One-Minute Book Reviews

September 1, 2008

In ‘Late for Work,’ Poet David Tucker Finds the Life in Deadlines

Filed under: Newspapers,Paperbacks,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

[I'm off today. This repost of a review of one of my favorite books of poetry that appeared on this site in 2006.]

A newspaper editor writes about work and makes it work

Late for Work. Poems by David Tucker. Foreword by Philip Levine. Mariner, 53 pp., $12, paperback.

It’s odd, when you think about it, that more journalists don’t write poetry. Newspapers stack their headlines like verse – couplets, tercets, or quatrains – set flush left or stepped. Their stories have a form, the inverted pyramid, that can be as rigid as that of a sestina. And the work of great reporters has, if not meter, a subtle rhythm and an emotional impact comparable to that of a well-made poem.

David Tucker moves to close the gap in Late for Work, winner 2005 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for poetry awarded by the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. Calvin Trillin may call himself a “deadline poet” because he writes his brief, witty poems for The Nation in response to breaking news. But Tucker comes closer to the spirit of the phrase in this wonderful collection of 45 of poems about newspapers and other topics, inspired partly by his work as an assistant managing editor of the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Tucker has little in common with the modern poets who pack their work so densely with opaque symbols and allusions that you need to read them with The Golden Bough in one hand and the Wikipedia URL in the other. He meets you halfway, whether he’s writing about a great-grandfather you haven’t met or a newsroom you haven’t visited. Sometimes he does this by moving gracefully from tragedy to comedy and back again, so that we stand poised between them in his poems as in life. In “Morning Edition,” a journalist leaving work for the day considers the stories in the next edition:

For tomorrow we offer a photo of bloody hands
passing a coffin over a crowd in Baghdad,
and a photo of the President grinning
like a boy who ate a grasshopper,
and the jubilation of the bowling team that won the lottery.

Later the journalist recalls other stories in the next day’s paper:

The governor lying about the lie he told
the day before, the state senator from Bergen
calling his committee into secret session.
Killer Tree in Rahway, roots weakened
by rain, this rain, toppling on a doctor and his wife
as they sped for the Rahway exist, late for dinner.

Tucker flirts with classic forms like the sonnet and, in “The Woman in the Faraway House,” terza rima (while avoiding its overlapping rhymes):

She always has one more thing to say
about the argument
we had yesterday

But if he nods to Dante and later poets like Jane Kenyon, Tucker makes his subjects his own. One of his themes is that we have the capacity for hope even when hope has let us down — or we have let it down – many times. This idea comes into its fullest flower in “Detective Story,” which begins:

Happiness is a stubborn old detective who won’t give up on us
though we have been missing a long, long time,
who stops in towns where we once lived and asks about us
in a grocery where we shopped ten years ago …

Philip Levine chose Late for Work for the Bakeless Prize and has written an introduction that, though more self-indulgent and less helpful than it might have been, is right in one respect. This book suggests that life, for all its disappointments, can still be “warm and satisfying.”

Best line: From “Detective Story”: “A breeze smelling of the river enters the room though/ no river is near; the house is quiet and calm for no reason;/ the search does end, the detective finally does sleep, far away/ from anything he imagined, his dusty shoes still on.”

Worst line: From “Downsizing”: Tucker writes of bosses whispering “at the water cooler” and “junior executives” going to lunch. Most companies no longer have a “water cooler” or “junior executives” – everybody’s a “manager” now – and both of these fixtures of corporate life had disappeared by the time the word “downsizing” entered the language, so imagery here isn’t just clichéd but internally inconsistent.

Recommended if … you’d love to read contemporary poetry that you can understand without having a graduate degree in English.

Published: April 2006

To read one of David Tucker’s poems, click here www.poets.org/search.php/fs/1/prmAuthor/Tucker/.

To hear Tucker read from Late for Work, click on this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2006/04/05/books/20060405_TUCKER_AUDIOSS.html

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 27, 2008

Frances Richey’s Poetry Collection ‘The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Internal and external conflicts intersect in a collection of 28 poems

The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War. By Frances Richey. Viking, 84 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I went to an American Ballet Theater production of Sleeping Beauty with a companion who called it, with some justification, “a walking ballet.” The choreography may delight crowds, but you don’t go to this one for aerial special effects such as long sequences of dazzling grand jêtés.

The Warrior is a collection of walking poetry, billed by its publisher as “a memoir in verse.” Frances Richey, a yoga teacher, began to write its 28 poems when her son, a West Point graduate and Green Beret, went on the first of his two tours of duty in Iraq. Her book is about the distances – physical and emotional – that war puts between a parent and child.

Richey is earnest and at times pedestrian writer who works mostly in unrhymed, variable-length free verse with the occasional hint of an internal or end-rhyme or both (“and since my son was the only one / who’d never hunted”). In a poem called “The Book of Secrets,” she recalls her son’s early years: “ … Mornings, / when I left him with the sitter, / I had to close my heart, // or else obsess he was crossing / Oak alone.” You don’t doubt the sincerity of her words, but they read less like poetry than stenography, a literal transcription from life without the alchemy of a great poem. In some of the other poems, no thought seems too obvious to avoid making explicit. “I can’t protect him,” she tells us in one. “Will he come back?” she wonders in another. “ On learning that Iraq can be cold, she reflects, “I was always asking if he was warm enough. / Put a sweater on, I’d say. Your jacket …”

Other poems are less prosaic, and two are particularly good. In “The Aztec Empire” Richey considers artifacts of human sacrifice that she sees in an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum and links them elegantly to the sacrifice of human lives in Iraq. And in “Kill School” she describes a combat training program that teaches a soldier how to kill by having him rock a rabbit “like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster,” then smash its head against a tree. Richey doesn’t call her book a collection of antiwar poems, but these two poems speak for themselves. And their direction, like that of the other poems in The Warrior, is no less clear because they walk instead of soaring toward their destination.

Best line: From “Kill School”: “The trainer showed him / how to rock the rabbit / / like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster, // until every sinew surrendered / and he smashed its head into a tree.”

Worst line: You may need to assume a lotus pose to appreciate: “… Green: / color of the fourth chakra, / Anahata; it means unstuck — / the heart center — / the color of his fatigues.”

Editor: Paul Slovak

Published: April 2008 www.francesrichey.com

You may also want to read: Robert Hass’s Time and Materials: Poems, 1997–2005, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry, which has several poems critical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, including “Bush’s War. ” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/

Furthermore: Richey also wrote the poetry collection The Burning Point. She lives in New York City.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 26, 2008

Why Isn’t Poetry Ever ‘a Good Read,’ Entertainment Weekly? Books the Magazine Left off Its List of ‘The New Classics’

Filed under: News,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Isn’t poetry ever “a good read”? Entertainment Weekly has published a list of “The New Classics: The 100 Best Reads From 1983 to 2008”
www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207076_20207387_20207349,00.html that I wrote about earlier today. An obvious omission deserves a post of its own: EW includes no poetry on its list of the “100 Best.”

My choices for the list would include Collected Poems: Philip Larkin (1989) by Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite, Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943–2004 (2004) by Richard Wilbur and Late Wife: Poems (2005) by Claudia Emerson. What others should have appeared on it?

How many of you, for example, would like to send EW Larkin’s “This Be the Verse,” which begins: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do.”? Many sites purport to give the full text of the poem, but because most of those I looked at are either misquoting or plagiarizing it, I won’t link to them. But “This Be the Verse” appears in the Collected Poems, which is widely available at bookstores and libraries.

Update at 3 p.m.: Just to give a more prominent place to a point I make in the comments on this post: EW might have acknowledged the existence of poetry by listing Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990). I dislike the oxymoronic phrase “instant classic” — which I have criticized on this site — but if ever a book has proved that it deserves it, it’s this one. I left Oh, the Places You’ll Go off my earlier post only because many Dr. Seuss books are better, including Horton Hatches the Egg.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 18, 2008

Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others

Earlier this month I wrote about Edward Hirsch’s shortlist of his favorite baseball poems, which appears in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of his columns on poetry for the Washington Post. That book also has ideas for those of you who would rather read poems about basketball today. Hirsch recommends William Matthews’s “In Memory of the Utah Stars,” Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for Magic,” Garrett Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Marisa de los Santos’s “Women Watching Basketball.” He also likes B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball,” the text of which appears in Poet’s Choice. For more on Hirsch, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, click here www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 5, 2008

Baseball Poems – One of Poetry’s Power-Hitters Picks His Favorites

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:31 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Edward Hirsch, the poet and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, lists baseball poems he likes best

Part of the fun of having a blog like One-Minute Book Reviews is that you can rarely predict which posts will be the most popular. Often reviews I expected to have little appeal — and almost didn’t write — end up among the Top 10 on the site.

A case in point is Baseball Haiku (Norton, 2007), a book of American and Japanese haiku about baseball edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. From the start I liked everything about this book — from the high quality of the poems to their thoughtful introductions and handsome packaging. But Baseball Haiku sat on my shelf for weeks. I wondered if by writing about it, I might be trying to thread too small a needle: How many people would want to read about a book of baseball poems, none with more than 17 syllables?

You’d be surprised.

My review of Baseball Haiku appeared on the morning after the 2007 World Series and at first attracted only modest traffic www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/. Like a pitcher recalled from the minors, it blazed back at the start of the 2008 season and has since ranked often among the Top 10 posts.

What are some of the best baseball poems in forms other than haiku? You’ll find answers in a lucid essay on baseball poems in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of popular columns written for the Washington Post Book World by Edward Hirsch www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173, the poet whose many honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award www.bookcritics.org.

Hirsch writes:

“My shortlist of favorite baseball poems includes May Swenson’s quirky ‘Analysis of Baseball,’ Robert Francis’s study of a pitcher [‘Pitcher’], Michael Collier’s ‘The Wave,’ B. H. Fairchild’s ‘Body and Soul,’ Robert Pinsky’s ‘The Night Game,’ Michael Harper’s ‘Archives,’ Linda Pastan’s sly lyric ‘Baseball,’ and Richard Hugo’s class-driven ‘Missoula Softball Tournament.’”

Hirsch’s essay also includes the text of Hugo’s villanelle, “The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field,” and comments on baseball poems by Donald Hall, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams and Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 20, 2008

Martín Espada Wears His Causes on His Sleeve in ‘The Republic of Poetry’

A visit to Chile helped to inspire a collection that includes anti-war poems

The Republic of Poetry: Poems. By Martín Espada. Norton, 63 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Martín Espada wears his causes on his sleeve, and it’s a heavy sleeve. Many of his poems read like editorials in verse, but without the surprise endorsements that most newspapers serve up occasionally. His politics are as predictable as an incumbent’s stump speech. He opposes torture, apartheid, dictatorship, police brutality and, apparently, war in general and the war in Iraq in particular. (Two of the poems in this book appeared on the site Poets Against War www.poetsagainstwar.net.) He supports poets and poetry.

Espada visited Chile in 2004 for the centenary of the birth of the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, and his trip inspired a dozen poems that form the core of The Republic of Poetry. In “City of Glass” he writes of the ransacking of Neruda’s home by soldiers loyal to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had overthrown the elected Salvador Allende. The opening lines set the tone for a poem that turns the fragility of glass into a graceful metaphor for the fragility of democracy in Chile:

The poet’s house was a city of glass:
cranberry glass, milk glass, carnival glass,
red and green goblets row after row,
black luster of wine in bottles …

Elsewhere Espada reaches frequently for images that are banal or strained. On a visit to his childhood home in Brooklyn, he recalls a youthful injury with the mawkish line: “Blood leaked on the floor like oil from the engine of me.” In a bar he has a vision of a wooden figure he saw in Neruda’s home: “He likes for me to be still, / she grinned …” That “she grinned” isn’t bad poetry so much as hack writing in general; it would be as bad in your local newspaper as in a book. Espada can do better – and sometimes he does – but he clearly has the spirit of Chilean poets who once protested their oppression by bombing the national palace with bookmarks imprinted with poetry. In his way, he’s bombing you, too.

Best line: All of “City of Glass,” one of two poems in the book first published in The New Yorker.

Worst line: In “Black Islands” Espada writes of a meeting the Chilean father of a five-year-old: “ Son, the father said, this is a poet, / like Pablo Neruda.” That “like Pablo Neruda” could mean two things: “a poet, as was Pablo Neruda” or “a poet similar to Pablo Neruda.” Either way, this is unappetizing self-congratulation. You wonder what Neruda would have thought of that self-congratulatory “like Pablo Neruda” in “Black Islands.”

Published: October 2006. Paperback due out from Norton in April 2008.

Furthermore: Espada www.martinespada.net was born in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts. He has written seven other poetry collections, including Imagine the Angels of Bread, which won American Book Award.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. She would like to expand One-Minute Book Reviews to include podcasts, broadcasts and other services, such as online book discussion groups or forums in “real time,” and is looking for a home for this blog that would make it possible to provide these.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 10, 2008

National Book Critics Circle Award Reality Check: Mary Jo Bang’s ‘Elegy,’ Poems About Her Son’s Death, an ‘Addiction Catastrophe’

The latest in an occasional series on book-award winners and whether they deserved their honors

Title: Elegy: Poems. By Mary Jo Bang. Graywolf, 92 pp., $20.

What it is: Sixty-four poems about the year after the death of Bang’s 37-year-old son, an event described as an “addiction catastrophe.” Elegy consists mostly of short- or medium-lined free verse and includes the three elements of classical elegy: praise, lament and (in this case, faint) consolation.

Winner of … this year’s National Book Critics Circle award for poetry www.bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com

Was this one of those awards that make you wonder if the judges were all on Class B controlled substances? No. But some of the judges did seem to be enjoying the wine at the reception after the awards ceremony on Thursday night.

Worthy of a major prize? Yes, chiefly for the poem “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” At times Elegy reads less like poetry than therapy, strewn with banal words or phrases: “describable,” “a wince-making barrenness,” “Paxil’s myoclonal kick.” Some of its ideas might have come from a card rack at Shop-Rite or a women’s-magazine article on coping with loss. (“I love you like I love / All beautiful things.” “Grief was complicated.”) But poetry collections can justify their awards with a single poem. And Elegy does it with the exceptional “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” an homage in multi-part harmony to Bang’s son, to the Bruegel masterpiece with the same title and to poems about the painting by William Carlos Williams and W. H. Auden. In this 22-line poem Bang recalls the last time she saw her son, standing on a subway platform after they had admired mosaics at the Met, and reflects that their day should be embedded in amber. Then, in the chilling final lines, she suggests a brutal truth about the isolating effect of death: “ … And how can it be / that this means nothing to anyone but me now.” Bang knows what Auden meant when he wrote in “Musee des Beaux Arts” that “everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster.” And in “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” she deals with this ageless idea in a way that is fresh and memorable.

Best line: The lines quoted above, beginning: “And how can it be.”

Worst line: The jarring pun in the line: “And my I sees.”

Published: October 2007 www.graywolfpress.org

Consider reading instead: Anne Porter’s Living Things, which has both new poems and all of those collected in her An Altogether Different Language, a National Book Award finalist www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/. Living Things includes the wonderful poem “For My Son Johnny,” Porter’s elegy for her son, who had what she believes was autism or schizophrenia. Bang tells you so little about her son Michael that Elegy is almost a misnomer and Grief might have been a better title. You don’t feel you know Michael from the book — you how his mother experienced his death. This isn’t a “flaw.” Poets have a right to choose their subjects. But Porter’s son Johnny is so alive on the page in “For My Son Johnny” that you learn more about him from one poem than you do about Bang’s son from her entire book. Poetry groups might want to compare how two admired contemporary poets have portrayed the loss of a mature child.

Furthermore: Bang has written four other collections of poetry. She is a professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University. “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” appeared in The New Yorker. Other poems in the collection have appeared publications that include Poetry and The Paris Review.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 10, 2008

Recommended Poetry Titles From the National Book Critics Circle

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:27 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Your Sunday book section review section might have stopped reviewing poetry during the Carter administration. But if it doesn’t have suggestions, the National Book Critics Circle does. The NBCC polled its members and came up with a list of five of their favorite recent poetry titles, posted at bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/02/nbccs-good-reads-winter-list.html. The top vote-getters included Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy (Graywolf, 2007), also a finalist for the NBCC poetry award www.bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com. The NBCC will announce the winner of its annual poetry and other prizes on March 6 in a ceremony at the New School in New York.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

January 25, 2008

The Underworld on a String: Poet Louise Glück’s ‘Averno’

A former poet laureate meditates on a crater lake near Naples that the ancient Romans believed to be the gateway to hell

Averno. By Louise Glück. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp., $12, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Louise Glück writes about figures from Greek mythology as though they might show up tomorrow in a laundry room at Yale, where she teaches. Orpheus and Eurydice, Aeneas and Dido, Achilles and Patroclus – she knows them better than many of us know our relatives, well enough to claim the right to explain them to others.

In her latest collection of poems, Glück recasts story of Persephone, the personification of spring. In most retellings of the myth, Persephone is a man’s victim: She is abducted by the king of the underworld and partially ransomed by her mother, Demeter, who arranges for her to spend two-thirds of the year on earth and one-third in hell. Glück envisions the tale instead “as an argument between the mother and the lover / the daughter is just meat.” In this Freudian version, Persephone is her mother’s victim as much as a man’s.

This interpretation suggests the fatalistic vision of Averno, a collection of linked poems that glide back and forth between myth and modern life. Averno is a crater lake west of Naples that the ancient Romans saw as the gateway to the underworld and that Glück uses as a unifying metaphor for a book about the dialogue between life and death that intensifies in the last trimester of life. In her title poem and others, she returns to a theme introduced in her earlier work, an idea that’s a sophisticated variation on the sign the Grim Reaper often carries in cartoons: “Prepare to meet thy doom.” She delivers an italicized warning in “October”: “You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.”

Glück too good a poet to allow this idea to devolve into a parody of a televangelist’s message, and her book has a grim integrity lacking in the work of poets who serve up Splenda in quatrains. Even so, the fatalism at times borders on oppressive. It’s a relief when a spark of hope ignites at the end of “October”: “Surely it is a privilege to approach the end / still believing in something.”

Best/worst line: This is the rare book in which the best and worst lines are the same. In “The Night Migrations” Glück wonders how the soul will find comfort after death. She concludes that “maybe just not being is simply enough / hard as that is to imagine.” The idea “not being” might be “enough” is perhaps the memorable in the book. But the adverbs weaken it, especially that “simply,” which seems to serve no purpose except that of scansion.

Published: 2006 (hardcover), 2007 (paperback) www.fsgbooks.com

Furthermore: Glück won a Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris. She was the 2003–2004 U.S. poet laureate. You can hear her read “October” at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16723.

Consider reading also: The short poem “Demeter at Yellowstone” in Deena Linnet’s Woman Crossing a Field: Poems/American Poets Continuum Series (BOA Editions, $14.95, paperback) www.boaeditions.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 367 other followers

%d bloggers like this: