Monday, August 01, 2005

Bookmarks for July 2005

Have been looking at a smattering of things this month, taking a bit of my cue from my Mom who likes to alternate light books with heavy ones.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Found a first edition of this book at a little garage sale in Mineola when visiting my brother John. Did not intend to read it right away, but having forgotten to bring the books I was reading, and not able to sleep one night, I started it.

So far I haven't seen the movie version of this book, but from the commercials, I sense the film is supposed to be a comedy. This book does have its funny moments (It is somehow hard to keep from laughing at a man hanging upside down by an extension cord), but it seems that Grisham wanted the story to be somewhat serious, at least in the beginning. I was mostly interested in seeing how the Krank family was going to get through not doing the usual, material, Christmas thing. The book was a fun read, but a little disappointing. The story seems a bit uneven and some of the prose needs a little polish. On the other hand, watching Luther Krank rebel against his neighbor's and then find the power of community (however heavy handed) was enjoyable, a nice Christmas in July present.

The June issue of Poetry. Okay, I was a bit slow on this one. But I have a tendency to read this magazine in no particular hurry. I actually started it last month and finished in July.

Some of the poems in this issue baffle me, even with re-reading, and a couple seem, to be blunt, too average for what many consider the premier publication of verse. However, I must be honest: I feel that way about pretty much every journal or poetry magazine I encounter.

I have noticed that much of the space in Poetry is devoted to essays and reviews. Though many reviews are perhaps unnecessarily harsh, and most essays repeat the lament of how too much modern poetry comes from the universities, I do find snippets that are interesting to read.

The July/August issue of Poetry. This is the once a year issue devoted to humor. Garrison Keillor, a fan of good poetry (see his fascinating anthology), once told Larry King that one thing missing from American poetry is humor. I am inclined to agree. So it is refreshing to me to find that one of the most prestigious publications in letters devotes its double issue the subject. And here we find humor fit for a variety of tastes. I honestly did not get all of it, but that didn't bother me. Most of the poems were enjoyable and not "light" in the sense of being an easy to read source of momentary chuckles. There were a few disappointments (notably parts of Richard Wilbur's poem, but mostly because I think he is a better poet that some of this suggests). On the whole, this was a good read.
I have mixed feelings about the prose material. I'm glad to see that Poetry doesn't, at least for one issue, take itself too seriously, and even pokes a bit of fun at the pretensions of the community. Particularly interesting, as well as funny, is Kay Ryan's "I Go To the AWP." The piece is probably depressingly insightful for those who are hoping to make their way into the "business" of writing poetry. Dean Young's fake reviews were quite humorous. These and Michael Lewis's "How To Make A Killing From Poetry" struck me as satire that is easily could be mistaken for real criticism.
Three volumes by Wallace Stevens. Stevens himself admitted late in life that he seemed to write for a rather limited audience. I felt I might not be in that audience, but I must admit that I might not have been reading in the right frame of mind. Usually it was late at night and I was tired; therefore, I may have hurt my best chances to be edified in some way by his well-crafted verse.
Harmonium (1923, 1931) was Stevens's first book. It contains his most well known , and I think most powerful, poems. While Ideas of Order (1936) had some moving and interesting passages, I was felt lost most of the time. The Man With The Blue Guitar (1937) was fascinating one moment and infuriatingly dense the next. I am taken by the theme of imagination's importance; however, I may need to look at these volumes at a later date, a date I could bring more of my own imagination to the task.
Presently reading: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Perhaps next month I can give a fuller report of this book. For now, know that I consider Merton to be one this country's most neglected poets. I have no evidence to this fact, but I suspect that one reason more is not known about him and why he is not anthologized is that he is a hopeful poet during a time of literary history marked by themes of doubt and alienation. Anyway, should I manage to make my way through this huge book, I'll try to write about it next month. In the meantime, I do recommend this poem, "Aubade: Lake Erie" at the Academy of American Poets website and his Selected Poems.

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