Category Archives: Poetry

Read More/Blog More Poetry February: Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

If you think you don’t like poetry, I urge you to pick up Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. If you think poetry is difficult to understand, if you think it is boring, if you think it is outdated, if you think it is just not for you, please, go to the store and buy Native Guard. Read it on your ereader, get it at the library. I’ll even lend you my copy.

This is easily one of the most accessible, moving books of poetry I’ve read. It’s easy to see why it won the Pulitzer and why so many people count it among its favorites. Trethewey does well what so many people only try to do. Her poetry is imbued with a sense of history, both the personal and the national, that informs every line and subject.

The title, Native Guard, refers to the militias of black troops who exchanged service in the Confederate army for their freedom. Their stories have been largely untold in history books and in discussions of the Civil War, at monuments, in text books. The native guards become the symbol for untold histories: stories that are deliberately forgotten and kept hidden.

Native Guard is divided into three sections. The first section of poems are about the speaker’s mother, the second about the history of Mississippi, and the third, and strongest, is the convergence of the private, personal history with the public. It is where the history of the place informs the history of the self and it is perfect. I don’t think I get to say that very often, not with fiction, not with non-fiction, not with poetry. I’m fairly certain that this collection, but most of all the third section, is perfect. I get chills just thinking about the epigraphs.

I read this collection twice in one day. I finished it and went straight back to the beginning to start it again, but there was one poem that I read again and again:

“My Mother Dreams Another Country”

Already the words are changing. She is changing
from colored to negro, black still years ahead.
This is 1966 – she is married to a white man –
and there are names for what grows inside her.
It is enough to worry about words like mongrel
and the infertility of mules and mulattoes 
while flipping through a book of baby names.
She has come home to wait out the long months,
her room unchanged since she’s been gone:
dolls winking down from every shelf — all of them
white. Every day she is flanked by the rituals of superstition,
and there is a name she will learn for this too:
maternal impression — the shape, like an unknown
country, marking the back of the newborn’s thigh.
For now, women tell her to clear her head, to steady her hands
or she’ll gray a lock of the child’s hair wherever
she worries her own, imprint somewhere on the outline
of a thing she craves too much. They tell her
to stanch her cravings by eating dirt. All spring
she has sat on her hands, her fingers numb. For a while
each day, she can’t feel anything she touches: the arbor
out back — the landscape’s green tangle; the molehill
of her own swelling. Here — outside the city limits —
cars speed by, clouds of red dust in their wake.
She breathes it in — Mississippi — then drifts towards sleep,
thinking of someplace she’s never been. Late,
Mississippi is a dark backdrop bearing down
on the windows of her room. On the TV in the corner,
the station signs off, broadcasting its nightly salutation:
the waving Stars and Stripes, our national anthem.
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This review is part of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event hosted by myself and Kelly of The Written World. If you participated today, you can find the Mr. Linky sign up on Kelly’s blog here. If you’re interested in participating this month or in the future, you can find out more about the project here.


“Lights and Shadows” by Delaney Hall

While looking for poems to read over at the Poetry Foundation, I came across this article by Delaney Hall about the Chicago Defender column “Lights and Shadows,” a column devoted to poetry and culture. It’s a beautiful piece about a culture, a community, and, mostly, a man: Dewey R. Jones.

“Few are clamoring over Jones now. He’s one of history’s bit players, and time may slowly bury him. But until that time, his son—who shares his father’s name—will keep wading through the old photographs, letters, and writings that he left behind.”

I love that this one article has brought this one man to my attention. I wish someone would write a book about his life, the Chicago Defender. Maybe someone has. Can you recommend a good one? Gwendolyn Brooks was one of “Lights and Shadows” contributors when she was only a teenager. This line gave me chills:

There’s never enough of what I want,
Never enough sky.

You can read the full article here.


January Roundup — Read More/Blog More Poetry Event

I’m thrilled to announce that we had an excellent turn out for the first month of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event! I’m so glad that everyone took the time to participate in this month’s event and it was amazing to see so many people posting about poetry on their blogs. I just can’t stop smiling! Part of the goal of this event is to make the blogs that are posting about poetry more visible, so my lovely co-host Kelly and I decided to do a detailed roundup of all the participating blogs each month!

Hosts

Kelly went through some of the poems on the list that started it all and talked about each one. I loved reading her reactions!

I chose the first month of the event to talk about why poetry is so important to me.

Participants

Lizzy Siddal @ Lizzy’s Literary Life shared the poem ‘The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered’ by Clive James. He is an Australian author that also tied in with Australia Literature Month.

Serena @ Saavy Verse & Wit shared the Naked Muse 2012 Calendar. It is a great way to see poets for who they really are.

Jeanne @ Necromancy Never Pays shared the poem ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’ by Wallace Stevens.

Jillian @ A Room of One’s Own wrote all about Emily Dickinson. She considers Emily her favorite poet to-date and shares a biography and a list of poems she has read by her.

Julie @ Read Handed decided to share her favourite poetry books in her post.

The Parrish Lantern shared the book The Best British Poetry 2011 and the poem ‘Three Wishes’ by Kate Potts.

Unfinished Person shared a poem she wrote herself, simply titled ‘Poem.’

Care @ Care’s Online Book Club shared a poem that she wrote herself that is about her day and bread baking.

Gavin @ Page247 posted the poem “A Note” by Wislawa Szymborska, who passed away on February 1, 2012.

Snowball @ Come, Sit By the Hearth shared some of her experiences taking poetry classes in graduate school.

Carrie @ Books and Movies reposted a review of Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity responded to all my prompts. Impressive!

Debbie @ ExUrbanis posted about Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

kaye @ The Road Goes Ever Ever On posted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride.

Sara C @ Wordy Evidence of the Fact wrote a review of Kingdom of the Instant by Rodney Jones.

Josh’s Mom/Sue @ Grief Journey to Reading Journey wrote about how poetry helps her process her grief. She shared a poem she wrote called “No Answer.”

Thank you so much, everyone, for participating! See you in February! The Mr. Linky will be hosted by Kelly and we will be posting on February 28th.


January — Read More Blog More! A Poetry Event

Since it is officially Tuesday, January 31st somewhere, I’m going to go ahead and publish this post now. I accidentally scheduled two posts to go up on the 31st, so I apologize in advance if you had any difficulty finding your way here! For this first month of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event, I wanted to share with you why poetry is so important to me.

I found a love of poetry the way most high schoolers do: by writing it. Yes, my high school poems were angsty. I’m the first to admit that. They were often about who didn’t ask me to Junior Prom and family drama and all sorts of things that I’d probably be embarrassed to share with you now. Each year that I wrote poetry, from age 13 on, I also read more poetry. I read more poetry by other teenagers who were writing it, I read more classic poetry, I read more contemporary poetry. I was obsessed with it, and I still am, though perhaps not as fervently as I was in high school.

In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to explain what about poetry makes me so obsessed. There is, of course, the use of the English language in unexpected and clever ways. That is certainly part of it. There are the poems that describe something in a way you’ve never thought of before. I do enjoy that. Then there are the poems that tell a story and I love those as well. None of that, though, really describes what it is about poetry that I love so much.

It’s hard to get into a discussion of poetry without falling into the trap of comparing it to other forms of literature. Poetry is not like a short story and it is not like a novel. It is the concentration of story, language, mood, theme into a small package. Let’s forget about epic poems right now and just think of poetry being everything that a novel or short story is in only a few lines. There are whole stories behind poems, but the poet only lets us glimpse this tiny peek. How much of the whole story we are able to glean from those sparse words is totally up to us and what the poet will let us see.

More than anything, poetry has always been a kind of therapy for me. Reading it, sharing it, writing it has meant a lot to me over the years, through moments of great happiness and sorrow. Reading poetry can often be like recognizing yourself in a character in novel, but instead between the lines of a poem. It’s a way to feel like you are part of something.

Poetry can be beautiful, it can be bad, it can be life-changing. If anything I hope this project will bring people who are already avid readers of poetry closer to the poems they read and I hope it will bring those who are trying to read more poetry the same kind of life-changing connection that reading an amazing book can.

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Thank you for reading and, hopefully, participating in today’s Read More/Blog More Poetry Event! Please link to your post using the Mr. Linky below.


Reminder: First post for Read More/Post More Poetry event is this Tuesday!

This is your friendly reminder that the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event for January is just around the corner! Please post your poetry posts during the day on Tuesday, January 31st,  and check back here for a Mr. Linky where you can register your post.

Not sure what to write about? Here are some suggestions:

– Your favorite poem
– Your favorite poet
– Do you read poetry often? Why or why not?
– Why did you start reading poetry?
– Do you ever write poetry?
– Is there a poet you’ve always wanted to read but never have?
– What do you hope to accomplish through a year of writing about poetry?
– Do you think you’ll read more poetry this year?

As long as your post is about poetry, it is good to go. I can’t wait to read your posts! If you haven’t signed up for this monthly event yet, please see the original post here.

 


Read More/Blog More Poetry: A Monthly Event!

When Kelly and Eva were interested in reading poetry, they asked if I had any suggestions. Jason and I both compiled a list of our favorites and when Kelly posted about it on her blog. Quite a few people asked if it was a challenge. Kelly and I started thinking… maybe it should be!

Now that the New Year has come and gone and you’ve started on all your challenges and readalongs, Kelly and I would like to jump in and add just one more. Instead of a readalong or a reading challenge, though, this is a blog-along with one goal: blog about poetry once a month.

If you regularly read poetry, if you’re just starting to explore the form, if you want a reason to read more, but most of all, if you want a place to talk, gripe, or wax poetic about poetry, this is your blog-along. If you want a place where you can ask questions about poetry, share your favorite poem, discuss how poetry makes you feel, this is just your kind of event.

Most of all, this is a laid-back way to get the book blogging community posting about poetry. This isn’t necessarily a challenge to read more poetry, though we hope you will! (Check out Serena at Saavy, Verse & Wit’s awesome poetry challenge!) There is only one rule: post about poetry once a month, on the last Tuesday of the month. Then Kelly and I will write a wrap-up post the following Friday to keep the discussion going.

Details:

Poetry: Read More/Blog More – A Monthly Event!

1) Post about poetry on your blog on the following dates:

January 31st
February 28th
March 27th
April 23rd
May 29th
June 26th
July 31st
August 28th
September 25th
October 30th
November 27th
December 18th

2) Sign up with Mr. Linky! (Please link to a post specifically about this event if possible!) Kelly and I will be hosting the monthly Mr. Linky on alternating months, starting with my blog in January.


To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor

When Trish at TLC Book Tours contacted me about a modern Inferno, I practically squealed with excitement. I mean, it just sounds so cool. Right? So when I got To Join the Lost  in the mail, I was beyond excited to read it, so I opened it up immediately. Then I proceeded to read exactly one page and put it down. I kept staring at the date looming on the calendar; I knew I was going to have to pick up To Join the Lost, but the excitement was gone. Turns out, I don’t think To Join the Lost is particularly cool or innovative. I do think it took a lot of hard work and I do admire it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

When I read Dante’s Inferno, it had a huge impact on me. Apart from the horrendous memorization quizzes we were assigned, where we had to read two or three cantos and then just fill in the missing words, Inferno made a lasting impression on me with its scenes of absolute terror. Maybe it was the translation, but the text didn’t seem dated, it seemed fresh and interesting. The idea of a modern day Inferno with modern day characters seems like such a good idea, and I still think there’s hope for it, but surprisingly, the problem with To Join the Lost is that it doesn’t stray enough from the source material.

Let’s start off with what’s good about To Join the Lost. There is some good writing in here. I marked several passages that I really enjoyed. They’re funny and the references that I actually got were great. I don’t fault Steinzor for making references that I won’t understand; that in and of itself is part of Dante’s Inferno, but it didn’t necessarily make for great reading. I wish Steinzor had included the annotations he decided to leave out, as he explains in the Afterword. Like most translations of Inferno, Steinzor’s verse is blank verse, but I wish it would have been a little more even. There are times when he uses very “poetic” language and times when he uses very plain language. It didn’t always work, especially when characters were speaking directly. Their tone and style seemed to change from one speech to the next; I would have preferred consistency.

In the end, though, my biggest gripe with To Join the Lost is that it’s not modern enough. Can you really fault a book for not being revolutionary enough? Is it To Join the Lost‘s fault that it’s not exciting enough? Steinzor mentions in his Afterword that he really wanted to modernize Inferno, that he wanted it to be more than just swapping out Dante’s politicians for modern ones, but that’s what I felt like when I was reading it. Maybe it’s just been so long since I read Inferno that my memories of it are very condensed. Yes, Steinzor came up with new hellish nightmares, but they were still in the same vein. I don’t know what I wanted, but it was something more. That isn’t to belittle what Steinzor does with To Join the Lost; it’s great and I’m sure it took a lot of effort, talent and obsession.

So what kind of Inferno would I want? I don’t know. An Inferno that really looks at our modern culture and sees what’s wrong with it. Maybe the metaphor just doesn’t make as much sense anymore. To Join the Lost is an adequate modernization of Inferno, but it just wasn’t the modernization of Inferno that I wanted, and that’s not really Steinzor’s fault at all.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review. You can read more about this tour and previous and future tour dates here


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