Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses, Yannis Ritsos, translated by Edmund Keeley, Princeton University Press.
This book seems to travel interminably between my study and nightstand. I am especially drawn to the poems in the Parentheses and The Distant, and the way Ritsos builds mysteries out of particulars. From “Desk Calendar:”
Months on months, weeks, days—unlearnable year.
April with myopic glasses on the garden bench.
July forbids you to sleep alone.
September remembers the locked houses—
two paper flowers and a black large-toothed comb on the table . . .
I am often confounded by his clarity, in a way, and so I keep returning.
The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, 1927-1979, The Noonday Press.
In June, I was listening to an episode of The New Yorker’s poetry podcast in which Nick Laird beautifully read and discussed “The Moose,” and despite knowing and loving that poem, I felt as if I didn’t really know it, as if I hadn’t ever really fully taken it in, and it occurred to me I had never heard anyone else read it aloud, which is of course a much different experience than reading it silently or aloud to one’s self. So I went back and re-read the poem and was just as startled, as I must have been upon my first encounter with it, at its sheer music and craft and seeing. The opening sentence is almost an atlas, encompassing, but also enacting through its rhythm, the sea and the bay and the river and the tides and the flats and the traveling bus, which then goes
down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.
Such humor and precision in “supervises.” Such handling of scale to have come down “From narrow provinces / of fish and bread and tea” to the lone traveller, the dog. And that’s well before the moose even shows up. But that first sentence has it all. It’s why I’ve been re-reading Bishop this summer.
The Service Porch, Fred Moten, Letter Machine Editions.
This book, like his earlier one, The Feel Trio, just sends me in so many directions: sussing out place names and looking up his references; distinguishing recorded or overheard speech from poetic invention, and enjoying the mingling thereof; considering constant but subtle shifts in line spacing; experiencing poems as many-voiced collaborations; but most of all feeling the whopping music of language “if you can make the latin / run the anglish hard” as he puts it in the poem “could be gone.” I just finished the section “All School Crit,” which has stuck with me the last few days, in particular its questions and statements on making art: “Change the space the work is through / the work.” or “Look / what you did, then step back a little bit and ask how you did it, then don’t / quite do it again.”
Fat City, Leonard Gardner, New York Review Books.
I am only about 60 pages into this novel, but I was beguiled from the first five words: “He lived in the Hotel Coma— …” Gardner’s prose is so beautiful—clear and straight and devotional of the place and people it describes, peppered, occasionally, with wonderfully strange turns of phrase: “He felt in her lips and arms a lonely employment of him.” There is an uncanny feel for the particulars of Stockton, California and its inhabitants and vernacular at that time (late 1950s). Walker Evans once gave a lecture at Yale titled “Lyric Documentary” and that phrase has been turning in my head as I have been reading Fat City. I can’t wait to continue, but I don’t want to finish.
Selected Poems, Keith Waldrop, Omnidawn.
The wit and playfulness and intelligence in these poems is astonishing, and beyond that, they just bring me so much pleasure. I have been particularly returning to the poems in the early volumes of A Windmill Near Calvary, Windfall Losses and The Ruins of Providence. I love their self-effacement, their stance—a little askance but deeply curious. Summer is a season that matches their lightness and depth, and so they have struck me at an ideal time.
I am already sweeping towards my most
permanent state. Keith means “wind,” according
to What to Name the Baby …
I may, of course, croak tomorrow, stumbling
from the larder, but I will not set
my house in order.