April 12, 2011

Actual Poetry

It's National Poetry Month, so this is a good time for me to write about the poetry collection I read a couple of months ago. (See, I wasn't procrastinating. I had a thematic plan!)

I read ACTUAL AIR by David Berman because of a recommendation in the poetry episode of the Bookrageous podcast. Out of all the books discussed in that episode, this sounded like one most likely to suit my tastes.

Many of the poems in the collection are in fact just the sort I enjoy reading. I was surprised that about the same number didn't appeal to me much at all. I'm sure that all of the poems are as well-crafted as the ones I liked most, but I have fairly specific tastes when it comes to poetry.

In general, I prefer poems that present a scene or small story I can visualize and comprehend. I want to be able to have some confidence that I'm interpreting the poem in roughly the way the poet meant. I don't tend to like poetry that (as far as I can discern) is more about the sound of the words than the meaning, or that leaves me feeling I have little hope of imagining the same explanation as the poet.

"The Charm Of 5:30" is my favorite poem in ACTUAL AIR. It's a lovely example of a scene that evokes specific feelings and concrete (if sometimes odd) images of what's happening. The opening line, "It's too nice a day to read a novel set in England," is the type of funny but completely relatable thought that appears frequently in this collection.

The long poem "Self-Portrait at 28" (some minor errors in this transcription) has many wonderful bits, including another concept I can identify with:

You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I'm stuck,
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.

By contrast, I'm baffled by a poem like "Cassette County". I do enjoy the rhythm and sense of some lines, but I don't know what to make of the whole.

The images and ideas in "World: Series" are much more accessible for me. "The Moon" is another one I appreciate, and like many of Berman's poems, it's quite funny. "Democratic Vistas" is about writing, and I'll close with an excerpt from that poem:

In support of the novel, I must say it was designed well. The scenes
were like rowhouses. They had common sidewalks, through which one
could hear the faint voices and footsteps of what was to come.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Livia Blackburne draws on her background in recruiting subjects for psychology studies in her series, An Experimental Psychologist's Take on Beta Reading.

→ Author Chris Bohjalian shares a true story of reviews, revenge, and inspiration. (Thanks, The Millions!)


Anna Scott Graham said...

One of my favorite books of poetry is Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, the husband of Sylvia Plath. The volume is all about their relationship and her death, dark but truly stunning. On the other end of the spectrum is Richard Brautigan's The Pill Versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, quite irreverent. In Watermelon Sugar is a novel by Brautigan but poetic in nature.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Anna!

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