Monday, September 26, 2011

Poem of the Week: "The Glass and the Bowl," by Louise Erdrich

I love poems with a lot going on in them - dense language and complex themes.  But I love small, simple poems just as much.  And sometimes when I'm lucky, I find a poem that is capable of putting a lot into very little space.  So is the case with my poem choice this week, Louise Erdrich's "The Glass and the Bowl."  Enjoy!

The Glass and the Bowl, by Louise Erdrich

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Well, everyone, today is it: Fitzgerald Day, the annual holiday in which I celebrate my favorite author and what reading at large means to me.  Go out and celebrate, my wonderful readers!

Happy Birthday, Fitzgerald!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poem of the Week: "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke

I've been thinking of Theodore Roethke lately, probably because he always seems to be hovering over my left shoulder as I work on my own poetry.  Anyway, I decided today's poem needed to be a Roethke.  So here is one of his most famous poems, "The Waking," which is written in the very difficult and repetitive villanelle form. 

The Waking, by Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mixing the Narrative with the Lyrical

Book Reviewed:  Made Flesh, by Craig Arnold

One of the reasons I wanted to get my MFA in poetry was that it would give me access to more contemporary poetry.  It's easy to stay updated on all the newer literary novelists and genre writers, but it's harder to find information about the best contemporary poets out there.  Because writing programs are made up of people for whom reading poetry is a lifestyle, being in a program means I have far more access to good, new poetry. 

In my workshop, we were assigned the book Made Flesh, by Craig Arnold.  In this, his second and final collection, Arnold explores love and the body and traveling through the prism of mythology.  The book is divided into seven titled sections that are in themselves made up of connecting, untitled poems.  We had a lively debate in class about whether or not the book's sections are all about the same couple (in this case, Hades and Persephone) or if each section seemed complete onto itself.  I personally think the book is a combination of both, with the poems looking out across an array of characters as well as the couple of Hades/Persephone, all of whom also seem to be reflections of Arnold-as-poet. 

This book had its admirers and detractors both in my class, and I count myself as an admirer.  I found it extremely easy to get sucked into the narrative voice of these poems.  Once I picked the book up, I had trouble putting it down again.  Arnold has a wonderful way of mixing a narrative drive with some beautiful lyricism, all of which suits the book's main concerns.  I enjoyed Made Flesh a great deal.

I would also easily recommend this book to others, particularly people who are just starting to dip their feet into contemporary poetry.  It's artful without being pretentious, and Arnold doesn't use overly complex phrasing or difficult words.  Overall, I think the book's a huge success, and it's unfortunate that Arnold passed away before he could write more. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poem of the Week: "Incubus," by Craig Arnold

I apologize in advance for the lengthiness of this poem, but it couldn't be helped.  In my poetry workshop, we are reading Craig Arnold's second (and final, as he died a year after it was published) book, Made Flesh.  I really enjoy Arnold's poetry because of the way it mixes narrative drive with lyric intensity in such a masterful way.  I think this is a cool collection, and this poem starts the book off with a bang.  Enjoy!

Incubus, by Craig Arnold

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Midwestern Ghosts

Book Reviewed: The Marvelous Bones of Time: Excavations and Explanations, by Brenda Coultas

The best thing so far about being in an MFA program is getting to talk books with serious readers again.  When I worked at the library, I got to talk to people about a lot of books I loved, but I never met other poetry readers or people interested in anything more experimental.  The MFA program is full of people who read almost nothing else.  This means my to-read list has officially grown to preposterous levels.  One of the first new friends I met in the program is also an Indiana-ite.  When he found out that most of my writing is about the state and its people, he recommended a poet originally from Indiana named Brenda Coultas.  Luckily, Notre Dame's library had a copy of her book, The Marvelous Bones of Time

Bones is a strange little book.  The first half consists of poetry about Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio.  Here, Coultas explores the idea of place and dives deep into the history of the area as part of the Underground Railroad.  The second half of the book is made up of ghost stories.  Some are stories that Coultas experienced first-hand; others are just stories she's heard over the years.  The entire book has an unsettling, haunted feeling that really works well.  It's a cool little collection.

Coultas's poems are written very plainly, but they somehow manage to resist having either a narrative drive or a lyric drive.  They just exist as they do on the page, which after several weeks of learning way more about poetic theory than I care to dig up, was super-refreshing.  Her ghost stories have a poetic vibe to them as well, despite being written as prose.  They are very short and to the point; if you blink, you might miss the actual ghost.  Since I have a certain fondness for well-told ghost stories, I enjoyed this part of the book as much as I enjoyed the poetry.  If you are looking for something strange and haunting, or if you're a Midwestern place poet who wants to see how it's done, this is the book for you.

Note:  While reading this book, I was reminded of my only encounter with a ghost, an incident which took place a couple summers ago at a nature park.  A friend and I experienced the strange encounter together, and to this day, we can't explain it.  Although God knows my hyper-reasonable friend has tried.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Poem of the Week: "Heaven," Patrick Phillips

I fell in love with this poem when I saw it a couple days ago.  It's poetry at its most simple and soothing.  I hope you enjoy and find comfort in this lovely little poem.

Heaven, by Patrick Phillips

Friday, September 2, 2011


You probably all know this by now, but I started graduate school last week.  I am going to be pretty busy doing all the necessary reading and writing for school, so I just want you all to know that my blog might suffer a bit for it.  I'll keep posting a Poem of the Week, and I will always post reviews of the books I read outside of class (or, if it's interesting and long enough, a book from class).  I'll also try to do some fun stuff occasionally.  I will no longer recap my reading with a month-end review, as they will become too messy and full of academic excursions.  Also, I promise not to talk too much about my graduate program in this blog, as I want to keep it to the business of reading for pleasure.

Thanks everyone, and keep reading!