What a delightful book of poetry to close out National Poetry Month! I think I enjoy Atwood's poetry even more than her fiction. The writing is beauti...moreWhat a delightful book of poetry to close out National Poetry Month! I think I enjoy Atwood's poetry even more than her fiction. The writing is beautiful, and there is a definite "voice" behind the poems - passionate, thoughtful, observant. I especially like the poem "Dutiful."(less)
If you are celebrating National Poetry Month, this is definitely a book to read. Dark poetry that brings you to the edge of the abyss of illusory huma...moreIf you are celebrating National Poetry Month, this is definitely a book to read. Dark poetry that brings you to the edge of the abyss of illusory human existence.(less)
I read this in conjunction with "Slaughterhouse Five," which was interesting, because she has a chapter that reflects on the horrors of war - " . . ....moreI read this in conjunction with "Slaughterhouse Five," which was interesting, because she has a chapter that reflects on the horrors of war - " . . . too much has happened that was not supposed to happen . . ." My favorite poem is "Conversation with a Rock."(less)
Strike Sparks, a collection of poems from a vast body of work by Sharon Olds, reads like an autobiography - a poetic scrapbook of images, memories and...moreStrike Sparks, a collection of poems from a vast body of work by Sharon Olds, reads like an autobiography - a poetic scrapbook of images, memories and experiences, some so intense that the reader is haunted by a scene as if it had come to life on a screen instead of via the written word.
The New York Times has said, "Her work has a robust sensuality, a delight in the physical that is almost Whitmanesque. She has made the minutiae of a woman's everyday life as valid a subject for poetry as the grand abstract themes that have preoccupied other poets."
I would add the words brutal and despairing to her concept of sensuality. Explicit sex, rape and incest are themes throughout her poems, and Olds is obsessed with the body, either its insatiable desire to connect with other bodies sexually or its ultimate fragility, poignantly expressed in all of the poems about her father and his death in the collection The Father.
"Where Will Love Go?" from the collection Blood, Tin, Straw reflects these preoccupations:
Where will love go? When my father died, and my love could no longer shine on the oily, drink-contused slopes of his skin, then my love for him lived inside me, and lived wherever the fog they made of him coiled like a spirit. And when I die my love for him will live in my vapor and live in my children, some of it still rubbed into the grain of the desk my father left me and in the oxblood pores of the leather chair which he sat in . . . [it continues] . . . Even when the children have died, our love will live in their children and still be here in the arm of the chair, locked in it, like the secret structure of matter,
but what if we ruin everything, the earth burning like a human body, storms of soot wreathing it in permanent winter? Where will love go? [it continues]
Because I am on the eve of becoming an empty-nester, the poems I most enjoyed were ones about motherhood - the conflicting feelings and fears that arise while raising one's children. "The Summer Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb" is an insightful expression of a near-universal societal experience of sending one's child off for the first time. And the poem that introduced me to Olds is about her daughter; since it is my personal favorite, here it is in its entirety:
"First Thanksgiving" When she comes back, from college, I will see the skin of her upper arms, cool, matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old soupy chest against her breasts, I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment, her sleep like an untamed, good object, like a soul in a body. She came into my life the second great arrival, fresh from the other world - which lay, from within him, within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep, week after week, the moon rising, and setting, and waxing - whirling, over the months, in a steady blur, around our planet. Now she doesn't need love like that, she has had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk, and then, when she's fast asleep, I'll exult to have her in that room again, behind that door! As a child, I caught bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds, looked into their wild faces, listened to them sing, then tossed them back into the air - I remember the moment the arc of my toss swerved, and they entered the corrected curve of their departure."
Olds poetry is not for the faint of heart. Many of her images are brutally explicit, and she has no problem comparing giving a blowjob to explorers discovering a lost city ("The Sisters of Sexual Treasure"). If you are willing to venture into her personal, vast forest of the human shadow, you will emerge scathed but possibly more sentient.
Nine Horses is a collection of poetry for those of us who have attained some of the patience and wisdom that come with middle age. "We must always loo...moreNine Horses is a collection of poetry for those of us who have attained some of the patience and wisdom that come with middle age. "We must always look at things from the point of view of eternity," he says in "Velocity," and the book is a celebration of the subtlety of life, the beauty in inanimate objects we normally take for granted and those moments in time absent of the drama humans seem to crave - romance, riches, the thrill of victory.
If the poet were younger, Collins admits, "I might be thinking about something I heard at a party, about an unusual car, or the press of Saturday night;" instead, he stands on the lawn to observe a bird leaving its nest, tall white flowers and "the moon, looking like the top of Shakespeare's famous forehead." Or stands "at the bathroom sink, gazing down affectionately at the soap, so patient and soluble, so at home in its pale green soap dish."
Even exotic places, like Paris and Istanbul, become reflections on the mundane - the ivy clinging to cinder blocks, blue metal table and a rusted chair in his Parisian hotel, where the poet lies "in the warm soapy water wondering what shirt I would put on that day." There is a spirituality to these activities and musings, though - a Turkish bath inspiring such gratitude and awe that the poet "rode out on a boat of joy, a blue boat of marble and soap," the boat bearing his "clean, blessed body out to sea."
One of my favorite poems - and what I view to be the synthesis of the various themes Collins is exploring in this work - is "The Parade," a metaphor for the endless stream of humanity "moving in perfect sync, yet each lost in the room of a private dream."
It continues: "How stimulating the scenery of the world, the rows of roadside trees, the huge blue sheet of the sky.
How endless it seemed until we veered off the broad turnpike into a pasture of high grass, heading toward the dizzying cliffs of mortality
Generation after generation, we shoulder forward under the play of clouds until we high-step off the sharp lip into space.
So I should not have to remind you that little time is given here to rest on a wayside bench, to stop and bend to the wildflowers, or to study a bird on a branch -
not when the young keep shoving from behind, not when the old are tugging us forward, pulling on our arms with all their feeble strength." (less)
A few poems withstanding, I really struggled to connect with Phillip Booth. Lifelines is a collection of selected poems from his published works spann...moreA few poems withstanding, I really struggled to connect with Phillip Booth. Lifelines is a collection of selected poems from his published works spanning almost 50 years - 1950 thru 1999. I enjoyed the poetry of his later works - Selves, Pairs and Lifelines - the most.
Booth was a student of Robert Frost, and like Frost, draws upon his experience of daily living (for him, in Maine) and interacting with people and nature - boating, hunting, winters, the coastline. But reading him, I rarely grasped either the nature he saw or what he was trying to express, his words seemingly as remote as the state in which he lives.
That said, here is a poem that greatly touched me called "Garden" from his book, Selves:
I enjoyed this book of poetry though I am curious to read a different translation and will soon embark on his collected works by a different translato...moreI enjoyed this book of poetry though I am curious to read a different translation and will soon embark on his collected works by a different translator. Transtromer's poetry is especially perfect for this time of year - late fall into winter. I liked this line from the poem "The Half-Finished Heaven" - "The lake is a window into the earth." A number of other poems stood out for me, including "About History" (especially Section V), "Solitude," "Preludes," "The Name," "The Scattered Congregation" (excellent), "December Evening '72," "Start of a Late Autumn Novel" (also excellent) and "Schubertiana." Some of the more enjoyable pieces were written in prose format. Here is the one that spoke to me the most: "From March '79" - "Being tired of people who come with words, but no speech, I made my way to the snow-covered island. The wild does not have words. The pages free of handwriting stretched out on all sides! I come upon the tracks of reindeer in the snow. Speech but no words."(less)
Unexpected is the word that comes top of mind when trying to describe this collection of prose poetry by Charles Simic, who received the Pulitzer Priz...moreUnexpected is the word that comes top of mind when trying to describe this collection of prose poetry by Charles Simic, who received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for The World Doesn't End. For me, reading these poems was akin to walking through an exhibit of surrealist art.
"You never know what Charles Simic is up to until you reach the end of the line or bottom of a paragraph. Waiting for you might be a kiss. Or a bludgeon. A smile at the absurdities of society or a wistful, grim memory of World War II . . . He puns, pull pranks." (From the book jacket)
There is no way to really describe his prose poems; one simply must experience them. Here are a few that stood out for me:
.....Ghost stories written as algebraic equations. Little Emily at the blackboard is very frightened. The X's look like a graveyard at night. The teacher wants her to poke among them with a piece of chalk. All the children hold their breath. The white chalk squeaks once among the plus and minus signs, and then it's quiet again.
.....Things were not as black as somebody painted them. There was a pretty child dressed in black and playing with two black apples. It was either a girl dressed as a boy, or a boy dressed as a girl. What- ever, it had small white teeth. The landscape outside its window had been blackened with a heavy and coarse paint brush. It was all very telelogical, except when the child stuck out its red tongue.
Simic's collection is not one to be read once but returned to again and again - the humor and insight more apparent with each encounter. I enjoyed this adventure through his looking glass and will definitely read additional works by him. (less)
I enjoyed this collection of poems, published in 1997, far more than I did Bly's 1967 National Book Award winner, The Light Around the Body. Then agai...moreI enjoyed this collection of poems, published in 1997, far more than I did Bly's 1967 National Book Award winner, The Light Around the Body. Then again, I am older now and have, myself, lost interest in the world's politics and endless drama. There is nothing political about Morning Poems, a collection of retrospective and introspective pieces written by an aging man and poet coming to terms with his past and facing death.
The collection was a bit hard to get into, but I encourage the reader to stick with it. The imagery and themes are subtle but powerful. The voice - the poems - grow on you. Morning Poems is organized into six sections, and I especially enjoyed Section IV, which explored the art of being a poet and then, in "A Week of Poems at Bennington," proceeded to slam poet Wallace Stevens. (Perhaps slam is not the right word ... debate? counter? artfully disagree? Stevens described the notion of God as "Supreme Fiction" - small comfort to one facing old age and death.) Here is one of these Bennington poems:
One man I know keeps saying that we don't need Heaven. He thinks embroidered Russian Wedding blouses will take the place of angels; And windy nights when the crows fly up in front Of your car will replace all the Psalmists.
He wants us to dance high-hearted, like the bacchae, Even if it's a waltz. It's a little awkward; But if you practice, he says, you can do it. The hard thing is to try to figure out how To say good-bye--even just going to the grocery.
Another great poem in Section I:
WHY WE DON'T DIE
In late September many voices Tell you you will die. That leaf say it. That coolness. All of them are right.
Our many souls -- what Can they do about it? Nothing. They're already Part of the invisible.
Our souls have been Longing to go home Anyway. "It's late," they say. "Lock the door. Let's go."
The body doesn't agree. It says, "We buried a little iron Ball under that tree. Let's go get it."