Somebody finally gives poetry a break…thanks, Ben Lerner! The Hatred of Poetry diagnoses why every few years our culture declares that, or at the very least asks if, poetry is dead. His basic thesis is that there are two kinds of poetry haters, both of which, he argues, are pretty unreasonable/irresponsible. One line of haters sets up unreachable expectations for poetry–that it can cause in the reader some sort of divine transformation. Most things fail under such scrutiny, and poetry is no different it turns out. The other camp goes one step further, revising history so that it contained poetry that actually achieved such lofty heights, and then unfavorably compares anything written since. No matter where on that spectrum a reader falls, Lerner, himself a lapsed poet–his two most recent books are novels–gives a whirlwind tour through the history of such treatises and provides a few useful lenses through which to view them.
I’ve read Wherever You are: My Love Will Find You, a 270 word poem about a parent’s unconditional love for a child, to my son, who just turned one in October, well over hundred times in the past year. Without fail, I start crying every single time. In fact, I’m sitting in my office right now with the door shut because I can’t stop tearing up just thinking about the words. Before finding this Nancy Tillman’s simple, but beautiful piece, I’d have never thought there were enough words in all the languages of the world to capture how I feel when I look at Shep. And maybe those 270 words aren’t enough, but they sure come close! I also cry when I read it because I think about the way my own parents supported and loved me unconditionally as a child and how they still do as an adult. And then finally, I cry because, as an adult, I know there are people in this world who haven’t felt the kind of love I have for my son and the kind of love I have been blessed with in my own life. So go find a copy and read it during this holiday season!
The French poet Francis Ponge originally published these prose poems in 1942 under the title Le Parti pris des choses. Since then, they have been translated into English again and again, often under the title Taking the Side of Things. The poems are short, descriptive passages about familiar objects, and have titles like “Orange,” “Cigarette,” “Candle,” and “Blackberries.” If you read them quickly, they’re frankly kind of bland. But translators find them irresistible because Ponge was trying not to make a representation of the object in language, but to make the object itself in words (rather than, say, atoms). Corey and Garneau, in their subtle handling of Ponge’s tone, Duchampian humor, and vocabulary, bring out his phenomenology and, through that, his politics. Ponge, who signed the First Surrealist Manifesto but left the movement to join the French Resistance, becomes a partisan again, fighting on the side of reality itself, in this really enjoyable book.
Author: Sampson Starkweather
Reviewer: Mara Masters, Administrative Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries
This book is exactly what it sounds like- four books of Sampson Starkweather- each with a very different form and feel, all originals but some “transcontemporations,” or loose, creative translations. Starkweather seems to be acutely aware of those every day tensions like life and death, hopelessness and hope, the self and the other, and these poems feel like a sort of fever dream in which the subconscious tries to situate itself in the tension.