Browse Category: Poetry

Poet Reviews Poet Reviewer

So what is it that a good book of poems maketh that reaches it to the level of New York Times best poetry 2018? I have no idea of who the reviewer is but what qualities of fine poetry does he reveal?

These are the books:

HUMAN HOURS, by Catherine Barnett
THE POPOL VUH, translated by Michael Bazzett

YEARS, MONTHS, AND DAYS, by Amanda Jernigan.
DARK WOODS, by Richard Sanger.
WADE IN THE WATER, by Tracy K. Smith (our poet laureate)
A MEMORY OF THE FUTURE, by Elizabeth Spires

LIKE, by A. E. Stallings
TRANSACTION HISTORIES, by Donna Stonecipher.
BLOOD LABORS, by Daniel Tobin.
HEY, MARFA, by Jeffrey Yang.

Now meander over what he says:

a superb ear
devastating slant rhyme
deliberately casual
domestic poem command
unique and subtle challenges
quiet showcase in tone management
formal agility
classical expertise
attractively darkened
mordant yet romantic
seemingly unrelated observations
meticulously knit together
poetic equivalence of a chord
appealing effect
robust formally dexterous writing
hypnotic deeply strange creation saga
elegant precision
playfully exacting lines

Combine all these together – ah! wishful thinking. But study them at least, and you shalleth be proud. The task now is to check and see which of these titles appear in other end-of-the-year lists and to ask why.


Ideas from Poet Watcher Elisa New

If you saw the original manuscripts, you will notice that Emily Dickinson – whose 1800 poems were never published – used dashes. In this interview from Harvard poet critic Eliza New describes Dickinson’s work: “The exquisite craft of the individual poems. The extraordinary metaphors that just pay off and pay off and pay off.” I had mentioned to another writer the power of Dickinson’s metaphor and I don’t think the writer got the point. Dickinson: “I felt a Funeral in my Brain.”

Dickinson is important because interviewer Tyler Cowen got New to admit the the best poets in our country were Dickinson and Walt Whitman. What I am saying here is that any ‘poet’ worth their salt would have experience these two in the most deepest of ways and would not be writing Hallmark stuff and call them poems. But alas, that’s what 95 percent of facebook poems are, HALLMARK DRIVEL.

New says without Dickinson or Whitman, there would probably not be a Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, Carl Sandburg, C. D. Wright, C. K. Williams; a Susan Howe, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath.

If you don’t know these poets, then KNOW THEM – try to have deep and meaningful experiences with them.

Then there’s John Ashbery, whose early long narrative poetry I frequently post as contrasted to his recent nearly indecipherable poetry. New describes the latter as “the cut-up way, in the media-fied way that he saw earlier than the rest of us.” – which helps me view his difficult work in a different way. The interviewer then mentions some Canadien ‘Rupi Kaur’ whose poetry grew through Instagram two million followers to 77 weeks on NYT Best Seller List. New doesn’t criticize the poet. Instead she notes “we are in the middle of an interesting king of generational shift.” This younger generation has “a lot of sharing and a lot of sociality [and] wants to hear about the personal lives of their peers.” She simply says she is “too old” for such sorts.

And then she mentions Billy Collins, a well crafted poet who seems to defy the nonpopularity quotient. I immediately viewed some of his work and it’s the power of both his craft and his thought, both in ordinary language (of metaphor) that reign supreme – yeap, he’s my new flame. (LOOK HIM UP!)

Other poets New identifies are T.S. Eliot – “too fastidious”; John Milton; William Carlos Williams; Poe: “no poem should be longer than 108 lines,” which is wrong because then we wouldn’t have such as Dante (nor Milton!).

She points out the power of Herman Melville that did not exclude nor marginalize the female experience, did not confine such to the domestic realm but, I guess, gave much thought. Later in the interview she answers the question of the most important work to help others understand the american experience is “The Scarlet Letter”. There’s Willa Cather to help us understand our diversity, writing of the Midwestern modern America (1900s thereabout) such as My Antonia. I have recently made a light touch into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these were some of the immigrants that populated a great potential America.

New makes prompted comments on Robert Frost; of “that Puritan tradition” (from California), he “tells us it’s good to acknowledge our pain.” Prompted on Gwendolyn Brooks, how she is a people’s poet. Ezra Pound, whom she would naturally first rebound from for his anti-Semitism, she yet notes his “beautiful, musical effects” as he tried to go cross-cultural and traditional, a “technician par excellence”. The problem with Pound and Eliot for her: “But I like my poets to give me some wisdom, and I don’t find him [them] wise.”

“For whatever reason, great art is often fertilized by bad character.” Eliot “was always a person of too much privilege and a person who made such bad choices…” And “The Waste Land, then, becomes a “magnificent accident”.

Positive mentions of Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Robert Pinsky to say that poems should be read out, shared ‘around a fire,’ “or recited after school in a pageant or sang with music and jesters.”

She defines Thomas Hardy, Melville (his “Battle Pieces,” “Clarel”), great novelists as great poets even though, in “a very banal way of saying it – they really do call on different skill sets. The sort of distillation and often asocial concentration that it takes to be a lyric poet is quite different from the crowded, cacophonous, socially alert set of faculties one needs to write a great novel.”

What is wonderful – years ago, among one of my several life book collections, I had this small but really LARGE THICK book of poems. They were all expert, superb haikus. Well, New mentions this work. The volume of haiku by my absolutely fav life-changing writer RICHARD WRIGHT (of Native Son and Black Boy novels fame – as if you didn’t know!) Wright was a great poet, jesus!

The interviewer (Tyler Cowen) is apparently as fascinated with Bob Dylan as a poet as he is with Dickinson – who New located as being fascinated with Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

“[I]t is our humanity that poetry most meaningfully serves… I hope…we will cherish more the things about us that are just humans.”

She advises printing out poems “It’s better than reading it on your phone. And put it in your pocket,” take the advice of Whitman: “Loafe with me on the grass.”

New: “I really believe that human language — even encoded in some of the arcane ways, poems, and code — language is fascinating to other human beings.”

And i think that’s what it’s about to me, then, the fascination of language, it’s ability to communicate things and provide me silently indisputable things of beauty.

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