In a letter to Violet Dickenson dated January 4, 1920, Virginia Woolf writes:
I've just been told that Kitty Maxse thinks N. and D. the dullest book sh
...moreIn a letter to Violet Dickenson dated January 4, 1920, Virginia Woolf writes:
I've just been told that Kitty Maxse thinks N. and D. the dullest book she's' ever read; but then you know—my opinion of Kitty Maxse—I never succeeded with Kitty.
I must admit that for the first half of this book I tended to agree with Kitty. The characters just all seemed to dither on and on in their misery of intertwined love triangles. The book seemed sort of like Katherine Hillbury's mother, always writing odd pages of her grand biography but never quite getting down to it.
I set the book aside for several months and when I came back to it, I seemed to be reading a different novel. Things began to move, the characters took risks.
Though I thought Mary Datchett got dropped rather abruptly once Cassandra Ottway hit the scene. I know she had her new project and all but the questions she raised seemed a little swept under the rug. And so did she.
Though I suppose the final scene in which Denham stands outside her door weeping but unable to knock is realistic. But what is behind that closed door that the characters don't choose.
Mary's door is closed, Katherine's is opened in the last few pages. Is that a choice without a price?
In a letter to Janet Case dated January 5, 1920, Woolf says:
Night and Day continues its checkered career. "The dullest book in the world," Kitty Maxse. "A great novel—particularly in its psychology", Sir George Savage . . . but I don't know whether I think Kitty Maxse or Sir George Savage the worse judge of literature . . .
Neither do I.
It's a flawed book but fascinating in its flaws.
----- Quotes from The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Volume Two 1912-1922, ed Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautman. (Harcourt, Brace 1978)(less)
Poets seem to find sonnets irresistible. Every poet tries at least one. The irresistible volume Mary Meriam has assembled presents sonnets written 71...morePoets seem to find sonnets irresistible. Every poet tries at least one. The irresistible volume Mary Meriam has assembled presents sonnets written 71 poets from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States as well as poets who have ties to Finland, France, Japan, and Greece.
In these pages you'll find Italian sonnets, Shakespearian sonnets, and sonnets in a surprising variety of adaptations, including a ghazal sonnet, an acrostic sonnet, an Anglo-Saxon alliterative sonnet, free verse sonnets, an echo sonnet, sonnets with little skinny lines, a sonnet that uses lots of white space, funny sonnets, raunchy sonnets, and solemn sonnets.
The sonneteers are as well established as Marilyn Hacker, R. S. Gwynn, A. E. Stallings, and as obscure as I (that's my disclosure, my sonnet "Evening Song" is included). There is even an entry from the mysterious Noam D. Plume.
Some quotes from some of my particular favorites:
in the hall of the ruby-throated warbler
Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny sings the parsley up from the topsoil . . .
-- Rachael Briggs
Her email in-box always overflows. Her out-box doesn't get much use at all. She puts on hold the umpteen-billionth call . . .
-- R. S. Gwynn
Three Visitors on Christmas Eve
Mist on moonspill as midnight nears. Adrift but not dreaming our drowsy son is covered and kissed. . . .
-- A. M. Juster
A Coat, A Hat and a Gun
Down these mean streets a man must go who needs A lot of easy things he hasn't got,
-- John Whitworth
Irresistible Sonnets is an attractive volume, the font is nicely readable, and it is more than reasonably priced at $10.
With a new delight on every page, how can you go wrong?
In her cover blurb for this book, Lisa Cihlar says "Ruth Bavetta's poems are clever. But that's okay . . ."
And they are clever and it is okay. But I w...moreIn her cover blurb for this book, Lisa Cihlar says "Ruth Bavetta's poems are clever. But that's okay . . ."
And they are clever and it is okay. But I would use another term. I'd say the poems in Embers on the Stairs are irreverent.
There's Bavetta's take on breast cancer consultation, for example, in "The Oracles"
The first doctor has a fine head of white hair. He says the only cure is to cut it all off. . . .
The second doctor says . . . whichever I want. What I want is to run . . .
Doctor number three bounds into the room in purple pants and tennis shoes. . . .
The last doctor looks younger than my youngest son . . .
Or "Settling Accounts' that begins He has a mouth like a bankbook and ends
Whenever he sees me, he looks up from his ledger and hands me a paper clip.
These slightly rueful poems make us chucklee with recognition of the absurd, even at that most frightening of diseases, and then marvel at their insight.
But Bavetta is also capable of expressing a darker mood with a striking image as in "The Midnight Horse," which
gallops through the night, his hoofs striking stars against the black, his breath smoldering. . . . Eight years it's been since I came to this place, riding on the back of cells gone wild.
He hangs between lithium and Depakote, the bones of a bird balanced on the awful noise of flight.
There is only this stain, only this growing fist of poppies, only these birds that gain the cliffs of winter.
Many of the poems in this collection are short, with a haiku-like clarity. On first reading some of them might seem merely clever. (Though I have to say that I have a soft spot for cleverness myself.) But on second reading or third, we see that they are also, as Cihlar continues "heartbreaking and universal and astonishingly good." (less)
Next Sunday (June 1, 2014) marks the beginning of the second Lexington Poetry Month, a poem-a-day project for the city of Lexington, Kentucky.
Thus it...moreNext Sunday (June 1, 2014) marks the beginning of the second Lexington Poetry Month, a poem-a-day project for the city of Lexington, Kentucky.
Thus it seems an appropriate time to consider the anthology created from poems submitted for that project. Lexington Poetry Month is the highly successful brain child of Hap Houlihan formerly of the Morris Book Shop and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer of Accents Publishing, and it was they who found financing and sponsorship for both the project and the anthology.
Her Limestone Bones contains the work of 75 poets who posted work to the LexPoMo blog. (Each poet who signed on promised to write a poem a day and to post at least ten to the blog. Over a thousand poems were posted.) It contains everything from shape poetry to the villanelle. The result is a chorus of voices, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, nostalgic, angry, joyous.
These poems written on the run are of remarkably high quality. Here's a sampling from a handful that stood out for me:
If sound echoes, then it must echo forever-- softer with each iteration, the more delicate the ear needed to catch it. --Kristine Nowak, "The Meeting Room, Shaker Village"
I am complaining again about miracles this morning, the birds --Pauletta Hansel, "Miracles"
After refilling her cup to tea, I return to observing as she reads Katherine Mansfield. --Matthew Haughton, "For Laura on a Sunday Afternoon"
He drank in my loneliness at the bar, threw it back like straight bourbon . . . --Savannah Sipple, "Myrtle's Regrets, On the Rocks"
. . . he nibbles my ear as if it were buttered sweet corn still on the cob. --Jay McCoy, "Frank after Dinner"
I am the sigh in the corner of a sick room, the rattle of the breath. --Marianne Worthington, "Loss (On Father's Day)"
the Angel of Ephemera . . . rises out of the memory box of an eight-year-old girl
who knows that nothing is truly evanscent, that all things matter & leave their mark --Jeremy Paden, "The Angel of Ephemera"
Most of what I lost I took from myself. --Leatha Kendrick, "Eviction" (entire poem)
It's almost as if you don't wish to see them, their amber and onyx bodies lying curdled on the blacktop, weathered as ancient coins, and still as winged seeds left abandoned by the wind. --Bianca Spriggs, "Reverie VIII"
I came to the stuck place. I nudged. I coaxed. I mocked. Walked away --George Ella Lyon, "Stuck, Unstuck"
this must be where Anne wrote her poems each rhyme bubbled up like hungry yeast . . . --Joanie DiMartino, "Anne Bradstreet's Kitchen"
I have loved for so long the beauty mark above your curvy lower lip --Deborah Adams Cooper, "Ode to the Semicolon"
[All I want] is to make it home nights without drawing attention to myself, before I'm accosted by concerned passersby-- --Jude Lally, "All I Want"
Oh, this is overkill and I have to stop.
Much here to charm you, amuse you, arouse you, and move you.
And, disclosure, I also have a poem in this anthology.(less)
Moira Egan’s poetry is lush. Like fine dark chocolate, it satisfies the tongue.
Cleave explores the meanings of the word from “to make one’s way by cut...moreMoira Egan’s poetry is lush. Like fine dark chocolate, it satisfies the tongue.
Cleave explores the meanings of the word from “to make one’s way by cutting” through “to cling to or hold fast.” The exploration leads us from Sappho to James Merrill, includes forms as complex as the sestina and the sonnet crown, and dips frequently into myth, difficult for a modern poet.
Even a poem about a lugging a clunky old Underwood typewriter out of the basement leads to myth:
Some labors are harder. Imagine raging, fully armed from your father’s skull, or rising parthenogenone, out of foam and sperm. (“Underwood”)
I have to mention the epigraph to this poem, from Robert Graves: However, woman is not a poet; she is either a muse of she is nothing. “Underwood,” the first poem in the book, throws down the gauntlet. Graves doesn’t stand a chance.
Greek myth figures large but Christian myth also appears. Hard to re-imagine Eve but Egan does it:
Lately I’ve been thinking about Eve, how each day she’d feel the weight of that rib insistent as affliction, her debt to him solidifying, certain as earth.
And of course the serpent:
His small tongue, forked and flickering, points toward something far more interesting than faith. (“The Garden of her Choosing”)
Alliteration on the fricative “f” throughout this poem may remind us of the hissing of that serpent.
As you may have noticed, the poems are irreverent — or maybe I’m just drawn to the cheeky poems. Still, there are titles like “Leda Gets Laid.” The poem takes on Yeats, of course. Let me tell you what really / happened.
Conversely, the poem “Dear Mr. Merrill” seems quite reverent.
. . . Then Art
startles out of heart ache, marble or page. You learned this long ago. Now I too see the wildest things require the strongest cages, the panther’s double bars, or the seeds, bloodysweet and bitter, in the pomegranate’s rind. Love held tight in a sonnet.
I’m not sure why it took me ten years to find this book but I have a theory that you find the book you need when you need it. Cleave is not a new book but it’s an excellent book. Read it. (less)
Many forms, many voices. I used this book as a sort of syllabus for a self-guided course in form, setting myself the task of writing a poem or two in...moreMany forms, many voices. I used this book as a sort of syllabus for a self-guided course in form, setting myself the task of writing a poem or two in every form mentioned, from ottava rima to oulipo. Where I learned most was in trying to write the classic stanza forms: rime royal, Spenserian, heroic couplets etc. Though I probably won't make a career of writing in such stanzas, the exercise taught me much about the challenges of such forms, what they can and cannot do.
I found this anthology soured by a rambling and vituperative introduction by the volume editor, Harold Bloom, who refused to include any poems at all...moreI 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.(less)
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 g...moreMaureen 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.(less)
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 poems...moreLike 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. (less)
The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher is invincible, insatiable, and incredible.
She's also a clothes horse.
She associates with Wobblies, prostitutes, and p...moreThe 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.(less)
In her introduction to the 1996 edition of The Best American Poetry, Adrienne Rich said:
Given the extreme racialization of our social and imaginative
...moreIn 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’