Books Reviewed: Whim Man Mammon, by Abraham Smith; The Drug of Art, by Ivan Blatny; Bandit Letters, by Sarah Messer
I read so much poetry these days that I can't possibly blog about each book (plus, I know very few of you Not Your Mama readers out there are poetry people anyway). So every once in a while, I do these round-ups to let you know what I've been reading lately. Here are three books I've read and enjoyed lately:
Whim Man Mammon: In my last round-up, I mentioned that my workshop professor had given me a stack of books she thought might relate to my own work. One of these was Abraham Smith's Whim Man Mammon. I read this book over my spring break, and I really liked it. Smith writes in a peculiar and particular rural voice, and his poems often mention backwoods staples like guns and crops and ramshackle houses. When you read Mammon, you feel like you're in a very specific world, which is something I really admire, particularly in contemporary poetry (which can often feel so urbanized). Smith's strange and musical voice have given me a lot to think about in terms of how I employ voice and sound in my own work. If you, like me, are a Maurice Manning or Richard Hugo fan, you might enjoy this cool little book as well.
The Drug of Art: This collection of Blatny's selected work over his lifespan was assigned for my workhsop, so I probably read it more quickly and passively than I might normally. That being said, I still found it fascinating. Blatny is a Czech poet who was exiled from his homeland during the Soviet upheaval. He found refuge in a mental institution. My class is still debating whether or not Blatny's work reflects actual insanity or if his work is overtly political. I personally think there's a kind of unease that comes into his later poems that reflect the way the external world of politics and the internal world of the unmanaged mind both wreak havoc on a poet's work. These are some fascinating poems, and occasionally, they are very beautiful as well. I'm a particularly big fan of Blatny's earlier work, which displays a strong sense of place and nostalgia.
Bandit Letters: Messer's book was another one in the stack my poetry prof handed to me. As a writer, one of the simultaneous best/worst feelings in the world is finding writing that amazingly does exactly what you're struggling to do. Bandit Letters is this type of book. Messer inhabits the voices of criminals, victims, and the lovers of both in order to get at the mythos of the great American West and how that mythos still plays into our modern lives. The poems here have a lot to say about narrative-making, gender, and attachment. They are really something - easy to read and digest but just disturbing and gorgeous enough to keep you thinking. I have to give this book back to my prof soon, but I think I'm going to have to go out and buy a copy for myself. I really loved this one, and because its so deceptively "simple," I recommend it to both experienced and new poetry readers alike.