Monday, December 24, 2012

Last Minute Shopping for the Poet in your Life (or how to spend all those gift cards you got as presents!)

Those of you who follow this blog must know that I made some difficult decisions about my last series of 10 top books of poetry for your holiday wish list. I tried to select books you may not already have--those quirky, surprising treasures that have meant so much to me over the years. But here are some addition books (of or about poetry) that I would grab from my bookshelf on the way out of our burning house if I could only carry them . . .


I know some of you don't like them, but these are three that are unique in some respect.

1. Contemporary American Poetry (8th Edition), edited by A. Poulin, Jr. and Michael Waters. A little pricey (you did get all of those gift cards, right?), but this is the definitive collection of poets living and writing in the 20th and 21st centuries--sixty-six of the most powerful poets of our time, with a generous portion of their work, a thirty page overview of trends since 1945, and bios with poets' complete bodies of work.

2. Poetry Speaks (Expanded)--the national bestseller of forty-seven of the greatest poets in the English language, with 3-CD recordings of their work. This is a great "coffee-table book," that is also useful. Written for the general public, it is a great introduction to the popular poets of our age, from Tennyson to Plath.

3. Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, and David Trinidad. In the words of the editors: "Saints of Hysteria gathers some of the harder-to-find collaborative poems of the last fifty or so years. We have scoured libraries, the web, and all the literary magazines we could locate." This is one of the most fun anthologies I have found.

Collected or Selected Works

Three indispensables from my bookshelf--again, some that you may not have :

1. Selected Poems, A. Poulin, Jr. Poulin is a mountain! My personal favorites reside in Part III: Angelic orders: A Bestiary of Angels:

The Angels of the American Dream

"Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me"
--Walt Whitman

We are infested with light.
It gathers on the floor of the sea
that tides in the cave of our pelvis;
it sprouts on the limbs of our lungs,
branches over cliffs in our brain,
a bush burning law in a nation.

An organism from an alien world
rocketed down to test and possess
this planet, it feeds on the darkness
that breeds in the core of our cells,
on the pure filtered air in our blood.
Overnight millions of filaments

root and are thriving. By morning
our skin is transparent, our bones
are black, and we're radioactive,
barbarously bright. Ablaze
with amazement, we stay in our
bed all day, eclipsing the sun

in its orbit. Afraid we'll diffuse,
we don't move, not a muscle
or bone or an eye-beam. Still
by noon we can feel citizens
disintegrating on streets,
murdered by light. Seasons

accelerate. In the wink of an eye,
blossoms are apples that ripen
flames, and clusters of grapes
are coals. Buffalos burn to a crisp
on the spit of their bones. The sea pulls

to a dead stop. Whales rise like zeppelins.
By midnight the earth is pure mineral
ore, melting to white at its center.
Ravenous, we embark

2. The Collected Poems, John Logan.

At his best, Logan was a genius at stalking the page with music camouflaged in the words so that by the time the poem struck with its final lines, his readers never knew what hit them.

The Wooden Mirror

"For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; for he beholds himself and goes away, and presently he forgets what kind of man he was."
--Epistle, Fifth Sunday After Easter

I wait beside the fount.
My God whispers in the box
where a fellow sinner still confesses.
Again my mind caresses
with my hand the iron fence
that protects or that ornaments,
out of art, caution or some
paradigmal wisdom,
the dish kept for our baptism.
I had forgot this fount
has eight sides of highly rubbed wood,
each with a Gothic arch in relief
leading nowhere
but to my own natural face
shadowed in its mirror.
Yet I could not forget between these trips, as grace
wings more niggardly
(or simply goes) this
pressed, iron rose
black as the hope of the melancholy
brother to our sins, who spent
all his beautiful coins of light--
and heavy as a body
whirled through the dark
outer petals of our world . . . .
The voice of the father
a little louder
as he absolves inside his cell
is like the gentle dropping of a waterfall.
God this grill is tall as I!
This oaken pedestal and base
as many-faced.
See the brass opening in the wood
where the priest may turn his ancient key?
The line of penitents shifts
to me. Christ I know this shut,
double-locked fount
is like the hidden basin of my heart
inside its guard of ribs and skin.
Bless me Father for I have sinned
against love,
and now near middle age,
hang guilty on the rods of my own cage.

3. Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems, Michael Waters

There is no better poetry being written today than the poetry of Michael Waters. His understanding of the line as the proper syntactical unit, his syllabic prosody, his musicality--all energize a muscular diction that lifts significant narratives to heights unattainable by most, accumulating a virtuosic body of work over the past four decades. Here is one of my favorites, originally the opening poem to his out of print, 1985 collection, Anniversary of the Air:

The Mystery of the Caves

I don't remember the name of the story,
but the hero, a boy, was lost,
wandering a labyrinth of caverns
filling stratum by stratum with water.

I was wondering what might happen:
would he float upward toward light?
Or would he somersault forever
in an underground black river?

I couldn't stop reading the book
because I had to know the answer,
because my mother was leaving again--
the lid of the trunk thrown open,

blouses torn from their hangers,
the crazy shouting among rooms.
The boy found it impossible to see
which passage led to safety.

One yellow finger of flame
wavered on his last match.
There was a blur of perfume--
Mother breaking miniature bottles,

then my father gripping her,
but too tightly, by both arms.
The boy wasn't able to breathe.
I think he wanted me to help,

but I was small, and it was late.
And my mother was sobbing now,
no longer cursing her life,
repeating my father's name

among bright islands of skirts
circling the rim of the bed.
I can't recall the whole story,
what happened at the end. . . .

Sometimes I worry that the boy
is still searching below the earth
for a thin pencil of light,
that I can almost hear him

through great volumes of water,
through centuries of stone,
crying my name among blind fish,
wanting so much to come home.

Waters has current work in the September/October issue of American Poetry Review.

Just a few ideas for you last-minute shoppers for the poets in your life.

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