The Books of August

August was most­ly a craft book month. Poetry being the craft of the moment.

Books I read:

How to Read a Poem and Fall In Love with Poetry — Edward Hirsch (1999)

I’m not sure that this book will make any­one who isn’t already crush­ing on poet­ry fall in love. But if you are crush­ing on poet­ry but don’t quite under­stand what it’s going on about you might find some help here. One of the things that I like about poet­ry is once you’ve read a poem and been amused, affect­ed, bemused, over­wrought, bowled over, hum­bled, or puz­zled by it you can go back and start to take it apart and glo­ry in the small details of how it’s put together.
The book is 60% dis­cus­sion of poet­ry as lit­er­a­ture using spe­cif­ic poems and poets to show how poems work. There are a lot of famil­iar authors, both his­toric and mod­ern and a hand­ful of new (to me) ones. Hirsch knows a lot about poet­ry from Poland after the sec­ond world war; it’s fas­ci­nat­ing stuff and I found a cou­ple of new poets to enjoy.
The oth­er 40% of the book is made up of a glos­sary and a long list of very diverse poets.
This book does a decent job of explain­ing some of that machin­ery — though that’s not the focus. You kind of learn it by acci­dent. It is prone to falling down into the trap of MFA/EnglishLit Major gib­ber­ish. e.g. “Desnos’s ver­bal eroti­cism cre­ates an aura of enchant­ment, a speech beyond speech, a prophet­ic lan­guage, and his strong­ly sur­re­al­ist tech­nique cre­ates an access through the page to the back of the brain, to the uncon­scious mind.” (p104)
I would­n’t usu­al­ly buy some­thing I feel ambiva­lent about in paper but the glos­sary is exten­sive enough that it might make it worthwhile.
* for those with a poet­ry crush * 

Invisible Cities — Italo Calvino (1974)

Yes, again. I’m still tak­ing this machine apart and being blown away by its intri­ca­cy and fine­ness every time I go back to it. It’s become a totem item to be read and reread.
* per­fect lit­tle machines of meaning *

Dig and Fiesta Hotel — Lynn Emanuel (1994)

Poetry. There are a cou­ple of things here that blow the top of my head off. (In that very Dickensonian way.) Frying trout while Drunk and The Dig in par­tic­u­lar are fine­ly craft­ed obser­va­tions of a life made up of tan­gled relationships.
* poems about a life lived in the midst of sub­tle and not so sub­tle chaos *

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry — Fredrik Backman (2013)

Another from the fel­low who wrote A Man Called Ove. In much the same vein. Life chang­ing events over­take the hero­ine — Elsa. Her grand­moth­er is her only ally in a world that has­n’t much use for preter­nat­u­ral­ly mature near­ly 8 year-old girls. In fact her grand­moth­er is her super-hero. A flawed, cranky, anti-establishment super-hero but a super-hero by any mea­sure. When her grand­moth­er dies Elsa is left with the task of deliv­er­ing a series of let­ters in which her grand­moth­er begs the for­give­ness of var­i­ous peo­ple she believes that she wronged. Elsa dis­cov­ers the unspo­ken con­nec­tions between the peo­ple who pop­u­late her life and the house where she lives. I don’t usu­al­ly like books with chil­dren as the pro­tag­o­nists but in this case Elsa is so appeal­ing­ly mis­fit and her grand­moth­er, who haunts the book long after her death, is exact­ly the sort of com­pli­cat­ed char­ac­ter who I enjoy play­ing along with. Also, there is a mon­ster. I love a good monster.
* charm­ing in the very best sense *

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry — Jane Hirshfield (1997)

A weird­ly effec­tive com­bi­na­tion of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, mak­er’s hand­book, and bud­dhist treatise.
There are nine “craft talks” here. Essays pre­pared for audi­ences of poets, stu­dents, and oth­ers con­cerned with the art of poet­ry. Many of the essays rely on her work as a co-translator of Japanese poet­ry to illus­trate her insights into the role of the poet and of poet­ry in cre­at­ing a shared world. It’s all a bit heavy on the mind­ful­ness but she has use­ful things to say to the work­ing poet. The essays on the dual­i­ties of Inward and Outward fac­ing work and of Shadow and Light (rough­ly heav­en and hell with­out the cap­i­tal let­ters) and all of the pos­es in-between are espe­cial­ly effec­tive. There is also an essay on the orig­i­nal­i­ty and the cre­ative process that nice­ly sums up what I think is pret­ty com­mon knowl­edge for those actu­al­ly doing cre­ative work but might help put some con­cepts into to words for those only begin­ning to explore that side of work.
* a bal­ance of the schol­ar­ly and the practical *

Incarnadine: Poems — Mary Szybist (2013)

A National Book Award win­ner that Amazon has been try­ing to get me to buy for two years. I don’t take Amazon’s poet­ry sug­ges­tions seri­ous­ly and did­n’t buy this until it was rec­om­mend­ed by a poet who taste I trust. Stupid me. Some of these are incan­des­cent. Some are intrigu­ing new forms (there’s a sun­burst of rayed out lines and a dia­grammed sen­tence) and few are pedes­tri­an. Much of con­tent is an exam­i­na­tion of the ques­tion of faith and of the divine meet­ing the mortal/physical. In sev­er­al poems the Virgin Mary is dragged into the twenty-first cen­tu­ry and allowed to express both her faith­ful­ness and her hesitations.
* how can I con­vince any­one to read poet­ry when I write such lousy reviews of it? *

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction — Neal Gaiman (2016)

A col­lec­tion of speech­es, book intro­duc­tions, and brief essays on a vari­ety of top­ics close to Gaiman’s heart. Makes good bed­time read­ing. Gaiman’s hob­by hors­es reap­pear in sev­er­al of these pieces. His love of comics and his con­tention that there are no bad books for chil­dren are on dis­play in at least four speech­es. His intro­duc­tions to clas­sic sci­ence fic­tion will prompt you to search out some of the writ­ers that are unjust­ly for­got­ten. And a few that are imo just­ly for­got­ten — but there’s no account­ing for taste. But intro­duc­tions to books can make dry read­ing if you’re not in the mar­ket for the book.  In addi­tion to comics, prose books (sci­ence fic­tion and oth­er­wise) he takes on film and music. His excel­lent report­ing from the Syrian refugee camp is included.
* a lit­tle patience for rep­e­ti­tions will get you to the gems *

Listened to:

I lis­tened to the begin­ning of Austin’s Sense and Sensibility but I was­n’t pay­ing care­ful enough atten­tion and will have to restart it. In August there were not many chances to sit and lis­ten as I did very lit­tle sewing this month.


I’m in the mid­dle of a hand­ful more books of poet­ry and poet­ry crit­i­cism. I’ve also start­ed Diane Wynn Jones Dogsbody on the rec­om­men­da­tion of Mr. Gaiman, even though I gen­er­al­ly avoid books with dogs as protagonists.

P.S. The cov­er images link to Amazon. If you buy the book using the link I get a (tiny) pay back for writ­ing these reviews.