Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bookmarks for April/May 2007

Okay, so this is a bit late, but I've been doing the paying job and so haven't gotten to much else in the past few weeks.

First, let me note that I have let my subscription to Poetry lapse. I have had it now for just over two years (and I bought copies now and then before that), but I have been conflicted about the magazine for a while, and having gotten about three issues behind in reading, wondered if it was worth the $35 a year to keep it coming. Few of the poems do much for me, the reviews are sometimes helpful and often times piss me off (their anti-religion bias, in particular, really upsets me), and the special features either thrill me or just frustrate me with their pretentiousness.

I originally subscribed for two main reasons. First, as a poet, I wanted to read what is considered, by many whose judgement is beter than mine, good work, to find what I could do to improve my own poetry. Second, I love poetry, and this is the premier publication. But I don't know that I should keep it up. Any comments would be helpful.

Speaking of things I've read in Poetry, an essay I read there a few months ago lead me to purchase a copy of Poems of Paul Celan. I am probably a sucker for stuff that connects art and suffering, and when I found Michael Hamberger's translation (1980) for a small price, I decided to get a copy. After a couple of months of trudging through it, I've come to the conclusion that either I am not reading right, or the poems are indecipherable. I don't mind working to read poetry, but there is nothing to hold most of these poems together. They seem to work on a juxtapostion of images and distorted syntax, much like that of E.E. Cummings. But unlike Cummings' verse, these just hang there. Celan appears to have had a much darker vision of the universe than Cummings, but there isnt much to even look at in the images. I just didn't get it.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Robert B. Parker's version of the gunfight at O.K. Corral (and I guess the events leading up to it), entitled Gunman's Rhapsody. This was, as usual with Parker, an entertaining read, but not much more. The draw for many readers is going to be that we get to see, supposedly, Wyatt Earp and his brothers in a more real, human light than history books typically render them. Maybe that happens, but I couldn't help thinking I had Spenser in a cowboy hat. The story moves along well enough, and I did find myself caring for the characters, but while Parker gives us, in Wyatt Earp, a man with scruples and foiables of his own, he paints his villians so broadly that the old Time/Life books seem interesting. And I hope I was not the only one to see the irony in that Earp is supposed to be the quintessential "man of few words," but that he had an awful lot to say.

Several months ago, I set out to read an anthology I've had on my shelf for some time, Contemporary American Poetry, edited by A. Poulin Jr. and Michael Waters (seventh edition, 2001). I am finishing it now. I won't quibble about the exclusion of poets that have come into more reknown since this edition was published, but I am a little concerned that writers like Stephen Dunn and Raymond Carver are omitted. I know that like "best of" lists, none can make everyone happy. However, leaving Dunn, in particular, out seems almost criminal. That said, I do very much recommend this book. Each poet, from Ai to James Wright, is amply represented here, and there is much to demonstrate that American Poetry did not die with Frost.

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