This is the first of what we hope will be monthly notes on current poetry books that you may not catch in your daily paper or in the pages of critical reviews. I hope that you'll find it engaging and stimulating. Do, please, feel free to add a comment here with your thoughts and suggestions.
And, with that, let us begin.
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The book that I'm most excited about this season, and that I may be most excited about this year, is The Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon. Jane Kenyon, at the time of her early death from leukemia in 1995, was one of our country's most promising up-and-coming poets. Her work, rooted in an appreciation of the natural world that verges on reverence, is intensely personal and vibrantly alive. She writes, on the surface, of mundane things: "the hoe abandoned in long grass," her dog's affection, a fight with her husband. Yet, underneath Kenyon is quietly capturing the universal in human experience, giving voice both to rapture and to pain, her poems magically filling in the bleak places with intimations of a life full of meaning.
This is all the more ironic since Kenyon suffered her entire adult life from serious, incapacitating bouts of depression, a subject that surfaces frequently in her work.
This beautifully designed volume collects all of her previous books, and includes her translations of Anna Akhmatova, a poet who Hayden Carruth likened Kenyon to.
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Robert Bly has long been a poet who's given attention and support to smaller presses. His latest book, The Urge to Travel Long Distances, published by Eastern Washington University Press is no different. EWU Press has, for several years now, been publishing poetry of merit; this book, small as it is, is a great contribution to their list.
The Urge to Travel Long Distances consists of poems that were written at about the same time as Bly's first book, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1961), and it delivers a similar taste to its readers. These are short, quiet, joyous poems, rooted in the natural order and the rhythm of the breath, that are reminiscent of the classical Chinese, or of some of William Stafford's work.
"What Olaf Bull Said"
Believe in happiness, Seiglinde, try!
Happiness is the wind rising
In a field of young plants.
It is a new-fallen apple
Found in the dark earth
Far from the orchard
In plowing time.
This is actually more a chapbook than a regular book. There are only twenty poems included, but those twenty are simply wonderful.
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A book of local interest is Salt: A Collection of Poetry on the Oregon Coast, edited by Amanda Deutch. It's an anthology of poems celebrating Oregon's Pacific coast, and it's an attractive and stimulating anthology, well thought out and well put together. The book includes, unsurprisingly, such luminaries as William Stafford, and also includes such nationally known poets as Olga Broumas and Gary Snyder (as well as a treat appearance by famous chef James Beard). The real delight, though, of Salt is its assembly of talented local poets such as Leanne Grabel, Leonard Schwartz, and Kim Stafford. This book is a must for anyone who loves the ocean.
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I love Luis Rodriguez's work. I can remember the first time I read him as though it were yesterday. His book The Concrete River had just been published by Curbstone Press, and I picked it up at a trade show on a whim. The poems ? angry, fiery, prophetic ? bowled me over, and I read them over and over. This new book, My Nature Is Hunger, is just as good. My Nature Is Hunger is a collection of selected poems, with large chunks from both Concrete River and two other earlier books, as well as a veritable barrage of new poems. Rodriguez writes lucidly and with a discerning eye of life in the barrio, in the gangs, and on the street. He writes of single mothers, of "old people sitting on torn patio sofas," and of young people lost in a hopeless round of violence and drugs. And, he writes of love, hope, and the indefatigable human drive to succeed against all odds. These are powerful, heady poems, brimful of startling imagery, and pointedly intended to rile the reader up. They are eminently successful in doing so.