Archive for the ‘Books of / about Poetry’ Category

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Book Review: The Jubilation of Falling Bodies

July 31, 2005

There is a lot of poetry in this world. To my taste, some is good, some is fair, and some is inspiring. I like to wander the bookshelves of my library or book store and pick out poetry books to try, kind of like the sample at the ice cream store, tasting a flavor, and if I enjoy what I sample, going back for more.

Well, I was lucky to have sample the flavor of Ifeanyi Menkiti’s The Jubilation of Falling Bodies. This chapbook, published in 1978 in a limited edition by The Pomegranate Press, captures Menkiti’s lush images and generous prose in a collection of thirty-five poems in three sections: “Persons and Places,” “Strictly Academic,” and “Weird Companions.”

In “Persons and Places,” Menkiti takes us on a journey to places near and far, from Harvard Square to Agra, India. In each place, we see the story of the person who inhabited it. “To a Certain Pretty Girl” relates the story of a flirtatious encounter over lunch (which leads to humiliation): “…and here / is a million kisses / from the guy who sat / at the table next to yours / who spilled coffee / on his brand new shoes / while watching you…” Another poem, “In Agawam”, even deals with the subject of Massachusetts’ affection for itself (“Massachusetts so much / in love with itself / the longest street / in the state / is named Massachusetts…”).

“Strictly Academic” deals with the questions that need answers. In “Oedipus”, Menkiti notes “my father slept / with my mother: / when I want to do / what my father did / my father gets / all worked up / & says I’m weird.” In “Holy Confusion”, Menkiti deals with the question of whether coffee is good for you by going to the real source. In “Earth Receive Her”, the reader is treated to an understanding of the process after death.

“Weird Companions” provides six sublime portraits of the absurd, while revealing some amount of universal truth. In “The Matador” we find “She dodges the bull in the ring, / The bull follows her here and there. / She and the bull are ready to collide. / The matador is wearing a skirt.”

The poems through the chapbook are accompanied by woodcut prints which add a stark and beautiful contrast to the words themselves. The book is an inspired collection of moving poetry, and one I would recommend to anyone interested in the language of images.

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Book Review: W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse

January 8, 2005

Here’s the 2nd book review.


I finished reading W.H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse and I found it to be a mixed bag.  First some definitions:  this book was originally published as part of the Oxford University Press’ collection of books of poetry.  Commissioned in the 1930s, it is not, simply stated, a book of comedic verse, although many of the pieces are quite humorous.


It is rather a collection of poetry of popular verse, beginning with poems in Middle English (“Sitteth alle stile and herkneth to me ! / the kyng of Alemaignr, bi mi leaute,”) and carrying through to Auden’s contemporaries (”Spirits of well-shot woodcock, partridge, snipe / Flutter and bear him up the Norfolk sky:”).  Representing many forms, from nursery rhymes (the original “Jack and Gill went up the Hill” is in here — Gil, who knew it was Gil?) to elegies to limericks to odes, and many voices (some American, Irish and Scottish, though mostly British) it is a thorough collection.


And therein lies my problem with it.  As a collection, I found myself thumbing through, looking at particular pieces and savoring them, and skipping others completely.  It is collection which, to me, is often excellent, and occasionally horrible.


One of my favorite pieces (which I have marked since I am sure to read and re-read it) is “The Careless Gallant” by Thomas Jordon.  It begins “Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice, / With claret and sherry, thorbo and voice … In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence / For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.”


Another seemed particularly relevant to our current time.  John Gay’s “Ode for the New Year” makes fun of King George, and I drew some inspiration from it, so at the end of this review I present my re-interpretation of this poem, titled “Ode for a Second Inauguration.”  Much of the piece is based on the original John Gay piece — grab the original to compare and see for yourself.


So, in short, a worthwhile piece to add to a poetry collection, but not one to start your library.



1/6/05


An Ode for the Second Inauguration
Written by David Demm, Esq. Poet Laureate
 


God prosper long our gracious King.
Now sitting on his throne;
Who leads this nation by a string
And governs almost none.


This is the day when, right or wrong,
I, David Demm, Esquire,
Must for my pay recite a song
And strum my venal lyre.


Not he who ruled great Judah’s realm,
Eclipsed old Solomon,
Wise wiser that Ours at the helm
(He is the wiser son?).


Since born from wealth, he never felt
The weight of work or toil;
What does he care if tighter belts
Are coin to pay his spoils?


His head with wisdom deep is fraught,
His breast with courage glows;
Alas, how mournful is the thought,
He ever should need foes.


For, in his heart, he likes to win,
Like ‘poleon in his saddle.
If not in field, in Washington
He daily sounds to battle.


The Queen, I also pray, God save!
His consort thin and dear;
Who just as he is wise and brave,
Is pious and sincere.


She’s courteous, good, and charms all folks,
Loves one as well as t’other;
The far right and the Orthodox,
Alike the unwed mother.


God favor both the princesses
With many happy days
And keep their boyfriend’s caresses
Confined to drunken haze.


And keep that special brother Jeb
With harmony and love.
Tallahassee’s gracious ‘deb’
Please keep as Florida’s guv.


Heav’n spread o’er George’s family
That broad illustrious glare,
Which shines so flat in ev’ry eye,
And makes them all so stare.


But oh! ev’n Kings must end, of course,
And to their heirs be civil;
We poets, too, on wingéd horse.
Must soon post to the devil.


Then, since I have a brother too,
May he Parnassus rule;
So shall the Crown and Laurel, too,
Descend from Fool to Fool!


Patterned after John Gay’s “An Ode for the New Year: Written by Colley Ciber, Esq., Poet Laureate”


 

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Book Review: De/Compositions

January 6, 2005

Welcome to the first of what will be another feature of the blog, somewhat occasional book reviews of either books of poetry or books relating to the creation, marketing, publishing, or understanding of poetry. For the inaugural review, I read De/Compositions:  101 Good Poems Gone Wrong by W.D. Snodgrass.  You can read more about the book (or order it) at the amazon link here.

  What you get with this book is an instructive education into the art of poetrycraft.  Snodgrass has taken poems written by authors from Emily Dickinson to William Shakespeare and rewritten their work, essential removing the creative spark from these poems and making them dull and lifeless.  In so doing, Snodgrass educates as to what makes the original shine. As an example, Snodgrass takes the first stanza of William Blake’s “The Tyger” and rewrites it (or, to use Snodgrass’ expression “de/composes” it) from the usual striking variance of its original meter:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

and into strict iambics:

O tyger, beast that burns so bright In darkling forests of the night, What godlike hand, what deathless eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

and then into anapests:

O tyger, you creature that’s burning so bright. In the threatening, darkening forests of night, What hand of immortal, what deity’s eye Dare hope it could fashion thy feared symmetry?

In so doing, Snodgrass retains the original intent of the poet, but reveals how important word choice, rhythm, voice and meter and structure are to the poet. A masterful piece of work that teaches without being “teachy.”  I highly recommend it!