Poet Tips

This website is awesome – you enter the name of a poet you like and it spits out some awesome recommendations. And just by some brief checking, the suggestions are excellent and the range of poets suggested even better (I checked for Anne Carson, Kenneth Rexroth, and Cathy Linh Che).



Death By Sex Machine

I am too lazy to go into too much detail, save to say the poems are better than the titillating title. And power through the first quarter of the chapbook, which was so disappointing that I almost put it down without finishing it, because the rest is three quarters awesome (still a few stinkers, but the ratio is good).

It’s also worthwhile because in a post Trump, post Weinstein environment, her interrogations of the desiring gaze targeting women in various positions of psychic weakness feels more than usually relevant.

Poetry Aloud

I was in Chicago and decided to re-read Wordsworth’s great epic, The Prelude. Some two hundred odd pages of genius and I chose to… not exactly to read it aloud, but more to mutter the words to myself, so I could hear them (my child noticed me doing that and began doing that herself, stealing my copy of Ben Jonson’s poems and pretending to mutter the words aloud in an Old Navy; luckily, she doesn’t actually understand the lecher’s saucy and scatalogical jibes).

For Wordsworth, it wasn’t about rhyme, but meter. I needed to hear the meter.

The Ben Jonson I mentioned, was about the rhyme, because pronunciations are different.

I love Byron’s elegiac, So we’ll go no more a roving, but unless your accent is much different than mine, you don’t naturally pronounce ‘roving’ and ‘loving’ with the same ‘o,’ but Byron did. For me, only by reading it somewhat aloud, so I can hear myself tweak the sound to make the rhyme truly work, can I appreciate it.

Ben Jonson, being some two hundred years before Byron, requires it even more.

It slows my reading down, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Empedocles On Etna

I’m going to admit that I am liking Matthew Arnold’s poetry better than I would have thought. I still have no desire to go back and re-read Dover Beach again, ever, for any reason, but if you’re willing to adjust yourself to the rhythms of nineteenth century verse (and Arnold, a traditionalist), then you can definitely enjoy him.

Empedocles on Etna, especially, I enjoyed.

While I won’t question Arnold’s knowledge of the classics, you still shouldn’t read him for a detailed and accurate understanding of Empedocles’ philosophy.

But, the worried friend (Pausanias) and the musician-cum-pastoral poet, Callicles following the melancholy Empedocles on part of his journey makes for a nice philosophical narrative.

Even after the suicidal Empedocles asks for quiet, he can still hear snatches of Callicles’ carefree poetry and music as he contemplates his own theories and the lack of job in his life. Arnold makes the philosopher’s decision a little bit political (exile having made him depressed), though he shifts back to the idea of someone maybe too smart for his own happiness (one can imagine Arnold thinking there’s a little Empedocles in himself, too).

If you like poetry, if you have immersed yourself in poetry, so that the style of Matthew Arnold isn’t foreign or anathema to you, you might enjoy it, too.

No, thou art come too late, Empedocles!
And the world hath the day, and must break thee,
Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,
Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;
And being lonely thou art miserable,
For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,
And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.
Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself—
Oh sage! oh sage!—Take then the one way left;
And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,
Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,
And say:—Ye servants, hear Empedocles,
Who asks this final service at your hands!
Before the sophist brood hath overlaid
The last spark of man’s consciousness with words—
Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world
Be disarray’d of their divinity—
Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,
And awe be dead, and hope impossible,
And the soul’s deep eternal night come on,
Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am reading two volumes of Emerson’s writings. One is a luxurious, leather bound collection of his essays and lectures. The other is a marvelous little cloth bound book of the sort that were common in the early twentieth century (this one was published by T.Y. Crowell & Co, but is similar to the Modern Library or Everyman editions you might find of more or less classic or otherwise edifying works), containing his early poems. Continue reading

The Lice

I do not join in the universal adulation that Merwin receives, not because I don’t enjoy him, but because I feel that he published two amazing, near perfect collections and everything that has followed merely repeats those successes to diminishing returns.

However, one of those two books is the recently reprinted (in honor of its fiftieth anniversary) The Lice (the other is Carrier of Ladders).

Both tackle his most prominent themes: environmental destruction (which becomes tied up with our own mortality) and opposition to war.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about this book. Now that it’s no longer nearly impossible to find, please look for it.

And don’t let me put you off the rest of his poetic career. He’s never done anything bad. I just don’t feel he’s done anything new since The Lice and Carrier of Ladders.

And I included an image of The Asians Dying because, while it’s unusually direct, is also perfectly devastating.