The Return Message

Summer Reading Lists - Didi Jackson

Poetry & Pie happened nearly a week ago and we're still riding on the high of the day. It was pretty much perfect. So perfect that we're reluctant to let the feeling go. Fortunately, we can read the poets' poems in their books and online, and we can take their advice about what beautiful things they are reading this summer.

Below is a summer reading list that Didi Jackson generously shared with us. We love her selections. Thank you, Didi, for everything!


I’ve been traveling a lot this summer, so what I am reading has been picked up along my two-month journey away from my home in Vermont.


Us, by Zaffar Kunial

I heard Zaffar read at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in England. Us, his most recent collection of poems, addresses the urgency of personal identity and the complexity of Zaffar growing up with an English mother and Lahore-based, Kashmiri father. My favorite poem, “Sparkhill,” details a school yard fight but ends with the act of writing:

Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.

They’d begun to chant before we’d started. And started was the word.
He’s gonna start on you. After school. Over there. In Sparkhill Park.

And I look past my knuckles, at it — it, the black, up-tilted

keyboard, and on that back-      lit slope, these central blocks-
F — G — H . . . And I start      to type: Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.

Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction, edited by Judith Kitchen and Dinah Lenney

This collection is a fabulous gathering of voices in very short essays on various topics. For someone who is on the go this summer, I love that I am able to dip in and out of this collection as I please. The essays range from memoir to reflection, and each feels like a little gem or succulent morsel to savor. Because of the topic I am especially interested in, I immediately turned to Julian Barnes’ essay titled “Grief.”  It is probably no more than 200 words, yet I found myself needing to pause and steady my mind (and catch my breath and wipe away the tears) after every few lines. Another favorite is Dinah Lenney’s essay “Future Imperfect” about her stepfather’s death, memory, imagination, and the element of time in memoir.


The Return Message, by Tessa Rumsey

I picked up Tessa Rumsey’s collection of poems while at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, on a road trip with my son. They then became the backdrop to the train ride we took on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. The length of her lines and the density of her poems initially intrigued me visually and, in a way, mirrored my journey by train. But once beyond the visual appeal, even better are the dialogues or (better yet) translations that occur from poem to poem. Rumsey’s poems are lush with language and image, and I fell in love with lines like this one from her poem titled “New World Cloud Forest:” “The question attached to his colonial cage: could you, like Audubon, kill your subjects. / To study them?”