Poet Meme.

So this is the Poet Meme that Bloglily took me up on. I’ve concentrated on primarily American poets of a certain age & accomplishment — with only 20-ish names as my limit, clearly there had to be parameters — with the exception of Rilke, because Lily doesn’t have him on her list, and I think he’s essential. And Auden. And Keats. It’s my list, I can be inconsistent if I want to. Naturally it’s myopic and incomplete, as all such lists are doomed to be. But compiling such lists, while fun, is also a lens into your reading proclivities and biases — feel free to add your favorites: I’m sure to experience a “‘Doh!” moment. Perhaps someone else (Emma?) could compile another 20 to add to my & Lily’s tab, using whatever categorization she chooses, i.e., up & comers, non-American. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more?

And I didn’t bother to bold anything because I have at least read something by each of these poets, some a good deal, others less so, but something nonetheless.

The lists, Lily’s & mine, combined and in alphabetical order:

Anna Akhmatova
W.H. Auden
Elizabeth Bishop
Eavan Boland
Marianne Boruch
Gwendolyn Brooks
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Billy Collins
Emily Dickinson
John Donne
T.S. Eliot
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Carolyn Forché
Amy Gerstler
Linda Gregg
Marilyn Hacker
Rachel Hadas
Seamus Heaney
Anthony Hecht
John Keats
Galway Kinnell
Ted Kooser
James Merrill
Medbh McGuckian
Czeslaw Milosz
John Milton
Honor Moore
Marianne Moore
Pablo Neruda
Alicia Ostriker
Sylvia Plath
Marie Ponsot
Adrienne Rich
Rainer Maria Rilke
Pattiann Rogers
Gjertrud Schnackenberg
Anne Sexton
Tom Sleigh
Wallace Stevens
Ruth Stone
Mark Strand
Jean Valentine
Ellen Bryant Voigt
Walt Whitman
Derek Walcott
W.B. Yeats

Book Meme.

I got this from Carolee’s blog, who got it here. What I’ve read is in bold — yes, mind the gaps. Ah well, no one’s reading list is as well-rounded as she’d like.

(Now someone should compile a poetry list…)

Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart
Agee, James – A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James – Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel – Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul – The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily – Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert – The Stranger
Cather, Willa – Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey – The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton – The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate – The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness

Cooper, James Fenimore – The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen – The Red Badge of Courage
Dante – Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles – A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment

Douglass, Frederick – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore – An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre – The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George – The Mill on the Floss

Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo – Selected Essays
Faulkner, William – As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William – The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry – Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary

Ford, Ford Madox – The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von – Faust
Golding, William – Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas – Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph – Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest – A Farewell to Arms
Homer – The Iliad
Homer – The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House
James, Henry – The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry – The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Kafka, Franz – The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair – Babbitt
London, Jack – The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas – The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García – One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman – Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman – Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur – The Crucible

Morrison, Toni – Beloved
O’Connor, Flannery – A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene – Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George – Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris – Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan – Selected Tales

Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas – The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria – All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond – Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry – Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. – The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William – Hamlet
Shakespeare, William – Macbeth
Shakespeare, William – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William – Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard – Pygmalion

Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles – Antigone
Sophocles – Oedipus Rex

Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher – Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William – Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David – Walden
Tolstoy, Leo – War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan – Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire – Candide

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. – Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora – Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Williams, Tennessee – The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia – To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard – Native Son

Jennifer Michael Hecht.

From her collection, “The Next Ancient World,” (Tupelo Press, 2001):


Tonight there must be people who are getting what they want.
I let my oars fall into the water.
Good for them. Good for them, getting what they want.

The night is so still that I forget to breathe.
The dark air is getting colder. Birds are leaving.

Tonight there are people getting just what they need.

The air is so still that it seems to stop my heart.
I remember you in a black and white photograph
taken this time of some year. You were leaning against a half-shed tree,
standing in the leaves the tree had lost.

When I finally exhale it takes forever to be over.

Tonight, there are people who are so happy,
that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow.

Somewhere, people have entirely forgotten about tomorrow.
My hands trail in the water.
I should not have dropped those oars. Such a soft wind.

The Iron Giant.

The current favorite movie in our household is “The Iron Giant” (1999), based on the story by Ted Hughes. (You can click on this link to read a plot summary.) Great movie, with every viewing we see something new (which is good b/c we’ve seen it a LOT) — and the voice actors do a wonderful job.

There’s a scene near the beginning in which Hogarth, the school boy around which the movie revolves, hopped up on espresso (“coffeezilla”), paces and rants about the bullies at school who pound him because he thinks he’s smarter than them, and he says, “But I don’t think I’m smarter than them, I just do the stinking homework!”

I know exactly how he feels. Though grown-ups tend NOT to pound other grown-ups, we can be snarky with/about those who experience good fortune. When we feel that dark side coming on, it would be helpful then to remember: maybe he got that raise because he worked for it; maybe she got that grant because she earned it.  Maybe they did the stinking homework.  Somebody getting what she wants in this world is cause to celebrate. And maybe tomorrow it’ll be you.

There’s a poem by Jennifer Michael Hecht that ties in perfectly with this. Tomorrow. Boy’s crying, time’s up.

Novels vs. Poetry

I don’t mean that title seriously — hierarchies trouble me. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to declare one thing better, or more essential, than another. Why, when one discusses one’s preference for, say, Anne Sexton over Sylvia Plath, it’s done in a manner that disparages Plath’s craft. This is not about “compare & contrast.” This isn’t about the “critics.” And this is not about good writing versus bad writing. This is about us — the poets/writers/readers. Why can we only praise one thing by belittling another?

My primary allegiance, what I strive to advocate and promote, is poetry. But I love novels. They feed a different part of me, I would never want to do without them. I go through jags when I can’t concentrate, I only have a brain for poems — writing poems, reading poems and essays on poems. But then there are other times, like now, when it’s novels I crave.

My first pregnancy was like this: I read a lot of novels, and wrote hardly at all. And now, in the last 3 days, I’ve read Salman Rushdie’s new novel (magnificent!), Fredrica Wagman’s Playing House (twisted & utterly compelling), and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (awesome, the best thriller I’ve read in years!). [Ed.’s note: Don’t ask me how I’ve managed to find the time to read so much, I’m mystified myself!] I wonder if it’s because my subconscious is aware that all too soon a new baby will be here and I won’t have more than fifteen minutes put together to read for a while, and so I’m bingeing now, building up my fiction reserves.

This pregnancy I have no intention of neglecting poetry — I have quite a stockpile of poetry books to read, to which I added two books from Caketrain yesterday: issue 2 from 2004 and afterpastures, by Claire Hero, which won their 2007 Chapbook Competition and has just been released. My bookshelves are a bursting treasure trove. And while I don’t seem to have the capacity to read novels and books of poems & poemstuff at the same time, I’m glad that I needn’t choose either/or, that I have both wells to draw from.

Salman Rushdie.

I don’t generally post about fiction because I think there are enough people writing about it, and my first love is poetry.  But I have to make an exception:  I’m about 20 pages from finishing Salman Rushdie’s new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, and had to put it down because I want to finish it when I won’t be interrupted — it’s that good.  He’s woven a rich tapestry of a story, complicated and beautiful.  I think it’s his best book in years.


“The Mist”.

We did not drive to the coast yesterday — both Vincent & Lance had colds, so we went out for breakfast at Foxtowne Diner and walked to the playground in the morning, and had a quiet and restful afternoon. My idea of a good day.

Which I needed, because I woke up in a foul mood: on Saturday night, Lance & I watched “The Mist” on DVD, based on the novella by Stephen King. I don’t watch scary movies, because they’re scary movies, they give me nightmares, but Lance didn’t want to watch it alone. So I watched it with him (“Honey, could you turn that light out?” “NO.”). And as scary movies go, it was pretty damn good. Most horror flicks these days are just exercises in masochism & blood, but this was very character-driven. Which is why the ending is so awful. Not merely shocking, but wrong wrong wrong.

If you haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know the end, don’t read further, because the movie’s conclusion is different from the one for the novella, which leaves the characters driving through the mist, not sure where or if the mist ends. In the movie, after you’ve watched all the struggles & deaths of some great characters (how could they kill you, Ollie, o the injustice!) 5 characters make it to the Land Rover and drive off: the main character, his young son, a blonde school teacher, an older teacher played Frances Steenburgen, and an older man. They drive through scene after scene of wreckage until the gas runs out. This is where things go awry.

Now Lance tells me the following scene is an homage to a scene from the docudrama, “The Night that Panicked America,” which is about the airing of Orson Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” He says that part of that film focuses on a family’s reaction as they listen to the program on the radio: a father, mother, young son, and the grandparents, in a panic, flee their apartment by car. Driving down a tunnel, a firetruck approaches from the opposite direction. The father’s panicking, mistaking the firetruck for aliens, and he holds a gun in his hand — contemplates killing his family rather then letting them fall into the hands of aliens. Before he can do anything, the firetruck overtakes them, and tells them to go home, for crying out loud, this is a tunnel, what’re they doing, get out of the way. Chastened, they return home feeling foolish, but safe.

Back to “The Mist”: the father, child, woman, & older couple sit in the Land Rover surrounded by mist, out of gas, and hear ominous sounds approaching. By now we’ve seen all the awful creatures in the mist, so yes, we, the audience, are aware that they are in grave danger, stranded like that. But it’s been 2 hours, they’ve fought like hell to get that far, so when the father looks at the gun in his hand and counts how many bullets are left (“Four.” “But there are five of us.”), I don’t really believe he’ll do something so daft, especially to his sweet little boy. But the next scene pulls back to an external shot of the Land Rover — the interior flashes, four shots. Then back to the father, who howls into the steering wheel, then gets out of the car to call to the monsters to come and get him.

Instead, the cavalry arrives: the army, row upon row of tanks and soldiers with torches, and they push back the mist. The father sinks to his knees in horror. Roll credits.

Monsters didn’t keep me from sleeping that night, but outrage. And Lance, who made me watch the film in the first place, says, “But it’s only a movie.” Which is so breathtakingly beside the point.

I think this will all tie into poetry, or at least writing:

Maybe the filmmakers were going for an ironic ending, but it’s a cheap shot, and completely unfair. Let’s face it, a horror flick is not where you go for verisimilitude, and the least you should get for your time and high blood pressure is a hopeful ending. Redemption. Genre films should not be trying to buck convention, they’re all about convention. If I want bleakness and despair, I’ll watch an independent film.

That said, I’d accept the depressing nature of “The Mist”‘s conclusion if it seemed earned, but it’s all wrong for the characters as they’ve been portrayed throughout the film, the people we the audience have come to know and root for. They’d keep fighting!

Here it is: the conclusion of any piece of art is only believable, true, if it’s been earned. I tend to rush early drafts of my poems to the end, I’m good at endings. But then I have to go back and work to make those endings right and satisfying. Otherwise I’m left with some good lines, but a bad poem. The people behind “The Mist” worked to create a really compelling film, and ruined it with a “shocking” ending. This is one of those times I’d actually appreciate an alternate ending in the extras bit on DVD!

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.


On another topic entirely: Lance questions me every day whether I’ve posted the news yet here, and when I intend to, so I guess I’ll go ahead, seeing as he’s told everyone and their grandmothers since we found out:

Yes, I’m pregnant, due on Christmas day (poor baby), which makes me 7 weeks along. I will make every attempt to not regale you with pregnancy tales. Unless you ask. I will only say now that, as with Vincent, so far everything’s great, no morning sickness, just fatigue and ravenous, I-could-eat-my-desk, hunger. After our initial surprise, we’re very happy — I’m one of 6, and always wanted Vincent to have a sibling closer in age (his half-brothers are 20+ yrs older).  We weren’t exactly planning for one soon, but we’re excited nonetheless. Vincent is always sweet with babies, so hopefully he’ll be happy too when the new baby comes home, and not rage against being knocked from his only-child-prince’s perch. Good times.

Mother’s Weekend.

Even though I have to work this afternoon, that’s still what it seems like, an entire Mother’s weekend, because Lance and Vincent went out this morning to give me some quiet time before work — Lance bought Vincent a life preserver yesterday, and they drove to Ashfield Lake to go canoeing. He didn’t bring the diaper bag, sippy cup, snacks, or a change of clothes, or actually prepare in any other fashion besides the life jacket (which is, okay, the most essential item) so let’s hope nothing untoward happens.

Lance suggested we go to the beach tomorrow. He says there was a moon tide today, so lots of interesting stuff are sure to have washed up on the shore. I’m not opposed to the idea, though it involves driving a couple hours, as long as it’s a nice day. There’s always a strong sea wind, and when we took a walk on a beach in Yarmouth back in December, Vincent ended up sick. These early spring days can fool you. I don’t want to spend my day shivering.

New England beaches simply aren’t very warm. Before Vincent, visiting family in Georgia, we spent the day on St. Simon’s Island, and O, the water was so warm and wonderful. And there were great waves. You can close your eyes and know you’re standing on a southern shore by merely dipping a toe in the ocean. On the Cape, you wouldn’t want to dip more than that, the water is so cold.

I am a New England girl in every way excepting sweet tea & beaches. But we’ll probably head to the coast tomorrow anyway.


I’ve been dipping into Jake Adam York’s A Murmuration of Starlings while I await Stefanie Marlis’ books, and I’m blown away: full of beauty, violent, elegiac, this is one fierce book, memorializing the martyrs of the Civil Rights era. This excerpt is the first section of a longer poem, and captures some of the music of his poems:

From Tuck:

There is a sky and
there is a sky.

Two birds

from different mornings.

Starlings, Shakespeare’s
fine-etched mimics

beat and beat,

collapse in glass.

Letters to Poets.

Just found this in my University Press of New England fall 2008 catalog, and it looks very promising: from Saturnalia Books, Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, edited by Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax. Catalog copy:

Letters to Poets honors and commemorates the hundredth anniversary of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet by partnering a selection of 14 of the country’s leading contemporary poets with 14 emerging poets and documenting their correspondences. These poets challenge the hierarchies and pitfalls endemic to the mentoring process, and ask some of the day’s toughest, most vital questions concerning race, class, and gender. Spanning a range of not only generations but cultural, aesthetic, and economic backgrounds, these diverse pairings both challenge and support each other artistically and politically. The result is in turns dramatic, enlightening, and comic.

According to Saturnalia’s website, poets contributing include:

Anselm Berrigan
John Yau
Wanda Coleman
Eileen Myles
Paul Hoover
Brenda Coultas
Victor Hernandez Cruz
Anne Waldman
Leslie Scalapino
Kathleen Fraser.

Alas, it goes without saying that I am not included amongst the emerging poets.  Due in October.

Stefanie Marlis.

I adore Stefanie Marlis‘ poems! I’m so happy I chose her book, rife, as my free book from Sarabande. She writes poems I wish I’d written, understated, lyrical, devastating. I suppose if you’ve read this blog with any consistency you’ll know that these are qualities I particularly admire in poems. In any case, I’ve ordered 2 later books, published by Apogee Press, cloudlife and fine, can’t wait for more.

From rife:


Who hasn’t mistaken the tip of a black shoe
for a mouse? A tissue for a rain-soaked rose — a rose
for a toad? And who hasn’t gestured to a stranger
as if to an old friend?
How easy, then, for the world itself to be mistaken.
To grow a tumor instead of a walnut. To take the flesh
of a good man for sugar, for sand, and blow it away.
A small boy stands in the yard on the most beautiful day
of the year, throwing sand up in the air, yelling
I want something to rain down, and his mother saying,
to the son of the good man, We’ll turn on the hose.