I’m pretty surprised I managed to meet my reading goals this month, because with the epic A Game of Thrones on my reading list, I thought some other reading would fall by the wayside. But somehow, I managed to fit it all in.
All-Night Lingo Tango by Barbara Hamby — I read this book when it was first published in 2009, and it instantly became one of my favorites. Since I’ve been working on a series of abecedarian sonnets, I decided it would be a good time to go back to that book and really study Hamby’s use of form. I spent most of my reading dissecting the sonnets, especially figuring out Hamby’s tricks for difficult letters (specifically J and Q). This time around, though, the section of odes resonated more with me than it did in 2009, especially “Ode to my 45s, Insomnia, and My Poststructuralist Superego,” and “Ode on Cake, Catcalls, Eggs with a Minor Scary Reference to the End of the World.” But it’s the ending of “Ode to White Peaches, Pennies, Planets, and Bijou, the Dog,” which takes my breath away every time:
and while I despair
of so many things, the perfume of ripe peaches opens
inside me like a sultan’s palace or your mouth when
you first kissed me, every harsh word I’d ever heard slung
into space, all the peaches of summer on your tongue.
The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo — Jon passed this around during our fiction critique group in August, and I immediately snatched it up for my September reading list. A slim book, ending at just 109 pages, in the span of a few days it became one of my favorite books on the craft of writing. I absolutely love the way Hugo addresses the idea of subject in a poem, and how strong poems eventually move away from the initial impulse of the poem. This is definitely something I’m now trying to incorporate into my own writing.
The Kenyon Review 33.4 — I’m making progress in my literary journal backlog! I started this issue when it came out last year, but for whatever reason, I put it aside and didn’t pick it back up until this month. I remember sitting in a Starbucks in Houston killing downtime between a poetry festival and meeting up with a friend and reading Keya Mitra’s “A Family Matter” and being completely freaked out. A year later, the story has not lost a bit of its psychological horror. The rest of the issue is great as well, but Mitra’s story is what really haunts me.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin — A friend of mine loaned me this back in April, but I’m just getting to it now. I went into it without any real expectations. I don’t normally read fantasy novels, but my friend has good taste, and has a pretty good sense of when I’m going to like something. Plus, I was curious, given that I have a lot of fans of both the books and the television show. (And no, I have not seen the show; I’m saving that until after I’ve finished the books). After the first prologue, though, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick with it for 800+ pages. I didn’t quite feel connected to the characters, didn’t quite feel sucked in. But it only took until page 50 (not that long, given the length of the novel), for me to be completely hooked. Despite having a life, I managed to devour the entire thing in just under a week. (A lot of writing fell by the wayside that week, I’ll admit). And that ending. Oh, wow, that ending. I wish I could say more, but I’m not the sort who gives spoilers. The second book just came in from the library, so it looks like the start of October will be another low-productivity week as I devour it.
The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke — In The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo devotes an entire chapter to Theodore Roethke, and having never read any of his poems, I was curious. Jon had this volume on his shelf, so it was the next book I started after finishing Triggering Town. All in all, these poems were pretty much hit-or-miss. There wasn’t a particular era of Roethke’s writing that I favored, or any particular collection; I just either enjoyed the poems, or I didn’t. Which, I suppose is true of all poems: either you like one, or you don’t. However, I generally like a poet’s entire body of work, or temporal sections of it (early, mid, or later career). My feelings for Roethke, on the other hand, were scattershot. I understand why Hugo admired him, and I certainly appreciate his work, but he’s not one of my all-time favorites.
For colored girls who have considered suicide/When the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange — I first read this in college, and even wrote a paper about it, although oddly enough, I don’t remember much about that paper. But that doesn’t mean this book didn’t leave an impression on me. I gave it a re-read one relaxing Saturday morning. It renewed my desire to see this performed live someday. (And no, I haven’t seen the film version, and really can’t decide whether I want to; I’ve heard mixed things). This choreopoem was written in the 1790s, but is no less powerful today.
Other People’s Troubles by Jason Sommer — I first read this book in 2002, after seeing Sommer read at Kenyon College. I was still in high school, and visiting Kenyon overnight. Sommer was on campus giving a reading, and my host took me to the event. Afterward, I bought the book from where it was on display at the college bookstore. I decided that, ten years later, it would be a good time to re-read this. After a decade, this book still has resonance for me, especially the opening poem, “Last in before Dark”:
whose shadows over you
began the night
and day, but now there is
no place for a shadow to fall
that doesn’t have shadows
or people in it.
This collection is a work about identity, family, and the ramifications of being the child of Holocaust survivors. It’s haunting, moving, and definitely worth the read.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated by Robert A. F. Thurman — I’ve become interested in exploring primary Buddhist texts, and this one had been sitting in my “to be read” pile for about two years, so I decided it was time. Ultimately, the translation didn’t do a whole lot for me. I was less interested in the source material than I was in Thurman’s excellent, in-depth commentary.