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KAPOW! celebrating ten years at Powells.com
KAPOW! Decade of Reading essay contest
What was your most memorable reading experience of the last ten years?

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Powells.com, we're asking readers worldwide to describe their most memorable reading experience of the past ten years. To get you started, a few well-known writers and Powell's employees have already taken the question for a spin. Here is one of their answers.
The Turkish Lover

The Turkish Lover
by Esmeralda Santiago

"The deftly understated saga...will grow on readers. [Santiago's] slow self-realization is deeply human." Publishers Weekly
 
Your Price: $2.50
(Used - Hardcover)

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When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican
by Esmeralda Santiago

"A poignant look at a girl's coming of age and taking control of her own destiny, Santiago's story reflects that of Puerto Rico: to be a part of the United States, yet distinct and somehow detached." Library Journal
 
Your Price: $4.50
(Used - Trade Paper)

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Almost a Woman

Almost a Woman
by Esmeralda Santiago

"Forced to lose her Puerto Rican accent to widen her acting range, Santiago never lost her connection to Mami, her family and her heritage, and her love for them all shines through this engaging memoir." Publishers Weekly
 
Your Price: $5.50
(Used - Trade Paper)

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Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics)

Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics)
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

List Price $17.00
Your Price: $5.50
(Used - Trade Paper)

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Esmeralda Santiago Marvels at Hopkins's Mastery

It was the end of a long day running after my young children. Baths taken, stories read, foreheads kissed, monsters banished, they had finally fallen asleep clutching their raggedy, much-loved stuffed animals. My husband and I had settled on our sides of the bed, under our personal reading lamps, he with a novel and I with The Norton Anthology of Poetry.

I have never fixed a moment of literary discovery so clearly in my mind. It was early spring but unusually warm. The windows were open. The slider to the deck of our rented house gave out to a narrow lawn and beyond it, overgrown woods. A bosky smell wafted into the room in waves pushed by a quiet breeze that proved winter was not quite over. Frank closed the sliding door, and I settled back against the pillows, my legs under the down comforter I would not relinquish until the temperature was consistently over seventy degrees.

Poet Brooks Haxton was then a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, and I was a student in his prosody course. We were learning how to read, and hopefully someday write, sonnets. For the next class he had assigned "The Windhover" by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

By the time my eyes reached "a wimpling wing" I had to take in air because I had expelled it all in one sharp sigh of wonder. How does anyone have the courage to use language this way? How is it possible that a poem, dedicated "To Christ Our Lord" made me tingle the same way I had the first time I was touched by an unfamiliar, urgent hand?

I was a novice writer when I first read "The Windhover." After thirty-five years of speaking English I still asked myself if I knew enough of it to fill a whole book. Gerard Manley Hopkins's sonnet was a revelation of what language could do, how language was more than words, more than grammatically coherent phrases and sentences.

Over the next few years I read everything I could find about Hopkins, including encyclopedia entries. I bought a copy of The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Fourth Revision, Revised and Enlarged, Oxford) and the excellent biography by Robert Bernard Martin (Putnam). Whenever I had a few hours, I sat at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, poring over The Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Norman H. MacKenzie (Oxford), wishing I could afford to spend $175 for a book.

The more I read about Hopkins, the wider the gap between his life and experience and mine seemed to get. And yet, I could not read a line of his without feeling a peculiar sense of recognition, as if it were I who had written those words, or at least, had thought them.

We are leafwhelmed somewhere with the hood
Of some branchy bunchy bushybowered wood

— "Epithalamion"

Wasn't that the way I felt on my walks through the nature preserve near my home?

Suspicious of rhyme, I savor lines that from a lesser hand would have been trite, and chew on them as if they were candy:

The vex'd elm-heads are pale with the view
Of a mastering heaven utterly blue;
Swoll'n is the wind that in argent billows
Rolls across the labouring willows;

— "A Windy Day in Summer"

His descriptions of nature are so startling, that I am forced to open my eyes wider. I look at willows and see their silvery glow and ask myself why, until that stanza, they had always been merely green.

All these many years later, my children grown, six books with my name on them, I keep the now dog-eared and marked up Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins on my desk, where I can reach it at any time and open to a random page and read. No matter how often I read the same poem ("Carrion Comfort" is a favorite), I am renewed as a writer, amazed, inspired. And every time I marvel at "–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!"

About Esmeralda Santiago
Esmeralda Santiago lives in Westchester County, New York. Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to Brooklyn with her ten siblings and unmarried mother, who supported them all. Her amazing life is chronicled in her memoirs, one volume of which, Almost a Woman, was made into a film for PBS's Masterpiece Theater.

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