This past Sunday we felt the grace of Grace Place where Solace in So Many Words was the topic at the adult formation hour. Grace Place is the name for the first floor meeting room of Grace Episcopal Church, which is a storefront church with a second floor sanctuary. Chicago writers might be familiar with Grace Place because it is a venue during Printers Row Lit Fest. Pamela Miller and I both recalled reading there on previous occasions. Father Ted Curtis gave us a warm welcome (as did Zola Foster). Coffee and refreshments were served, and then chairs were set out and those we mingled with became a very attentive audience.
Usually at events the bookstore staffer introduces me. But the woman who helped to arrange this gig took the microphone and read from Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market:”
For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
The verse was appropriate because the woman was my sister Mary Lou Wade who attends Grace Episcopal, lives in the South Loop, teaches at Columbia College and digs all art and culture (jazz and literature perhaps most of all). Thanks, ML! The introduction caught me off guard for I should have been reading the verse in appreciation of her, and of all my sisters, really. My brothers too. And nieces and nephews. For I am fortunate to come from a large and supportive clan (and my immediate family also has been in my corner every step of the way). Those who have attended events for the book have no doubt met at least one of my sisters. At Grace, two other sisters (Terry Marino and Kathy Elster) worked the sales table.
J. Scott Smith started us off. She felt right at home as she had also attended the service at Grace Episcopal. She quickly transported us to Texas to meet Buck Odom and his wife Bitsy from “Heartbeat.” Next we were pleased to be introduced to Kathleene Donahoo’s Carol (from “Starts and Stops”) as she sets off on a transformative road trip with her son and daughter-in-law.
We had fiction writers there and a poet, but I wanted the audience to know that Solace in So Many Words has essays so I read teasers from two. First was Paula W. Peterson’s “Coconut Milk” which many Chicagoans can relate to just for its setting as Marshall Field’s was the grande dame of department stores here at one time (it was taken over by Macy’s). What I read next were the first paragraphs from Jayant Kamicheril’s “In the Wake of My Son.” When people ask me about the difference between comfort and solace, I always cite this essay because it elegantly captures a situation where there is no comfort, only solace.
Taking the mic after this was poet Pamela Miller whom I had asked to read a poem from the book in addition to her own. She chose Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s “The Industry of Sleep” and we followed along its dreamy account that mentions Deana Durbin, popcorn salt, Seroquel and catfish. Pamela then read her own poem “What It’s All About” which she wrote to her husband on their anniversary. The poem has so many good lines it is hard to tell which ones the audience liked the most. I am particularly fond of these: “It’s the way you sashay into my days / like a boisterous New Orleans brass band, / turning my spine to lightning / and my brain to tiramisu.”
Joan Corwin read from “Details” and the audience chuckled at the elaborate plans and loopy logistics of Evan Rhys as he revisits all his favorite places on his wife’s body. And since Joan demonstrated how humor is a way of finding solace, I thought a good way to end the program was with the poem by S. Minanel called “Nature’s Balancing Act.” I think it is important for readers (or potential readers) to know that Solace in So Many Words isn’t as somber as a funeral dirge and that some of the pieces are light and funny. I could quote S. Minanel’s four-line zinger here but encourage you to look it up instead.
I once again want to thank ML and Father Ted Curtis. The reception we had at Grace Place was terrific, and we felt very appreciated. Another thing that was great about Sunday was that the party didn’t end right after the event. A dozen or so of us walked down the street to Hackney’s for lunch (and killer Bloody Marys) where we received VIP treatment. Thanks Caitlin, Colleen and Pat!
So much solace for one day!
BTW, the wood engraving is “Golden Head by Golden Head” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Christina’s brother) and was done in 1862. It is an illustration for Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Other Poems. The scanned image and text by George P. Landow can be found on The Victorian Web.