The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Warsan Shire

PoetryConcierge[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, the reboot here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Emily, who writes at The Bookshelf of Emily J.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

Joyce Carol Oates or John Steinbeck

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

I love cultural history. I just finished The Warmth of Other Suns about the great migration of African Americans from the south to other parts of the country. I learned so much and realized how much more we have left to do in terms of racial equality and acceptance.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

I would bring Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

Oh wow. Maybe five books from Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series because they always make me laugh.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

My future and where academia will take me. I also get worried about issues with my kids. Sometimes nerves keep me up the day before a big presentation or a first day of teaching.

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I love William Wordsworth and William Blake. I had the opportunity to take a class on British lit as an undergrad, which included poetry, from Leslie Norris, a famed Welsh poet himself.

 


Well, for a while there I was stumped. Who to recommend? Elizabeth Barrett Browning (whose lifetime overlapped with Wordsworth’s, and whose poetry took on social issues of the day)? Emily’s favored Joyce Carol Oates, who is not only a prolific novelist, but also a poet? Langston Hughes (a contemporary of Steinbeck’s, and of course one of the great American poets)?

Possibilities abounded.

And then I watched Lemonade, the Beyonce visual album that came out this past weekend. The whole piece is utterly absorbing, but I found the poetry between songs most arresting of all. The poet is Warsan Shire, a British poet (she was born in Kenya and her parents are Somali) who earned fame with her 2011 short collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. In late 2015 she was profiled in the New Yorker; Alexis Okeowo wrote of her first collection, “It’s a first-generation woman always looking backward and forward at the same time, acknowledging that to move through life without being haunted by the past lives of your forebears is impossible.” You can read a bit more about Warsan Shire here. 

Her poem “Home” was quoted in the New York Times, and by Benedict Cumberbatch in his impassioned plea for aid to refugees after the curtain call for Hamlet (I saw the NT live production in the movie theater). You can read the poem here. 

I think, given Emily’s interest in social issues and the movement of people and cultural history (Steinbeck, The Warmth of Other Suns) that Ms. Shire’s work, which deals with immigration, diaspora, family history, belonging, violence, and womanhood, will be appealing, and still a change of pace. While you can find a few of her poems online—they tend to be widely shared—you should be able to find Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth in your library or in bookstores, and look out for her first full-length collection to appear late this year.

P.S. For those nerves, I recommend Hazel Hall’s “Before Quiet.” And if you’re looking for even more poetry of social engagement, you might want to check out the Split This Rock festival.

 


 

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

 

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The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Mary Oliver

PoetryConcierge[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, the reboot here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Audra at Unabridged Chick. 

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

Penelope Lively

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Biographies of authors

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

Rebecca, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Kristin Lavransdatter, The Doomsday Book, and Good Omens

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

Kristin Lavransdatter, The Sparrow, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and some Norton edition that is ten thousand of those onion-paper thin pages of all Western lit or something.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

The loss of my child, politics, women’s rights, community violence

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

Like Dylan Thomas and Sharon Olds, H.D. and Diane Wakoski. Diane Ackerman and Anna Akhmatova. Dislike old school guys or stuff with too many allusions that I can’t figure out.

 

(optional) Are you looking for a poem or poet to help you through a tough time, or to help you answer a question? If so, please explain.

Yes — I’m feeling so conflicted about work and creative endeavors — stressed and unhappy. I need advice, or a pep talk, or something. Centering, maybe.


Just like last week, there’s so much to work with here! Audra is into classics, sci-fi, some truly photo (60)great poetry (shout out to Anna Akhmatova!), a novelist I can’t believe I haven’t encountered before (putting Penelope Lively on my TBR immediately)–so many directions to choose from. I had Wislawa Szymborska, Margaret Atwood, and June Jordan in mind.

But it’s Audra’s answer to that last question that struck me as the most important, and one poet immediately leapt to mind: Mary Oliver*.

Chances are you’ve heard of Mary Oliver, since she’s one of the best-selling poets in the United States (though I confess I only started reading her work a few years ago). She’s the author of many collections and the recipient of many awards.

I recommend in particular House of Light (1990). Here’s a bit I wrote about the collection a few years ago:

A native of Northeast Ohio, Ms. Oliver now resides on Cape Cod (her poems celebrate its interior marshes more than its seashore), and since I grew up in Cleveland and now live in Boston (and married a man from Cape Cod), her poems often feel homey and familiar to me. I love the intimacy of her observations, the feeling, almost, of conversation. This feeling of casual grace is remarkable, because elsewhere Ms. Oliver has written that she revises most poems forty or fifty times!

I think this collection is right for Audra because of the contemplative feel and focus and nature often feel centering, while a few poems are galvanizing, like the famous “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

A huge question, but with this book in hand, one feels better prepared to face it.

Audra, I hope this recommendation is helpful! Thank you for writing in.

P.S. Audra, if you want some poetry with a sci-fi twist, you might also want to check out the panel “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand: Poetry and Science Fiction,” moderated by Heather Hughes, at the 2016 Massachusetts Poetry Festival later this month.

 


 

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

*No relation to yours truly.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Claudia Rankine

PoetryConcierge[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, the reboot here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Jenny of Reading the End. 

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

It’s so hard to choose just one! I’m going to say Maggie Stiefvater, because she’s the blend of creepiness and feelings and Societal Issues that I’m feeling very fond of right now.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Cultural studies is always good for me — anything that describes society with a keen eye, whether it’s our present society now or a time long past.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

I’d probably pick five from my TBR list relatively at random, depending on what my mood was like. Probably at least two hefty nonfiction books, to last me; a romance novel for funsies; a YA novel I’ve been anticipating for a while; and a big fat chunky novel that I’ve been putting off reading for a while, like East of Eden.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

Angels in America, the Bible, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s letters, Shakespeare, and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

What will happen to the people I love (death sometimes, illness sometimes, lost jobs sometimes), and how frustrating it is that I don’t have the power to change it.

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I love June Jordan and CP Cavafy and Paradise Lost; I’ve never had any luck with poets who gaze at flowers like Wordsworth and Shelley (sorry, dudes).


 

So much to work with here! Jenny is an omnivorous reader after my own heart (and, confession, Wordsworth and Shelley have never been my favorites either).

First I focused on the creepy angle from Jenny’s answer to the first question, because that’s not something I see too often. It put me in mind of Louise Glück’s “All Hallows” or a handful of Emily Dickinson poems (nothing like a dead speaker for creepiness).

But then I circled back around to Jenny’s interest in social issues, which she not only mentions explicitly, but also shows in her literary picks (June Jordan, Shakespeare, Milton, Angels in America, the Bible, East of Eden). Audre Lorde leapt to mind (“Never to Dream of Spiders,” “Coal,” A Woman Speaks”), and I think Jenny might like those poems, and also Tracy K. Smith’s book Life on Mars (especially given what keeps Jenny up at night), but I thought choosing Life on Mars would be cheating since I’ve already recommended it. 

Then I wandered around my house full of books, and found the answer in the hallway: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which I just read last week (two weeks ago, by the time you read this) and was about to return to the library.

IMG_6469Citizen won many, many awards (and got some unexpected media attention), and rightly so. It’s a hybrid of poetry, images and essay, a wide-ranging witnessing of how race and racism and race work in America (and it’s also fantastic sports writing, which I haven’t seen often mentioned). It combines the poet’s personal experiences (as in this excerpt, which you can hear Claudia Rankine read here), considerations of the media’s treatment of African American citizens, meditations on the injustices we’ve all seen in the news. It’s an important, formally exciting book (and so popular that my library still has a waitlist for it, even though it was published in 2014!).

I hope you have a chance to read Citizen, Jenny, and that it’s a pick that’s right for you!


 

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

No Joke: The Poetry Concierge Returns

PoetryConciergeDear Readers,

Remember way back in the mists of time when I spent a few months as the self-dubbed Poetry Concierge? I’m bringing the feature back for this year’s National Poetry Month. Read on, and put me to work handpicking poems!


Was the last time you read poetry sometime during a high school English class? Do you want to love poetry, but don’t know where to start? Are you slightly embarrassed that you can’t remember the last time you bought a book of poems?

Friends, I’m here to help. I’m your poetry concierge.

Yes, this April — and for the rest of the life of this blog, I hope — I’ll be available to lead you to the sweet springs of verse, where you may sip or swill to your heart’s content.

Here’s how to help your Poetry Concierge help you:

Send me an email [rosemaryandreadingglasses (at) gmail (dot) com] with your name as you’d like it to appear, a link to your blog or website if you’d like, and answers (as specific as possible) to the following questions:

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

7. Would you like your name and/or blog to be published on Rosemary and Reading Glasses along with your recommendation?

8. (optional) Are you looking for a poem or poet to help you through a tough time, or to help you answer a question? If so, please explain.

I’ll read your answers and come up with a poet, a poem, or even a book for you to try out (maybe even more than one!).

As soon as I can, I’ll publish your answers to the questionnaire, and my recommendation, on Rosemary and Reading Glasses (with your name removed, if you so choose). If you want to report back on what you think of my choice, all the better! If you have a poetry emergency, (proposal, wedding, retirement, etc.), please be sure to tell me that, preferably in bold print. 

Poetry Concierge posts won’t appear on any set schedule, but I’d love to make a few recommendations soon, in honor of National Poetry Month, so bring on those questionnaires!

Yours in verse,

Carolyn the Poetry Concierge


Previous Poetry Concierge picks:

Natasha Trethewey

Dorothy Parker

Margaret Atwood

Tracy K. Smith and Anne Carson

Ashley Anna McHugh and Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism

Rumi

Sharon Olds

Li-Young Lee

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Robert Frost

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is the blogger who goes by Stressing Out Student (SOS).

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I don’t read much of any particular author. I usually look for the content to interest me before expecting the style to interest me. But the author I’ve read the most of would likely be John Steinbeck.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Psychology, behaviorial/social sciences, how the mind/people work

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, horror short story anthology, The Stranger by Albert Camus, When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

The Stranger, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace, 1984 by George Orwell

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

Am I doing the right thing? How can I know to do the right things at the right times? What does the future hold?

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I’ve liked:
“The Grasshopper” by E.E. Cummings
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth
“Dream within a Dream” Edgar Allan Poe
All of Shel Silverstein

Dislike…
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” John Keats


 

Well, when I saw Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman on SOS’s list of favorite authors, I thought, ha! Edgar Allan Poe! — only to have my first thought dashed in question 6 (yes, if you tell me you like a poet, I do feel obliged to find a new one for you to like).

Enter Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet and critic, rehabilitator of Shakespeare and Milton, and perhaps the most productive opium addict the world has ever seen. His writing influenced Wordsworth and the rest of the Romantics (and he was one himself, of course), some of his most famous poems tell strange and fantastic stories (a la Pratchett & Gaiman), and the workings of the human mind are certainly at the forefront of his poetic concerns.

(And if SOS is interested in what the future holds, perhaps she’ll have fun imagining the endings to “Kubla Kahn and “Christabel.”)

This week’s poem of the week, and the poem I especially commend to SOS, is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” first published in Lyrical Ballads (though this links to a later version). Why? Check out the listing of its subjects given by the Poetry Foundation: “Religion, Crime & Punishment, Living, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Horror, Faith & Doubt, Nature, Christianity, Weather, Death, Mythology & Folklore, Animals, God & the Divine.”

This poem’s got it all. Except romance, and hey, we can all use a break from that once in a while, right?

SOS, I hope you find something to love in these poems. Thanks for writing in!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Rose, by Li-Young Lee

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Cecilia, who writes about life, reading, and parenthood at Only You.


 

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I have more than one! Junot Diaz, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Charlotte Bronte

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

memoir, personal essays, history, psychology

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris), for the comfort factor (re-reads by two of my go-to authors); Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) because everyone’s been telling me how amazing this book is; In the Blood by Lisa Unger (I have never read her but this sounded good, as something fast and entertaining); and Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Warsan Shire), a book of poetry I haven’t yet read but want to.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

One comfort book: Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris) and four books that have been on my to-read list: Middlemarch, either Anna Karenina or The Golden Notebook, Life After Life (Kate Atkinson), and The Mayflower & The Pilgrims’ New World (Nathaniel Philbrick)

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

Closer to home – the meaning/purpose in life, how I’m doing as a parent

The bigger picture – human rights, civil rights

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I’d only read an excerpt but I was completely blown away by the writing in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire.

We studied quite a bit of poetry during high school but it was never one of my favorite subjects. I think that my early education in poetry reinforced my fears that poetry is impossible to decipher and difficult to access. A couple of exceptions were Robert Frost and Edgar Allen Poe, whom I did enjoy.


[Sidebar: Never Let Me Go is amazing, and everyone should read it.]

From Cecilia’s list of go-to authors, I got the sense that writing that deals with the immigrant experience is important to her, as well as writing that focuses on the interiority of its characters. One name leapt to mind, and stayed with me as I read the rest of Cecilia’s answers: Li-Young Lee.

photo (77)Li-Young Lee’s poetry is intensely lyrical and personal. Born in Indonesia to Chinese parents who fled China for political reasons, Mr. Lee came with his family to the United States in 1964. His family (especially his father and his wife) plays a major role in the poetry of Rose, his first collection, which I’m recommending for Cecilia. “The Gift” and “Persimmons” (frequently anthologized) are the second and third poems in the book. In “Persimmons,” the speaker remembers:

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision

This startling, painful memory forms the foundation of the poet’s exploration of life in two cultures, and how the senses tie us to memory. In fact, because of this poem, I remember the very first time I saw a persimmon in a market, and what it felt like to cut into it at home.

In “The Gift,” the speaker remembers his father pulling a splinter from his hand. It’s one of the most beautiful poems about parents and children that I’ve ever read.
Cecilia, I hope you’ll find poems you love in Rose. Thanks for writing in!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Two Books, This Time Per Request

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, the first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Rick, who blogs about books over at Another Book Blog. Rick went very public with his poetry concierge request (a minor, forgiven insurrection); he further stipulated that he’d like me to recommend two books of poetry, which will become part of his self-re-education program. No pressure or anything.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a go-to author, to be honest. I don’t have anyone specific that I turn to when I’m in a reading funk. If anything, my literary achilles heel has always been how easily I get bored with any one thing after a while. However, if there’s anyone who even comes close, it’s Tad Williams. He’s probably my single biggest inspiration, and the author from whom I’ve read the most.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

I really love nonfiction books about people who challenge the status quo. I’m not a big backer of rebellion per se, at least not in any physical way, but intellectual rebellion really appeals to me. I’m fascinated by religion, and science, and historical shifts.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

A.J. Jacobs’ The Know-It-All, because it’s basically an encyclopedia in less than 400 pages. Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, because it’s the best science text for the uninitiated I’ve ever read, and I swear to god it’s funny. Apathy and Other Small Victories, probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. Essex County, my favourite graphic novel of all time, a truly brilliant piece of literature short enough to savour in just a week of exile. And a book of Mad Libs, because ever since I discovered how funny they can be when you think of the most disgusting answers possible, they’ve been one of my favourite things on Earth.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari, and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. Four of them because they’re four of my favourite single volume stories (and they’re all really long), The Brothers Karamazov because I’ve always wanted to read it, and five years on Mars sounds like I’d finally find the time.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

I’ve always been a fan of righteous indignation. I’m fascinated by spirituality even though I don’t subscribe to anything in particular. I’m in awe of the universe and all it’s (likely) unanswerable questions. I couldn’t give two s**ts about conversations regarding politics and the environment because there hasn’t been a single one I’ve come across that hasn’t degenerated into smart people sounding like partisan a**holes. [Sorry for the censorship, but my Mom reads this blog, so, you know. –CO]

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

The one work of poetry that’s actually resonated with me (that’s lasted more than a month is In Memoriam by Lord Alfred Tennyson. I’ve always been awestruck at how thousands of people have been arguing both for and against its Christian/anti-Christian message for hundreds of years. It takes a special kind of rhetorical talent to receive adamant support from both of those groups at the same time. For the record, I think it’s clearly a Christian poem by the end, but Tennyson’s willingness to question his faith has always been the measuring stick to which I hold up all religious persons. Furthermore, it’s just beautifully written and undeniably tragic and heartfelt.

As for what I don’t like: If you prescribe me something like The Red Wheelbarrow, then “Friends Off.”


Like I said, no pressure.

Rick’s into big ideas — science, religion, meaning of life, that kind of thing, so right off I dismissed light verse as a possibility, even though Rick has a wily sense of humor (no Edward Lear for you, Rick.). And while I’m tempted to round out Rick’s poetic education with other DWMs (Dead White Men, for those in the peanut gallery) — think Yeats, Eliot, Browning, Donne — I think living poets deserve to be read by a reader like Rick.

So here are my bold picks:

photo 2 (13)Anne Carson’s work defies categorization, blending poetry, Classics (capital-C), translation, drama, essays, prose, and scholarship. She’s a phenomenal intellect. I was tempted to start off with the unbelievably good Glass, Irony, and God, but given Rick’s fondness for Satan — the Miltonic Satan, that is — I think a poem about a winged red monster might be in order. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is incredibly weird and wonderful, a novel in verse form (framed with some classical scholarship and jokes — just go with it, and it works) in which she transforms the myth of Geryon — said monster, killed by Herakles as one of his labors — into a most unusual bildungsroman. Geryon is a lonely, artistic soul, just a little boy when we first meet him, and Ms. Carson captures his pain and his pleasures with a lens that’s never sentimental, only scintillating. It’s heartbreaking and gorgeous. I’m surprised every time I re-read it.

Bonus: Anne Carson is Canadian, so Rick gets a little CanLit infusion for his syllabus.

Double Bonus: There’s a sequel!

photo 1 (16)Next, I’ve selected Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars (which won the Pulitzer in 2012). You want science and the universe, Rick? Here it is. As the New Yorker‘s review puts it, “Smith’s central conceit allows her to see us, our moment, as specks in the future’s rearview mirror. Futures and pasts are, in astronomy as in poetry, all mixed up.” Life on Mars is, in part, an elegy for Ms. Smith’s father, who worked on the Hubble space telescope. The tone varies from wonderment to fury and back again, as the poems consider matters both existential and quotidian, personal and political. Take a look at “Sci Fi,” which is the poem of the week, for an example of Ms. Smith’s original take on the future.

Rick, I (fervently) hope you’ll find poems you love in these books. Thanks for writing in!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Sharon Olds

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Laura, who writes about things bookish at Reading In Bed.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

This is hard, there’s no one author who is perfect in my eyes. I might say Michael Ondaatje because I’m in love with him right now. Or I might say David Adams Richards, who if you haven’t read him, lists Faulkner, Dostoyevsky and Emily Bronte among his influences, which sounds about right.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Personal essays, feminism

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

Astray by Emma Donoghue
The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B, Sandra Gulland
The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (haven’t read it yet FYI but it’s calling to me)

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?
Love in the Time of Cholera
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Stone Angel
Mercy Among the Children
Having trouble with #5!

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)
 

Nature of love 80+% of the time

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I like prose that reads like poetry. See comment about The English Patient above. In high school I liked John Donne. I liked The Inferno.


Like Kay last week, Laura’s given me lots to work with here: a wide range of authors (not surprising, I guess, since her one of her reading lists is 1001 books long), varied in tone, themes, and style; defined interests; and an openness to poetry in general.

Now, I was tempted to cheat a little and recommend Michael Ondaatje right off (maybe The Cinnamon Peeler?), but I suspect Laura’s thought of that one already. Given her interests in feminism and personal essays, though, I started thinking about feminist poets: Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Carol Ann Duffy, Katha Pollitt, Carmen Giménez Smith (by no means is this an exhaustive list). I think Laura would like the work of any of these poets (and I was inches from choosing Audre Lorde’s “Now That I Am Forever with Child” but I can’t find an online source with copyright permission, so try your local library for her Collected Poems.).

That said, I think the work of Sharon Olds would appeal to Laura, and so I’m recommending Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002, which I think gives a rounded view of her work up until that point (she’s published two collections since then; Stag’s Leap won the 2013 Pulitzer for poetry.

Ms. Olds draws on her personal experiences and familial relationships (and not infrequently, her sex life) to construct poems that are simultaneously deeply personal and startlingly universal. While her work is sometimes controversial because of its sexual content, I’m guessing Laura won’t bat an eye after that time we read a paranormal romance.

For now though, Dear Readers, here’s a G-rated but jarring poem to get you started with Sharon Olds:

“I Could Not Tell”

Laura, I hope you’ll find poems you love in this book (Michael Ondaatje did!).  Thanks for writing in!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Two Books (oh my!)

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Abby, who blogs about invertebrate marine biology over at The Spineless Life. Weren’t expecting that, were you? Abby and I attended the same high school, walked the boards of the same stage, and now she’s an awesome scientist-ninja.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

My go-to authors change as I read through all of their material. Among people still writing, I am partial to John Irving and Ian McEwan, but also have a very strong liking for Steinbeck, Zola, and Edith Wharton (among recent favorites). Oh, and C.P. Snow.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

I spend all day reading technical science writing, but I still love popular science, as well as travel memoirs. I frequently pick up histories and biographies but rarely make it through.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

5 books for a week? Oof. Let’s go with a book of nature essays by David Quammen, The Glass Bead Game (Hesse), Atonement, Slaughterhouse Five, and Wuthering Heights. (actually, that’s a nice cross-section of my strange reading habits right there.)

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?
5 books for 5 years is actually easier, because my to-read list is full of long ones that would require that sort of time. War & Peace (no really, Anna Karenina is a favorite of mine), In Search of Lost Time (does that count as a single book?), Stephen Jay Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, and to balance all of this heft, Paris to the Moon (Adam Gopnik, already read and loved), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (also a favorite).

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)
 

Hm. Climate change. My love life. The meaning of family. The state of the academic job market.

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I love things that rhyme and have meter, and really don’t like things that don’t. I adore Poe and Longfellow, and “O Captain My Captain” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “In Flanders Field” and pretty much everything else that you would find in an anthology of familiar, comforting verse. When I find something new that I really like, it has some element of familiarity — the rhyming scheme or the rhythm. French surrealism and I did not mix well.


There may have been a fist pump in my vicinity when I read the first phrase of Abby’s last answer: “I love things that rhyme and have meter.” Me too, ladyfriend, and while I’ll read pretty much any kind of poetry out there, there’s something sweet and satisfying about ye olde formalism.

Or, for that matter, the New Formalism. Yes, my Dear Readers, just like 90s fashion, formalism is back. Well, it never really went away (neither did 90s fashion, judging by the amount of flannel that’s lived in my closet for the intervening years), but let’s set that aside for the moment while I recommend post-World War II poetry for Abby.

Given Abby’s fearlessness toward long reading assignments (War and Peace, In Search of Lost Time), I’m going to be daring and recommend two books:

photo (73)Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism came out in 1996, and it’s a great sample of newer formalist work. As with all anthologies, not every poem will appeal to every reader, but I think Abby will find lots to like here. I’d especially recommend the poems by Andrew Hudgins, professor of poetry at The Ohio State University, fabulous reader, and friend of several friends.

 

photo (72)One of Professor Hudgins’s former students is Ashley McHugh, and it’s her luminous debut, Into These Knots, that I’m also recommending. (Full disclosure: Ashley is a friend, and I’ve met Andrew Hudgins a few times, and been regaled with tales of his workshops more times than I can count.)  Ms. McHugh is an especially accomplished sonneteer, as you’ll see when you read this poem, “The Unquarried Blue of Those Depths is All But Blinding,” which she wrote for her now-husband.

Abby, I hope you’ll find poems you love in these books. Thanks for writing in!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Dorothy Parker

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Kay, who blogs about books over at WhatMeRead.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I don’t know that I have just one go-to author, but maybe Jane Austen. I reread all her books every few years.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

History and biography/memoir (but not usually celebrity biography/memoir) are my favorite nonfiction subjects. I read mostly biographies about figures from history, and literary people or artists.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

I would need a big book for the island, so that might be Bleak House. I would need something funny, so that might be something by Georgette Heyer, maybe Cotillion. I would need something I hadn’t read before, maybe another book by Halldor Laxness. I have The Fish Can Sing on my Wish List, so let’s pick that one. I would need something that makes me cry about someone else, so maybe Sense and Sensibility. I would need something about resourceful people to keep me encouraged, so maybe Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I just read Robinson Crusoe, so I would NOT take that!

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?
Hmmm, you’re really trying to make me think, aren’t you? If I was on a five-year mission to Mars, at least I would know I was coming back, so maybe that would be a different choice than the island all right. I’m thinking big books that feel like friends and I can read over and over again: David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Cloud Atlas or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, maybe read The Luminaries again, and something with beautiful language I can puzzle over, maybe something I haven’t read by Nabokov.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)
 

I actually write reviews in my head at night after I finish a book. Sigh. Also, sometimes work.

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I have liked Frost, ee cummings, Shakespeare’s sonnets, some Yeats that isn’t too obscure, some Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have not liked Ezra Pound, because I don’t understand him at all. I have not liked some of the romantic poets, because they have too many allusions to things I don’t know enough about to understand them. Also, I think Keats and Wordsworth are boring. I generally don’t like really long poems, because I find I can’t concentrate on them long enough.


Well, I admit that I’m nervous with this pick, because not only is Kay a very sophisticated

reader, but she’s also read everything (it seems), and she doesn’t pull her punches. On the

Dorothy Parker | Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

Dorothy Parker | Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

other hand, someone who’s liked Shakespeare, ee cummings, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (oh Edna, you’re my favorite) gives me lots of leeway in choosing a poet to recommend. I thought about Howard Nemerov, Seamus Heaney, and Louise Glück, and I think their poetry (judiciously selected) would have been just fine for our purposes.

But Kay makes me laugh with her often acerbic reviews, and for someone whose go-to author is Jane Austen, I think urbane, mordant wit is called for. Enter: Dorothy Parker.

A screenwriter, poet, and satirist, Dorothy Parker is celebrated for her impeccable way with the bon mot, her short and snappy poems with the bite at the end, and her perennial quotability (seriously, she’s on this Kate Spade tote.).

Here are two of her poems, with characteristically deceptive titles: “Interview” and “Love Song.”  Let’s also call “Interview” our poem of the week, shall we?

Kay, I hope these poems make you laugh. Thanks for writing in!


 

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.