"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Sing the Body Eclectic AND The Book of Hours

April is National Poetry Month. I've completed two poetry collections recently and, as per usual, my head is swirling around in verse. Recently a visitor to my blog commented that she didn't really read poetry because she doesn't understand it. The thought that went through my head in response to her comment was, I bet she hasn't found her poetic muse. Certainly, I continued my internal discourse, if she would just read some Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, her poetry gene would click on and the whole world of poetry would be open to her.  I didn't say any of this is an actual comment to the gal. I just thought it because, though I appreciate poetry a lot more now than when I was younger, I certainly can relate to reading poetry and being left flat. Some poetry is so dense or obscure, it is hard to figure out what the poet is saying.

That is a little of how I felt when I read The Book of Hours by Kevin Young.  This book was placed on my TBR list last year some time and I really was looking forward to digging in to it. The poet, Kevin Young, had lost his father to a tragic accident and this poetry was written in response to his grief. I felt sure that I'd be able to relate perfectly to his poems since I just lost my beloved father-in-law and continue having bouts of raw grief. Another section was about the birth of his first son. As you know, we will be grandparents soon. Two points of similarity would certainly make this a collection of poems for me. In addition, Young's poems are all written in short couplets/triplets. For example in his poem "Obsequies" these lines speak loudly, "At Night I Count / not the stars / but the dark." And in this poem, grief which is so raw it hurts, this simple two line poem we see grief laid bare: "In the night I brush / my teeth with razors." This is palpable grief I can relate to, but most of the other poems didn't speak to me, or dare I say, I didn't "get." (Ah, that is where the blog comment fits in.) But the poems about the pregnancy, delivery, the baby did speak to me. In one poem titled "Ultrasound" the couple discover the baby is boy and see the child, in black and white, move his thumb up as if he wants to hitch a ride out of there. Hey, our daughter just found out she is having a boy, too. Poetry, at its best, gives me words to shape my feelings. I wouldn't put The Book of Hours on my top or favorite poetry books list, but it certainly does give the reader the words to shape the joys and the pains of living.

In the second volume of poetry, which I just finished reading last night in bed, I Sing the Body Eclectic, the editor, Patrice Vecchione, selected poems about the body. And just like the title says, the selections are very eclectic. Some of the poems usher me straight down memory lane like "Cobwebs" by Melinda Goodwin. The poem is about a memory of a time when a young girl goes through her mother's things, trying on shoes and clothes, the scents of the underthings in drawers, looking at herself in a mirror from the Fuller Brush man. As I read this poem my childhood came zooming forward. I used to do the same thing. I'd go through my mother's things, trying things on, smelling her perfume, combing my hair with her brush purchased by, you guessed it, the Fuller Brush man. In another poem, "Pastel Dresses" the poet Stephen Dobyns is trying to recall a memory of a dance when a girl had on such a lovely dress. He remembers the feel of his hand on her back and the stiff fabric but he can't remember her name or her eye colors. In the end he muses, "How can we not love / this world for what it gives us? How / can we not hate it for what it takes away?"  I'm in that time-warp more often these days. Remembering minute delays clearly and forgetting important ones. These poets have given voice to my life!

I've always found the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to be a bit inaccessible until I read his poem here "Your Laughter".  It opens with these marvelous lines, "Take bread away from me, if you wish, / take air away, but / do not take from me your laughter." I want to read this poem over and over because isn't it true? The qualities we love in another person become a source of nourishment to us. Another poem by Neruda, this one titled "Semen" and one by Erin Belieu, "Erections" made me laugh. If students only knew what poems were contained in these volumes so quietly sitting on the library shelves, they would be checked out all the time!

In the poem, which is written in a prose-style, by Gary Young called, "He Wheeled a Corpse", I sat dumbfounded after I read it. So I reread it. Then I read it, again. Can this be true? And what does it mean? Do bones really glow when the body is cremated?
He wheeled a corpse in the narrow furnace, and said, there's
something I want to show you. He lit the gas, and the head rose
from the table, the arms flew open and the body sat there for a
moment in the fire. The flesh peeled away from the bones, and
the bones snapped and burned with a fierce blue flame. When the
oven had cooled and the door was opened, the ashes and bits of
bone threw off a pale, opalescent light. That light, he said, is what
I wanted you to see.
---Gary Young
Artwork by Gary Young
Sometime poems just make me stop and think. Other times they make me think new thoughts. That would be when I read my favorite poem in the collection, "Giving Blood" by Sherman Alexie. Fortunately for the reader, Vecchione has provided short biographies of all the poets included in this collection. To understand "Giving Blood" one has to know that Sherman Alexie is a Native American. The poem seems to start in modern times, with a blood donation and those pesky questions donors are asked. The poem seemed silly and funny. But the reader soon realizes this poem is really about the history of the American Indians and how much blood they have shed over the years. In the final lines, as if I were struck between the eyes with a hard blow, my vision shifted,
...sorry Mr. Crazy Horse
but we've already taken too much of your blood and you
     won't be eligible
to donate for another generation or two
So why do I continue to read poetry? Why do I wade my way through volumes of poems when I don't understand most of them? Because, sometimes I find a diamond in the rough; some phrases or whole poems which rock my world. They may make me smile and recall happy memories, they may speak the words that seem to be my life, or it may, like "Giving Blood" give me a whole new perspective or point of view to consider.

If you, like my blogging friend, feel befuddled by poetry, I suggest you start with an easy anthology like The Body Eclectic, or one where the editor offers insights to assist the reader. Happy reading.


  1. Some poems and poets are so much more accessible than others. A well timed poem can be a gift for sure.

  2. The Body Eclectic sounds like a good one. If I could just convince myself to take the time to read a whole book of poetry.... :-)

  3. I took a French poetry class in college that blew me away. I love poetry, even if I don't understand it. Every word is meaningful and dense.

  4. I kind of like poetry I don't get' sometimes, well not immediately, because then if someone explains it to me it seems more profound than something I got straightaway. It's as if the ones I have to work at understanding are somehow worth the effort.


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