Books Reviewed: Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions, by Maurice Manning; Green Squall, by Jay Hopler; Wind in a Box, by Terrance Hayes
I read so many poetry books these days that I find it difficult to post a comment about each one to this blog. So every once in a while, I'll do one of these poetry round-ups to let you know what I've been reading and to give a few brief thoughts on what I thought of each book.
Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions: You all know by now that I'm a big Maurice Manning fan. I recently reread this, his first book, in order to do a presentation for my poetry workshop. I first read this book as an awkward college freshman who didn't know a lick about poetry. At that time, I found Manning's work to be strange but seductive. The book follows a group of characters in the rural South, centering on the figure of Lawrence Booth at a variety of stages in his life. Some of the poems are free-verse, some are sonnets, some are written as court documents or math proofs. For poetry novices, this may not be the place to start. But for those of you willing to add some spice to your reading life, Lawrence Booth is a great choice. I loved this book so much the second time around that I'm finally willing to put it on my "favorites" shelf right next to one of Manning's other collections, the gorgeous Bucolics.
Green Squall: Like Lawrence Booth, this book was part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, one of the most prestigous poetry awards in the country. I picked up Green Squall after attending a reading that Jay Hopler did at my alma mater. I loved the way Hopler read, and I was fascinated by this book when I first read it four years ago. I can't say I felt quite the same way this second time around. I still think some of the poems ("And the Sunflower Weeps for the Sun, Its Flower" and "Feast of the Ascension, 2004. Planting Hibiscus," for example) to be powerful pieces. But the book itself is more repetitive than I'd remembered, and it didn't have quite the same impact as it did before. That being said, I still think Hopler is quite talented, and I will definitely be buying his next collection when it's released.
Wind in a Box: This particular book was assigned by my poetry professor, and it would be putting it lightly to say that it did not go over well with the class. Terrance Hayes is as about as famous as a contemporary poet can be these days, and he's won lots of awards. Unfortunately, his work doesn't really do anything for me. Wind in a Box contains some wonderful moments and lines, but the length and themes of this book get tiring after a while. In our class discussion, many of my classmates were annoyed by the way Hayes returned to discussions of race over and over again. This didn't bother me at all. I think every poet is allowed to write as much as he or she wants about the subjects over which they obsess. What kept me from enjoying the book was the overt masculinity it displays. I don't mean this as a slight against Hayes, but the book is set in a certain kind of male voice that I could not get into. Like race, I think gender should be explored in whatever ways a poet wants to explore it. But after reading poem after poem featuring women as either objects of lust or as mothers, I got bored. Wind in a Box might be a good book, and I can see why other people like it. It's just not my cup of tea.