Reading Friday in Winston-Salem and Review of How Language Is Lost

I’m reading this Friday at Barnhill’s Books Wine Art Gifts in Winston-Salem, and I’m perhaps most excited about the event because the fabulous Becky Gould Gibson will also read. She’s a gifted poet and teacher–it’s never a given that one will be the other, and I marvel when I find people who both write and teach well. I was fortunate to work with Becky Gould Gibson under the aegis of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poets Series, and I consider it an honor to have this chance to read again with my mentor. If you’re in the Winston-Salem area, I’d love to see you this Friday at 6 pm.

Also, a review of How Language Is Lost and three other chapbooks appears in The Pedestal Magazine. The reviewer calls “Beauties and Beasts” “a hauntingly exquisite poem.” The full review by Emilia Fuentes Grant is available online.


Review of How Language Is Lost and Fuquay-Varina Reading

Ruth Moose, a wonderful writer of fiction and poetry and longtime teacher in the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written a review of How Language Is Lost for The Pilot. Moose concludes her generous article: “Steele…is a wonder with words. No language is lost with her, this first collection that is a joyful forerunner of grace to come.”

I read the review yesterday–a nice way to start the week that will also see me reading with Helen Losse at the Third Thursday event in Fuquay-Varina. More details are about that reading are available on my Readings & Events page.




Review and Poems in Wild Goose Poetry Review

Two of my poems (“The Feeder” and “Pie at 3 AM”) and a review of my chapbook How Language Is Lost appear in the summer 2011 issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review, a quarterly online journal of poetry, reviews, and poetry-related news, edited by the prolific, generous, indefatigable Scott Owens.

Since it’s an online journal, there’s no reason you shouldn’t browse poems–there are many fine ones–and all five reviews, which cover Ron Rash’s and John Lane’s new poetry collections.

A Sense-full Approach to Learning

Learning with the sensesUp to your shoulder inside a cow, you feel the hot heavy squeeze of her, but I’ll never forget my startled delight the first time I withdrew my hand slowly and felt the cow’s muscles contract and release one after another, like a row of people shaking hands with me in a receiving line.

A couple of months ago I read Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, which inspired the Nova miniseries Mystery of the Senses and is the source for the quotation above. A Natural History of the Senses is not a new book—it was published in 1990—but Janice Moore Fuller, a writer and teacher, recommended the book at a poetry workshop I attended this summer. Fuller’s point was poets must understand the five senses; they are, finally, the only material we have with which to weave the warp and weft of poetry.

Ackerman herself is a poet, and her skill in grounding description in the vitality of the senses is everywhere apparent in A Natural History of the Senses, which reads not like a typical, thesis-driven work of nonfiction but like so many meandering letters to these loves of her life: smell, touch, taste, hearing, vision.

So What?

But why do you care if you’re not an inspiring poet like Ackerman or Fuller (or an aspiring one like I am)? Because the senses are, in the end, how we learn anything, the only way we know anything. “When scientists, philosophers, and other commentators speak of the real world,” Ackerman writes, “they’re talking about a myth, a convenient fiction. The world is a construct the brain builds based on the sensory information it’s given, and the information is only a small part of all that’s available.”

Sometimes deprivation heightens our awareness of the senses, and Ackerman uses one acute, well-known case to make this clear:

One of the greatest sensuists of all time—not Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, Proust of any of the other obvious voluptuaries—was a handicapped woman with several senses gone. Blind, deaf, mute, Helen Keller’s remaining senses were so finely attuned that when she put her hands on the radio to enjoy music, she could tell the difference between the cornets and the strings. She listened to colorful, down-home stories of life surging along the Mississippi from the lips of her friend Mark Twain. She wrote at length about the whelm of life’s aromas, tastes, touches, feelings, which she explored with the voluptuousness of a courtesan.

Author, advocate, and activist, Keller exemplifies a mission to learn, arguably better than any other individual.

I mention—and more, recommend—A Natural History of the Senses not for the interesting and often bizarre tidbits (the receiving-line metaphor that opens this post, for example, or “In the Elizabethan Age, lovers exchanged ‘love apples’—a woman would keep a peeled apple in her arm pit until it was saturated with her sweat, and then give it to her sweetheart to inhale.”) No, as intriguing as those morsels may be, I recommend the book primarily because of the opportunity it offers to become more conscious of the senses and how they shape our knowledge. Without the burden and gift of Keller’s disabilities, we can still learn new and exciting things from the senses we often ignore.

Now What?

So take some time today to be more conscious of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches around you. At your desk or in your yard, close your eyes; focus on the smells (an appealingly bitter aroma of coffee or the pungency of decaying leaves) and sounds (the quiet hum of the computer or the disruptive drone of an airplane). Hold some everyday object, like a stapler—discover its cool heft. You get the idea.

These are exercises not intended to teach you anything in particular. They’re meant to nurture a keen awareness of the senses, those media that moderate our interaction with the world and construct our ability to learn from it.

“It is both our panic and our privilege to be mortal and sense-full,” Ackerman writes. “We live on the leash of our senses. Although they enlarge us, they also limit and restrain us, but how beautifully.”


This post was originally published on Mission to Learn. I recommend the Mission to Learn blog, which is dedicated to lifelong learning.