Poetry Feed


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:"

9:25 and . . .
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

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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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