Archive for January 2013
ALRIGHT! So poetry is a genre I’ve had very little experience with, but I’ve enjoyed the collected works of Emily Dickens and plenty of one-offs recently, so have been slowly pulled into its orbit. This year I’d like to make a concerted effort to explore poetry more fully. I’m not going to set myself a specific goal or challenge or anything, but here’s a list I’ve been compiling for a while of poetry that interests me. I think I’ll start with something akin to a novel-in-verse, as narrative poetry is the kind that’s been most compelling to me thus far, and then dabble!
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Dante’s Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
Aurora Leigh, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The World Doesn’t End, by Charles Simic
The War Poems, by Wilfred Owen
The Wasteland, by T.S. Eliot
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
Ariel, by Sylvia Plath
The Collected Poems, by Langston Hughes
The Country Between Us, by Carolyn Forché
The Moon is Always Female, by Marge Piercy
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich
The Great Fires, by Jack Gilbert
Map of the Lost, by Miriam Sagan
The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, by Pablo Neruda
A Village Life, by Louise Glück
Emplumada, by Lorna Dee Cervantes
The Black Automaton, by Douglas Kearney
Life on Mars, by Tracy K. Smith
Voices, by Lucille Clifton
Breaking Poems, by Suheir Hammed
Citizen, by Aaron Shurin
Smith Blue, by Camille T. Dungy
Pretty Tilt, by Carrie Murphy
As I’ve said though, I’ve had very little exposure to poetry and so I don’t really know where to start. This list is incomplete and only a rough jumping-off point. Now that I’m looking at it all typed out, I realize that it’s made up almost entirely of works by European and American poets, which is unsatisfactory. Clearly, I need to do some more pointed research, and will be updating this list as I go. General recommendations are greatly appreciated, and specific ones for poets from non-Western countries are even more so!
Do you have a favorite poet? Collection? Single work? Let me know!
The good news is that my reading has really picked up these last few months and lot of it has been great! The bad news is I’ve posted about NONE of it but since my only new year’s resolution is NOT TO WORRY ABOUT IT, here’s me not worrying about it and settling for a few multi-mini-review recaps this January instead. In the meantime, here are my favorite reads of 2012. There aren’t a lot of them but the ratio is good considering how little I read this year. Some of them haven’t been reviewed yet but will be included in afore-mentioned mini-reviews to come, so will be linked later, memory permitting. In no particular order, books I loved this year were:
Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
Caramelo, by Sandra Cisneros
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
(Honorable mentions to:)
Under the Net, by Iris Murdoch
The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
A Persian Requiem, by Simin Daneshvar
So Far From God, by Ana Castillo
Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, by Barbara Goldsmith
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, by Caroline Elkins
So…how well did I fulfill my reading goals and challenges for last year? NOT THAT WELL! Let me count the ways.
Kinna’s Africa Challenge—I actually did okay on this one since there was no specific book count and it overlapped with another of my own personal projects, which was to read Kenyan authors in preparation for the trip I took last August. The Housemaid, by Amma Darko, Imperial Reckoning, by Caroline Elkins, The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The River and the Source, by Margaret Ogola, and Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o all counted toward this challenge.
Read and Resist Tucson–I did okay on this one too, I guess, since it was also open as to numbers. bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, So Far From God, by Ana Castillo, and Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros counted toward this challenge.
Kenyan Authors–I wanted to read a lot about Kenya/by Kenyan authors before traveling there last summer, and what I did read definitely deepened my experience. Of the five I’d planned on, I got through…three and a half. Those were Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, The River and the Source, by Margaret Ogola, and Imperial Reckoning, by Caroline Elkins. I started One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir, by Binyavanga Wainaina, but was NOT feeling it and put it down forever within the first hundred pages.
Victorian Spiritualism–This is a subject I find endlessly fascinating, particularly because of its relationship to ideas about gender, and I planned to delve deeply into it by reading three to five books, of which I completed one: Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism, by Barbara Weisberg. I did, however, decide to count a book which had not been previously included in my list of options, but was totally relevant: Other Powers, by Barbara Goldsmith. I’ve since read half of The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England, by Alex Owen. I do plan to finish it and to revisit this topic seriously when my faculties of concentration are stronger.
So, while I think themed, or focused, reading is essential every now and then, I didn’t do quite as much of it as I’d have liked to last year and am hesitant to commit to any more in 2013. I do have ONE reading resolution, though, which is to START READING POETRY! But I’ll elaborate in another post 🙂
Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century, by Philip McFarland
Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and Theodore Roosevelt were two of the most famous men in America at the turn of the century, but had little in common besides an intense mutual dislike of each other. Where Roosevelt was a beloved leader, Twain had his finger on the country’s cultural pulse and was a sort of pre-pop icon. Twain was immensely famous in his own lifetime, and traveled in many of the same circles as did the president. Though they only met briefly a few times, they were each highly aware of the other’s career and looked upon each other with disdain. Mark Twain may have been known as a writer and humorist, but much of his work was politically engaged and often critical of Roosevelt’s administration in particular. In fact, Twain once went so far as to write that Theodore Roosevelt was “far and away the worst president we have ever had”. Roosevelt, in turn, found Twain so irritating and meddlesome that he was once said to have dreamt aloud of skinning Mark Twain alive.
Twain and Roosevelt were representative of two different facets of American masculinity in an era wrought with change due to industrialization, urbanization, and imperialism, the last of which became the most hotly contested issue between the two men when Roosevelt lead America in occupation of the Philippines. Twain had written the blueprint for American boyhood with his stories about the boisterous Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, reflecting a folksy Americana and drawing from his own childhood despite his relatively privileged upbringing. Roosevelt, an east coast War Hero, was known for restraint, discipline, and a love of hunting, which Twain found grotesque. If my post so far seems to center Twain’s reactions to Roosevelt’s policies, that’s because McFarland himself seems to favor Twain and rely on these reactions for marking narrative transitions.
The first real problem I had with this book is that all physical and otherwise direct interaction between the men was so few and far between that a joint biography makes little sense. Had the framing been skewed to focus more on the ways in each man was symbolic of a different set of American values at a particular time (which it did, only not enough) instead of constructing an active rivalry from little more than a couple heated opinions on the part of each man, perhaps the tie that binds the two biographies would not have been so weak.
This would not, unfortunately, do away with the problem of organization. The book moves thematically rather than chronologically, which might work better were it not so repetitive. To come to the point of the death of Twain’s daughter or Roosevelt’s marriage multiple times following the tellings of different events was perhaps meant to emphasize the importance of those events in multiple contexts, but instead confused me entirely about where I was in each man’s life story and also bored me.
McFarland is a perfectly capable historian whose passion is evident in his writing, but while the relationships both personal and impersonal between Twain and Roosevelt is tempting material, it appears a thin foundation for such a lengthy and ambitious work.
A copy of Mark Twain and the Colonel was kindly sent to me by the folks at Newman Communications on behalf of Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.