Saturday, December 28, 2013

Last Quarter: Year-End Roundup of Two-Bit Reviews

Steadily in the wake of the sonneteers came the dull poets.

               --Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading

Collected Poems, Robert Creeley.   If you can't say something nice, they say--whoever they are, the bastards--then don't say anything at all, but rather than leave this space available for advertising, let me begin by saying that Creeley isn't a terrible person, just a terrible poet.  To be fair, for all I know, he's a terrible person, too (see "Entre Nous").   If terrible isn't the right word, how about overrated?    I'm hardly surprised that Ginsberg pays high (ahem) tribute.  As for Ashbery, if you take his accolades as an attempt to be absurd, it ironically makes sense.  But for the sake of all that is supposedly right & holy, praise from WCWilliams in which he compares Creeley favorably to Ezra Pound?  If you think about it, Williams's comment could be interpreted--correctly, I think--as a vicious jab at Pound rather than as admiration of Creeley.  You can pretty much open the book & close your eyes--recommended, by the way--& randomly turn to shlocky rhymes, pseudo-intellectual abstractions, unnecessarily fractured syntax, inexplicable punctuation & lame experimentation, yet Creeley remains widely anthologized & eulogized.  Even the esteemed Poetry Foundation provides--not even some primitive concept of God, scratching his wizened balls, knows why--as an example of Creeley's work the laughably awful  "A Wicker Basket."   On a positive note, this collection inspired me to write a number of poems in an attempt to rid myself of the memory of Creeley, so maybe it's not all bad.

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyesvsky, trans. David McDuff.  Considered by some the greatest novel ever written--as opposed, I suppose, to those which came into existence via magical, mystical conjuring & various forms of sorcery--The Bros. Karamazov begins surprisingly, considering the source, like a quirky romantic comedy with religious undertones, but over halfway through the grotesquely obese tale, it takes a regrettably sinister turn into a moody psychological saga with religious undertones before it ultimately transfigures into a cliché-ridden courtroom snorer with the over/under on religious tone at 45.  Smart money's on over.  Readers of comparative literature should note that Bros. Karamazov isn’t as good as Don Quixote, War & Peace or Moby Dick, to gladly name a few fat novels off the top of my head, where they’d weighed heavily.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll. One day Charles Dickens & Lewis Carroll, tossing off a couple pints, were engaged in a friendly argument over whose works had seen the worst TV & movie adaptations when who should stroll in but American abroad, Mark Twain.  Pondering the anecdotal question, I recently read Carroll's novels after watching Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland to see how much the ballyhooed director deviated from the novel's plot.  Somewhere in the middle of the opening line, I learned, the script stuffed the story of Alice down the rabbit hole & focused instead on Mr. Movie himself, Johnny Depp. Burton would have been better served calling this piece of dreck Hatter; better yet, he shouldn't have made it at all.  On the other hand, the 1998 movie Alice Through the Looking Glass, starring Kate Beckinsale & a cast of familiar British actors, is a fairly faithful (aside from the framing device & some minor omissions) & entertaining adaptation of the Carroll novel, which, for those wondering, is itself a better read than the original Alice story.  If you've not read any Carroll, you should read more.  Of course, you may argue that if you haven't read any, how could you read more?  But you probably mean that you couldn't read less, for if you've read nothing, then it's quite easy to read more, though impossible to read less.

Dodsworth, Sinclair Lewis.  It's funny that the Nobel Prize-winning author of such iconoclastic novels critical of American culture as Main Street, Elmer Gantry, Babbit, It Can't Happen Here & Kingsblood Royal would pen this predictable story of the culture clash between Europe & America through the lives of stereotypical bourgeois characters.  No, not funny, but boring. The novel, considering its repetitious excesses, would have made a better short story.

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor.  As a former deacon at the Church of God Without Christ, I have to confess that I like The Violent Bear It Away better, but O'Connor's fun to read.  Like most readers, I'm more smitten with her short fiction, "Good Country People" being a particular favorite of mine.

Dig Safe, Stuart Dischell.  Generally speaking, an enjoyable read.  I like "Days of Me," "Poem for Jack" & "Full Circle" especially. Come to think of it, I may have reviewed this book before, but I don't remember & I'm too lazy to check.  I wish someone had told me that as you get older you lose your memory, but if they did, I sure as hell don't remember it.

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Eliot.  Reading this slim volume of children's verse did little to alter my opinion of Eliot but served to confirm what I already thought:  I'm a dog person.  I'm surprised, however, given the popularity of the Broadway musical Cats, based upon these poems, that it hasn't--what with CGI today being so popular & cheap--made its big screen adaptation yet.  I'm sure it would be horrible, but that didn't stop the Transformers series from being made.

Off the Map, Gloria Fuertes, trans. Philip Levine & Ada Long.  Waking up in the middle of the night & reading these poems, I discovered one thing that makes Fuertes appealing, particularly to a "restless" mind, is her knack at expressing the complexity of thoughts & feelings in an accessible, quirky manner.  One of my favorite poems, though it may strike some as a bit too much like Lear (Edward, not King), is "Painted Windows":

     I lived in a house
     with two real windows and two painted on.
     Those painted windows caused my first sorrow.
     I'd touch the sides of the hall
     trying to reach the windows from inside.
     I spent my whole childhood wanting
     to lean out and see what could be seen
     from the windows that weren't there.

Poems: The Location of Things, Archaics, The Open Skies, Barbara Guest.  I don't always understand Guest, but even when I don't, I still enjoy her lyrical lyricism, imaginative imagery, metaphoric metaphors.  This is probably my favorite of her collections.

Collected Poems, Philip Larkin.  The surprisingly few clunkers make me appreciate Larkin the poet.  He produced an enviable body of work that has allowed his reputation to withstand unsavory revelations about his character.  Thankfully, Larkin confined his racist comments to personal letters, not letting these epithets spill over into his belles-lettres like a stupidly overturned blotter of ink.  I suspect that he used one desk for writing poetry, another for writing personal correspondences (probably a rolltop where he concealed his favorite porn pics), but if the New Critics taught us anything, well, that'd be another surprise.

Some may conflate Larkin's formal verse with his conservative political views, but these same people would no doubt, to paraphrase Harvey Gross, confuse free love with free verse. There is no more correlation between formal poetry & conservative politics than between leftist leanings &, say, the Beats. It riled Jack Kerouac, the story goes, when his mindless minions thought him a progressive because of his freewheeling writing style, just as it irks me that anyone deems Kerouac a great writer. Shouldn't we first establish that he was indeed a writer? I can't be alone in having doubts.

More Reviews . . .

Just in 3/4 Time
Midyear Report
Shiny New Quarter Report

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