A Bookish Weekend, with Sonnets

I hope you are enjoying very fine weather, Dear Readers, as we are here in Boston. This past weekend was just gorgeous, and full of bookish delights. First, on Friday night, my friend A. came over and we had this exchange (paraphrased from memory):

Me: I’d like to see that new Thomas Hardy movie that’s coming out.

A: Aren’t there something like three Tom Hardy movies coming out this summer?

Me: ???

A: You know, the actor who was in the Batman movie?

Me: I meant the nineteenth-century novelist.

A: Oh . . .

And then I fell into a paroxysm of laughter as I imagined the kind of world in which three Thomas Hardy movies would come out in one summer. It was amazing. (A has a PhD in English literature, by the way.)

Then there was Independent Bookstore Day, which we celebrated over at Harvard Bookstore:

photo (37)

I was telling my grandpa about the bookstore and he pointed out that when my siblings and I were kids (lo these many years ago), he used to pick out books for us at the very same one (“It’s come full circle” were his words).

I read the Roxane Gay book Saturday night (mini review to come at some point in the next month or so) and flipped through my new poetry books on Sunday, when I also squeezed in a bit of Kate Atkinson’s latest novel, which I’m hoping to finish this week.

photo (38)As you can see from the picture above, one of the books I picked up at Harvard Bookstore was this vintage (that cover!) Harper Perennial pocket edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Collected Sonnets (chosen by the poet herself, apparently). I love the look and the weight of the volume.

Millay was one of the first poets I discovered for myself; on a whim, I picked up a copy of her Selected Poems at Half Price Books when I was in high school, and that book has been with me ever since. She was a brilliant poet (though at times uneven), both earnest and jaunty, heartbroken and carefree. She was straightforward and often very funny, and her biography reads like a novel, which for me made her poems all the more enticing.

There’s plenty to choose from when it comes to her sonnets. The one that begins, “What lips my lips have kissed” is one of the few poems I have memorized that’s always “stuck” (I don’t need to re-memorize it from time to time), and of course it’s very famous. For a bit of a wider range, head over to The Poetry Foundation, which here gives a group of four sonnets from 1922. 

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“Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind”

for Eric

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about death.

In the last five years, I’ve dealt with death by reading poetry. First I read poems to choose the ones other people would read at the funeral. Then I kept reading. I’ve read elegies and sonnets. I’ve read poems about the dead who died too young, about dead poets, about dead lovers, dead friends. And I’ve read poems that aren’t, ostensibly, about death, but that speak to me about the dead anyway.

Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.  Two poems that have meant something particular to me are “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman, and “Lycidas,” by Milton, of course (despite his egotism, the last twenty lines are amazing). I’ll be re-reading them tomorrow.

And I read “Dirge Without Words” by Edna St. Vincent Millay last week. I love Millay’s work, but I’d never read this poem before, and in its rage and futility and acknowledgment of all the customary tropes, it’s perfect.