Some poetry volumes lately occupying my attention

16 Mar

I have a weird relationship with poetry.  95% of what I read seems manufactured, tedious, whiny, pedantic, or all of the above.  Yet I often find myself writing what could only be called poetry, and I’ve been doing it since middle school.  To steal an idea from Kundera’s The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts – poetry is a selfish art, compared to prose.  Where fiction (good fiction, anyway) explores the universal, poetry is the projection and plumbing of one’s own inner world.  “…a lyric poet is only the most exemplary incarnation of man dazzled by his own soul and by the desire to make it heard,” Kundera observes.  I agree with him, and I suspect it’s one reason why I have such a hard time with poetry itself.  It is not an easy thing to really inhabit another’s inner world, even for only the length of a poem, and it’s a rare feat to produce poetry which can transcend this natural obstacle.

There are a handful of poets whom I really love.  Perhaps my nature is simply especially compatible with their natures, or perhaps they are just gifted enough to stand out.  In any case, poetry is admittedly not my field or my forte, but these are some folks who make my probably-too-short list.

Jim Harrison – Probably the one living writer I’d most like to meet in my life.  I’ll sound like a gushing fan boy here, but Harrison has a well-defined appreciation for all of the right things: red wine, good women, rivers, crows and garlic.  He is a suitor of the natural world, walking and wooing the forests of Maine, the deserts of Arizona, and the mountains of Montana.  And he transmutes these appreciations into poetry which can by turns exalt, provoke, levitate and then cut to the bone.  His volumes of verse are the ones I read most regularly, and the ones I most often recommend.

“There is no “I” with the sun and moon.
Time means only the irretrievable.
If I mourn myself, the beloved dead,
I must mourn the deaths of galaxies.”

Saving Daylight

Federico Garcia Lorca – Lorca was a beloved Spanish poet of the early 20th century.  He is a treasure for the Spanish-speaking world, and the literary world at large.  Lorca was a man of deep passions, and his poetry ranges from love sonnets to tales of gypsy life to revelries of the sea.  His death at the hands of Spanish fascists at the onset of the Civil War inspired a worldwide opposition by artists around the world to Franco’s tyrannical regime.

“The sea
smiles from far off.
Teeth of foam,
lips of sky.”

The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca

Hermann Hesse – Hesse is definitely my favorite German writer, and possibly my favorite writer period.  His novels The Glass Bead Game, Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund were life-changing for me.  So naturally, when I stumbled upon a slim paperback of his poetry many years ago, I had to snatch it up.  But what began as a completist’s impulse soon became a surprising pleasure.  Here is my recent review, on

PoemsPoems by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

James Wright has done the world a service in translating this slight but potent volume of Hesse’s verse. The dreamy tone and fantasy of Hesse’s poems are well-reserved, and his lyricism shines brightly as ever through the translation. While some will find these poems to be simplistic, even juvenile, I think that seeming naivety and emotional honesty is exactly what gives them power. Where his novels explore the heights and depths of the mind and spirit, his poetry is pure, heartfelt and impulsive. My only disappointment is the meager size of the offering. I’ve no doubt that Wright chose well when selecting which poems to translate, but it would be nice to see a new talent take the baton and translate all of Hesse’s poetry for an English audience.

“The Lake has died down,
The reed, black in its sleep,
Whispers in a dream.
Expanding immensely into the countryside,
The mountains look, outspread.
They are not resting.
They breathe deeply, and hold themselves,
Pressed tightly to one another.
Deeply breathing,
Laden with mute forces,
Caught in a wasting passion.”

View all my reviews



4 Responses to “Some poetry volumes lately occupying my attention”

  1. Betty Londergan March 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    I like your thoughtfulness about poetry … and I recommend Raymond Carver’s “Where Water comes together with other water” … it’s my favorite and like sucking on a rock that you just pulled from a riverbed. Totally pleasing with no fancy stuff at all … Thanks for following Heifer 12 x 12!!

    • Apollo's Crow April 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion. Coincidentally, I’ve been checking out poetry books from my library in alphabetical order, and I just got to C, so I’ll soon make Mr. Carver’s acquaintance. I’ll let you know what I think. :)

  2. calliopesvoice April 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Have you seen this edition of Hesse poetry? The Seasons of the Soul: The Poetic Guidance and Spiritual Wisdom of Hermann Hesse (poems previously unpublished in English) translated by Ludwig Max Fischer. It came out October 2011.

    Hesse is another one of my favorites, too. :)

    • Apollo's Crow April 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Wow! No, I did not know of this. Thanks kindly, I’ll have to grab a copy of this. I’ve always wanted to find a copy of Hours in the Garden, too. My Hesse collection is pretty respectable, but I’ve never been able to track that one down.

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