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. )

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
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?

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
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.


You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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 [livejournal.com 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. )

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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. )

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

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