Thursday, March 27, 2008

Curling Up ... 3/27/08

Well, my student papers are finally graded. And while I have a little bit of work left to do for my classes, I am pretty much free from my never-ending job this weekend. It has been a rough couple of weeks so I am rewarding myself with an easy weekend of going to the park (weather permitted), having lunch with my wife and one of our old friends, and laying on the couch reading some of my favorite books of poetry. Here are the books that are waiting for me at home:

Rane Arroyo's Home Movies of Narcissus

Rane Arroyo's fourth book is probably my favorite of his many books (though Pale Ramón is close). They're all great, but this was the first of his I read and it is the one that got me to fall in love with how he writes. It also includes two of my favorite poems, "Death of a Poet's Cat" and "Papo Auditions for the Role of Romeo."

Rane is also a former teacher (as if anyone is ever a former teacher) of mine and he remains a constant mentor and friend. It is never a bad day when you get to check out out of his books.

Sharon Olds' Satan Says

Sharon Olds' The Father may have a special place in my heart because of its importance in my own development as a writer, but for my money, poetry doesn't get much better than her debut, Satan Says. Dark, disturbing, haunting, and beautiful, this is an incerdible book. And it merges those qualities, which we expect from Olds' poetry, with a softness and a sweetness that I absolutely admire.

In my opinion, it is her best book (though all her books are phenomenal) because it is the most complex, emotionally.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke's Dog Road Woman

Allison is another former teacher, current mentor and friend of mine. She is also a killer poet, a master of narrative with a smart ear/eye for imagery and white space.

Her latest collection, Blood Run, is on my must-read list, but for now I am returning to fond memories of her workshop and literature class by revisiting Dog Road Woman. If you get a chance, pick it up, if only for the beautiful and astonishing "Year of the Rat" - twenty pages of the best poetry you'll ever read.

Tony Hoagland's Sweet Ruin

I fell in love with Tony Hoagland's Donkey Gospel before I ever read his first book, Sweet Ruin. And while Donkey Gospel is the book people tend to talk about, I love Sweet Ruin more. Much like Old's Satan Says, Sweet Ruin, to me, presents a much more complicated picture of Hoagland's subject matter (here, as with most of his work, it is men and masculinity).

I don't know. The characters here feel more real. And, more importantly, the poet loves the characters more in this book. They aren't asses (as in Donkey Gospel) or narcissists (as in What Narcissism Means to Me). In Sweet Ruin, he acknowledges the problems within these characters, the ruins, but also acknowledges the greatness of these people, the sweetness. I appreaciate that about this book.

Yehuda Amichai's The Selected Poetry Of Yehuda Amichai

Hands down, probably the best political poet of the twentieth century, Amichai's selected poems are incredible.

Buy this book. Now!

Read this book, especially "God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children" and "First Rain on a Burned Car."

What are you waiting for? Go get the book!

And Allen Ginsburg's Collected Poems 1947-1980

And that just leaves Ginsberg. My poetic father (Whitman is my poetic grandfather and Olds is my poetic mother, in my views).

I won't be reading this whole collection this weekend, but I will be happily curling up, cat on my lap, blanket snug around my shoulders, reading the Howl and Kaddish sections.

At that seems appropriate. As I near the end of another semester, another year, of teaching, Ginsberg reminds me of the dangers of madness. And I use Ginsberg to inspire my students against madness, writing on the last day of classes in large, crazy letters across the board, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Happy reading!

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