Harlem Renaissance! Jazz! Blues! Snap fingers and say yeah!
It's not that this collection is bad, just sprawling. There is no reason why anyone needs t...moreHarlem Renaissance! Jazz! Blues! Snap fingers and say yeah!
It's not that this collection is bad, just sprawling. There is no reason why anyone needs to read ALL of these poems. A great number of them are not poetic, i.e. you won't walk away from them thinking "What an interesting allusion! I'm pleasantly miffed! What was that about? I'll have to do some thinking . . ." Instead, you'll go: "Oh, another alternating rhyme scheme. Neat. Oh. It's only eight lines long. How jazzy. I guess."
Repeat after me: I will not be swayed by college professors. I will not take their word for it. I will think for myself and accept that all art is perishable. I will access whether this has any artistic—and not social or political—value first, and then proceed from there. It is alright to criticize the classics. It is alright to break with tradition and decide not to teach this author in the same manner as professors before me.
Also, it is obvious that people have been pigeonholing Mr. Hughes into this Harlem Renaissance scene because it is convenient. What about the nuances of his upbringings? Why is his childhood in the south (where he would have been first exposed to the blues form) ultimately ignored?
Anyhow, I'm not arguing that he shouldn't be in the canon. He has some great poems. Just keep in mind that even the Immortal Bard doesn't have 620 pages of amazing poetry. I don't see why Langston Hughes would either.(less)
It's always interesting to see what Snyder is doing, and so I picked this collection up at the library. None of his classics are compiled here, and ye...moreIt's always interesting to see what Snyder is doing, and so I picked this collection up at the library. None of his classics are compiled here, and yet, I found it to be a fairly enjoyable read. These poems are sometimes difficult to decipher but are intoned honestly enough, and reflect the shortcomings (and long-goings) of the whole beatnik countercultural scene. Thankfully, Snyder was on the frayed edges of that scene, and, as a result, can often rise above the ridiculously antiquated 50's colloquialisms that other authors of his era brandish so brazenly.
There is however a good bit of unreadable poetry, too. It is playful and even the bad poems display exceptional use of enjambment, but I am (understandably?) skeptical as to the value of lines such as: "Two women masturbate a corpse" or "The Fox-girls switch from/ human to fox-form/ right during the party!/ one man/ who was doing cunnilingus on his friend,/ now finds a mouth/ of fur" ("Fear Not," 142). I think this sometimes-shittiness is most prominent in the longer poems—especially "Vulture Peak," which is strange and probably was written while stoned. Or it seems that way due to its 'zany' scatter-brained jabbering, i.e. "A badger gave me visions/ A whale made me pure." What? On a surface level, its inconsistent use of punctuation makes it look sloppy, and its grammatical errors make it sound sloppy. Ultimately though, this poem reads like an excerpt of Kerouac's Some of the Dharma: a slipshod, slapdash, frenzied plenty of nonsense!
What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that these poems are not awful; they are travel poems and experimentals, mood poems and pseudo-haikus. They span such a long stretch of time that they lack a real consistency with each other, and while it's true, they are set to a backdrop of Eastern thought, they often are caught in the lonely ruggedness of the Western United States. I would consider reading this again a year from now.
Recommended: "Numerous Broken Eggs" (36), "Geological Meditation" (43), "For Alan Watts" (123), "For Berkeley" (158), "The Forest Fire at Ananda" (165)(less)
This collection is poorly written in a number of important ways. First, Your Native Land, Your Life refuses to follow any patterns on the page. There...moreThis collection is poorly written in a number of important ways. First, Your Native Land, Your Life refuses to follow any patterns on the page. There is no logic to the enjambment, the spacing and punctuation is inconsistent (even within the same poem), and Rich's use of italics lacks purpose or subtlety.
As far as music, it comes and goes. I only give this collection two stars because of a few brief moments where Rich temporarily goes outside of her boring, unpoetic, and vaguely political filibusters. Naturally, there is some spill over of subject matter in a work with two longer "poems" (each of which have over 20 numbered sections—in both Roman numerals and standard European digits), and this gives these pieces a bit of aural repetition. Unfortunately, the words and phrases that are repeated are not interesting or particularly pleasing to hear. How many times can you say diaspora in one book?!
And lastly, I have to call into question the actual quality of ideas in this book. It's almost as if we're getting a sort of Adrienne-Rich-by-numbers here. Sure she talks about being Jewish. Being a woman. Being a lesbian. Being afraid of the government. She'll use epigraphs (sometimes two) and throw around notions of slavery, the Holocaust, America, rape . . . But the only place where she really shines is in the last section of the book—and only sometimes. At least there, Rich relates a personal experience and not just denatured political detritus; she talks about her arthritis, about aging.
I'm not happy that I didn't enjoy this collection. I am a fan of hers, and I know there is a gifted mind at work, but I'd rather stand by the things that are important in poetry to me. Without any sense of playfulness or inventiveness in the language, why am I reading? Without proposing any innovative ideas or making anything beautiful with meaning, how is this poetry? It's not.(less)
I really enjoyed this collection of poetry. Kay Ryan is wonderfully inventive with language and is at least as interested in the sound of things, whic...moreI really enjoyed this collection of poetry. Kay Ryan is wonderfully inventive with language and is at least as interested in the sound of things, which I find refreshing. While a lesser poet would jam-pack their work full of intriguing noise—albeit noise bereft of all meaning—Ryan's poems do not suffer from this kind of playfulness-run-rampant. Instead, she casts and recasts her words carefully (like all good poets), crafting pieces that are bountiful in ideas and alive with the music that frames them. Even if some of Ryan's subjects are not pleasant (sickness, death, and impermanence to name a few), she writes with considerable intelligence and good humor, trying resolutely to turn poetry from a solemn and somber practice to something worth reciting. If this sentiment was more popular, perhaps we'd hear poetry some place other than in a darkened room in the bowels of academia or at a funeral.(less)
There are a couple poems which really seem to work—especially through Alexander's ability to set a fully-realized scene with a tiny palmful of words....moreThere are a couple poems which really seem to work—especially through Alexander's ability to set a fully-realized scene with a tiny palmful of words. Unfortunately, this brevity isn't always such a blessing; sometimes it makes the poems feel like they're rough drafts, full of initial bursts of inspiration but also full of perplexing movements and endings. Her poems use words sparingly though they hardly feel like they've been shorn down by multiple revisions. And then there are Alexander's constant references to pop-culture icons . . . For what purpose, I can only guess.
In all, I feel it's too dreamy, too meandering. This is the kind of flapdoodle hodgepodge that people always rave about being "pure music in the key of motherhood" or "jazz-induced meditations on the politics of the body," etc. etc. But it's just not as ground-breaking or radical as people would have you believe. Not as aurally playful either.
For instance, here's an entire goddamn poem:
Make soup from this:
Shrimp shells for stock, yams, mushrooms (portobello), cilantro to taste.(less)
Originally, I read one of Lucia Perillo's short stories, "Bad Boy Number Seventeen," and was amazed by how she could turn a joke beyond just being fun...moreOriginally, I read one of Lucia Perillo's short stories, "Bad Boy Number Seventeen," and was amazed by how she could turn a joke beyond just being funny. Without diminishing the honesty of the joke, she found a way to frame her humor within the context of a larger sense of tragedy—ultimately, entrenching us in a character's pain while simultaneously showing us how they cope with that pain. In Luck Is Luck, Perillo continues exploring this territory, bringing a sort of double-edged hilarity into musings and reflections on anything from daily happenstance to religion to the death of her father. These are by no means little pfffts (like the farting of aphids). They're really quite moving.
Furthermore, these poems are refreshing, and that's important. Above all of the technical aspects—her superb use of semicolons, parenthesis, italics, line breaks, etc.—Perillo's poetry is honest and direct. She never reaches for a banal image; each one is a paragon of clarity (a peach!) and this helps lock the reader into her history, her environment, her thinking. And with a conversational diction, she still somehow manages to discuss complicated matters! She isn't afraid to examine issues of gender, humanity's role in the beautiful but brutal natural world, or our need to "risk delight" (as Jack Gilbert would say). Simply amazing work. I could go on.
Favorites: "The Floating Rib" (18), "Nathan's" (24), "White Bird/Black Drop" (29), "Urban Legend" (65), "Eulogy from the Boardwalk Behind the KFC" (89), and "Chum" (97).(less)