Some of these books were actually read or started in May, but I'm just now getting around to writing about them. Will warn you, I plan to read mostly poetry this summer, so that's what I will likely write about.
When I re-read a poem right away, it typically this means that 1) the poem is so dense that I just can't figure out what the heck is going on, 2) the poem is so simple that I don't know what is going on, or 3) I was so tired or distracted that by the time I got to the end I knew I had missed something important. But I found myself re-reading many of the poems in Dick Barnes' collection A Word Like Fire simply because they were so good, so strong that I could not go on to the next without experiencing it again. In fact, there were poems quoted in whole or in part in Robert Meezy's forward that I ended up reading several times for the simple pleasure of enjoying Barnes' startling images and thoughtful metaphors. (For a link to an essay that quotes from this forward, click here.) Barnes has been neglected, I think, for a couple of reasons. He was a religious poet, not one that proselytizes or is pious or dogmatic or self-abasing, but one that had a clearly sacramental vision of the world. Further, he did not write from the academic/workshop molded model. He crafted his poems carefully and revised them to make them work well. But Barnes did not seem not wallow in obfuscating language or imagery that is only clear to the college professor. Further, he apparently was not a self-promoter.
We have ignored this valuable contribution to American Literature far too long. Read this book and see if you don't find yourself cheering infinite possibilities for humans in the universe and railing against a poetic establishment that has fed on the products of its incest.
In a previous post, I mentioned Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. This is another book by a religious poet that I fear is going to be ignored simply because the writer is a person of faith (though her celebrity may bring it more attention than Barnes' work). Karr's vision, like Scott Cairnes', is brutally honest and real. One gets the impression that when she writes about the resurrection of Christ, she hasn't had some vague experience that the rest of the world cannot possibly share (though they are expected to). And these are not all poems about religious experience, though some are certainly about moments in the life of a person working out her own salvation, practicing faith in every sense that work, "practice," denotes.
For a link to the University of California at Berkeley's Lunch Poems series, where you can hear Karr read poems from this collection, click here.
For some reason, Karr's The Liars Club passed me by when it came out and so many people were reading it. I had recommended reading Sinners Welcome to some friends and colleagues and they said, "Oh yeah, didn't she write...?" I felt foolish, but then I quickly got hold of the book and took a couple days to make my way through it. Now that phrase, "make my way," isn't intended to imply that the book was bad and difficult to get through. It was difficult to get through because it is so honest and blunt and while I find Karr's honesty refreshing, it is sometimes also rather painful. It isn't bleak all the way through because Karr tells of the tough times with the direct (not flat) tone of one who has (mostly) come to grips with a difficult childhood where as a child one doesn't always know that life is difficult, but does know more about pain than children in supposedly healthy families. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Cherry.
I stated at first that I was planning to read mostly poetry this summer. For those thinking of coming back to see what else I've looked at, I also plan to read Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook, some short story collections (at the moment, I'm thinking of Chekhov and Chandler). I also am slowly finishing The Best American Essays of 2005.