Thursday, August 23, 2007

Entitlement: Books I Love to Hate

I think, as writers (and avid readers), we are entitled to certain things. Among those things should be: first dibs on the free book table at the university bookstore on the campus where you work, study or loiter, the one spot on the beach that has just the right amount of shade and sun for you to make it through half of _________________(enter your favorite book or whatever book du jour you're indulging in at the moment) before the midday sun wreaks havoc on you, assurance that you will not be bothered after having that long conversation with some great aunt or uncle at the family reunion and scampering off to scribble what you will begin to make of it under a tree in the park, and the right to love and/or hate certain books/poems/authors deemed as "classics". Therefore, after much thought and arguing over the years, I'm ready to publish my own list of BOOKS AND POEMS EVERYONE SAYS I SHOULD LIKE BUT THAT I REALLY, TRULY DON'T. Here's what I came up with:

Author that most people praise who still does nothing for me:

Jane Austen

(I wish I could say that Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility move me in some way, but they don't. I felt such guilt over not enjoying Austen that I ran out and read everything she ever wrote in hopes of finding something that would bring a tear to my eye. Alas, I found nothing, and I had to give away a whole bunch of books.)

Book that is on all of the World's Best Novel lists ever published that I can't stand:

Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky

(After the murders, I was bored out of my mind. I just don't understand why anyone would torture students with this book. Now, I did like some of the symbolism. I remember a very riveting lecture by a professor who was teaching the book (probably the third or fourth literature class I had to endure with this book on the schedule) about Dostoevsky's abundant use of the color yellow. Seriously, it was a great lecture, but I still don't like the book. )

Book that I'm supposed to love just because I'm a poet but that didn't do anything for me:

Letters to a Young Poet -- Rainer Maria Rilke

(I have to say, I think I felt guiltiest about this one. I still do. I was so ready to be blown away by every word of this little book, but it didn't change my life. In fact, it didn't really inspire me at all. I just felt that the advice was meant for Kappus, not me. I did read Rilke's poems after this, though, in hopes of redeeming myself a bit for not loving his letters.)

Book that gets taught in most Black Arts Movement classes that I hate to see show up on the syllabus and that I would never teach:

Soul on Ice -- Eldridge Cleaver

(I know people have there reasons, but if I was ever forced to teach this book, I would only do so under the condition that I got to teach Sonia Sanchez's fiery review of it during the same class periods.)

Poem that I hate to see anthologized because it really sours students on poetry when I know there are tons of better examples of work by the author:

O Captain! My Captain! -- Walt Whitman

(Hello? Where are the excerpts from Leaves of Grass? "I sing the body electric...", come on people, it was good enough to be turned in to the climatic song for a musical for heaven's sake! Seriously, while I do love Fame and it's use of Whitman, I think if we showed students [myself included when I was stuck in ninth grade English and bored out of my mind] Whitman's "Song of Myself" and told them to write an essay on it or, better yet, their own 'song', we'd have some much more intriguing things to talk about in class.)

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. And though I am 'raging against the machine' (i.e. I guess in this case the 'man' would be the Academy, the New York Times book critics, I don't know...) here, I really punked out because all of author's are long dead, so I'm really not hurting anybody's feelings. I'd love to see some other lists of hated classics or, even better, contemporary lit that doesn't do it for you. Feel free to leave your own list in the comments, if you dare...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Poem of the Month, Week, Night

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
--Mary Oliver

I know this POEM OF THE WEEK is long overdue. Life has been happening, as it will, when you think you have time for rest or peace.

I chose this piece for a few reasons. I have been making my way back to Mary Oliver this summer. Her work is bucolic and wondrous and all the things I only dream of as a poet. I am not now nor will I ever be a "nature" poet. I think Oliver brings honor to the term, as it has taken much flack during the last decade, but what else can you call a poet who sings of egrets and mushrooms and trout and crickets with little 'mouth-caves'? She seems to find her peace in the land around her. I find peace in her peace.

Last night, a Nor'Easter blew through town and gave my little house a thrashing. I woke to all kinds of debris (most notably, two shopping carts from the store across the street and a sign) on my lawn strewn about the yard. The rain beat so loudly I couldn't sleep, and I can always sleep.

But it was good, cleansing, and on time. Each year since I've been here, all through my time in undergraduate school, a Nor'Easter blows through to welcome the first day of classes. It's like clock work and no one else seems to notice. Last night, I was in bed and kept looking out the window--waiting. I couldn't sleep until the rain came and then couldn't sleep because of it. I listened to it, tossed and turned, prayed a bit in the dark.

What a trying week it has been. The good always heaped in with the bad. Bennington lost Liam Rector last week. He was the center of the vortex and much of the community is spiraling now. What a strange and sad loss for all of us.

I chose Oliver's poem because I have been reading her newest book, Why I Wake Early, and have determined that she is the supreme optimist. I am trying to be both those things. In the poem above, everything leads back to everything else; we are all connected whether we know it or not. Every journey is our journey, Oliver is right, and in the midst of thunder and lightning and morning and rain, what a wondrous journey it is.