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text 2019-04-21 03:13
Anthology Analysis: Donald Hall's Contemporary American Poetry
Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Poets) - Various Authors,Donald Hall

The first "new" book of poetry I read this year was Donald Hall's "Contemporary American Poetry," acquired last fall for a quarter at a garage sale. (Read more about that "haul" here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1838747/book-haul-summer-turns-into-fall.)


The volume is stuffed with canonical poets of the mid-20th century - 39 in total. And, in the Preface to the Second Edition, Hall curiously brags that he included two black poets. Further:

"A few years ago, Karl Shapiro made some remarks about lily-white anthologies which made me angry, for the usual reason one gets angry: because the remarks were accurate. A world of black poetry exists in America alongside the world of white poetry, exactly alike in structure -- with its own publishers, bookstores, magazines, editors, theologists, conferences, poetry readings -- and almost entirely invisible to the white world.  Like the rest of the black world. The world of white poetry has practiced the usual genteel apartheid of tokenism: Here is praise for Langston Hughes, here is  Pulitzer Prize for Gwendolyn Brooks; now we've done our liberal bit, let's go back to reading "The New York View of Books.


"The world of black poetry seems to be thriving. I find it hard to judge these poems, as if I were trying to exercise my taste in a foreign language, which I am. Here I am printing two poets almost wholly unknown to the white world, Dudley Randall and Etheridge Knight. (I asked LeRoi Jones, who refused.)" 


Fifty years later, of course, no liberal thinker would talk thusly about the literary world, so perhaps it is unfair to point out the recently-deceased Mr. Hall's cloddishness here. But man of our our African-American literati would say that there world is not yet fully fair to the merits of their works. 


But, truth be told, just as depressing to me as the lack of writers of color in this anthology was the lack of women writers. Four, are included, all canonical: Levertov, Plath, Rich, and Sexton. Four. Four. Four. Ten percent. Not even Elizabeth Bishop made the list. Where are the women poets? They were writing.


In our post Gilbert-and-Gubar world, it's clear that who does the choosing and who is chosen matters. We can look back retrospectively and forgive, but we must not forget, going forward. 



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text 2019-02-08 02:25
Book Haul: Lutheran Church Sale Edition
Elizabeth Alexander Inaugural Chapbook - Elizabeth Alexander

I don't buy many books these days, for reasons I've talked about before in this blog. But it doesn't mean that I don't hunt for treasures regularly.

A couple of Saturdays ago, the Lutheran church one street over from my home had their annual rummage sale. This is a massive event. Sure, I combed through the book tables when I was there. A few interesting things, but only one book that I wanted as a "keeper." Of course, it's poetry - a little chapbook version of Elizabeth Alexander's 2009 inaugural poem.

I love Elizabeth Alexander, and I love her publisher, Graywolf Press. And I LOVE getting this little gem for fifty cents! It's a great addition to my little collection that includes Maya Angelou's inaugural poem, plus volumes by Auden and Rich. 

What else did I buy? Two crossword puzzle books for my dad. They're nothing special, but he'll get a dollar's worth of enjoyment out of them anyway. And, a vintage Lionel Trains manual. Not a bad way to spend $2, total, at a community fundraiser. 



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text 2019-01-30 17:28
Book Haul: Summer Turns into Fall
Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Poets) - Various Authors,Donald Hall

I don't buy many books these days. Over the 23 years I lived in a pretty small apartment, it was clear that at the rate of reading of a little over one new book a week, storing books would be a real challenge. Also, once something acquires a memory for me - especially a good memory, as books so often do - it's really hard for me to let go of them from my life.


I try to limit my book-buying these days to just a few a year. Poetry - they're usually skinny, so you can fit a lot of them on a shelf. The catalog book, if I see a really great art exhibit or visit a new museum. If one of my friends publishes, I try to buy the book. Occasionally a book from a signing or reading. A book with a such a profound memory or reading experience attached to it that I want to be a "keeper."


However, this past September I bought a whole bag of books, unexpectedly, on the spur-of-the-moment. What the heck happened? Well, here we go:


During the summer, I spend weekends with my folks at an RV park in north-central Minnesota. Sometimes, we go around to garage sales in the area, looking for treasures. We did just that on the last weekend of my summer year. And the last sale we went to was in a yard not far from a small state university. Where, apparently, a kindred spirit was selling her collection. She was planning a move to New York, she said, and couldn't take it all with her.


A quarter per book. And books that said, "Take me home. She loved us. Now you love us." And at a quarter a book, plus 10 cents for a cute cream-and-magenta tote bag (fragrance gwp that went unwanted and unused) I did not resist. 


Here's what I got! 

  • The anthology "Contemporary American Poetry," edited by Donald Hall. That's become my first poetry read of 2019. I'll be making a separate post about it later. 
  • A hardcover anthology, "Charlotte and Emily Bronte: The Complete Novels," published by Grammercy. (Sorry, Anne, you didn't make the cut, apparently.)
  • The Oxford World Classics paperback edition of "A Memoir of Jane Austen," written years after her death by a nephew. Been on my list to read for years, that one.
  • "The Best American Poetry 2000," guest editor that year was Rita Dove.
  • "Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys: Great Writers on Great Places," which I believe was a Penguin original several years ago. 
  • "Edmund Bertram's Diary," by Amanda Grange. Yes, it's Jane Austen fan-fiction, I suppose, but I will love it at least 25 cents worth, I'm certain.


See? I found a kindred reading spirit.


Would I have gone out and purchased all of these at full price? Absolutely not. Would I have paid a dollar each for these? Perhaps, but not all at once. Will I read them all? Certainly. 


So thank you, kindred reading spirit. May your reading life be blessed in the future. 



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text 2018-07-05 01:15
Notes from the Backlist: Lay Back the Darkness
Lay Back the Darkness: Poems - Edward Hirsch

For those who enjoy poems that interpret/reinterpret, muse upon, or retell Greek myths (who doesn't - I wrote a few myself in younger days), Edward Hirsch's 2003 volume, "Lay Back the Darkness," is one of those books. 


Also of particular note is a sequence, "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944."



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text 2018-06-21 13:48
Reading List Alert!
How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry - Duke University,Edward Hirsch

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! 



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