U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Wade in the Water is her most recent collection and the first I've read. I think it makes an excellent introduction to her work and wouldn't be a bad place to start if you're new to contemporary poetry. She does not intimidate, nor does her language obfuscate.
The two middle sections engaged me most. The first mines the Civil War era past and makes use of erasure and historical and primary sources in a way that both gives the suffering of African Americans at the time specificity and voice while absolutely illuminating continued injustices in the present. The second also makes poetry out of found materials to focus on contemporary issues such as the environment and racist violence. However, the poems don't attack; they feel like they come from a place of hope.
A book I'm sure I'll come back to soon, after I read her other collections, of course. :)
I have been obsessed with reading lists ever since I was a kid. All the Newberry winners on a bookmark? Yes, please. "100 Essential Novels?" Sign me up.
I'm much more critical of reading lists these days, now that I have read more widely and studied literature for so many years. But that's part of the fun. (Don't get me started on PBS's "Great American Read" thing. Seriously. What's going on there? Never mind. Another post.
I read Edward Hirsch's "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry" recently, in anticipation of seeing him read at the Northwoods Writers Conference in Bemidji, MN. It was last night - he was wonderful - witty, self-depricating, erudite. Wonderful.
I recommend the whole book unreservedly, but the first essay, "Message in a Bottle," I'm sure will stand as a classic statement about poetry in and of itself.
Now, to get to the point: The book closes with the 24-page "A Reading List and the Pleasure of the Catalog." Having read this book, and other Hirsch volumes, I know he's both a scholar and an artist. I was afraid, even at my age and stage of self-education, that I'd be out of the conversation.
I am so satisfied to say that yes, I found many books on Hirsch's list that I have read. Thank goodness. I'm "in the conversation," as we used to say in graduate school. Of course, there are hundreds of volumes on Hirsch's list I haven't read - so off to the library!
Map spans Polish Nobel laureate Szymborska's work from the 1940s up until 2011. Her poetry is immediately engaging, often funny, and down-to-earth. She writes about the smallest subjects (a cat alone in its owner's home) and the largest (mortality, time). She'd be an excellent poet to read if one is new to or intimidated by poetry.
The translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak is impressive given that many of Szymborska's poems play with words and language, though, not knowing Polish myself, I can only give my impressions. I only know that a personable, curious voice comes through.
Here's a late poem (about this painting) whose beauty brought tears to my eyes:
So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
in painted quiet and concentration
keeps pouring milk day after day
from the pitcher to the bowl
the World hasn't earned
the world's end.
I can't remember what prompted me to finally read Szymborska's body of work beyond the occasional anthologized poem, but I'm glad I did. I asked for it last Christmas (I read poetry only in print and often ask for books of poems then; they can be expensive!), and I happened to flip to "Possibilities," written as a list of preferences, which contains the following lines: "I prefer the absurdity of writing poems / to the absurdity of not writing poems." Me too.
AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS is a volume of dark, disturbing, down and dirty poetry.
Usually poetry is not my thing, but I won an Audible copy so I had nothing to lose. I soon discovered that I like this type of poetry quite a bit! At the same time, I learned that I could not listen to it all at once, like a novel. I listened to a handful of poems at a time and then I would need to take a break. There are a lot of poems contained within-at first I started to rate each one, but like I said there are a lot of poems here and that became too time consuming. Also, since this was on audio through Audible, (and not Overdrive), there was no way to bookmark the ones I especially enjoyed.
To address the poetry itself: here can be found bad boyfriends, murderous girlfriends, ghosts in the attic, drugs in all their different forms-be they delivered by stinging needles, burning lines up the nose, or popping pills-they're all present within these pages. There is self hate, self love, even both at the same time. There is also an affection for words and storytelling that comes through these mostly short but powerful verses.
Regarding the narrator, Corinne Gahan, she was excellent. It took a little while to get used to her voicing, but I loved the little extras she added to the words.
Dark and devilish, this volume of powerful poetry isn't messing around. It's blunt and in your face. Do you think you can handle it? If so, you should. You should handle it right now. Highly recommended!
*I won this audio-book via Twitter, but this is my honest opinion, regardless.*