Friday, March 7, 2008

Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction: Book Reviews since January

I've renewed these books from the Malmö City Library so that I could tell you about them, but it has come to my realization that I read the due date incorrectly (you can't rely on the order of date, month, year, I guess), they want my money. Before I cough up the money, however, I will do a quick review so you can check them out for yourself or save yourself the trouble, whichever works.


"The Star-Apple Kingdom," by Derek Walcott, 1980, ed. Jonathan Cape, Britain
Yes, I know it is old, but that's the only poetry available in English at dear old Malmö Stadsbibliotek.

Walcott is a strange favorite of mine. His content is often too brash for me, but his descriptions are nearly perfect and his verbs are worth re-using because they are so different than the ordinary.

My suspicion is that this book is on the shelves in Sweden because it is in most ways about the sea. Since Sweden is surrounded on three sides by the sea. Sometimes the poems seem to be written from right here, where I'm currently living, overlooking the Baltic Sea.

Thus the favorite poem in this book is titled, "The Sea is History." Wow! Does this poem blow the socks off.

"Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

"First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, like a light at the end of a tunnel,

"the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the s***, the moaning:

Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow,

"that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor"

and that is probably more of an exerpt than I should share. He continues with great historical leaps, surprising connections and conclusive leap-words. All credit due to the artist! I have his collected works at home and miss flipping it open to random places to behold his sense of wording and timing.

"The Wild Iris," by Louise Glück, 1992, Carcanet Press Limited, England.

Back when Louise was Poet Laureate of the U.S., I read what pieces of hers were available and highlighted on the internet. Who am I to say this? Nobody: I was not in the least bit impressed. But I hadn't read a whole book of hers, so decided (in the midst of so little available poetry) to give her another try.

I'm glad I did. The poems in this book appear to be from the perspective of flowers and trees. The garden plays a huge role, but the voice/narrator is difficult to place. Nevertheless, the feeling of trying to figure out where the voice is coming from is profoundly effective as a mode for transferring ideas previously attributed to overbearing deities or overly opinionated poets. Flowers are not overbearing. Their position of frailty, humility and vulnerability give them an amazing power.

"A New Path to the Waterfall: Last Poems," by Raymond Carver, 1989, Collins Carvill, Britain.

I've known Raymond Carver for his short stories--vivid, masterful. But I'd never known a single poem. Not only that, but the idea of these poems being his last intrigued me. Sure enough, according to another poet I admire, Tess Gallagher (who knew they were intimate?), these were his last poems before he died. I didn't even know he was dead. Mourn, now, if you didn't already know.

It is important to note that these poems were Carver's last. They feel like a flood of memories needing to be sifted. But who, among those who attempt poetry, does not relate to such things raising their heads at the very moment one sits down to write? This book is a heftier volume of "last words" and as satisfying for the curious.

The following poem is fairly vivid for half of the world's population:

My Wife, by Rayond Carver

My wife has disappeared along with her clothes.
She left behind two nylon stockings, and
a hairbrush overlooked behind the bed.
I should like to call your attention
to these shapely nylons, and to the strong
dark hair caught in the bristles of the brush.
I drop the nylons into the garbage sack; the brush
I'll keep and use. It is only the bed
that seems strange and impossible to account for.

Makes your stomach churn...

"Everyman's Poetry," Thomas Hardy, 1998, Orien Publishing Group, London.

We can be sure that Thomas Hardy was no longer living in 1998. However, his works live on.

I admit, I did not read this whole book (normally I read a book of poetry like a child devours a bag of candy). This is of great sadness to me now that I must take it back and pay my dues. But reading a whole string of Hardy's poems is much like eating too rich a chocolate. It's a little too pure. One must take small bites. I'll have to taste of his poetry more, later.

Here's an example:

A Necessitarian's Epitaph

A world I did not wish to enter
Took me and poised me on my centre,
Made me grimace, and foot, and prance,
As cats on hot bricks have to dance
Strange jigs to keep them from the floor,
Till they sink down and feel no more.

or another:

Christmas: 1924

'Peace on earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison gas.

"When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed," by Ray Bradbury, 1975, Fletcher & Son Ltd, Norwich.

Who knew that Ray Bradbury wrote poems? Of course, we know Farenheit 451 and several other short stories. He even wrote a great writing book, "Zen and the Art of Writing." But poetry?

Sure enough, here is a strangely titled book full of extra long, rhyming poetry. It's cumbersome in many ways, but shows his understanding of forms, of good rhymes and, in many ways, apt wording. In some ways it is a little too sentimental and, in others, too prone to physical concerns.

You should read, "The Boys Across the Street are Driving My Young Daughter Mad," his Darwin series and, yes, why not try plodding through "When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed," and see if one can make sense of it.

I didn't make it through this whole book, either, but it was playful and artful and might one day win a space on my bookshelf, if only for the novelty, if I can find it for a dime or a quarter.

"Quantum Lyrics: {poems}," by A. Van Jordan, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc, New York.

I've never before heard of this poet (which would be the case for probably 80% of the poets out there; so many to know, so little time). It was the title that grabbed me, especially the layering of the word lyrics in the place of physics. I'm also secretly interested in science, but don't tell my old science teachers who gave me F's on tests.

There are poems related to race with wonderfully fun twists, to love, a whole section devoted to Einstein and his loves, and poems on scientific lectures and other things of interest, including comic book super heros. It would be difficult to highlight just one poem. I couldn't read them fast enough.

Note for Tumblewords: There's a poem in there called "Fractals" and the title fits the poem well.

Here, I'll lift out a few stanza's of "Remembrance:"

"Yesterday, today and tomorrow
string together a necklace of Wednesdays.
I go weeks like this:

where Friday nights spin
into a myth
I no longer believe,

where the words, getting over, italicize
into a mere idea.
I wake up some mornings..."

The poem gains speed, gets better, eventually drops into the profundity of the mundane.

If you can find this book, check it out!

"Nordic Poetry Festival New York Anthology," eds. Kajsa Leander and Ernst Malmsten, 1993, Sweden.

I picked this book off of the shelf to get a sense of poets from the area I'm spying on these last few months. Especially fun is that these poems are translated from Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, Sami, Faroese and Greenlandic. If only I could understand these poems in their own languages! And if only I could find a more current anthology!

This poem, by Krsten Hammann, Denmark, hit close to home (excuse the female slant):

"I'm So Sick of my Body

I'm so sick of my body
I must educate it
and order it about
and speak harshly
Suddenly it drinks from the wrong bottle
or gasps for air in an infected room
When we have been to the park
it just stays there on the bench
and I have to go back and fetch it
In all respects it is childish and unreasonable
I'm most ashamed of it

What a nuisance it is
to see it flail about and act up
Then it's food
FOOD, it wants food!
or warmth, sleep
much too expensive and long showers
romantic moments
it spends hours
pretending to procreate
and then it's the heart
it begins to sigh
it is broken
somebody of no consequence has trampled on it
how boring it is
and still I feel a certain concern
it is so bloody and banal
it doesn't know what to do with itself
that worries me
it just grows older and older
and prone to stumbling" translated from the Danish by Per K. Brask

I like Hanne Bramness's lines in "Stockholm Days." Here are a few (she translated her own Norwegian into English. We can be sure the words are those the author desired):

"The city rises

smoke from ice holes
swans on heavy wings

a January day lifts
from the fjord in front of us"

Gösta Ågren's poem "Europe's Cathedrals" reminds me of what we see in every big and small town we pass through. Here are a few of his lines (translated from the Swedish by David McDuff, but the poet is Finnish):

"They are the Middle Ages' vast
radio sets, tuned
to a station that without
cease transmits silence.
The message is that there is
a message, something so simple
words cannot explain. It
needs cathedrals. But..."

Of course there were many more interesting poets and ways of thinking. It was difficult to keep from categorizing (i.e. oh, so that's how the Finnish/Danish/Sami/etc. think/write/speak). I am grateful for old books with old poems found on shelves in different cities, states, countries, for the windows they provide for sights into different mental landscapes.


"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," by Kurt Vonnegut, 1998, Delta Publishing, New York.

My daughters read this book in High School, so I decided to see for myself about Kurt Vonnegut's style of writing. I'm told his style changes from book to book.

"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," is written in a conversational tone, easy reading, random section breaks (sometimes in the middle of a scene or dialogue), good suspension of belief--even past the last page, if that's possible--and the ability to play with ones brain.

For those of you who have read the book, I really liked questionably insane Elliot, about whom the book is written, through the eyes of a certain Norman Mushari, who seems to quietly enter and exit the scene. The ending was surprising but satisfying in a fiendish way.


"Collected Essays, Vol. 2," by
Virginia Woolf, 1966, The Hogarth Press, London.

My experience with Virginia Woolf is her historical novel, "To The Lighthouse," given to me by my maternal grandfather when I was a youth. It launched me from simple romances to books of greater interest. Grandpa Brown was right when he said I'd like it.

I don't believe I've read anything of hers, since, unless maybe a short story, or two. So, I decided to chance reading some of her essays. Unfortunately, these essays don't have the personal interest of, say, Montaigne or C.K. Chesterton, but they are very approachable. They are more commentary on literary forms of writing and criticism. Considering the fact that most of these essays on Fiction, Reading, Women in Fiction and more, I was astounded to follow her so well and to be delighted that she was careful to throw in vivid images to keep the reader from falling asleep in theoretical academics.

Unfortunately, I read a few essays, but didn't get through them all in the time before I must take the book back, but I will likely revisit this book again, if not to own it myself. It is quite useful to the writer as well as the avid reader.

The time approaches for me to drive to the city to take these books back. Besides, my son is now home from preschool and is bored with my writing instead of doing something with him. He's gone to thumbing through his own library books, but would very much enjoy a trip to the bigger library where there are playthings as well as more books to look at, so off we go.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

tumblewords said...

A New Path to the Waterfall: Last Poems," by Raymond Carver, 1989, Collins Carvill, Britain.
How strange - I bought this book around Christmas! And I've recently watched interviews with Tess - she tells delightful and heartrending stories.

I'll try to find the 'Fractals' poem...