna be doin’ “prep” for now. She start explaining but I stop her talking by saying, “You want me chopping the onions and celery and measuring out the ingredients and such as that.”

The lady cut a look at Ms. D., then she say I was right. She hand me an apron and point to a chopping table. Ms. D. tap me on the shoulder and kind of nudge me into a little corner. “Quincy,” she say close to my ear. “Try to be friendlier to these women. Don’t interrupt when someone is giving you instructions.”

“That woman think I’m stupid,” I say.

Biddy senses people treat her differently, too, but is less quick to anger.

I look out my little window and I see Quincy and Miss Lizzy drinking ice tea and laughing. I get a sad feeling. I wonder if they’re talking about me. Laughing about dumb, fat Biddy.

The book was a lesson in empathy, but also in safety. These girls experience more than bullying about special education. Everyone can be subjected to violence, and we can learn a lesson about protecting ourselves and speaking up when we feel threatened. When Quincy finally tells Ms. Elizabeth about what’s happening with Robert, Elizabeth says:

“Quincy, you are a woman. You can make your own decisions –I’m not going to meddle and risk making things worse. I can’t force you to tell the police. But I think you should.”

Quincy then explains,

“Lisabeth, peoples like you count. Peoples like me, it’s just different.”

“One day, I hope, you’ll know that you’re wrong about that,” Lisabeth say.

It teaches us that if we feel threatened, we should tell someone, even if we think no one will care. If it’s happening to you, it could and probably is happening to someone else. gail

Gail Giles was a special education teacher for twenty years. She is the author of a few other books for young adults. She lives near Houston, TX. She has a blog. review

Kirkus review 7/18/2014 so

Earthquake Fiction

One thing leads to another – hidden gems on the fiction shelves of the Portsmouth Public Library
by Cathy Okhuysen

 Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld (2013)    is set  in St. Louis about twin sisters who found their ability of ESP was a gift for one and a burden to the other. The premise is the prediction of an earthquake and, as one thing leads to another,  I was intrigued about other fictional accounts of Earthquakes impending, real or alluded to.

lockedLaurie R King’s Locked Rooms (2005) – #8 in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series  includes memories of the San Fransisco 1906 earthquake and a different blast from the past was finding the trailer to Earthquake  (1974)- one of a series of disaster movies “in surround sound”

one amazThen I came across One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni (2009).  This novel is a weaving of “one amazing thing” that the survivors on an earthquake share with each other to occupy their time and minds.  The time frame is just about a day and we learn a lot about each character in this quick read. This group of people would be unlikely to ever interact except for the calamity they went through together.

after quakeA different take is Haruki Murakami‘s After the Quake (2002) , a collection of previously published short stories set in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan.  This is one of those “hidden gems” on the shelf that I  have passed over until I became curious about earthquakes in fiction.  My favorite was Thailand about a women whose ex-husband lived in Kobe.  It and the other stories explore upheavals  both natural and personal.

Despite Teddy Wayne’s NYT article about Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) by Nathaniel Rich, this book remains unread. To be fair, I have never found a dystopian book that I liked much!  The main character, Mitchell, is shaped by his experience in a Seattle earthquake in the future and helps to promote a business in NYC that will insure against future catastrophes and, of course, one comes.  But it’s not an earthquake… I leave you to read it and find out what happens.



Travel Insurance Won’t Cover This: Safari Honeymoon

Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs (Koyama Press 2014)

Review by Stacia Oparowski, Library Assistant in Tech Servicessafari honeymoon

Have you ever wanted to go on a safari, but instead of animals there were giant parasites and insects? If so, let Jesse Jacobs take you there in his newest graphic novel Safari Honeymoon. The story takes you through the adventures of a newlywed couple learning about each other as their guide leads them through a vast and strange environment … except that it’s an environment more fit for a nightmare than a honeymoon. If, at any moment, they lose track of their experienced guide they could be killed by a giant spider-like creature. They could be taken into the woods by psychic monkeys. Or, perhaps the most frightening of all, they could become infested with an array of parasites.

Some of the parasites are relatively harmless. Their guide, for example, has a parasite instead of a tongue that takes a small amount of every bite of food the guide takes. In return for this, the parasite has given the guide an impeccable sense of taste.

There are other parasites, though, that are more harmful. Brain leeches can crawl inside any orifice as its host sleeps. At first, its presence isn’t noticeable, but after a while the symptoms show themselves. Extreme hunger, then an urge to climb high into the trees, and finally the human secretes a sticky substance forming a cocoon around its body and inside it larvae mature devour the human. Then, the matured leeches are released into the wild to begin again.

But their guide takes the utmost precautions in ensuring they do not become infected. He is aware of the symptoms; he is in tune with the environment. And, ultimately, this isn’t a horror comic. The drawings are weird, but not really gross. The creatures look a lot like magnified bacteria, and some of them are kind of cute. Jacobs’ illustration is spectacularly detailed and full. Some pages just have drawings of imaginary plant specimens, or foods the guide likes to cook.


And underneath all of the weirdness is a story of a new phase of a relationship: arguing over what to name a first child, feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, discovery, and parental instinct.


Although the dangers of nature in Safari Honeymoon are a bit more pronounced, there is a comparison to our own world. We should be careful when venturing into unknown territories. We should not touch the animals. We should not stray from the group. We should not eat the plants. Every danger in this fictional world is equivalent with a danger in our own. Even the psychic monkeys … somehow.

The graphic novel was a quick, fun, kind of disturbing read. The tour guide was a little bit of a foodie, safari guide version of Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks: full of information seemingly acquired from a dream. Jesse Jacobs: though his imagery is a bit grotesque at times, you have to admire his form. Even for non-comics fans, I think this is a story every one can relate to or be frightened by. Give it a try!

Jesse Jacobs  is a Canadian artist living in London, Ontario. He was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, and now draws comics and things from his home in London, Ontario. He has worked on the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, and has appeared in the 2012 and 2013 editions of Best American Comics. He’s drawn the comic books called Even the Giants (Adhouse Books, 2011), By This Shall You Know Him (Koyama Press, 2012), and the forthcoming Safari Honeymoon (Koyama Press, 2014).

His bio was elusive, but I found one. This graphic novel was reviewed in the New York Review of Books here.



Portsmouth’s NEW Senior Activity Center

The Portsmouth Public Library is committed to supporting and advertising services for seniors.

So we’re very excited about the city’s new Senior Activity Center at Community Campus! Senior citizens looking to beat the heat this summer can visit the center any time for:IMG_2579

  • Complimentary cold water, coffee, tea and light snacks.
  • Free WiFi, TV, games, magazines and books.
  • Excellent company and connections to other social and wellness activities.

The center will serve as a Cooling Center during the hot weather. We encourage you, and the seniors in your life, to make use of this great free space!

Senior Activity Center at Community Campus
100 Campus Drive
Portsmouth, NH 03801

Hours before July 7: Tues, Weds, Thurs 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Hours after July 7:   Monday – Friday, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Need a lift? Take the #41 COAST Lafayette Trolley from downtown (call 743-5777 or visit for a schedule). The Mark Wentworth Senior Transportation program will also take passengers to the campus. Call 570-7791 to schedule a pick-up.

Find out about all the great services for seniors in Portsmouth at For more information, contact Brinn Chute, Senior Services Coordinator at 610-4433 or!

Lighthouses spied at Portsmouth Public Library!

Currently on display in the Library lobby and Levenson Meeting Room is a Lighthouse exhibit shared, through the Month of June, by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses (FPHL).  The FPHL exhibit includes historical information about the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, NH and the Whaleback Lighthouse in Kittery, ME.  This display tells the architectural and human history of these two historic lighthouses through text panels, illustrations, artifacts and models.

FPHL Poster

Detail of an architectural drawing of “Light House at Whales Back, N.H.”

Lighthouse Keepers’ Logbook of time absent from the Lighthouse, ca. 1939-45. Donated to FPHL by Chuck Petlick




The arrival of this wonderful display has sparked a bit of a search throughout the Portsmouth Public Library’s collections for related lighthouse items.   Here is what we have found!

Many Non-fiction, Fiction and Youth books have been pulled together from the circulating collections for browsing and borrowing.



This display is located near the exhibit in the lobby and the Levenson Meeting Room.  More books to check out may be found by searching our catalog or asking a librarian.

There is even a book entitled Celia’s Lighthouse by Anne Molloy about Celia Laighton Thaxter, of Isles of Shoals fame.  Written in 1949, this is a sweet fictional account of Celia and her early life as the daughter of a lighthouse keeper on White Island. IMG_20140603_145412

In addition to the books on display for borrowing, there are books, local history files, and artwork to be found in the Special Collections room.

Special Collections Room - open to the public all regular Library hours!

Special Collections Room – open to the public all regular Library hours!






Materials in Special Collections are to be used in the Library, but Library staff is happy to pull materials for browsing, studying, and research…just ask!

The local history files on lighthouses, aka the “vertical files”, contain general information about lighthouses as well as some specific information about each lighthouses.

Lighthouses folder in the vertical files!


One drawer of many in the Library’s local history vertical files.


Typical vertical file findings include articles, news clippings, brochures, booklets, references to published books, sometimes photos, and in this case, several historic postcards!

Whaleback Light, Portsmouth, NH

White Island Light

Nubble Light, York Beach, ME

Fort Point Light, New Castle, NH

















The Special Collections staff and volunteers are currently scanning the Sarah Haven Foster (Portsmouth, b.1827-d.1900) watercolor collection.

The Library houses several albums containing nearly 1000 individual watercolors by this local artist. The albums depict a wide array of buildings, landscapes, and wild flowers. Most of the images are painted in miniature, some as small as postage stamps.

One album contains views of Portsmouth and the Seacoast. According to Foster’s caption this is “Lighthouse, New Castle”.

"Lighthouse, New Castle", by Sarah Haven Foster, from the Views of Portsmouth Album.  Collection of Portsmouth Public Library.

“Lighthouse, New Castle”, by Sarah Haven Foster, from the Views of Portsmouth Album. Collection of Portsmouth Public Library.

This image, along with the rest of the “Views of Portsmouth” album, and a delicate and lovely collection of wildflower paintings, will be online later this Summer. We currently have images from the North End and South End on view in our Portsmouth Public Library digital archive!

More information about Sarah Haven Foster may be found in the Special Collections room. In addition, there is chapter about Sarah Haven Foster, including a couple of reproductions of her watercolors, written by Maryellen Burke, in the 2013 publication entitled Portsmouth Women: Madams & Matriarchs Who Shaped New Hampshire’s Port City, edited by Laura Pope (available in the library and as a downloadable ebook via Overdrive!).

A final collection to mention is the Library’s small collection of original artwork by Helen Pearson (Portsmouth, 1870-1949) . Helen Pearson, an accomplished pianist, greenhouse keeper, as well as artist, illustrated and published Vignettes of Portsmouth in 1913.  It includes 21 original engravings.

Whaleback Light

Whaleback Light, ca.1913

The library collection includes a small collection of her original ink drawings, some with watercolor added. Included are 2 stunning depictions of the iconic local lighthouses.

Both of these drawings are on view in the Library Lobby in the case adjacent to the large portrait of Celia Laighton Thaxter…maybe she feels at home surrounded by lighthouses!

Fort Point Light, ca.1913






Thank you to Jeremy D’Entremont and Ron Kolek and the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses for providing this exhibit for Portsmouth Library visitors to enjoy! See the FPHL Facebook page for more information. Please Join FPHL at their event at the Library on Thursday, June 19, 7-8:30 in the Levenson room. This event is free and open to the public.

The Special Collections Room of the Library is open to the public during all Library hours.

Blindness and Image in the Poetry of Stephen Kuusisto

Only Bread, Only Light (2000) by Stephen Kuusisto
review by Marina Buckler, Reference Librarian

Let me tell you something that will be obvious to you if you decide to pick up Only Bread, Only Light: Stephen Kuusisto writes a lot of poems about being blind. This is not a particularly surprising thing–if you know anything about Kuusisto before you open the book, it is probably the fact of his blindness, and poetry is often composed of deeply personal reflections of poets’ lives, decompressed of details in order to lend us some insight into what it means to live a human life. However, what is surprising is the particular way Kuusisto forces the reader to confront, on one hand, what it means to be blind (as you use your eyes to read), and on the other, how we understand poetry as a medium.

Take, for instance, Kuusisto’s description of morning dew from “Terra Incognita,” the second section of the first poem in the book:

Those constellations on the darkened grass

The webs drifted like anemones,
And I thought of lifting them
As if they were skeins of brilliant yarn

Here is a blind man writing about light, an isolated but undeniably visual moment. Here, in the description of constellations, webs, and brilliant skeins lies a slight disconnect. Poetry, with its rich history of oral tradition, is not a visual medium as such, but it certainly has visual implications and utilizes images as its currency with the aim, ultimately, of illustrating. Kuusisto does this well–his lines are clean, unencumbered, pared down. And his description of the way the dots of moisture reflect the morning light above is true; nothing about it strikes as incorrect. And it is this fact which forces the reader to ask how, exactly, Kuusisto accesses this information, how he manages to provide this authority over visual truth.

It seems to be precisely this disconnect that Kuusisto aims to draw attention to in his poems about blindness. His work forces the reader to confront the idea that the task of describing the world we inhabit, with its rich tapestries of shadow, does not–must not–belong solely to the sighted. That the way we think about the disabled body in our society–by thinking of what it cannot do, as if the person operating with a disability is operating at a deficit, encumbered with a projected loss–marginalizes the experiences of the disabled person, categorizes those experiences as less, and sets them aside. By imposing this thinking onto the disabled body and the person living within it, we provide one more barrier for the disabled person to internalize, and to struggle against.

Kuusisto writes about this quite elegantly, and I will not double his efforts except to say that Kuusisto’s poems ask that we discard this barrier, and engage with him about the depths of a wider array of human experience. That is to say that there is ample reward beyond the issued challenge to cease viewing the blind poet’s poems as a blind poet’s poems: Kuusisto’s writing delivers exactly the kind of acknowledgement of human struggle, loss, and elation that we require of our best poets.

Take, for instance, this bright moment in “Post-Orphic,” where the reader is provided a glimpse into the writerly compulsion:

Tonight I felt it in my ribs:
A flood of green in the marrow,

And I decided to live right here
And sing sometimes.

Or this, from “Learning Braille at Thirty-Nine”–a reminder of the gift of reading, which Kuusisto elucidates as a sort of human communion, an engagement with a world we can no longer tangibly engage with, where we can be reminded that we are not alone:

(In the dark books are living things,

Quiescent as cats.)
Each time we lift them

We feel again the ache of amazement
Under summer stars.

Or this, from “Still,” where it is acceptable to ache at the temporal nature of love, at loneliness and the way memory bleeds back to undermine the present:

The old love seeps
Like pond water
In your shoes,
And the field is bracken
Under snow.
Who loves you, who doesn’t:
Each curls like burning paper
And blooms upward In the winter dusk.

Which speaks to another poem much later in the book, “The Sleep I Didn’t Sleep” where we witness the speaker finding a spot of comfort in the almost hairsbreadth of time we are allotted:

It doesn’t matter

Who loves him, who doesn’t.
He sees the rain, undiminished

Behind his every thought.

  Take a peek at our collection of Kuusisto’s writing, which includes his memoir, Planet of the Blind, and look forward to a visit from him at the Nancy Hill Poetry Celebration the weekend of November 5-9.


You  may already know about the library’s great collection of ebooks and audiobooks. We use a service called OverDrive. You can borrow and download books, then read or listen on your computer, ereader, smartphone, or tablet. It’s totally free, and is just one more way the library saves you money!


If you’re headed to the beach this summer, on a long flight or road trip, or just looking for something to read and don’t want to make the trip to the library, now is the time to start using this great resource. With a library card, it just takes minutes to set up!

Why are we plugging this now? The library signed up for an OVERDRIVE CHALLENGE for the month of June! If the number of OverDrive books checked out is high enough, we’ll be eligible for some great prizes, including an OverDrive Media Station for use in the library. This will allow you to browse the library’s selection of ebooks and audiobooks right in our lobby, and save a title to send to your device!

We’re hoping to beat our best month by 50%. So, if you’re new to OverDrive, see instructions below to get started. If you’re already a power user, it’s time to step up your game! We’re reading on our lunch breaks, listening while we cook dinner, and reading again to our kids at night!

Bottom Line: Check out and download FREE audiobooks and ebooks, help the library! It’s a win-win situation.

How do I get started?

1. Get out your library card!

2. Have a smartphone or tablet? Download the free Overdrive app and sign in to your library (enter Portsmouth Public Library and you’ll be connected to the state collection, NH Downloadable Books). You can check out, download and read in the app (or the Kindle app)!

3. Have an ereader? Visit and sign in to your library. You can check out and send to your Kindle, or download and add to your Nook.

4. For further instructions, visit OverDrive Help and select your device from the list.

5. Need more help? Drop in to the library, or call us at 603-427-1540 to make a Device Help appointment! We’re happy to answer any questions, troubleshoot errors, or take you through downloading a book for the first time.

PS: If you’re thinking of buying an ereader or tablet for yourself or a loved one, now’s a great time. The library can even help you with wrapping! Drop in this month to pick up a FREE gift bag, with all the information you need inside to start downloading free books. Insert new Kindle or iPad, and your gift is ready!

Great Free Audiobooks- you can keep!

Most of our blogosphere readers already know about the downloadable ebooks and audiobooks you can borrow through New Hampshire Overdrive. But here’s a new twist- audiobooks you can keep. (NO pesky auto-return for these!) Each week throughout the summer AudioSync is giving away a freImagee pair of audiobooks. Audiosync does a brilliant job of pairing up a current teen title with a classic author- from Sophocles to Lucy Maud Montgomery. This week, for example, I am several morning-walk-miles deep into the breath-taking suspense of James Patterson and Max Paetero’s Confessions of a Murder Suspect which is paired with Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage. Even if mysteries are not your cup of tea, there truly is something for everyone- science fiction, memoir, non-fiction, realistic fiction etc. The only catch is that you need to be able to download Overdrive MediaConsole which is the same program you are already using to download your ebooks and audiobooks.   confessions

To see a complete listing of this summer’s offerings and start your downloading visit: If you enjoy a good audiobook it is definitely worth a try!

Happy Listening!   ~Mollie

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  • What can you learn at the Portsmouth How-To Festival? Part II
How to open a beehive from Seacoast Permaculture Group!
Baby massage from Moms Zen Babies!
Child Yoga from Yoga 4 Health!
Printmaking from the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail!
#PortsmouthHowTo What can you learn at the Portsmouth How-To Festival? Part I 
Bellydancing from Lew-Ann Dance!
Birding from New Hampshire Audubon!
3 chords, 100s of songs from Portsmouth Music and Arts Center!
Swing dancing from Portsmouth Ballroom Dance Studio!
#PortsmouthHowTo What can you learn at the How To Festival in August? We're counting down by revealing one clue every day! Stop in and check it out. Gadzooks! Dr. McFizz's Emporium is a magical place, and that's a scientific fact! Get rewards for your reading - open tonight from 6-8 PM. Today we built a very cheap microscope, found a bug, and took his picture. You can learn how to do this, and MUCH more, at the How-To Festival on August 2nd! It's going to be a blast! #PortsmouthHowTo #LibrariesRock #WeLoveOurJobs have you heard about our new digital magazine service, Zinio? We'd love to talk to you about it! Starting August 1st, library members will receive access to unlimited checkouts on magazines through Zinio, and the extra bonus? No due dates!
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