Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Attention Span 2011 | Philip Metres

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Going through my notebooks over the past year, I was stunned to see how few poetry books I read. 2010 was my year of unremitting pain, in which I spent far too many hours in physical pain and psychic suffering, thinking about pain and reading about pain and how to free myself from its grip. I wonder if poetry—that intensest of genres—simply evaded my pain-flooded brain, or if something else was at work. (I also noticed that I may have read more unpublished manuscripts than poetry, and the increasing digitization of my reading has meant that I’ve spent a lot more time reading poetry online—something that, just a couple years ago, would have seemed impossible.) Still, here were a few books that I found myself returning to, or rooting around for months, in the following categories, roughly related to obsessions from the past year: Irelandiana and Questions of Travel, Strange Gods, The Wars, and Anthologies.

Irelandiana and Questions of Travel:

W.B. Yeats | Selected Poetry | Scribner’s | 1996
Seamus Heaney | Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 | FSG | 1998

Teaching Northern Irish history and literature, then spending two weeks in Belfast, I wanted to revisit some of the giants of Irish poetry. I found Yeats crazier and more beautiful than I remembered (he’s far more interesting than the patrician and aristocrat that occasionally butts into the poem). Heaney’s charms, on the other hand, which had largely evaded me over the years, became more evident. In the past, I found him, by turns, boring, quaint, or quotidian; in the context of Northern Irish history, I now see his work as fiercely loyal but not clannish, honoring the local but addressing the global. Decidedly unsexy poetry, but faithful and lovely all the same.

Kazim Ali | Bright Felon | Wesleyan | 2009

To date, my favorite book by a voluminously productive and intriguing poet still at the beginning of a great career.

Jennifer Karmin| Aaaaaaaaaaalice | flim forum | 2010

A kind of secret travelogue by way of Alice in Wonderland and Japanese language text books, Karmin’s first book casts herself as a perceptive and naïf traveling through the dreamscape of the Far East, searching for what home might mean.

Strange Gods:

Franz Wright | God’s Silence | Knopf | 2008
Christian Wiman | Every Riven Thing | Farrar | 2010

Wright and Wiman are two of the best contemporary spiritual poets at a time when matters of the spirit tend to take second place to matters of the flesh; these poets wrestle with what God might mean, in light of the problem of suffering and silence.

Arseny Tarkovsky | Selected Poems | Various Russian Editions

In an interview toward the end of her life, Anna Akhmatova called Arseny Tarkovsky the one “real poet” in the Soviet Union. In her words, in 1965, “of all contemporary poets Tarkovsky alone is completely his own self, completely independent. He possesses the most important feature of a poet which I’d call the birthright.” In his spiritual and poetic independence, he outlasted the dross of totalitarianism. If Whitman’s spirit of embodied pantheism were harnessed to Russian forms and weighed down by Russian history and politics, it might sound a bit like Tarkovsky.

Two Young Poets:

Dave Lucas | Weather | Georgia | 2011
Nick Demske | Nick Demske | Fence | 2011

Shout out to two young poets as different as one might imagine. Dave Lucas has the same devotion to doomed places (his place: Cleveland) as Heaney or Levine, and sounds often like a prophet beyond his green years. Nick Demske, who insists on signing his emails “nicky poo,” writes fractured sonnets that would make John Berryman eat his own beard. I was moved by his description of how his mother’s dying had everything to do with the fracture of his forms. The body, he said, was bad form for our souls. Amen to that, brother Nick.

The Wars:

Susan Tichy | Gallowglass | Ahsahta | 2010
C.D. Wright | Rising, Falling, Hovering | Copper Canyon | 2008
Jehanne Dubrow | Stateside | Triquarterly | 2010

Tichy’s taut collages, Wright’s meditative jumpcuts, and Dubrow’s formalist explorations of a wife with a husband at war combine to create a picture of what it feels like to live on the homefront of empire.

Anthologies:

Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris, eds. | The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry | Ecco | 2010
Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam, eds. | Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian Poetry | Arkansas | 2010

These anthologies dilated my sense of the world’s poetry, and the world of poetry.

§

Philip Metres’s recent books include abu ghraib arias (2011), To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008) and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007).

Metres’s Attention Span for 201020092008. Back to 2011 directory.

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