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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