Night Sky With Exit Wounds


This was book and Vuong were very heavily hyped (if, like me, you exist in the world of regular poetry readers and consumers of poetry news) and my first reaction was, ‘wow.’

I still loved it upon a second reaction, but you can guess that it was not as much.

Perhaps the best poems set too high of a bar and going from great to merely very good was a disappointment (and not fair to Vuong’s work, but there it is).

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives Of The Inklings


This is a somewhat half hearted effort to convince the reader that Barfield and Williams are at least half as important as Lewis and Tolkien, undermined by the authors’ own apparent lack of belief in that aspect of the project and by a consensus of opinion which they seem disinclined to challenge.

Towards the end, they set up poor Barfield, by describing his intent to meet the challenge laid down by his peers’ successes and to write his magnum opus. It’s a big set up, narratively, but ends with the admission that few liked it and barely more than that even noticed it was written.

Structurally, they probably could have just focused on Lewis and Tolkien and then included a wider variety of other Inklings.

But, I learned a lot about them and it was interesting, because I like Tolkien and Lewis. I like ’em a lot.

The Zaleskis, without becoming prurient or even mentioning it again, makes a good argument that Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having a sexual affair, which convinced me. It doesn’t change my opinion of him, it’s merely nice to have some resolution, in my mind, on the matter.

Likewise, I had not realized just how devoutly Catholic Tolkien was nor how important it was to his Middle Earth novels (he went to mass daily for most of his life).

But… I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I had been hoping to learn about another Bloomsbury group or another Transcendentalist circle or another Paris in the twenties, instead, learned about a group of intelligent and interesting academics, two of whom happened to become very, very famous and were very important writers. And I put the book feeling that the authors didn’t really like the works of Lewis and Tolkien all that much, which feels almost like a personal insult to one such as I, raised on Narnia and Middle Earth (though they seemed to like two lesser read Tolkienalia, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wooton Major, both of which I loved and read over and over again as a child).

SOLEIL COU COUPÉ


I was reading Apollonaire’s Zone when I had to pause over the last lines.

My edition translated it as:

Sun throat cut

But I had to stop because something was bothering me.

You may already know what I just realized – that Aimé Césaire had taken the title of his most famous work from that line; only I had only read it in a far more aggressive translation:

Solar throat slashed

Afterland


My mother introduced me to Mai Der Vang, calling me up after reading about her in The New Yorker. Took me a while to get around to getting a copy and once I did, it was a slow read, rather than something one can plow through. A lot of emotionally difficult poems about alienation, immigration, land mines (Vang is Hmong, an ethnic group notable for being discriminated against by virtually every government in Southeast Asia and which often found itself on the wrong side of bombs from both sides during various American adventures in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos).

Formally speaking, she frequently writes in couplets, which had the added effect of inspiring me to pull out a copy of Pope.

Hafiz Of Shiraz


When, sometimes, it becomes difficult to believe that these are truly directed towards God, you see this:

I have, honestly, never read nor wanted to read much of the trifecta of popular, mystical, Islamic poets known to western, non-Muslims (Hafiz and his even more popular compatriots, Gibran and Rumi), but I was glad I made an exception for Hafiz. And I have read enough into Sufism to understand that the erotic, alcoholic message is, truly a spiritual metaphor (and is it any more erotic than the religious poetry of Teresa de Avila?).

‘Phrasis’ By Wendy Xu


I read her chapbook, Naturalism, some time back, and this fuller collection has a few crossover poems (including the titular Naturalism).

Phrasis is a very good and enjoyable collection, but not truly great. It struck me as the work of a very good poet, but it wasn’t one of those that really bowled me over, you know? Wordsworth bowls me over, but that can’t be the standard, can it? The first books I read by both Cathy Linh Che, Charles Simic, and Anne Carson both bowled me over.

But I don’t want to damn with faint praise. It’s very, very good. Sometimes she engages in some colloquialism or profanity that never quite takes – I don’t think she’s quite ruthless enough in her use of it – but her more ‘poetic’ lines and stanzas (that vast majority) are great.