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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 8, 2009

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When Jim Perelman's mother died in 2007, he resolved to produce a book of poems about grief.

Perelman is the founder and publisher of Holy Cow! Press, a high quality literary house located in Duluth.

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The result is "Beloved of the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude" ($16.95, paper), edited by Jim Perlman, Deborah Cooper, Mara Hart and Pamela Mittlefehldt.

In her introduction, Mittlefehldt tells how Holy Cow! got the ball rolling by asking for submissions. Two thousand entries poured in from famous poets like Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin and writers they had never heard of. Mittlefehldt says it was an honor to read such works. In a jacket blurb, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner calls it "an anthology filled with healing and hope."

Kushner makes sense to me, especially after reading one of the submissions that was accepted.

When writer Bill Holm died last spring, the Midwestern literary community was deeply saddened. He was relatively young, ebullient, a good friend to all. Here's what he wrote about death before he died:

'Let go of the dead now.

The rope in the water,

the cleat on the cliff,

do them no good anymore.

Let them fall, sink, go away,

become invisible as they tried

so hard to do in their own dying.

We needed to bother them

with what we called help.

We were the needy ones.

The dying do their own work with

tidiness, just the right speed,

sometimes even a little

satisfaction. So quiet down.

Let them go. Practice

your own song. Now.'

Somehow that made me feel good.

Several other poets from our region also appear in this most satisfying volume: Deborah Keenan, Mark Vinz, Susan Carol Hauser, Philip Dacey, Sharon Chmielarz.

With all of its current financial problems, it's sort of poignant to read Kenneth Starr's "Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1953." (Oxford University Press, $34.95). It's part of Starr's acclaimed ongoing series about the Golden State.

Fifty years ago, it was a different story than today's. In postwar America suburbs were popping up all over and California was leading the pack, soon to become the America's most populous state. I well remember that three of my college roommates at Eau Claire State, quit school, moved to California, established residence and enrolled in its magnificent state university system, tuition free. Starr deals with California which then was an educational haven.

He also does a good job on how California turned from centrist politics to both the left and the right. He deals with beatniks, then with Sinatra's "Rat Pack," then with hippies and the free wheeling lifestyle that California seems to engender.

Years ago, my college office mate John Mitchell took two years off to study film at San Francisco State. We visited him and he allowed as how he didn't much care for California.

Why not?

"Everyone's too happy," said John.

Well that's not the case these days. But Starr's book goes a long way to showing why it used to be.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.

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