Darker

I love how crazy this book is, how schizophrenic and obsessive and paranoid.

I admire small poems, their bravery and simplicity.

I praise the declarative sentence. I sometimes (as I do here) support end-stopped lines.

I acknowledge anaphora (“Giving Back”) and its effect.

I love list poems, poems that steal a form from outside poetry, and poems that make fun of the poetry life (“The New Poetry Handbook”).

I support litany.

I popularize and democratize gross overstatements that are ridiculous or paradoxical in nature (“The future is not what it used to be.”)

I am invested in poetry that is both funny and deadly serious, because my experience of the world is that it is simultaneously absurd and tragic.

I am a fan of simple titles.

If short lines were a Page on Facebook, I would “like” it.

I appreciate these poems are serious, but do not take themselves too seriously. I think this is an important distinction between sincerity and sentimentality.

I believe whenever there is a darkness, it hides a light. But that the light is still there.

Ariel

Before MM’s iconic book, there was this one, the book she left behind, stacked neatly on her desk in manuscript form. In school I once heard a lecture in which my teacher positioned Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath as opposing elemental forces. While most of the vernacular escapes me now (aside from one of them being the “dada whoosh”), the crux was that Sexton was the structured, orderly, intellectual impulse, while Plath was the emotional, uncontrolled, innate impulse. The description has stuck with me.

While the poems in Ariel are very structured, they feel almost uncontained to me. Like “Lady Lazarus,” the way it brims over with energy, or “Daddy,” with its goosestomped rhythm that threatens to silence to poem outright. Alongside quieter poems like “The Moon and the Yew Tree” and “Blackberrying,” the collection vibrates at different frequencies–it is truly uncontrolled, inconsistent, alive, animal.

And throughout, the silhouette of Plath herself flickers as if behind a scrim. The story around the book is as iconic as the book itself, and difficult to separate. But the poems endure and remain to mentor us on the ability of poetry to resonate at emotional levels far beyond the simplicity of its language.

The Country Between Us

Is anyone in my generation not indebted to “The Colonel”? If not indebted, can any of us write without acknowledging it or understanding its importance?

At its core, this is a book about exile: physical exile abroad–the kind of displacement of vision that burnishes a poet’s perspective both on the world and on one’s own vision of the world.

Emotional exile–the separation from what one sees and what one feels about what one sees, and then the ability to write it down without qualifying it.

Intellectual exile–the be in the body and to be confronted with death, violence, fear. To continue on.

These exiles are necessary. To be a poet we must not be ourselves. This book is evidence that a collective voice can have one body, can speak for many, can speak for those who cannot or will not speak, is necessary. It’s evidence that a solitary voice can be heard by many.

100 Selected Poems

Why is he not more widely discussed now? It’s a curiosity to me. I remember my classmate in grad school who, breath a fog of whiskey, insisted he was the greatest poet of the last century. I remembered this book, that it had encouraged me to write when I was younger, I remembered reading “Buffalo Bill’s defunct” in high school, thinking “What the F is this??” and then reading it again, and then reading more, reading “l(a”
and thinking it was brilliant and oversimplified–ostentatious and docile.

Why isn’t he more widely read? Or is he read in secret? Those secret sonnets of his, all broken to pieces and decapitalized. I love form. I love to receive form. I love to explore form. This was his lesson to me, that form is both apparent (external) and inherent (internal). But form is always. If you do not establish the form, the form creates itself. Often poorly.

Tea

A book you read sideways.

A book with lines full of caesura like pot holes.

With disco lyrics, classical allusion, secret gay slang.

A book that is two books.

A book full of boys dead or dying.

A book of spirituals, of a kind.

A book without titles.

A book with the detail of gossip, the burden of grief, the permanence of love.

A book in which the speaker looks bad as he realizes he has made mistakes.

A book in which the speaker accuses other people, perhaps in order to ultimately forgive them.

A book that believes in heaven.

Meadowlands

I think I read this book right before or right after a painful romantic split. The ex-lovers in this book are harsh but fair, honest, unrelenting, and the mythic overlay of the story of Odysseus are brilliant.

Circe’s Power: “I never turned anyone into a pig. / Some people are pigs; I just make them / look like pigs.”

And then, further: “I’m sick of your world / that lets the outside disguise the inside.”

Or this: “I became a criminal when I fell in love. / Before that I was a waitress.” (Siren)

But it’s probably Telemachus whose voice I know best. The far off rumble of divorce. Who are these people who raised me? Strangers to each other and to me. My story had a happier end than this, maybe. We had no Meadlowlands. But the book, like a memory, keeps that time for me, remembers it so I don’t have to.