Across the Page: 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

This month’s Across the Page features new books by the
iconic cartoonist Alison Bechdel, nature poet Mary Oliver, and writer and
performance artist Miranda July, to help complete your holiday gift guide.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (Houghton
Mifflin)

For your friends who are still mourning the end of Alison
Bechdel’s classic series, pick up the newly released The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. This beautifully bound
collection features sixty of the newest unpublished strips with selections from
the previous eleven volumes.

Dykes to Watch Out For
has been syndicated in fifty newspapers over the last twenty-five years. The Essential includes an inspiring
introduction by Bechdel and a hilarious Index — with graphics, of course — that
references everything from “Beefcakes” to “Golf, Lesbian Predilection for,” and
“Oxford Cloth Fetish.”

Bechdel’s introduction opens with the line “Good God” and
reveals how and why she began the strip back in the early eighties.She describes pushing through the pile of
rejection letters (including a pointed one from the poet Adrienne Rich) to
develop her voice and craft.

Bechdel charts how she moved from a basic desire to
“capture” the people that so engaged her in New York City to the comfort she
found in seeing “my queer life reflected back” on the page to the fear that in
her attempt to represent she has made lesbians seem “conventional”
or — gasp — “boring.”

In the end, Bechdel poses the question to the reader: “Have
I churned out episodes of this comic strip every two weeks for decades merely
to prove that we’re the same as everyone else?”

I tend to agree with Rich, who later became of fan of
Bechdel and describes Dykes to Watch Out
For
as work that explores the humanity of a community long disregarded — with
humor, insight and intelligence.

The Essential Dykes to
Watch Out For
is absolutely addicting.
Whether you came of age alongside the motley crew of friends featured in
Bechdel’s strip or you’re meeting them for the first time, it’s impossible to
stop reading their stories of politics, work, sex, and love.

The Truro
Bear and Other Adventures
by Mary Oliver (Beacon)

Lesbian poet Mary Oliver’s exceptional new collection, The Truro Bear and Other Adventures,
features thirty-five of her most well-known poems, two short essays, and ten
new poems.

Oliver has won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize
for Poetry, and is one of the best-selling poets in the country.She has published seventeen books of poetry,
five books of prose, including one with photographs, and an audio book.

As with most of Oliver’s work, the pieces featured in The Truro Bear and Other Adventures
focus on nature and animals. The speaker
in many of the poems struggles for connection and to understand his or her
place in the world.

The poem, “Toad,” begins with the hauntingly simple line “I
was walking by.He was sitting
there.” The speaker reveals its thoughts
about the world to the Toad — “About this cup/ we call a life” — and wonders aloud
how their perspectives must be different.

He might
have been Buddha — did not move, blink, or frown,
not a tear
fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined
anguish of
language passed over him.

In the poem “Coyote in the Dark, Coyotes Remembered,” the
speaker tells of an afternoon when it overheard two voices in the woods and was
“thrilled/ to be granted this secret,/ that the coyotes, walking together/ can
talk together.”

Even when it turns out that the voices actually came from
two women, the speaker holds to this moment of faith:

And it has
stayed with me
as a
present once given is forever given.
Easy and
happy, they sounded,
those two
maidens of the wilderness
from which
we have —
who knows
to what furious, pitiful extent —
banished
ourselves.

The expansive poem, “The Summer Day,” begins with the line
“Who made the world” and ends with the personal: “Tell me, what is it you plan
to do/ with your one wild and precious life.”

The world seems to slow down in these poems as Oliver takes
a closer look at everything we’re too busy to see, let alone appreciate.

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