The Word Exchange

There's something about winter, with its outer gales and inner fires, that brings us back to the basics—hearth, home, tradition, song, and poem: even in its darkness, this season's inward turn kindles a warming sense of connection to the past. Greg Delanty and Michael Matto's lovely book of  Anglo-Saxon poetry in translation—released just in time for the solstice—participates in this return, inviting us anew into the earliest songs of the wandering, sea-faring, warmaking northern tribes whose speech patterns still form the English language's deepest roots. While much Anglo-Saxon poetry has been translated by scholars for scholars, this book lovingly gives each old poem to a contemporary poet, offering present-day readers a chance to hear Anglo-Saxon in a panoply of voices that reflect the original poems' diversity. In turn the ancient poems have fresh space to haunt us—forging as true an exchange of words as we muddled 21st-century types can hope to have with people who lived over a thousand years ago.

 

More often than not, the poems bring us into a common space we all yet share. In one poem, Eavan Boland captures the lament of an abandoned and exiled wife. In another, Mary Jo Salter gives voice to a seafarer who watches icy waves and curlews "though elsewhere men were laughing… though elsewhere men drank mead." Although that ancient anonymous bard reminds us that "No kinsman can console/ or protect a sorry soul," it's true that, by hearing these distant voices freshly, we can empathize anew with them, and also with ourselves. 

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).