I found this anthology soured by a rambling and vituperative introduction by the volume editor, Harold Bloom, who refused to include any poems at allI found this anthology soured by a rambling and vituperative introduction by the volume editor, Harold Bloom, who refused to include any poems at all from the 1996 edition, calling it a "monumental representation of the enemies of the aesthetic," and then setting off on a ranting defense of the canon.
The 1996 edition, edited by Adrienne Rich, was blatantly political and a lot of the poems, read as I read them, a couple of decades after the fact, seemed highly forgettable to me. Nor am I one of those who dismisses Bloom as a pettifogging old white man, though he was doing a good imitation of one here.
I just thought he was particularly ungracious and unfair and I thought shame on him.
Nor did I find his "Best of the Best" any more memorable than Rich's 1996 volume. Flipping back through to see what poems I'd marked, I find one by Richard Wilbur and one by James Merrill.
The best of the poets in the 96 volume, according to Bloom, had done "better work elsewhere" and I fear the same is true for many of the poets in The Best of the Best.
It's all old news, I know. If this volume caused any kind of stir at the time, I was too busy raising teen-agers to notice it.
What I did enjoy in this volume was the series of excerpts from the introductions written by the editors of the first ten volumes....more
Maureen O'Donnell makes V. I. Warshawski look like a wimp maybe because she's a real woman who pays a real price for her confrontations with the bad gMaureen O'Donnell makes V. I. Warshawski look like a wimp maybe because she's a real woman who pays a real price for her confrontations with the bad guys. Plus it's Scotland, so nobody goes around brandishing huge firearms. A lot of damage can be done without benefit of automatics....more
Like the reds and yellows on its cover, the poems in The Lost Animals come from the hot end of the spectrum. Like the animals of the title, the poemsLike the reds and yellows on its cover, the poems in The Lost Animals come from the hot end of the spectrum. Like the animals of the title, the poems speak to the visceral. Those lost animals, the indricotherium, the dire wolf, the saber-toothed tiger, remain
. . . somewhere in us, wrapped in a molecule
like a thread twisted in a galaxy behind a cell . . .
They’re there in the lover’s hair
. . . tumbling red as a volcanic sky
Cazden is a poet of the senses who finds the erotic even in composting
The worms rock in the empty bin and the mites swarm like tiny stars
in an upturned planetarium whose sky drips and stains your wet, dark hands.
Such images are just an eggshell's width from being way too much. Cazden pushes metaphor to its limits, and for the most part he succeeds.
The book opens with vultures that “trace ellipses” on the air “with the compasses of wings” and ends with a dog watching “squirrels spinning in circles / through a choir of sunflowers.” In between are poems of loss, both personal (family members, lovers) and public (from a plane crash to the holocaust), poems of love longing, and poems of quiet domesticity, of dogs and cats, flowering pears and night-flowering nicotiana, gardening and cooking. These poems see through a bird drowned in a storm sewer to a lost baby and linger on a woman's hand washing dishes.
My favorite has long been “Afterglow,” a poem of cooking as foreplay:
We’re just learning
to cook, how to rub herbs the right way
so their essence lingers in the sauté steam,
. . .
Garlic clings to our fingertips
onion wisps in our hair.
We’re ready for the bread and milk, flour and egg. Dessert
is the cinnamon and clove of our skin.
Full disclosure – I’m acknowledged in this book and I watched some of these poems in the making. But I’m not sure I completely believe that the judgment of a stranger is necessarily more accurate than that of a friend. The Lost Animals is, at its best, a book of lush language that will surprise and delight you and cause you to see you back yard as you’ve never seen it before.
This book also has the advantage of being small (7 x 5) so that it fits easily into a purse or a pocket. ...more
The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher is invincible, insatiable, and incredible.
She's also a clothes horse.
She associates with Wobblies, prostitutes, and pThe Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher is invincible, insatiable, and incredible.
She's also a clothes horse.
She associates with Wobblies, prostitutes, and policemen as well as the aristocracy in 1920s Melbourne.
She drives a Hispano-Suiza and flies a de Havilland Moth.
Her most favored lover is a suave Chinese clan leader.
She lives life with panache. With, in fact, a different panache for every occasion. She wears them in her straight black hair.
Kerry Greenwood is akin to Terry Pratchett in her wit, though not quite as frenetic. A character named Jack Mason has a father who is a famous lawyer. At a weekend house party Phryne meets a little old lady who knits and is more than she seems. Her companion Dot is as essential as Peter Wimsey's Bunter.
In fact, she could be described as a female Australian Peter Wimsey.
These books are bonbons, so well and so charmingly written that I keep reading just one more....more
In her introduction to the 1996 edition of The Best American Poetry, Adrienne Rich said:
Given the extreme racialization of our social and imaginative
In her introduction to the 1996 edition of The Best American Poetry, Adrienne Rich said:
Given the extreme racialization of our social and imaginative life, it’s a peculiar kind of alienation that presumes race and racism (always linked to power) will haunt poets of “color” only. Like riches and poverty, like anti-Semitism, whiteness and color have a mythic life that uncontrollably infiltrates poetic language even when unnamed . . . The assumptions behind "white" identity in a violently racialized society have their repercussions on poetry, on metaphor, on the civil life in which . . . all art is rooted.
It is from/of/about that mythic interface of whiteness and color that Natasha Trethewey writes her poetry. Trethewey is a poet immersed in history. If, as Charles Simic said in his intro to the 1992 BAP, “Lyric poets . . . assert the individual’s experience against that of the tribe,” Trethewey’s work is grounded in the place where tribal history intersects the personal. In Native Guard, she examines history and her relationship to her African-American mother and in Thrall, she turns to her relationship with her white father.
She does this largely through the use of ekphrasis, a technique she used very successfully in Belloq’s Ophelia. Ophelia centered on photography, and Thrall uses 18th and 19th century paintings that depict the white patriarchy in relation with the colored races. She gives special attention to a series of 18th century Mexican casta paintings, a genre I didn’t know existed until I read this book.
A long poem called “Taxonomy,” examines a group of casta paintings by Juan Rodriguez Juarez from The Book of Castas. With titles like “De Espanol Y de India Produce Mestiso,” the paintings depict an elaborate racial caste system in which the father (always the Spaniard of course) moves further and further from the mixed-race child. Interspersed with the ekphrastic poems are a series of poems about her increasingly distant father. Her father is also a poet.
The words “thrall” and “enthrall” recur over and over in this book. “Thrall” means not just to be held in bondage but also to be morally or mentally enslaved. The title poem “Thrall,” is spoken in the persona of Juan de Pareja, a slave to the 17th century artist Diego Velazquez. Pareja was manumitted in 1650 and was himself an artist. The poem begins “He was not my father / though he might have been / I came to him / the mulatto son / of a slave woman / just that / as if it took only my mother / to make me / a mulatto / meaning / any white man / could be my father.”
In Thrall, Trethewey has given up her boxy sonnets for a dancing open free verse form very difficult to reproduce. This change in form, however, does not entail a change in tone. Linda Gregerson calls these "poems of exquisite tact." I'm not sure tact is something a poet strives to achieve, but there is a gentleness to the way Trethewey tells ugly truths.
I would say, without any authority whatsoever for saying so, that Trethewey’s prosody owes more to the Western canon than to the bluesy rap-like spoken word roots of a poet like Patricia Smith. Nevertheless, I wouldn't say Trethewey pulls her punches.
Thrall is book-ended by poems in which Trethewey goes fishing with her father – “the almost caught taunting our lines.” Fishing is an activity of such symbolic resonance that I won’t make any attempt to reduce them to specifics, except that the daughter seems to be protective of and longing toward the father.
a glimpse of the unattainable—happiness I would give my father if I could’
To give up the house where you grew up, to clear out its rooms and its memories, to give its rooms to strangers, this loss in my experience leaves youTo give up the house where you grew up, to clear out its rooms and its memories, to give its rooms to strangers, this loss in my experience leaves you homeless like no other, even the death of your parents (though the two losses are of a piece). Even when you're over 60 years old and haven't lived in the house for decades.
I have lost the house where I grew up, where I was born, and I have stood by as a number of my friends have experienced that loss. We have reached that age.
Many-Storied House is a book-length elegy to the house where George Ella Lyon grew up. From the front door to the upstairs bedroom, these poems show us the house and the experiences that shaped the poet George Ella Lyon. Each room has its story.
The book has its nostalgia, its moments of sentiment, but it is not sentimental. Some of the memories are dark: Illness, pleas for protection unheeded. Childhood, even a happy childhood has it darknesses.
I need not say that the craftsmanship is superb, the compassion of these poems large.
The book ends with a reunion and a consolation. In "Welcome," the poet opens "the door behind my eyes" and is reunited with father and house in a place outside of time.
In the hands of another writer, such a scene might seem pure schlock, but George Ella lives life so vividly that I, for one, believe the door behind her eyes is really there....more
I found it a striking coincidence that, while I was reading Wordsworth's "The Prelude," a work I've avoided for decades, I also happened upon Molly PeI found it a striking coincidence that, while I was reading Wordsworth's "The Prelude," a work I've avoided for decades, I also happened upon Molly Peacock's The Paper Garden, a poetic biography of Mary Delaney. Both works are about the life influences that formed an artist but the contrast is striking.
I realize that it isn't completely fair to compare the two lives. When Wordsworth was born, Mary Delaney was 70 years old and those 7 decades made a difference. Class must also be taken into account. Mrs. Delaney was minor nobility. Wordsworth's family was professional class (lawyers and clergymen etc.)
When Mrs. Delaney became Mrs. Delaney by marrying an Irish clergyman (her second marriage), her brother was so miffed he refused to let her attend his deathbed.
All that said, I found it striking that while Wordsworth tells us he spent his childhood running free on the mountains of the Lake District, Mrs. Delaney spent hers under strict tutelage, learning the proper way to curtsey and comport herself at court, all independence squelched.
At 16 she was sold into marriage to a 60-year-old drunken Lord, and though the whole marriage was a nightmare for her, she made never a peep of protest because that was the way it was for women in her time, in her class.
As it happened, Mrs. Delaney's story had what was for her a happy ending. She found her paper flower art at 72 and died the pampered favorite of George III and his queen.
Wordsworth, of course, would not have aspired to such, although he did repudiate the French Revolution after it went sour.
And while women are much more free now than in either the 18th or the 19th century, I still think there's a significant difference in the way life leads men and women to be poets. Contrast, just for example, Molly Peacock's own life with that of John Ashbery.
Molly Peacock's book describes what her research into Mrs. Delaney's life taught her about her own life and art, making the book a fascinating hybrid of biography and autobiography.
A couple of passages I highlighted:
"poetry exists against time"
"You don't get to choose the members of your biological family but . . . [y]our chosen literary family can extend over thousands of years and beyond the borders of empires . . . sharing the mitochondria of imagination."
Mrs. Delaney was not a poet but I think Molly Peacock would not dispute that with her, too, she shared the mitochondria of imagination....more