Poetry Feed

Averno

AvernoAverno by Louise Glück
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Time passed, and some of it became this.
And some of it simply evaporated;
you could see it float above the white trees
forming particles of ice."

This is now the third book of hers I've read since she won the Nobel. I regret not having read her before, but also feel that arriving at her work precisely now is right. She is an essential voice for expressing the thoughts and feelings of our pandemic moment. The ways in which her poems express beauty deeply acquainted with darkness and suffering that leave you pondering whether they are completely despairing or if there is a glimmer of vital hope?

And this volume is a meditation on death and our how our mortality connects to the earth and our earthiness. For instance, in the title poem. A cultivated field has burned and yet new plants appear in the spring. She concludes with this searing stanza:

"The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,
when he understood that the earth
didn't know how to mourn, that it would change instead.
And then go on existing without him."

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The Depths of My Soul: Into the Feels

The Depths of My Soul: Into the FeelsThe Depths of My Soul: Into the Feels by Steve Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Please don't stop the rain, for it is the pain of an empty soul."

My dear friend Steve Jackson has published his first collection of poetry. As promised by the title and description, this book is deeply emotional. Poems such as "Rockabye" and "Spite and Desire" are intense. I really enjoyed the rhythm of poems like "Gone" and "My Sisters." From "Gone:"

Time
loneliness
9:25 and . . .
tick-tock
43 seconds emptiness

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Faithful and Virtuous Night

Faithful and Virtuous NightFaithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Outside, the snow was falling.
I had been, I felt, accepted into its stillness."

A melancholy work. With a complicated sense of voice, as many of the poems are uttered by a male narrator whose relationship to the author is unclear.

I did not find this book as resonant and powerful as Wild Iris, but still a worthy work.

"I think here I will leave you. It has come to seem
there is no perfect ending.
Indeed, there are infinite endings.
Or perhaps, once one begins,
there are only endings."

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Selected Poems of Paul Celan

Selected Poems and Prose of Paul CelanSelected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan by Paul Celan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Will days heal softly, will they cut too sharp?"

Many of Celan's poems are weighted with grief. He survived the Nazis, but his parents did not, and mourning his mother is a constant theme.

And yet these poems reveal beauty. A command of language. Weaving words to reveal and create possibilities.

And in one poem I found my slogan for 2020 (I have adapted the translation a little):

"This cracked year
with its rotting crust of
madnessbread."

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The Wild Iris

The Wild IrisThe Wild Iris by Louise Glück
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was rather embarrassed when an American poet won the Nobel Prize and I had not read one of her books. Oh, I'd read a poem here or there, but that's all. This seems particularly embarrassing given my 2017 project of reading lots of authors often mentioned as possible Nobel recipients and the vast amount of poetry I've read in 2020.

The day she won I tried to order this book, but it was out-of-stock. I ordered two others and then a week or so later saw this one was available again and ordered it and it arrived but the first two I ordered still have not. I devoured the book this week, despite the six or seven other books I'm actively reading.

An early poem, "Snowdrops," seemed particularly appropriate this week when winter weather arrived and Covid numbers were spiking and you could feel a sense of dread developing. It begins:

"Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you."

Reading, I was amazed at the ways her poems bear together intense darkness and radiant light. It's incredible her skill in completely holding both at the same time.

"If you would open your eyes
you would see me, you would see
the emptiness of heaven
mirrored on earth, the fields
vacant again, lifeless, covered with snow--

then white light
no longer disguised as matter."

I praise the Nobel committee's decision. She may have been the perfect author to draw attention to in this calamitous year.

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Fragments

FragmentsFragments by KP Moon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Don't love me like a fire;
even the wildest flames can die.
Love me like the ocean;
endless and free from constraint."

I like that image, "Love me like the ocean." This debut book of poems from "Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas" contains some images the remind me of Ocean Vuong.

The poem "Itsy Bitsy" is about seeing a spider crawling on the wall and wondering where it comes from. When it starts there's both an innocent wonder and some sense of dread. The images are really strong--"Where could I go to/ to build a web for one?" And the poem ends with a shock.

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The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

The Collected Poems of Emily DickinsonThe Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"I live on dread; to those who know
The stimulus there is
In danger, other impetus
is numb and vital-less."

Back during the spring quarantines I read a lot of poetry and decided that it was finally time to tackle Emily Dickinson. 2020 seemed to be a good year for her sensibility.

But if American poetry is divided between fans of Whitman and fans of Dickinson, then I'm clearly in Walt's camp.

While there are obviously poems I liked and which were profound, her style just didn't excite, animate, or resonate with me like many other poets I read.

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The Age of Anxiety

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque EclogueThe Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue by W.H. Auden
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read The Age of Anxiety because it was discussed in a book I read back in May about how Christian intellectuals had grappled with the crisis of the Second World War. This is a very strange poem, and most of the time I wasn't sure what to make of it. There were some good lines here and there. It does have a reputation for expressing the anxiety of its age, which I trust it does. But I didn't find much that I could make use of in our own anxious time.

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Whence and Whither

Whence and Whither: On Lives and LivingWhence and Whither: On Lives and Living by Thomas Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A collection of lectures, essays, and stories and, as such, varied in quality. There are some witty, provocative, insightful images and phrases, but not the overall substance I had hoped for.

His discussion "Red Wheel-Barrow" by William Carlos Williams is itself worth the price of the book. That discussion made me cry.

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