rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Read August 6th.

Marilyn Hacker has been one of my favorite poets for a very, very long time. She has the voice that I enjoy most in poetry, the voice which combines formalism and vernacular speech so thoroughly that she is the only writer I know who has perpetrated stealth sestinas. I mean it. There are poems of hers I knew and knew well for years before I noticed they were actually sestinas. She writes forms not usual in English, also: canzone (really! without cheating!), pantoum, rondelet. And she writes them so well that they stick. She adds to the emotional vocabulary of the heart.

I love her early work the most, because it is where I see this fusion best of her technique and content. Later she rhymes less. But her earlier work is harder to locate. So though there are many pieces in this collection which I have met in one context or another, there are also many which were new to me. And what was new to me also is the throughline, since this is the entirety of her first three collections printed in publication order. When you see the individual poems in anthologies you do not realize how much you can tell about her biography by seeing them in order, that there are so many poems dedicated to a particular love affair, a particular friendship. I knew her spectacular 'Geographer', an elegiac poem for a friend and sometime lover which evokes grief so sharply I can't read it very often-- here is the first stanza-- )

-- with its incredible long crescendo build that ends quietly in 'Now you have visited too many cities'. I didn't know she'd written another poem for him a long while earlier, when he was still alive, called 'City', about travel and freedom and the prospects they have being young together and the ways old hurts still hurt. Running across the two, published in two different books and now not many pages apart in the same one, is a blow, and a sharp-edged thing that makes you remember time: those pages are years.

There is something, maybe, to reading a writer chronologically.

Some of these poems are of course minor, and a few are outright juvenilia (I wish my own work before twenty looked like that). At her worst Hacker is discipline without content, a person sitting down and saying 'I will write a sonnet' without having anything to write a sonnet about; there is at least one poem in here that is exactly and precisely that, and admits to it, it says so right there in the sonnet. She is sometimes as cryptic and allusive as a poet writing about the current events of her own life is entitled to be, which makes for frustration for a later reader. She will go to any lengths of syntax to avoid cheating in those canzones, and I think it is all grammatical but I would hate to have to parse it, meaning it takes a few blinking look-back-overs when the verse is in a particularly awkward interval.

At her best she is incandescent, indelible, clear without losing layers, rhythmic without losing real speech. Her phrases hang in the memory: 'To get this far, just this far/ we have become precisely what we are.' She is a brilliant poet of grief, a good one of the blazingly erotic, and a cheerfully silly one on her daughter's fifth birthday and when faced with a light-up letterboard that can't do certain letters. I am delighted to have these three books in one, to hand, away from that limbo marked Dead Out Of Print.

Oh, here, have an entire poem. This one I managed to notice was a sestina upon first acquaintance. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Links to the reviews I posted during the recent LJ outage. I am not reposting, but anonymous and open ID commenting are open over there (though I would appreciate some kind of name signed to anonymous comments so as to be able to maintain continuity of conversation).

Day 325: Trilogy, H.D.. Poetry, unfairly overlooked lesbian author.

Day 326: Paying For It, Chester Brown. Graphic novel. Interesting but highly problematic memoir about prostitution from the perspective of a customer.

Day 327: Faerie Winter, Janni Lee Simner. Good YA fantasy by a friend of mine.

Day 328: The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares. Unfairly obscure Argentinian science fiction indirectly responsible for the movie Last Year at Marienbad.

Day 329: Earth X, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. Graphic novel. Dark Marvel Comics AU with a very interesting take on Captain America.

Day 330: Dragonbreath: No Such Thing As Ghosts, Ursula Vernon. Fifth in Vernon's fun series of illustrated kids' books; not a strong entry.

And the two since made it through crossposting.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review of the book I read Wednesday, July 20th.

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961) is not one of the poets I imprinted on early, despite her having gone to my college (they don't boast about it the way they do Marianne Moore). I think it is because she was briefly engaged to Ezra Pound, though fortunately she realized better, and then the whole Imagist label that gets stuck onto her work is discouraging. I am not much on Imagist poetry.

So most of what I know about her I have heard from [personal profile] sovay, who pointed out that I was missing one of the most original women of the twentieth century. Her life is a lovely example of Doing Polyamory Right, and a lot of her work is not Imagist, but riffings on the classical tradition and on Sappho, old myths in new jars. That I find interesting.

Trilogy comprises The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, and The Flowering of the Rod, which are her Blitz poems. World War II was a very bad time for her. She'd lost a brother in the first World War, and had been to psychoanalysis with Freud in the twenties because she had what was considered to be a paranoiac conviction that a second and worse war was coming. Being proven right was not a consolation.

So her war-poems are an effort to a) argue that the world is all changed, as indeed it was; b) argue that the old stories could be repurposed to the new realities, and that that is what poets and writers and artists are for, in wartime, and so they must not be considered superfluous or less than useful; and c) turn the myths she loved to fit the world around her, that had changed.

The astonishing thing is that she pretty much does it. Points a) and b) go together into the first bit, The Walls Do Not Fall Down, and the other two poems are riffings on c). Tribute to the Angels is the one that's most impressive, if you know much about angel-lore, a densely allusive calling on seven great angels whose names are Biblical and whose purposes in the world are-- not. Her Uriel is a terrifying angel of war: when he is the angel of silence, it is the silence between the bombs.

Her language is modernist, pared down, reminds me of Eliot without his occasional attempts at purposeful obfuscation. When she obfuscates it is because she assumes everyone knows the reference (no, we do not all read classical Hebrew, sorry). Her rhythm is strong and never quite predictable, and her sense of rhyme is true. She does not concede to near-rhymes, ever, nor lets the necessity for a rhyme govern the sense of the words. The form and function are as inseparable as they are with any master poet.

In short, this is lovely stuff, this is brilliant, this is the sort of thing that doesn't make it into the fabled edificiary Western bloody Canon because the author was a mostly-lesbian who had her child choosingly out of wedlock and didn't marry Pound; The Canon could maybe forgive one of those attributes, a child out of wedlock by mistake, say, or respectably monogamous lesbianism, but not more than one, and not marrying Pound may have been deadly anyhow. So her work falls in and out of print, making one to mutter bitter things about Twentieth Century Literature, which somehow feels like a monument rather than a collection of artworks, doesn't it. Poet, novelist, essayist, and master of herself: I look forward to reading more of her.
rushthatspeaks: (platypus)
For centuries the novel told in verse
has neither read nor sold one-tenth as well
as books in prose (although they might be worse);
so Seth said to his muses, what the hell,
I've got this beat, this long-disused tetrameter,
my knowledge of a simile's parameter,
hilarity from all my friends, a pen,
a travel book in presses-- therefore, then,
present to me a sonnet-cycle/novel.
The muses said to Seth, we like your line,
and Berkeley's as good as any hovel
a poet's lurked in waiting for our wine.
Only we must as kind daimones warn you:
doggerel's what you'll get from California.

Seth didn't mind. The characters were sound,
the through-line true, the subtleties were there.
If sometimes cluttered near-rhymes ran aground,
the story-shapes should make the reader care.
And so they do. The book is very good.
Our protag, John, computer-jockey, would
like love, but all his head is out of joint.
His best friend Phil (who really is the point)
struggles with having to be a single father,
loves a man and loses him to God,
wonders why religion's all this bother,
is gently funny, sweetly loving, odd.
Triangles and circles, change of partners, seasons,
and life and death: the usual plotly reasons

apply as in the prose work of your choice.
But due to Seth's unusual form and mode,
his California has a stronger voice
than other authors have found down that road.
It's not roman à clef if it's a sonnet.
You get a different viewing angle on it,
a deeper heart, a joy in all this cleverness.
Not Great American Novel-- what ever is--
but a California Novel I will take.
I mean, the table of contents, dedication,
acknowledgements and bio do not break
the mold in which he worked his aspiration.
What should a cheered and tired reviewer do
but (for my sins) inflict some sonnets too?
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I have read more than a few books about World War I, long, short, assigned, unassigned, good, bad, indifferent, poetical, historical, fictional, factional, truthful or less as the case may be; in fact I once for work proofread the entire poetry of Wilfred Owen, absolutely all of it, juvenilia and drafts included, which means I am in position to tell you that his estate if any ought to sue Disney for copyright over The Little Mermaid as ninety percent of that movie including names of evil eel sidekicks is from an absolutely terrible poem Owen perpetrated at about the age of thirteen. And of course I have read a lot of memoirs about the War, Robert Graves certainly and whatever else I have gotten my hands on. It is not an unfamiliar genre to me, the WWI memoir.

This one, though. This one is different in several directions, beyond the basic fact of being a masterpiece, which would not by itself distinguish it from the rest of its genre as it is a field in which masterpieces flourished somewhat. It is by e.e. cummings, for one thing, the first book he ever wrote, and it is a very truthful and exact memoir which communicates very well what he went through when, as an ambulance-driver for the Red Cross, he was arrested by the French government as a possible spy, put into indefinite detention, and shuffled into a Kafka-esque maze of dizzying bureaucratic passages, all alike. It is a book of great power and honesty.

It is also, and this is where everything I thought I knew about the WWI memoir screeches to a halt, turns about-face, and vanishes into the distance, it is also screamingly hilarious.

I mean it. Portions of this are the funniest book I have read this year.

I have been going through and trying to find an excerpt that will explain why it is so funny, but this is not excerptable humor. It is instead the kind that flows gently and naturally from the endless piling of situation on situation. It also has a great good gift of timing. I mean, this is the sort of book in which we learn, from watching him go through various prison examinations, that the author graduated from Harvard. Two hundred pages later he is attempting to translate and transcribe the various things one of the guards is calling him, most of which are untranslatable and/or unprintable, and among the long list of epithets you get "which is gendarme for 'fuck Yale'" and it is such a completely perfectly unexpected sense-making non sequitur that I laughed for ten minutes.

Part of it is that you will never find a man so happy to be in prison. The reason that cummings and his friend wound up under suspicion was that they did not get on with the leader of their ambulance squadron, and the friend wrote several letters home saying that they did not get on with said leader, and the leader brought this to the attention of the letters censor, and the next thing was of course accusations of treason and espionage. cummings' sole purpose in life, after finding out what was going on, was to stay with his friend, to which purpose he cheerfully manipulated several panels of questioners. When the two of them reach La Ferté-Macé, the camp where people are held until the authorities decide whether they are dangerous, they both decide heartily that it is, and this is a quote, "the best place in the world". Or at any rate better than the ambulance squadron.

A lot of this is irony, of course, though it is also all real. You do not come to a World War I book for comfort reading, not even this one. Most of the humor is not black at all, but some is very black, and some of the sunniest is directly intertwined with the vicious and helpless rage and frustration that build and build and build, when the writer sees what this prison does to people and what the government can get away with. One of the things that makes this book such a masterpiece is that the horror of the prison is that the atrocities of it are carried out in a place where the narrator is happy, much of the time, really honestly happy. The medieval brutality and total chaotic confusion of the prison feel that much more real and honest and sense-making to him than the entire rest of the war. Another of the things that makes this so good is that, of course, the prison doors open and the narrator and his friend go home and the rage goes nowhere, because it can never end; the life before it is over and goodbye to all that. I have a great deal more respect for e.e. cummings after reading this, and I had a fair amount already.

Of course the language is ridiculously amazing, too. He's in his late twenties and still finding his feet, so I cannot blame you if you find this over-written, because sometimes he has no idea where in hell he's going to put the verb among those adjectives. But you get sentences like "He had no nose, properly speaking, but a large beak of preposterous widthlessness, which gave his whole face the expression of falling gravely downstairs, and quite obliterated the unimportant chin." I mean that is the sort of sentence I get the urge to write out and frame and put up on the wall, for seven or eight different reasons.

There is only one thing which prevents me from heartily pressing this into the hands of all and sundry, and that is, well, honestly it is damn close to bilingual. I am lucky enough to read French, and apparently know more of the scabrous kind than I had thought. If you are not a French-reader you will need a dictionary, because there are entire paragraphs in here that were transcribed as their original speakers said them, which is to say in French, and not translated at all. Also all the prison vocabulary is in French, and anything the author felt he couldn't print in English in 1922. But you could get by with a dictionary, I think, or Google Translate or something, or pick up the important bits as one does with a well-world-built novel. I think. The thing is since I do read French I cannot know for certain. I suspect this bilinguality of being the reason no class that assigned WWI lit ever threw this at me, although I guess it may also be obscure? I never know how well known things are, really.

Anyway, this is one of the bona fide great memoirs. I need to find a good bio of cummings, and look more thoroughly into his bibliography, because years ago at the Boston Antiquarian Book Show I saw one of his paintings, and I have seen a collection of the porn he drew, and I think he was just one of those people who couldn't do anything badly. And on his own evidence a good man, and a loving one.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
In 1925, the young Russian poet Sergei Yesenin (five wives by the age of thirty, one of them Isadora Duncan (!), immortality already assured) wrote a farewell poem in his own blood and hanged himself.

In 1973, the thirty-five-year-old poet Jim Harrison, married happily once, two small children, was living on a farm somewhere or other, drinking too much and contemplating killing himself. He wrote a book of poems, one day a month, addressed to Yesenin. They are sort of an anti-suicide note, a 'tell me why I shouldn't do this'. He didn't do it.

Surprisingly enough, given that they were composed so quickly and, more tellingly, that there is frequently not much literary value in other people's therapy, the poems are very good.

Harrison is fixated on Yesenin's mode of death, on the spatial resonances of it, the distance between foot and floor. He circles it obsessively, finds commonalities and differences in their lives, both having their troubles with alcohol, both farm children who made it to the city, but he looks at Yesenin and says drily "It was no fun sitting around being famous, was it? I'll never have to learn that lesson."

He works his farm. He shoots a neighbor's cow, by mistake, in the woods out hunting, backtracks in his own footsteps in the mud and drives nonstop to New York City so as not to think about it for a while. He loves his baby daughter. All the while there's the pendulum, swinging, will I, won't I, will I, I can't.

This is not the sort of poetry I usually like: I mean it isn't formalist, it does not have rhyme and it does not, really, have meter. But what it has is discipline. Harrison will tell himself the truth, or at least admit when he is lying, or at least admit when he doesn't know, to Yesenin if to no one else. Which is probably why he came out of it.

There are lines here that are very precisely perfect. He asks, upset, "What if I own more paperclips than I'll ever use in this lifetime?" I have to say this question bothers me also. It's a fair point. Talking about ways he'd rather die (other than hanging) he ends on the right moment:

But
as poets we would prefer to have a star fall on us (that meteor
got me in the gizzard!) or lightning strike us and not while we're
playing golf but perhaps in a wheat field while we're making
love in a thunderstorm, or a tornado take us away outside of
Mingo, Kansas, like Judy Garland unfortunately. Or a rainbow
suffocate us. Or skewered dueling the mighty forces of anti-
art. Maybe in sleep as a Gray Eminence. A painless sleep of course.
Or saving a girl from drowning who turns out to be a mermaid.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Amy Clampitt published her first book of poetry, The Kingfisher, at the age of sixty-three; then followed a wild eleven years of four more books, fame, MacArthur Fellowship, speaking engagements the entire academic world around, visiting professorships and writer-in-residencies, until her death in 1994. The anecdote I've heard most often of her is that she flatly refused to marry, her entire life long, until three months before her long-predicted dying she consented to sign papers with her lover of more than twenty-five years, because at that point, why not, anyhow.

I found her by picking her book Archaic Figure off a shelf in the basement of the Harvard Bookstore some little while ago, with [personal profile] sovay, and discovering that everything I opened to at random was readable.

This collection, of all her five collections, is readable also and somewhat more than readable. I can see why the critics jumped at The Kingfisher; few poets start with such a quiet, building certainty of voice. She starts with nature poems, better than most nature poems but still in subject matter very uncomplicated, and then weaves and redoubles on herself until by the end of the book she's thrown around you melancholy, loss, grief, joy enough to knock you sideways. By her later books, she had learned Greek, and there you get travel poems, also good, and too few amazing mythological syntheses.

Her language is ornate, but never cluttered. She was fond of the well-chosen syllable and is one of the few Western writers I have seen use the Japanese concept of turning-word/hinge-word. Her rhymes are internal, subtle, never where you want them, and she often accomplishes the rather confusing effect of having the poem jar you by rhyming, having it be genuinely shocking.

She was fond of writing about other writers-- there is a cycle here that is a life of John Keats, whom she liked much better than I ever will, there are poems on George Eliot and Dorothy Wordsworth. She is allusive but not usually cryptic, always willing to work in facts and dates as she goes by them, to tell story, and to work other writers' prose into her own shining metrics (seriously, she scanned George Eliot).

The problems I have with her, which aren't many, center around her nature poems-- there are too many of them, and a little too similar, and too dependent on the names of flowers etc. for color. You can say a bank is covered with celandines all you like and if I don't know what a celandine smells like I am going to feel I am reading a gardening manual, or a list of local wildlife. This may be a byproduct of reading her all of a piece, though. And sometimes she perpetrates political poetry, and I cannot like this when anyone does it, more than ninety-nine percent of the time, because it tends to fall into being heartfelt and obvious, the same images the last ten poets through that ground also picked up. But she doesn't do much of it.

A major poet, a wise and wry one, happy to write about both death and laughter. She will probably not be one of my perennial favorites, because I have more enjoyment of her work than empathy with the emotion in it, but that might change as I get older.

Have an excerpt. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Yesterday's review. Via [personal profile] rachelmanija.

This? Is lovely.

It's a short novel that's a prose translation of a poem originally composed in Telugu sometime in the second half of the sixteenth century. The author comes from what is present-day Andhra Pradesh. This piece, the Prabhavati-pradyumnamu, is one of his several extant works; its story is taken from the Hari-vamsa, an ancient compilation of stories related to Krishna. I know nothing about the history of Telugu literature, but the translators make an interesting argument that this is one of the first pieces in that linguistic tradition to use novelistic ideas of individuality and interiority.

But honestly you want to read this for the talking goose.

Her name is Sucimukhi and due to family connections she was tutored by the Goddess of Speech and given the title of 'Mother of Similes and Hyperbole'. She is both an extremely good poet in the best classical tradition, and, as far as I can tell, a ninja. I mean, the book would not go any differently if she actually were. There is an amazing scene where she wrestles a parrot.

Anyway! There is a demon, Vajranabha, who has obtained from the Creator, Brahma, the gift that no one, not even the wind, can enter his city without his permission. With this as his base of power, he challenges Indra for supremacy over the gods. Indra's best idea is to go to Krishna, and Krishna suggests that his son Pradyumna could sneak into the city disguised as an actor. If only he had some motivation to do so. And hey, Vajranabha has a daughter...

Enter one matchmaking goose and a whole lot of running about that teeters on the edge between sitcom, irony, and genuinely sweet and erotic romance. The young couple actually work well together and their courtship is continuously interesting. The bit I laughed hardest at: Pradyumna is a mortal incarnation of the God of Love, Manmatha. At one point he is pacing back and forth, racked by angst, and shouts "The God of Love is tormenting me! Right, that's me. But still, the God of Love is tormenting me!" *facepalm*

The translation, by Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, moves neatly between the poetic and the prosaic, and is a nice blend of present vernacular with vaguely archaic-- a trick usually so difficult I don't recommend anyone attempting it, but it works here. All of the academic stuff you could possibly hope for is here, in preface and afterword and endnotes, but the text itself is intentionally designed so that you can just sit down and read it-- and highly readable it is. The translators have apparently done something else of Suranna and I will have to look it up.

In short, if you only read one sixteenth-century Indian poem this year, I can highly vouch for this one.

Also, if you put it in a blender with Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, a book from second-century-AD Greece that in some ways reminds me of this one only with pirates, you would in fact get THE BEST ROMANCE NOVEL OF ALL TIME. It is actually incredibly tempting.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
The title of this book comes from a character in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: the protagonist meets a woman called Kitty at a bar, asks what Kitty's short for, and it's Afrekete. Their love affair is short and indelible.

That particular episode, in excerpt, forms the first selection here, and the rest of the book is also run through with Lorde, bracketed at the other end by one of her late cancer poems, full of mentions, tributes, references back. In 1995 when this came out her death in 1992 was close, is a very fresh grief on these pages. I've read Zami, but not for a while, and the excerpt here is an amazing reminder of everything good about her work.

The rest of the anthology is also well worth reading. There are names I already knew-- Michelle Cliff, Sapphire, Jewelle Gomez, Jacqueline Woodson-- and names I didn't, Carolivia Herron, Jocelyn Taylor, Jackie Goldsby. There's fiction, both autobiographical and not, and poetry, and essays both memoir and otherwise; there's an interesting work of theory questioning why there weren't any theoretical responses at the time to the whole scandal surrounding Vanessa Williams when she was Miss America; there's a lot about relative skin tone here, what it means to be lighter, or darker, or to pass, and what that can do to a relationship between women. There's naturalistic work and not-quite-naturalistic work and one piece that is outright sfnal. There are looks at the interface between black gay culture and black lesbian culture, fraught or welcoming as the case may be.

My favorite piece is probably Carolivia Herron's 'The Old Lady', which anchors memory and place together in prose so perfectly wrought I want to frame it and hang it on a wall. The titular old lady walks around her town every day, and every step of it is a different recollection of a lover or a not-quite lover, and it shouldn't work and it works from start to finish.

My second favorite piece is Jocelyn Taylor's 'Testimony of a Naked Woman', a memoir about organizing a lesbian dance night with the money earned stripping at a Mafia-owned nightclub. Taylor is fascinated by the interface of politics and the body, power and empowerment, and uses theory in ways I haven't seen while never getting tangled up in jargon. (I am also made curious by one of her questions: why has the women's movement never seriously attempted political action towards the goal of allowing women to take their shirts off in public, as men can? Because it hasn't, and I would love to see some more untangling of the reasons, good and bad, why not.)

This is in some ways a very nineties anthology, a snapshot of that time: the theory is mostly second-wave, the theory of the seventies, and many of the writers here came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and are comparing political present experience with directly lived political memory in a way I don't think younger writers could. So this holds value for me in that way, too, that it's more than fifteen years old and some of the issues that get talked about a lot have changed and many haven't.

And it has also done pretty well in the recommending-writers-I-hope-to-find-more-of department, and for all these reasons I am glad of it. I should mention, mind you, that anyone who is triggered or bothered by mentions of fairly extreme violence or sexual violence should go into this braced, and tread lightly, especially with Cynthia Bond's 'Ruby', which is amazing but will jump up and down on any vulnerabilities a reader may have in that direction.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I'm not actually sure which direction of writing Warner is most famous for, as she was good at everything-- short stories, novels, biography, translation, poetry, diary, and some of the finest personal correspondence ever collected. I personally seem to have concentrated more on her nonfiction, the diary and letters, because she is one of the writers whose fiction knocks my own fictional voice away from itself for a while, who makes a strong enough impression that I begin to talk like her. (That said, you should all go read Lolly Willowes, which is the best novel ever written about witchcraft.)

So here is a spread of the poetry, which I'd encountered some of excerpted elsewhere.

It's very good. She's a poet of rhyme and meter, but personally created form, bar the occasional sonnet, and a poet of narrative and image in the service of emotion, rather than philosophy. Her greatest gift, I think, is the ability to turn the accepted on its head in simple language-- 'How this despair enjoys me,' she says, for example, which is true and plainly put and not something I have seen elsewhere. I have arguments with some of her scansion, but then we do not speak the same dialect of English, so I may be missing something there. And there is no one like her for near-rhymes that work more strongly than a firm rhyme would.

That said, I can't find her a great poet, as opposed to a good and a congenial, both for the aforementioned scansion things, which I find irritating, and because, well, because I don't know why. Because she doesn't stick in my head indelibly the first time through, which is what happens with poets who have really crystallized something for me.

This book is well-selected, although short, and wide-ranging, narrative and humor piece and character piece and love poem and war poem and nature poem and ballad and a chunk of something longer all together, and it grows as it goes on and she gets older. I don't know how emotionally affecting some of this would be if you don't know her life well, but I do, and so I can trace the particular travels and familial references, and the poems of her widowhood are very hard to bear. Worth your time, Sylvia always is: one of the writers who is not, necessarily, friendly, but whose acerbicity can be more welcoming than kindness.

An excerpt. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
The Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706) was in something of an odd position, as the death of his predecessor had been concealed for political reasons and he was raised in a secular environment until the age of thirteen. Consequently he started religious study very late and it never really took-- he was famous for his taste for women and alcohol. And he left a body of erotic poetry in the oral tradition which is considered one of the great literary treasures of Tibet.

This translation is very good at explaining the political situation, the whys and the wherefores, the possible veiled political allusions in the poetry, the place names, the notes from Buddhist folktales. There's a good bibliography of other translations and monographs on the subject, with a cross-edition numbering concordance, and, though short, the book is clearly designed to be a reasonable jumping-off point for the scholar. I respect that.

What it isn't is good English poetry. The poems in Tibetan are mostly four unrhymed lines with six syllables each, a bit like a cross between haiku and tanka but without the content specifications of those forms, and the translator has basically stuck to that. Unfortunately, he has succumbed to the temptation to, well, occasionally rhyme. Or near-rhyme. It is not readily forgivable. The strength of this sort of poem in English is the strength of the internal image (each poem will be a single strong image, or else a juxtaposition of two images in a punning way that gives them force); also the uniqueness, clarity, and simplicity of the language that expresses the image. Rhyming, by introducing an element into the poem that was not present, complicates and obscures the sense of the original language without using any of the poetic elements that actually were there. I can understand the temptation to try to use some linguistic marker for the complexities of rhythm, alliteration, pun, and so on that may exist, but rhyme is not the device with which to do it, and it sticks out in these poems and trips them up. In addition, Waters just does not have a memorable turn of phrase, and his words aren't strong enough to give the emotional and in fact erotic force that ought to exist here.

His translation does not explain why these poems survived, in the oral tradition and in multiple manuscripts, for three hundred years. I know that that may be an ineffable and untranslatable quality, but I'd like to at least be able to extrapolate.

In short, this is fascinating material, and I'm really glad to learn more about it, and I mean it, this book is a good quick scholarly introduction with a lot of places to start looking at it more. But I am going to have to find another translation because this was not, actually, the experience of reading poetry. It was the experience of reading translationese by a determined amateur.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
As the back cover states, this may at one time have been the most popular book published in America. It's a colonial Puritan poem, written by a pastor, depicting the Last Judgment. Its first edition sold out within a year of its 1662 publication, and for the next century it was basically catechism.

However, the nineteenth century and after have pretty much ignored it, and most critics nowadays hate it. I thought I'd see for myself.

... after finishing this, and you can ask B. for corroboration, I stood up and threw it as hard as I could across the room, in order to relieve my feelings. The reason critics nowadays hate it is that you simply cannot separate the literary qualities from the theology, and the theology is honestly Everything Hatable About Calvinism. Wigglesworth's one point of theological interest and difference is that he held something of a Neoplatonic or Stoic view of the material world; therefore his God is icily rational in his condemnation of the better part of humanity, because emotions are part of the flesh. This God damns stillborn children because his grace would not truly be free grace if it were constrained by the rules of what others consider to be justice-- and the author claims that that is justice. Honestly, this functions for me as an argument against Calvinism, and the more desperately it attempts to be apologia, the more I detest it. There's a bit late in the poem where Wigglesworth claims that the torments of the damned will last until the elect choose to voluntarily choose places with them, i.e. never as of course the elect would never leave the sight of God because they love him so much, and I sat there going a) seriously, what that place needs is a revolution and b) what this book means by the word love is not what I understand the word love to mean.

Wigglesworth does have a facility for rhyme and a reasonable hand with vernacular poetry. Mostly this just makes what he's actually saying even more horrifying.

Have a couple of sample verses. )

In short, don't do this to yourself, unless you have some kind of academic interest. I wouldn't have managed to finish this, except that it isn't long, and it was genuinely horrifying to watch him develop his relentless logic. I am so glad that this sort of thing is a less prevalent cultural thread than it used to be.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Antonio Beccadelli's Hermaphrodite (1425-6) is pretty much the most scandalous book of the Italian Renaissance. Bernardino da Siena held book burnings, and so did a lot of other people; several popes threatened to excommunicate people found reading it.

It's a collection of Latin epigrammatic poetry, based on the idea that the ancient authors, such as Catullus, Martial, Pliny, etc. often wrote bawdy or scurrilous poetry, even those among them who were famous for having virtuous personal lives, and that therefore writing extremely well-done filthy verse is a way of righteously following the ancient examples. Beccadelli was a young man when he wrote it, not thirty yet, but it became his most famous and controversial book for two reasons:

1) it's really, really filthy. Latin, as a language, has several registers of obscenity that English doesn't. Beccadelli, who had access to all of the rich and varied vocabulary of Catullus, Juvenal, and Lucan, coined his own obscene neologisms because the older ones weren't precise and nasty enough. There is something to offend everybody in here. Everybody. I don't care who you are. That said, he's generally pleasant and rollicking, equally kind and unkind to both sexes and devoted to everyone having a good time-- it's just, this is a level of graphic that is really amazingly condensed. His poems are epigrams, and therefore manage to pack what in English would be entire paragraphs of technically descriptive language into single words and short sentences. I don't think I can write a sentence in English with the sheer connotative bawdiness of one of his. I am not sure it is linguistically possible. The only author I have seen with a similar degree of obscenity is Martial; Beccadelli has comprehensively outdone Catullus in this particular direction.

2) it's really, really good. He has a couple of issues based on the fact that Italian Latin at this point had no codified rules for how to use the reflexive, but Virgil would be happy about his word order, and his meter and assonances are just ludicrously brilliant. He's actually as good as he thinks he is, and he thinks he's immortal. He mostly only uses one form, the epigram, but I defy you to find better ones on a sheerly technical level. They are certainly and obviously head and shoulders above the standard of Latin epigrammatical composition at the time.

The combination of these two traits made his contemporaries, and in fact most readers since, completely unable to cope. He was too good to be banned, too filthy to be admired, too over-the-top to be imitated, too brilliant not to be an inspiration. In a late edition of the Hermaphrodite, Beccadelli included between the book's halves a letter from Poggio Bracciolini (a renowned manuscript-finder and academic), which can be summarized very neatly as follows: OH GOD IT'S GENIUS WON'T YOU PLEASE STOP IT. Beccadelli's response to Poggio, at the end of the book, was that everyone was confusing his life with his art (probably true) and that his poems should not be taken to reflect anything other than a deep love of the same authors everyone around him also loved; that if Plato could write about sex, so could he, and that people should stop treating him like a moral degenerate because after all Homer never invaded Troy. This helped nothing. His later career would include a long and distinguished stint as poet laureate to the Emperor Sigismund, an academic slapfight with Lorenzo Valla that included copious lawsuits and accusations on both sides of poisoning and sodomy, and the founding of the Academia Neapolitana, which is still there today. His most famous book would always be his first, the book which in my edition a prefatory quote from a reputable historian claims helped cause the French Revolution, or, worse, the Reformation. This is probably overestimation, but you see how critics are still failing to deal.

Unsurprisingly, most editions of the Hermaphrodite have been relentlessly expurgated. The new edition from Harvard's I Tatti series of Italian Renaissance literature definitely isn't, and includes not only a biographical essay and copious notes but a series of relevant letters, poems, epigraphs, and legal papers by Beccadelli and others surrounding the controversy. It gives a good portrait of why the book was important, how people reacted to it at the time, and what its legacy was, although I would have liked a deeper look at the book's history between the fifteenth century and this one.

But I cannot recommend it if you don't read Latin. I'm sorry. It's a literal translation and it will do you no good whatsoever in realizing how good a poet Beccadelli was. It gets (some of) the obscenity and none of the elegance. It gets the matter but not the means. A fine English poet was required to get this work across and that did not happen here. If you are using the translation as a crib to read the actual text, it is totally usable for that, and this is a book you should go out and read immediately because it is interesting and worthy. If not, let us hope an English poet decides to do it in the not-too-distant future-- one could totally use this edition as a scholarly apparatus for it.

I may attempt it myself someday, if I ever have the hubris to think I could live up to it, and if I can get over the fact that he consistently and with malice aforethought makes me blush at his sheer filthiness, which, seriously, not many things can do that to me.

Some quotations, for those of you who are interested and read Latin. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A certain kind of essay collection is a meander through the writer's mind, all the anecdotes and stored associations, so that you begin to learn the patterns of their thought and the sort of metaphor they reach for naturally when required; and a certain other kind of essay collection is a rummage through the lumber-room of literature (not my phrase, Woolf's), showing you nooks and nails and facets you had not considered, the names and phrases you already recalled and the ones you ought to know and don't already. Carolyn Kizer's essay collection is, happily, both, because her vast acquaintanceship is in fact a room labeled American Poetry 1930- ; her father kept Vachel Lindsay in a room in the attic (the poet, I mean, not his work), and her essay about being shy explains that shyness is best explained as the thing that keeps you from saying more than two words to T.S. Eliot no matter how good a party everyone else thinks it might be.

This lends something of a pleasant, personal touch to her book reviews. This is mostly a collection of book reviews, with a few detours into autobiography and explication of personal symbolism, all directly relating to poetry, though it is not except around the edges a book about poetic technique. In general she is fond of books by poets and savage to books about them, a tendency I understand. She will fight to the death for the honor of Alexander Pope (as who should not?) and hates Sylvia Plath with a vicious personal hatred that is one of the only things not to admire here; she laughs at the very idea of trying to analyze Emily Dickinson and, in the book's centerpiece, comes quite close to convincing me that the nineteenth-century English poet John Clare is the major hole in the modern conception of that era's poetry.

It's a rambling mind and a large room, cross-connected, fluent, puritanical at peculiar intervals, politically radicalized but not overly bitter, with an unexpected religious streak that crops up seemingly at random and a quiet fervent feminist undercurrent that occasionally shows on the surface. Prose is a medium she works in pleasantly, though it is not her home and that is somewhat noticeable-- there are several places in which she says a thing, and then quotes her own poetry to better explain it, and the poetry is always more assured and more concise and far more striking. The final essay is a showstopper, though, a set of nested book reviews in which she uses the language and rhetoric of each poet she's already treated as part of her vocabulary to examine the next one, a cathedral-arched sort of thing that never even teeters on the edge of incomprehensibility despite the fact that it honestly ought to.

As a poet, I suspect Kizer has won her lasting cranny in that lumber-room, but as an essayist she is more than well enough to be getting along with, and her principal advice on the craft of poetry does make me think: if you haven't got strong verbs, she says, you just have nothing. I recommend this, if you're the sort of person who enjoys reading book reviews.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This book gets an entry to itself because it needs one. I read it on the plane from Boston; it was another present from [personal profile] sovay, who says that I am the person she thought of upon seeing on the bookstore shelf a novel in verse that was, from the back cover, very obviously slash of Herakles and the monster cattle-herd Geryon, only updated into a contemporary setting.

I repeat: novel in verse. Mythological slash. The person I'd have thought of is [personal profile] lnhammer, but it was fair to think of me.

The thing is, Anne Carson is both a moderately well-known poet and a moderately well-known writer on the classics, whose Eros the Bittersweet I was assigned in college and whose translations of Sappho are Not The Way I'd Do Them but so very much so that they absolutely fascinate me because I just wouldn't have thought of it like that. So I went into this confidently expecting it not to suck, despite the novel-in-verse-ness, which I usually take as a warning sign.

I-- hmmm. I am going to have to reread this at some point, is the thing. It is very rare for me to look at a book and say that I just don't get it, that I can't even tell whether there is something to get but that I think there might be and I don't know what it is. Over my head at bird-height, this went. At least, the primary chunk of it did. There are several portions of this book, and the first oh five pages or so are brilliant and worthy. A large part of what we know of Geryon, who was killed by Herakles as part of that hero's tenth labor, comes from the fragments of a poem by Stesichorus, a poem we have in sketch and quotation but not entirety. Stesichorus is most well known as the author of the Palinode: he had written a poem insulting to Helen of Troy and from the aether she struck him blind. Knowing the cause, he sat down and wrote a very brief poem saying that none of it was true, that she had never been to the city of Troy, and she restored his sight. The Palinode is a perfect little piece. Carson's book, being about Geryon, begins with Stesichorus, and the first few pages are a metatextual meditation on the truth behind the story of the composition of the Palinode, a meditation so tangled that it intentionally bites itself in the small of the back, a dazzling piece of postmodernist rhetoric after which I wanted to applaud. It was witty and sweet and touching.

Then the rest of the book started. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I've run into Ursula Le Guin's poetry here and there, as one does, but I found that [personal profile] sovay had an actual volume of it, so I read it while visiting her. Incredible Good Fortune is Le Guin's poems between 2000 and 2005; a lot of them are formalist exercises done for her poetry-writing group. The way I can best describe Le Guin's poetry is as calmly enjoyable: it will never be great, this is not her primary metier and she does not have that genius in her, but it will also never be bad, because she is simply too good at words for that. She writes a poetry of simple moments, small precisions, attempts to catch something for you and hold it there a moment irregardless of whether it may be something that some other poet has already caught, and sometimes it is and why should that matter? Pleasant to read, always, and it's also fun to watch her trying out these forms like finger exercises, to notice her play with the old lovely shapes. One does not often see a published poet admit to trying out a form for the form's sake, although every poet I know who uses classical forms at all has done it; it's just mostly either those go in a drawer somewhere, or the content fills them sufficiently that the poet can say with certainty that this poem is more than its form. But occasionally I like reading just a sonnet, you know, a sonnet because the poet wanted to write a sonnet and did not really care what the sonnet was going to be about, and I don't see why one should always put those off in a drawer. It's a perfectly valid creative impulse. You can see Le Guin enjoying it. So, minor work here, if taken as the work of a great writer, but if you like watching the mind of a poet work, or if you like watching specifically Le Guin's mind work (and well you might), this book is more transparent than many, free with itself, and friendly.

And then the next night on [personal profile] sovay's coffee table was a children's book about comets, Seymour Simon's The Long Journey From Space. It turned out to be an old book, as it talks about how Halley's Comet is going to come back in a few years in 1986. But the thing is, it told me things about comets that I did not, in fact, know, and that are actually still true, which is why I read it in the first place, because I was flipping through it and I noticed something I didn't know-- namely that comets can have more than one tail. I am sure this is elementary to some of you but no one had mentioned it to me. Apparently there was a sixteenth-century comet that was both visible by daylight and had seven tails. I am rather surprised Europe did not actually burn down in the expectation of apocalypse. At any rate, this was a solid description of what was then known about the motion, composition, discovery, history, etc. of comets, most of which should still be valid. And it was very well illustrated with period woodcuts of various famous comets and good astronomical photos showing the things discussed very clearly. So if you read only one obsolete children's astronomy book this year, this is a good choice. It did not, certainly, feel a waste of my time.

The Peter Sís I read the next day, however, did, even though it did not take very much time to waste. Sís is one of the great illustrators working in children's books today. His art is intricate and ornate and unlike anything else. And the subject matter of the book should have been fine-- A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North is about Jan Welzl, a Czechoslovakian folk hero who one day in about 1893 possibly took all his worldly goods and a sled and crossed into the Canadian tundra via Siberia, there to live with the local Inuit and eventually dictate a best-selling memoir about his thirty years way up north. I say possibly because there has been some debate over the years as to whether Karel Capek actually wrote the book, although it seems to have settled on the side of not and of Welzl really having done this (although you can still find people who insist he never left Czechoslovakia). This is a very good subject for a book. I would rather like to read one sometime. All of the real information I just mentioned is given by Sís on the front cover flap and he devotes the entirety of his actual page count to pictures of the tundra. Which, I mean. In some art styles pictures of the tundra can be very striking, but Sís is an impressionist who doesn't use much in the way of details drawn from nature (he prefers human artifacts) and consequently the pictures are more minimalist than I feel is warranted. Small human dots on large backgrounds sort of thing. And you get some idea that Welzl was conflicted about the incursions of other Europeans into Inuit territory and tried to translate for the group he lived with, but it took reading the back flap of the book to learn that he tried to start an Inuit-language trading company with the men of his adopted tribe, which was a massive commercial failure due to the fact that nobody involved spoke English and they were trying to trade with the U.S.. Seriously I should not learn more information from the flaps than from the book itself. The story of Jan Welzl is full of interesting complexities, high adventure, questions of identity and the nature of authorship, and the ways that people build folk mythologies. If anyone knows a better book about it, I would appreciate you letting me know.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This is the Oxford World's Classics translation, by Mark Musa, and I don't like it at all. It's not bad, I suppose-- it has rhythm where there's meant to be rhythm, all the rhymes are in correctly, even a sestina where it's meant to be a sestina-- it's just. No spark. Literal and accurate and kindly meant and no damn spark.

Petrarch is one of the poets who can come closest to the reader, who can really be talking to you and get inside your head. That's why his Canzoniere, his Italian songs, those little things that didn't make his name nor win his laurels, those works that he accounted least of his writings have basically built the subsequent Western poetic tradition. You can't have Shakespeare without Petrarch, or Chaucer or Wyatt or even Ronsard. He's the bridge between Dante and Catullus and from the merge of those two comes centuries of the way people conceive lyric poetry. You look at, say, Baudelaire, six hundred years later and the form has not changed one iota, because it was still alive-- and is today. If I can't tell why this happened to all that later poetry from a translation, that translation, it is not good enough. I realize I am saying that only great poets should translate Petrarch. Fine. Only great poets should translate Petrarch. I suppose I ought not to expect great poetry out of a translator I haven't heard of, but I've been lucky in that before, and I had hopes. Ah well.

They gave Petrarch his laurels for his Latin epic poem about Scipio Africanus, which I'm sure is very nice. I don't know anyone who's read it, but I'm sure it's very nice. The Petrarch I have read is faking my way poorly through the Canzoniere, and also umpteen translations (and if I had one I could recommend I'd tell you), and also chunks of De remediis utriusque fortunae (On How to Defend Yourself Against Both Types of Fortune), which is a lovely book that everyone should read as it tells you exactly what to do to cheer yourself up if horrible things happen and exactly what to do to deflate yourself if everything is going far too well. I'm sure I've mentioned it here before, but it has the bit we're going to copy out to put on the wall of the library, where Joy says 'The number of my books is great', and Reason says 'but you cannot possibly have time to read all of them', and Joy says 'the number of my books is prodigious', and Reason says 'and most of them are full of errors', and Joy says 'the number of my books is incalculable', and Reason keeps going on at multi-paragraph great rhetorical length about how for this reason and that reason your house is a frickin' fire hazard and everyone is going to think you're an expert in everything you haven't read yet and don't you think it would be more practical to take up checkers or lawsuits or something, and Joy just keeps saying, in one sentence: I have so very many books, and I haven't yet read most of them. It's in the section on how to defend yourself against happiness, but it's pretty clear who wins, I think. This is what I mean about Petrarch's immediacy. At three decades short of seven hundred years distance, he is writing in that essay very, very specifically about my household and my life and the way that we all actually think, and a way I suspect a lot of you live and think, and it has not changed in any detail.

So, read Petrarch, very much read Petrarch. Just not this edition, though it's quite good on a couple of included letters, including the one in which he climbs a mountain and the one in which he talks about his early life. I am glad to have read those.

I wonder whether there's a good translation of his Latin epic. Somehow I have serious doubts about it.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I had been in a poetry mood, but this may have finished it.

The internet will tell me nothing much about Louis J. Rodrigues, preferring to tell me about his much more popular twin, Luis J. Rodriguez, also a poet, who has entirely eaten the Google results and whose memoir about L.A. gangs sounds rather interesting. They are not the same person. I checked. What little I can find indicates that Mr. Rodrigues was still working as of 2000 and has concentrated on translations from the Catalan and the Anglo-Saxon, which may be a good idea, really, though the snippets of translation available online do not indicate that it is necessarily a great one.

This book, a collection of Mr. Rodrigues' non-translation poetry, came into our house without anyone having any knowledge of the author, and is most interesting because of its provenance: Thrud bought it on ebay from a collection of poetry books that belonged to Robert Graves. There's an inscription in the front by the author saying "for Robert Graves-- remembering your criticism of "Oblation" which you read ten years ago under a different name... and much modified since then. Best wishes, Louis J. Rodrigues, 24.7.79" This means that for me, at any rate, there is the question of what Robert Graves would have thought of this particular poetry, since it seems likely he read the rest of the volume, and it's certain he read the one poem.

I was amazed, because this is a) terrible poetry, and b) actually the sort of poetry I could see Robert Graves liking, although neither because nor in despite of the terrible. It's the subject matter, it's all Mythic With No Citations and you can tell that the poet was reading Graves and reading Housman and seems to have decided that the way to go was to crush those two together through a strainer and add a jot of thesaurus. I mean this is a school of poetry that was once very in, though I would rather have expected a date of mid-twenties rather than late seventies.

It's just... really bad. It's almost all clearly meant to rhyme, and he'll go the entire poem rhyming away, and then he'll have something that isn't even a near-rhyme no matter what accent you're thinking in, such as trying to rhyme 'status quo' with 'no more'. I mean it. He tried that. And almost all of the conceits are borrowed from other poets-- why yes I have read 'On Looking Into Chapman's Homer', and it was much better when not crossed with Housman's 'Reveille' and made into a meditation about why the poet should write more poetry-- and the ones that aren't borrowed, well, I can't tell what he's talking about. There is one entitled 'Shakespeare-- A Phantasy'. As far as I could tell, it centers around the idea that, occasionally, Stratford-on-Avon is subject to mist. For this we needed four stanzas?

And all the politics are obvious. I sit here wondering whether he read the World War I poets or only sent them unsolicited mss., as he thinks pacifists or indeed people who ever try to stop wars are total idiots. He thinks God/the gods is a lie, too, but he wants to use the mythic, so he'll go on for thirty lines or so trying to evoke a mythic atmosphere and then tell you what a fool anyone is to believe it.

Have a sample. It's all like this. )

I should say, also, it's all like this unless it's explicitly Arthurian, or, God help us, Orientalist. I should not be able to mistake 1979 for the glory years of the British Raj. Maybe he had these sitting around in a drawer since the twenties? It would explain a great deal.

I leave you with the following autogram (taken from his poem on pacifism), as some sentences are best at describing themselves: "This pent-up recrudescence of inane puerility." If that sentence weren't, in context, clearly supposed to be in iambic pentameter, I'd say he'd managed to get something right.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I felt like more Adrienne Rich after seeing her again in the anthology I read the other day.

These poems were written between 2000 and 2004, which is important, because they are world-historical poems, they are trying to convey a sense of the time and the politics of it and the way the poet relates to the politics. This is a form of poetry that is very hit-or-miss for me, and a fair quantity of this book is miss, though the title poem is perfectly devastating and every so often she'll come out with a few lines that ring like a struck bell:

If some long unborn friend
looks at photos in pity,
we say, sure we were happy,
but it was not in the wind


which matches very well what I remember of those years living in this country, yes. In general, though, I think this is a book for people who already know the poet better than I do, because if one already knows the poet then her relation to the world-historical is something that sheds new light on the world-historical, whereas if one does not, one finds oneself trying to use the world-historical to shed light on the poet, and there isn't enough here for that, it doesn't work. Possibly she is one of those poets who ought to be read chronologically, or possibly this is simply not a collection I like, though I tend to like her stuff very much when I have met it elsewhere. Or maybe it is that I am sick right now and inclined not to like things. I don't know. Well-crafted, well-thought, if this is your genre of poetry this is the sort of thing you will like, and the title poem did make the book worth reading.

I should go hunt up some Carolyn Kizer.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A recent collection (2009) including poems inspired by the women's movement and poems which helped inspire it; the material here was written between the late sixties and the early eighties. Moore's intent is to contextualize the position of poetry in the history of that specific time of political action and to discuss what the movement did to poetry. She discusses both the emergence of a radical new form of female poetic speech and the re-evaluation of women poets of the past in light of later political ideas-- the politics of what goes into a table of contents, what gets critically discussed, and so on.

Mostly, though, this is a poetry collection, containing work (usually one or two short poems) by Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Olga Broumas, Muriel Rukeyser, Judy Grahn, Carolyn Kizer, June Jordan, Michelle Cliff, Jorie Graham, and a long list of others. As a poetry collection, it's a good snapshot of the women now considered important poets from that period, but its focus means that I am not always certain the poems selected are the absolute best of each poet; they are, rather, the ones relevant to the politics, which is often some of the best work of the poet in question, but sometimes not. Marilyn Hacker, for instance, is represented here by her elegy for Janis Joplin, which is a poem I've always liked but would not place in her top tier-- for one thing, it's wildly unusual for Hacker, as it's one of the few poems I've seen from her that does not have a formalist structure in any way at all, so as a representation of what she's actually doing most of the time it's an odd pick. I think it's in here because of its nature as a rumination on mourning and the nature of female celebrity, at which it does a fine job, and that's certainly a facet of women's experience one would like to see here.

I don't think there's any substandard work in this, I don't think there's anything that's only there for content and not quality, but I also don't think this would be the book to use if you want to find out whether you like any of these poets or want to know what mode they work in generally. Which I think is a bit of a flaw, though a minor one, in a book that is trying to represent two generations of poets to its readership, with their context, all at once. Maybe if there were another couple hundred pages?

Possibly as a result of that, then, and possibly as a result of my own tastes, I find the politics here more interesting generally than the poetry. There are very definitely voices here coming into their own for the first time, women talking about work, desire for other women or for men or for nobody, about race and class and history and other topics not generally as explicit in women's poetry before this. There's a lot of pain and a lot of joy (and it's nice to see a political book including some of the joyous work, thank you). But with some exceptions I find myself reading for the content rather than the language. Honestly, it is probably because I am a formalist, and twentieth-century poetry disliked formalism; and because I continually strive for clarity of language in my poetry and twentieth-century poetry enjoyed the baroque. Every so often, too, there is something like, oh, anything at all by Adrienne Rich, or Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', or Joan Larkin's 'Rhyme of My Inheritance', which speaks the language I enjoy in poetry as well as respect. But generally I respect this book, and find it useful as a history, much more than I enjoyed it.

And here is Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', because it took the top of my head off. She is wonderful and more people should read her. )

Profile

rushthatspeaks: (Default)
rushthatspeaks

March 2017

S M T W T F S
   1234
56789 1011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Mar. 24th, 2017 12:07 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios