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Who is rescuing whom? The writers or the readers?

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GilgameshThe latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today Patricia VanAmburg, poet and professor of English at Howard Community College, writes of the power of sharing in literature and asks a ‘simple’ question:

Four thousand years ago, the Sumerians immortalized their king Gilgamesh (and their civilization) by telling his story. This has been a universal phenomenon. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with American poet Galway Kinnel, who defined poetry as “rescue work in time.” Broadening that definition to encompass all literature, I sometimes ask students what gets “rescued” in a poem or story.

They always guess the writer first and the reader second. Innately we know the healing quality of sharing our feelings and the relief in knowing someone else has felt or struggled with some of our own issues. Finally though, students realize that something even bigger gets rescued—the microcosm of a single event—the macrocosm of human experience.

We all belong to communities whose stories are important on local and global levels. Turkish writer and Nobel prizewinner Orhan Pamuk said in his 2006 acceptance speech: “The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature’s eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people’s stories, and to tell other people’s stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other people’s stories and books.” Through the words of other writers, I have come to visualize literature as a flowing infinity symbol—the connection between teller and listener—the connection between individual and community. What literature connects you?

Patricia VanAmburg
Poet and professor of English
Howard Community College      

The HoCoPoLitSo board of directors constantly thinks of how literature connects with the community, and how we can share those words with our audiences. But we thought a few book recommendations – especially at this time of year and considering the recent tragedies in our country – would be apropos.

What follows is a quick list of some of our board members and staff and the books they’re thinking of at this time:

  • Tara Hart, board co-chair, recently sent her nephew, a veteran, a copy of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam classic, The Things They Carried.
  • Tim Singleton, board co-chair, reaches for Donald Hall’s Without, elegiac poems written of the dying of his wife, Jane Kenyon, that share the idea that one can let go, hold, carry on.
  • Pam Simonson, HoCoPoLitSo’s managing director, is reading Elizabeth Spires’ Now the Green Blade Rises: Poems. Spires’ poems about her mother’s death are moving and comforting, as well as full of hope, when hope feels distant, Simonson says.
  • Kathy Larson, treasurer, says she has read The Secret Garden, by Frances Burnett, many times, and “come away with a renewed appreciation for fresh air and sunshine and the healing power of nature.”
  • Susan Thornton Hobby, secretary of the board, loves Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, with the line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” from the poem “The Summer Day.”
  • Laura Yoo, board member at large, found comfort in the collected works of Emily Dickinson when she had a sudden death in the family.

We’d love to hear what literature connects you. Feel free to comment below.


  1. Corazon says:

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.

    • timsingleton says:

      Gracious thanks for your comment, it means a lot to the HoCoPoLitSo effort. Ever so frugal (such is the way of the underfunded non-profit), we are using the free TwentyTen WordPress.com template. It helps us look like a website while it allows us to blog. As for writing and literature, we are passionate about our work and strive to do our best whether it is presenting the world’s great living writers to local audiences, providing writers to work with in high schools, producing The Writing Life TV show, or writing blog posts. Again, thank you. You have made our day.

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