Book 55: A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry edited by Czesław Miłosz

I read this anthology for class (most of it was assigned and I finished the rest up in my spare time). Our professor feels that as American poets/students we aren’t exposed to enough international poetry, and I don’t blame her. We learn Whitman and Wordsworth quite often, but we miss out on the great Chinese poets, the Austrian poets, and so many more. A Book of Luminous Things gives the reader a glimpse at poetry from all around the world, though Miłosz seems quite partial to Chinese and polish poets. I have him to thank for my newfound love of Anna Swir, who he included in many sections of this anthology.

WILD GEESE
—Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This collection was quite interesting; it was broken up into sections based around themes, and Miłosz introduced every section and every poem individually, though I cannot say that I always appreciated his introductions – too often they revealed the substance of the poem before I’d read it, which took a bit of fun out of the process.

CREMATION
—Robinson Jeffers
It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation.  To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I
         am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had a great joy of my body.  Scatter the ashes.

There are poets from all around the world, translated by many different writers and scholars. You will find the uber famous poets  such Whitman, Wordsworth, Roethke, Frost, Blake, and more obscure poets who are likely quite well known in other regions of the world. I quite liked the bits of biographical information that Miłosz includes about the poets, I did feel that that was a good use of introductory space.

DESTRUCTION
—Joanne Kyger
First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.
He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes.
He rips the Green Tara
poster from the wall. Tries the Coleman Mustard. Spills
the ink, tracks in the flour. Goes up stairs and takes
a shit. Rips open the water bed, eats the incense and
drinks the perfume. Knocks over the Japanese tansu
and the Persian miniature of a man on horseback watching
a woman bathing.
Knocks Shelter, Whole Earth Catalogue,
Planet Drum, Northern Mists, Truck Tracks, and
Women’s Sports into the oozing water bed mess.
He goes down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

I’d say my favorite sections were “Nature,” “The Moment,” “Woman’s Skin,” and “Nonattachment.” Other sections covered more broad topics like “History” and were of course full of stunning poetry as well. I’m one for the obscure and sensual side of poetry more often than not, so the other sections drew me in quite aptly.

THANK YOU, MY FATE
— Anna Swir
Great humility fills me,
great purity fills me,
I make love with my dear
as if I made love dying
as if I made love praying,
tears pour
over my arms and his arms.
I don’t know whether this is joy
or sadness, I don’t understand
what I feel, I’m crying,
I’m crying, it’s humility
as if I were dead,
gratitude, I thank you, my fate,
I’m unworthy, how beautiful
my life.

I would rate this anthology a 10/10 for its diversity and its seeming wholeness. It really is a luminous book, and a lovely concept. It’d be hard to read this anthology cover to cover and not find an abundance of poetry to your liking, regardless of your preferences.

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry

Happy reading!

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Book 54: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

I won this gem on Goodreads – my first big name win, and though it released this month and I got an ARC, I received it after the release date. This was in no way a fault of the giveaway, I think I actually won it on the 2nd or 3rd, so I received it in a timely manner and was so very excited to get it at all!

I’d heard a good deal about Hoffman’s writing, so I was pleased to win something of hers. I’d never picked up anything by Hoffman before, mostly since I’m not a huge fiction buff, but I’m glad that I had the chance to read her. From what I’ve heard about her well known novels, I think that this one may be a bit of a disappointment to fervent Hoffman fans.

TW: car accident, rape, suicide attempt, animal death, cancer related death.

Also – a lot of spoilers (sorry).

Shelby Richmond is not a wholly believable character – the traumatic accident that she has as a senior in high school leaves her friend Helene in a coma (though I spent a good deal of the first chapter thinking she was dead). Though we never really get a detailed description of what happens in the crash, the reader is to believe that Shelby blames herself for an accident that others say was not her fault. Though the PTSD and trauma are believable, Shelby’s self-loathing comes across as quite overdone, especially in the second half of the book.

I quite enjoyed the instances of animal theft, all of which seemed quite well warranted until the last. Shelby’s propensity to save those around her, be they animal or human, is one of the more believable elements of her character.

There are also several time jumps in the book – a concrete sense of time isn’t present during her relationships with Ben, Harper, or James. Did we really need three relationships? An affair with a married veterinarian who seems to symbolize nothing but a womanizer? Ben returning strictly to show that though Shelby can’t seem to love herself, she is somehow the end-all be-all partner?

Shelby’s education and work took a bit of a backseat compared to the romance, though I appreciated that she was such a strong female protagonist from so many angles. Her career being what drives the final move in the book is a lovely way to draw the story to a close.

I’d also like to say that the rape scene(s) in the early chapters are far too skimmed over, and not entirely necessary to the story. Hoffman beat this protagonist to the ground in ways that seemed unnecessary. Also, why did her dog have to die? Why did her mother have to develop cancer and hide it from Shelby until she was on her deathbed?

Overall, I quite enjoyed the writing of this novel, despite the overactive plots. Shelby, though a hard character to find believable (despite the description one might find on the back cover), is quite loveable, and very dynamic. I would recommend the book with some reserves, but didn’t feel displeased having read it.

I give the book a 7/10.

Faithful: A Novel

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 53: Honeybee by Trista Mateer

This is the third collection of poetry by Trista Mateer that I’ve read this year, and it was her first. She’s just released a new collection [redacted], and though I don’t have it yet I plan to pick it up sometime soon.

I quite like Mateer’s candor. Her poetry isn’t formulaic or traditional by any means (though that’s not a bad thing), and it reads organic.

This collection is quite a thorough look into the process of letting go – something that was wholly time appropriate after the night I had last night. I identified with a great deal of this work, and I loved that Mateer managed to make those emotions ring true.

Mateer is the only repeat author on my list so far, and I think that’s mainly due to the fact that her poetry pulls me in when I’m having a hard time focusing enough to start a new book – I couldn’t quite handle a modern psychological self help book, or even a novel today, but Honeybee gripped me from the first poem and held me all the way through. Mateer suggests reading this collection all at once and I would undoubtedly agree with her.

Here are the links to my reviews of The Dogs I Have Kissed and Small Ghost, both of which I read this year.

My Goodreads highlights.

I give the collection a 9/10.

Honeybee: a collection of poems about letting go

Happy reading!

There is still hope for us yet; on the Electoral College.

I cannot and will not support Donald Trump. In the first day after electoral results came in there were numerous attacks on marginalized persons. This is not the America that we need, it is not a great America, it is a shame on all that we have ever even hoped to represent. Clinton is problematic, but she is not vehemently racist, sexist, and homophobic. I fully believe that a Trump/Pence presidency will bring about the end of our nation and the end to safety for so many people. It is time for us to stand up for what we believe in and affect change. The Electoral college’s votes are not made final until December 19th; though it has never been done in the history of this nation, there is a chance for the results of this election to be changed – we elected Clinton, the EC elected Trump. Make our voices heard, demand that the EC changes their votes and allows our people to remain safe.

Please follow the link to this petition and tell the Electoral College to make HRC president of the United States on December 19th.

Book 52: The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

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I finished my first New Years Resolution EVER! AND I DID IT EARLY!!!

On to book 52, a memoir. 

TW: Incest, coercion 

Kathryn Harrison’s relationship with her father was very sparse during her youth; two visits and formal letters were all that she had. This memoir catalogues the affair that begins after her third meeting with him at the age of 20; this affair is sparked from her father’s perverse desire and her fascination with him and is wholly reflective of our natural inclination to do whatever it takes to please or at least appease our parents. 

Harrison’s father is undoubtedly an abuser; many of the inciting acts are coercive, as is the entire affair. 

Incest is not a warm and fuzzy subject; we often shy away from discussing it at all, much less reading memoirs detailing two adults in an incestuous relationship. I picked up this memoir per suggestion from Georgia, one of my fellow classmates at GCSU, and I don’t regret it. 

Harrison’s writing is incredibly immersive, her imagery is vivid, her detail is incredible. The entirety of this story is unsettling; we see Harrison transformed from a young woman damaged by a difficult childhood to someone who is utterly shattered and finally to someone who can stand on her own two feet. 

I was fascinated by her mention of Saint Dymphna, patron saint of mental illness. I’d never heard of Dymphna, which prompted me to order a/the book of women saints. Dymphna’s story reads very parallel to Harrison’s, an interesting use of allusion tied into nonfiction. 

I give the book a 9/10.

The Kiss: A Memoir

Book 51: Stygian by Sean Michael

This is one of my Giveaways wins from Goodreads. Sean Michael is currently serving a life sentence in California for Murder One (due to a loophole in the Felony Murder law that is written so that if a death occurs while you are committing a felony (in Michael’s case, car theft), you will be charged with felony murder. From what I’ve read in the comments on his site, it seems that he stole a truck and that someone died as a result of falling out of the back when he hit something/stopped abruptly.

This is a book of poetry written from his adolescence on –  some of it clearly reflects that adolescence.

The term stygian means “of or relating to the Styx river,” or “very dark,” a fitting title for a book of “darker poetry,” as Michael’s cover so accurately summarises the nature of his work.

The strongest elements of the poetry were Michael’s appeal to emotion and his varied subjects. He wrote on subjects like child abuse, addiction, loss, and life in prison. Michael’s life and writing are full of pain.

Overall, I didn’t love the book. Michael’s writing was indeed fairly juvenile; at times it seemed that the book itself had not been properly edited (there were multiple typos), and I felt that revision would have helped substantially.

I give the book a 4/10.

Stygian

Happy reading!