Monday, January 16, 2012

Poetry Round-Up

Books Reviewed: A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, by Johannes Goransson; Shake, by Joshua Beckman; Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters

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.

A New Quarantine Will Take My Place:  Goransson is actually one of the teachers in my MFA program, so it seemed important that I finally get around to reading one of his books.  My poet friend Drew loves this book and lent it to me with a fair amount of excitement.  When I texted him about it a few weeks ago, I told him that it was a strange reading experience.  Goransson's long, sequence-y poems about living in the modern world are firmly in the realm of "inhuman" poetry (which, I would argue, isn't a category that actually exists, despite all the proponents of this kind of style in my program).  Some of the lines are really amazing ("my ambulance good looks" being one I particularly love), but other lines I absolutely hated.  It's a whiplash of a book, and I'm glad I read it.  This isn't the kind of poetry that's for everyone, but it also looks different from anything else out there.  It'll be interesting to take workshop with Johannes next semester. 

Shake:  Again, another book recommended by Drew (obviously, he reads way more hip poetry than I do).  I really enjoyed this one.  Beckman's style is deceptively plain, and he layers flat-out statements and subtle images in interesting ways.  Shake is made up of three sequences.  The titular first sequence is my least favorite, although it's still quite good.  The second part, "Let the People Die," is made up of non-rhyming/non-metered sonnets that are a lot of fun.  The last and best section, "New Haven," is really lovely.  If Beckman uses the first two sequences to show off what he can do, than he uses this final section to show how that wonderful style of his can still be capable of emotional expression.  These expressions are done so subtly and with such stark beauty that you can't help but be hypnotized by the voice in them.  Beneath this book's deceptive surfaces, painful love poems shine. 

Spoon River Anthology:  I can't believe I've made it all the way to graduate school before finally reading Master's super-famous 1915 collection of first-person poems about people buried in the Spoon River cemetery.  The poems are heavy in irony, and admittedly, they get a little old after awhile.  But there's still some awesome lines scattered throughout this book, and it's easy to see why Spoon River has endured as long as it has.

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