One-Minute Book Reviews

March 17, 2009

‘Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’ (Quote of the Day / W. B. Yeats)

Members of an isolated British reading group write letters about their favorite books in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial, 2008), a bestselling novel set mainly on a Channel Island in 1946. But one character rages against William Butler Yeats, the Irish Nobel laureate. The complaint: Yeats edited The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935 and said in its introduction that he had left out all the great World War I poets, including Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, because

“ … passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.”

This well-known quote was controversial from the start. But it suggests how much poetry has changed: Many recent collections, such as Frances Richey’s The Warrior and Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy, include poems that involve “passive suffering.”

What do you think of the change? Does poetry need less passive suffering and more active engagement with life? Or are modern poets proving that Yeats was wrong?

Read Yeats’s full quote and more on The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935 www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Yeats.html.

A review of and reading group guide to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society appeared on this site on Nov. 25, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/. A review of The Warrior was posted on July 27 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/ and of Elegy on March 10 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/.

nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1923/yeats-bio.html

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

March 17, 2008

A Colorful Irish Politician Gets Another Hurrah in a Fine Biography

Filed under: Biography — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:59 pm
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Many people know the flamboyant Irish politician James Michael Curley only through Edwin O’Connor’s novel The Last Hurrah or its excellent film version, which starred Spencer Tracy in one of his greatest roles. But the four-time Boston mayor (who spent part of his last term in jail) has also inspired a fine biography, Jack Beatty’s The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874–1958) (DaCapo, $22.50). Did people really sing “Vote often and early for Curley” as in John Ford’s film? Beatty deals with this and other provocative questions in a lively and well-paced account that holds its own against the many good books about Irish politicians who are better-known, including the Kennedys. Any mayor who is leading a parade today would be lucky if, several decades from now, a biographer as conscientious as Beatty decided to start looking into some of the myths about his or her life.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 16, 2008

No Blarney From Irish Novelist Anne Enright

Filed under: Book Awards Reality Check,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:06 pm
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Hold the green beer, and pass the good writing

Maybe it’s because I see so much tackiness masquerading as art in books. But I love the honest, exuberant tackiness of St. Patrick’s Day parades – the green moustaches, the wash-off shamrock tattoos and the toddlers in leprechaun suits perched on their parents’ shoulders. So don’t expect me to lift a digital shillelagh today and cudgel all those books that sentimentalize Ireland (which — let’s face it — at times seem to outnumber the world population of step-dancers).

But if you think the parades are so much blarney, the Irish novelist Anne Enright offers an antidote in The Gathering (Grove Atlantic, 261 pp., $14, paperback). You won’t find a whiff of green beer coming from this novel, which rightly defeated On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip for the most recent Man Booker Prize www.themanbookerprize.com. But you will find a strong, dark, well-crafted tale of eight siblings who gather in Dublin for the funeral of a brother who committed suicide. As their story unfolds, it appears that Liam’s death may have its roots in an incident in his grandparents’ era, the 1920s, when lay Catholics tried to save the city’s prostitutes by shutting down brothels.

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

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