I'm presuming that like myself most casual fans of Moore are generally unaware of the issues surrounding the access and availability of this great Mod...moreI'm presuming that like myself most casual fans of Moore are generally unaware of the issues surrounding the access and availability of this great Modernist's poetry: a relentless and scrupulous revisor, Moore reworked and re-published many of her poems throughout her long life, and so any given poem, even her most famous, often have multiple versions. Which is all fine and good, and in the end, perhaps not all that unique of a situation either.
The major point of contention, however, is that in the majority of the time Moore wanted her latest revisions be considered the final expression of her authorial intention, and as such, the only major collection of her work continuously in print, Complete Poems, represent the last revisions she was able to complete before her death in 1972. The potential problem of this situation, however, is that her final revisions are often radically different than earlier versions—an anthology I used this last semester included both the 1921 and 1967 versions of "Poetry," the former a (beautiful and eloquent) 30 lines; the latter, however, is solely comprised of the first three lines of the 1921 version. And so a curious situation was created: one of Modernism's great poets was often read, judged and enjoyed not for the poems that made her famous in the 1920's and 30's, but for the poems as she "saw" them at the end of her life in the 60's and 70's.
Which might not be an issue for some, but if you wished to have a sense of Moore's poetry in historical context, the situation quickly becomes a labyrinthine nightmare—what if, say, you interpret a poem as a response to a 1920's event, and then come to find out later that the most important content supporting that reading wasn't actually part of the poem until some four decades after the fact? Not that it was easy to check if this was the case, for Moore's niece and literary executor held to her aunt's wishes and wouldn't allow for earlier editions of poems to be reprinted.
Enter Becoming Marianne Moore, meant to both honor Moore's final wishes and make her earlier versions and revisions widely available. Not the biography the title makes it sound like, this is instead a large collection of facsimile copies of Moore's early publications, and all scrupulously annotated and organized by its editor Robin G. Schulze. It's a wondrous, fascinating volume, to say nothing of its historical value. Problem is it's a big reference book instead of an accessible and readable collection—but hey, something is better than nothing, right? (less)
Along with Anne Carson, Kay Ryan has long been my favorite contemporary poet, so I was pleased to see her become our Poet Laureate a few years back, a...moreAlong with Anne Carson, Kay Ryan has long been my favorite contemporary poet, so I was pleased to see her become our Poet Laureate a few years back, and then delighted to attend a reading and lecture last year, which is where I picked up this collection. She signed it "for Jesse from the San Joaquin," as I had asked her where exactly she had grown up, and the location turned out to be as small and unknown as my own hometown (though only about 45 minutes apart, neither of us had heard of the other, something which is not surprising). As for now, we're both Central Valley expats settled in the Bay Area.
I've often seen Ryan's poems described as fine cut diamonds, and I won't bother trying to come up with a better description—each are remarkably compact (about the length of a typical stanza), constructed with a dazzling precision and conciseness, and sparkle endlessly with wit and insight. I revisit this often with much pleasure. (less)
Since I first stumbled across it several years ago, Johnson's A Metaphorical God: Poems has just about established itself as my favorite collection of...moreSince I first stumbled across it several years ago, Johnson's A Metaphorical God: Poems has just about established itself as my favorite collection of contemporary poetry; I was happy to discover this, which preceeded it, is nearly as good. Johnson works with topics—nature and rural living—that I generally don't respond to, and proceeds to channel it through a heavy dose of Milton and Biblical literature (another potential reason for pause), but she has the knack of the Metaphysicals—another obvious source of inspiration—of slyly upturning the familiar and in that moment of temporary chaos conjures up brief meditations and observations glistening with insight and wonder. Her ability to unexpectedly render anew the mystery and grandeur of the stars in a night sky, that musty old chestnut of Romantic poetry, is for me the highlight of both volumes.
"Beyond the treetops... stars. White fires, scar-white, white splinters in the palm of night. They heave and spin toward the western edge, toward the city haze."
Read a handful of Crapsey's elegantly distilled cinquins that felt lost among the endless pages of a large anthology and was immediately impressed and...moreRead a handful of Crapsey's elegantly distilled cinquins that felt lost among the endless pages of a large anthology and was immediately impressed and enamored—here was a poet who seemed to embody all of the qualities of Imagism without having any known knowledge or contact with H.D., Pound, Lowell, Aldington and others would make it one of the most recognizable poetic advances in 20th century poetry.
Turns out there are just over a two dozen cinquains in existence, for unfortunately Crapsey died of tuberculosis 1914 at the horrifyingly young age of 36. Her reputation rests solely on the clipped 5 line cinquain that she developed, which many have mistakenly assumed are based on the haiku, tanka and other forms found in traditional Japanese poetry, but are actually rooted in Crapsey's extensive work on English language prosody, particularly Keats. But the best of the cinquains still feel radically, innovatively modernist, which is why Crapsey has been characterized as an "unintentional Imagist," which might or might not do her unique poetic innovations justice.
My two personal favorites:
"Niagra Seen on a night in November"
How frail Above the bulk Of crashing water hangs, Autumnal, evanescent, wan, the Moon.
Listen.. With faint dry sound, Like steps of passing ghosts, The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees And fall.
Susan Sutton Smith has brought together all of the available material related to Crapsey, and tellingly, it all fits into a modest-sized volume. I only lightly perused the rest of the poetry, which is of the traditional late-Romantic sort that still lingered around after the turn of the century, but several excerpts I've read are lovely, so I do plan to return someday to give it a more thorough read. Smith's well-researched biography and critical assessments are also insightful and accessible.
A wonderful find, I just wish there was more. (less)
In the introduction of this collection of Ford's poems, an Edward B. Germain makes a grand pronouncement: "when he began publishing in 1929, Ford was...moreIn the introduction of this collection of Ford's poems, an Edward B. Germain makes a grand pronouncement: "when he began publishing in 1929, Ford was unique: America's surrealist poet. In retrospect, he is seminal." And yet he doesn't seem to have much a reputation these days (though, really, none of the American surrealists--with the possible exception of Joseph Cornell--managed to establish legacies on the level of their European counterparts), which is a shame, because he can be striking poet. Beginning as a self-made and self-conscious prodigy of sorts--he founded an important literary magazine after dropping out of high school--and a member of the European ex-pat community in the 30's and 40's, this collection spans Ford's entire body of poetry up to the early 1970's. It's a bit uneven (several late long poems dedicated to Edith Sitwell in particular are ponderous bores), and Ford works with rhyming much more than most of his contemporaries, but each poem holds at least a dazzling turn of phrase or two. At the very least. It's a shame more of his work isn't more widely available.
"What kind of poem would I like to write? One in which the images are new and yet fill one with pleasure, like a face that's strange but which we recognize with joy mixed with nostalgia."
Probably ideally read in the throes of great romantic passion (or even anguish), for what Michelangelo lacks in literary skill he makes up for with hi...moreProbably ideally read in the throes of great romantic passion (or even anguish), for what Michelangelo lacks in literary skill he makes up for with his great fervor in attempting to translate into the written word his capacity for the great extremes of emotional rapture. In a lot of ways a proto-John Donne as he embodies a lot of the baffling contradictions that great English poet has become so famous for: lusty sexual outpourings (for both boys and girls, and written up to his last days at nearly 90 years old), musings on how love inspires the soul to seek Heavenly perfection, more considered meditations on religion-inspired agony and ecstasy. I very much appreciated Nim's translations as they purposely errs on the side of forcefulness rather than the poetic delicacy of other translations I considered; also included are some of the most enlightening observations on the process of literary translation I've ever come across.
"Let the clock-hands end their circling; in accord sun cease his ancient roundabout endeavor, so I might have, certain-sure--though not procured by my own worth--my long desired sweet lord, in my unworthy but eager arms, forever."
Through most of this lovely collection I could never quite rid myself of the sensation that my mind was little more than a sieve, unable to grasp ahol...moreThrough most of this lovely collection I could never quite rid myself of the sensation that my mind was little more than a sieve, unable to grasp ahold of the overarching narratives presented in each poem...
But after a few poems I realized I was just fine with that, that I was perfectly content to submerge myself the music and lyricism and rhythm of Graham's lines and elegant cobwebs of phrases and words, content to stumble upon quiet pockets of transcendence...
...there is not mistake, the right minute falls harmlessly, intimate, overcrowded, without pro- venance--perhaps bursting with nostalgia but ripening so fast without growing at all..."