Books Reviewed: Sleeping with the Dictionary, by Harryette Mullen; Versed, by Rae Armantrout; Nine Acres, by Nathaniel Perry
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.
Sleeping with the Dictionary: I didn't know much about Mullen before we read this award-winning book in my poetry workshop. Mullen is a language poet, which might just be my least favorite type of poetry. Despite that, though, I actually found this book to be more fun than I was expecting. Mullen has a very playful sense of language, which kept the weightier aspects of her material from seeming too burdensome. Although there's lots of poems that spread across multiple pages in this collection, I found that my favorites were usually the super-short poems.
Versed: Rae Armantrout is also famous as a language poet, although I don't think language is her prime concern in Versed, a collection that won both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 2010. Armantrout's poems are heavy on the big questions, her language often loaded with abstraction. This works better some times than it does others. I tended to like her more personal poems, particularly "Own." I enjoyed Armantrout's poems while I was reading them, but I'm not sure they're the kind that will stick with me for long. That being said, I'd be more than willing to read her other books.
Nine Acres: I might be a bit biased towards this book, as I did have dinner with Nathaniel Perry when he came to campus last month. He did a very charming reading and signed my book afterward. Also, he studied under Maurice Manning, with whom you all know I'm obsessed. So it's no surprise that I liked this debut collection. Perry used an old farming manual as inspiration for these poems about the rural life, using the manual's chapters as poem titles. It's a device that gets a tad over-symbolic or over-sentimental at times, but the book is still well done as a whole. After a semester of reading and discussing a lot of smug theoretical poetry, it was wonderful to just sit down and just read something warm and quiet. This is one of the few books of poems I've read that I would be perfectly willing to suggest to my non-poetry-reading friends. It's a very open, friendly collection.