Poetry

Rod McKuen (1933 - 2015)

For a certain, very narrow slice of the population (of which I count myself a part)--namely "serious" poets--the name Rod McKuen is the punch line of any number of jokes. These jokes are invariably told with a knowing sneer and a big dollop of condescension. You see, Rod McKuen, for a considerable stretch of the 1960s and 70s, was something most younger Americans cannot imagine: a well-known and well-paid poet. He managed to become rich and famous by writing very accessible poems--lots and lots of them. How accessible, you ask?

Resolution Check: Poetry Writing Guides

Photo of QuillChances are if you are a reader of poetry, you are a writer of poetry. If you’re like me and the whole writing thing has gone on a bit of a hiatus for AHEM almostthreeyears or so, your hypothetical list of goals for the New Year may have included flexing your writerly muscles more often. And if your January has gone like mine, it is possible you haven’t actually worked on those New Year’s goals at all. Thankfully, HCPL has an assortment of books to encourage and stir the muse within, whether you’re a certifiable bard or just a beginner looking for a place to start.

Say Goodbye to 2014 (...with New Poetry Titles!)

Fireworks2014 has come and gone, but not without leaving behind some new poetry to enjoy. Here we have a sampling from our catalog of titles published in the past year. Some are rooted in a specific historical context; many are situated among the flotsam and jetsam of our contemporary life. There are collections spanning the entire careers of seasoned poets, some writings are offered posthumously, and some are brought by names we might not yet recognize. All attempt to give their own interpretation of just what it means to live. I think we could all use a little profundity to kick start our New Year, yes? 

Genre Benders: Novels in Verse

Cover Art: Sharp Teeth by Toby BarlowNovels in verse, while currently trendy in Children’s and Young Adult lit, don’t often get published for an adult audience as there hasn’t been much demand for them in a couple of centuries. Making such a deliberately uncommon choice in form would lead us to assume the verse acts as a crucial vessel, necessary for facilitating whatever story is being told. Compiled below are a sampling of verse novels published in the last few years. From the life of Shakespeare’s ghost writer to a lycanthrope-invaded L.A., there may be something on the list that interests you. I dare you to read one. Let’s find out if the genre can make a comeback. 

Mark Strand (1934 - 2014)

Cover Art: Almost Invisible by Mark Strand

Pulitzer Award-winning poet Mark Strand passed away this weekend after 80 years of life. Known to dwell on tropes of absence, death, and identity, his writings have both primed us for and will carry us through his departure. Though he has created art and criticism across several genres as a children’s book author, essayist, translator, and collage artist, he will be best remembered for his sizeable and enduring contribution to contemporary American poetry.

Poet Spotlight: Louise Gluck -- 2014 National Book Award Winner!

Cover Art: Faithful and Virtuous NightThis year’s prestigious National Book Award has been awarded to Louise Gluck for her latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night. Last night’s award joins an already long list of accolades for Gluck including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985, the Pulitzer in 1993, and the Bollingen Prize in 2001. Her career as a published poet has spanned nearly half a century, and in 2003 she served as U.S. Poet Laureate. You can already find her name printed in most anthologies of contemporary American poetry, and her latest work promises evolution of thought and form while still encircling familiar themes of existentialism, renewal, and their relationship to art.

National Book Awards 2014: Poetry Edition

If you have been looking for a gateway into contemporary American poetry, the National Book Award finalists are not a terrible place to start. Five poets  acting as judges have declared these five books to be “the best” of all poetry collections published this year, with the winner being announced at the black tie awards ceremony next Wednesday evening, November 19th at 7pm. 

  • Cover Art: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia RankineCover Art: Second Childhood by Fanny Howe
  • Cover Art: This Blue by Maureen N. McLaneCover Art: Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck

New Arrivals for National Poetry Month 2014

Nat'lPoMo Poster 2014It is perhaps no accident that National Poetry Month always begins on April Fools’ Day. Poetry is a foolish thing. It, more than prose in all its various forms, assumes it can draw a bead on, and ultimately make some kind of meaning (no matter how fleeting) from the messy and provisional stuff that is life in the 21st century. It is foolish because for nearly everyone but poets themselves, it has become an object of derision, and worse—indifference.

Yet, the world continues to spawn poets. Why? Because, I think, human beings, when you look at them in their best possible light, are fundamentally seekers. We are all looking for something with a big, amorphous name: grace, salvation, contentment, etc. --in short, we are looking for answers to questions we can't even quite formulate.

Poetry Is Dead...Again

Early this year, a newspaper culture vulture, of all people, pronounced poetry dead...again. And yet again, poets went into a Cat-5 tizzy.

The article by Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post asked if poetry is still culturally relevant, or as she put it, “can it change anything?” She, surprising absolutely no one, answered emphatically, "No."

Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013)

cover art: Electric Light by Seamus HeaneyThe Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, had the great good fortune to be born in a place that values poetry in a way that most Americans cannot imagine. He was an honest-to-goodness celebrity in his native Ireland, not perhaps on a Bieberian scale, but solidly, unostentatiously famous nonetheless. Right around the time he accepted the Nobel laurels, he became something beyond the poet and teacher he started out to be. He became a sage, a go-to quote-maker on the Big Questions of the day, and I think to some extent he relished those extracurricular roles. I know he was awfully good at them.

It's always tempting to see a softening in the work when someone in any profession has reached that level of success, and perhaps the poems became bigger, more aware of their place in his country's sociopolitical discourse, and his own legacy, but they were still masterful. For me, there will always be something in his early work when all that talent was balling up into a fist and he was finding new ways to say what had to be said, when he hadn't quite become the master (though so much better, more naturally gifted than anyone working at the time). Those are the poems I suspect I'll return to most.

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