Thursday, August 5, 2010

Poetry Books

I've been reading a lot of poetry books recently. The library branch near my house has a decent selection. Libraries are really awesome, you know.

FIELD GUIDE by Robert Hass. I liked the nature aspects, but generally didn't connect with this book. Finished reading it only two weeks ago, and already its only remnant in my mind is the few lines describing the cabezone fish.

SELECTED POEMS OF ANNE SEXTON. A big book. I've only gotten through the first section, which is primarily drawn from her first collection: TO BEDLAM AND PARTWAY BACK. There's power in the imagery and the subject matter, but Slyvia Plath's ARIEL hits the same targets with more power. Many of the poems use rhyme schemes that at first you might not notice, but then when you do notice them they feel distracting. Also seems like she's letting her need for a rhyming word steer her poems for her, and that often results in poems that don't really go to the marrow. Her free verse poems are generally better.

THE BLIZZARD VOICES by Ted Kooser. Easy reading poems that look like, basically, transcriptions of quotes from folks recounting a really big blizzard that happened in 1888. Interesting from a story-perspective, but I'm not sure much is gained by putting them into 'poem' format. Really, all Kooser seems to have done is take quotes and break them up into lines on a page. Also raises questions in my mind about authorship; one could argue that Kooser's role is more editor than poet. Brings to mind Anna Deavere Smith's work. Regardless of these questions, I found it to be comparatively more rewarding to read than either of the first two books mentioned in this post.

THE DUMBBELL NEBULA by Steve Kowit. Probably one of the top five poetry books I've ever read. Maybe even one of the top three. Witty, eloquent, 'poetic' use of language, but still easily accessible and solidly grounded. Because of that ease of entry, and the emotional power Kowit wields, these poems remind me in some ways of Bukowski. But Kowit is a very different character than Bukowski, with a very different perspective: a sort of innocent, boyish exuberance and playfulness, but also an incredible empathy and capacity to communicate sorrow. Kowit also feels more daring than Bukowski, to me--while Bukowski hides behind an armor of machismo, Kowit's willing to really show his vulnerabilities, and he's not afraid to play the fool. Does raise some questions though, like "what the hell is poetry, anyway?" With just minor tweaking, a lot of these poems could probably pass into prose form.

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