(Please don't abandon me while I work out my current poetry craze. I don't anticipate it will last much longer.)
Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Though Rilke is one of the most admired poets of the twentieth century, this small book is often what he is remembered for. It is a collection of ten letters written to a young man from his Alma Mater, Franz Kappus. Herr Kappus wanted to be a poet and wrote to Rilke asking the poet to critique his poems. Rilke never did critique the poems instead, in a series of ten letters, he gave Kappus all kinds of advice on things like women's rights, solitude, self-esteem, dealing with grief, love, and even sex. The most memorable and remarkable advice, however, was on writing and finding one's own voice and style. Many students read this small collection of letters today for the writing advice that Rilke gave Kappus over 100 years ago.
My first thought is this book deserves more than a cursory look. If you are interested in writing advice, I would suggest buying a copy for yourself (as compared to a library copy) so you can take notes in the margins. My second thought, this book contained a whole lot more advice than I was expecting. It was almost shocking when I got to the letters about sex. It makes me laugh to think of my reaction. Obviously some of his advice is outdated but compared to many men of his day the advice was very progressive for his day. Read the book with a grain of salt for that reason.
My last thought, though we never see Kappus' original letters we get the idea what each was about from Rilke's thoughtful replies. If every educator took requests for advice and help as seriously as Rilke did we would have such a different society. Rilke encouraged Kappus to look into his own heart for answers. He urged him to find a quiet spot to think and ponder. He wanted Kappus to be a good, happy, and fulfilled person...a complete person.
The book is only 80 pages which includes the end notes. I think it is well worth the time to read it. A friend of mine, an English teacher, encouraged me to read it, saying it was one of her favorite books. Now I encourage you to do likewise.
A favorite quote from the first letter written in response to Kappus asking for a critique of his poems:
You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must not do. nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest paces of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would die if writing were denied you.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet.
Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. 2002. Print.
Another America/Otra America
by Barbara Kingsolver
In the introduction to this poetry collection, Another America
, Kingsolver says she has the hardest time thinking of herself as a poet, yet she writes beautiful poetry about very hard subjects. The poems are so deep and serious I found myself having to pause to either flinch or to ponder over them. Many of the poems deal with the topic of illegal immigration and what is done to people who attempt to enter our country illegally. Other poems are political in nature. While others deal with the topic of violence toward women. Kingsolver, who has never shied away from speaking out the truth, is calling us to attention with these poems.
Margaret Randall, in the book's Forward, says that poetry has long been a tool of resistance, sounding the clarion's call. She says that Kingsolver, like so many other poets before her, is "a keeper of the faith, particularly in times of grief." She goes on to say,
For once, back when we were young, some of us believed that poetry could change the world. We meant this literally and metaphorically. I am one who has not forgotten, who still believes, who knows without qualifying the statement that we will change this world---with our poems and with our lives. That we must change it, or there will be no world left to change.
The title, Another America
, was chosen by Kingsolver. When she moved from Kentucky to Arizona, she expected to be greeted by dry, hot days and lots of cactus. What she hadn't expected to find was a whole other America in the southwest desert. "This desert that burned with raw beauty had a fence built around to divide north from south. I'd stumbled upon a borderland where people perished of heat by day and cold hostility at night. This is where poetry and adulthood commenced for me."
An so poetry poured out of her. Poems which cry out to be heard, to be noticed, to make a difference. Raw, angry, sad, beautiful, ugly, all crackling this life and pain. Published in 1992 and republished in 1998 with Spanish translations, one would think this collection to be outdated but that is not the case. This year, a campaign year, we have a presidential candidate bragging if he becomes President he will build a wall so high no one can get over it and any illegal immigrants will be deported, no questions asked. No, we have not learned and little has changed these past twenty years.
But with poetry there comes hope. Kingsolver concludes her comments in the Introduction with this, "But when I want to howl and cry and laugh all at once, I'll raise up a poem to the darkness. This is my testament to two Americas, and the places I've found, or made, or dreams, in between."
Kingsolver, Barbara. Another America/ Otra America.
Seattle: Seal Press. 1998. Print. (Translated into Spanish by Rebeca Cartes.)