by Tyler Jones
I’ve never been a great reader of poetry but in the last few weeks I have read poems so good they make me want to grab people on the street, shove a book into their hands and scream “Read this! It will change your life!” Since such behaviour is frowned upon, I will simply share with you some of my favourites:
Yes, by Rosemary Griebel
I love these poems of innocence and wisdom.
I love that these poems are so personal and yet, as with most personal poems, do not plead for my approval.
I love that these poems, while each strong on their own, are truly a collection. Reading them in the order they are presented tells a kind of story as well.
I love that they are both comforting and surprising.
I love the imagery and imagination.
Most of all, I love the hard won optimism of these poems; we need such voices in troubled times.
Coal and Roses, by P. K. Page
One of the last books by the great Canadian poet is this collection of glosas - a poetic form where each line from a quatrain borrowed from another poet becomes the last line in a four ten-line stanzas of original poetry. The effect either enlarges upon ideas taken from the original poet or, as is often the case, creates a poem whose meaning is completely different from that of the poem it is based upon.
I can see how some people might find the glosa kind of gimmicky - it is as though the poet does not create a work that is wholly original, but merely a reflection on the work of another, and as such the glosa is often deemed less important than a completely original work, but I disagree with this. I think all poetry is based on the poetry that came before it and the glosa is merely more honest as it puts its influence right up front. To suggest that a poem must be completely original to have merit is naive and a little dumb in my opinion. There are those who argue that the structure of formalized poetic forms like the glosa or the sonnet force the artist into a creative straight-jacket, but I disagree with that too. I feel that structure inspires creativity rather than constrain it, and I think that works like this prove it.
I do not know if an experienced reader of poetry will judge this collection praiseworthy or not. However, if you are like me - a relative newcomer to reading poetry who wishes to just walk through the forest and find your own treasures, then you have come to the right place. It has given me a brief and informal education on poetry and has thrown a few more sticks on the fire of my interest. The work of Zbigniew Herbert, John Ashbery and Margaret Cavendish were unknown to me before this but I am interested in reading their works now and I feel inspired to read the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges and Robert Penn Warren, whose fiction I’ve enjoyed so much.
The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems, by Billy Collins
Of all the various demographics of people who don’t read poetry – which is all of them – there is one particular group whose avoidance of poetry and all things poetic is truly awe inspiring. I am speaking, of course, of the Middle-Aged-North-American-Male, or MANAM. Studies have shown that given a choice between taking a group of eight-year olds to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and reading a slim volume of poetry, 92% of MANAMs will load up the mini-van with screaming rugrats. This, I am sure, is simply because my fellow MANAMs have never read Billy Collins. I picked up The Trouble with Poetry and found it more interesting than the NHL playoff game that was on TV. Ok, it was a Canucks game, but still!
Non-MANAMs will also probably like the poetry of Billy Collins, which is brilliant, charming, disarming, friendly, conspiratorial, and whimsical. Maybe a bit smug, but it is a self-depreciating smugness, a kind of Woody Allen tone that adds to the charm. Highly accessible, often funny and always smart.
Everything Else in the World, by Stephen Dunn
Of all the poetry books I have devoured in the last few weeks this is my absolute favorite. Dunn covers much of the same ground as Billy Collins and a whole lot of other ground as well. While essentially optimistic and humorous, the occasional shadow of threat and madness falls across the page. These poems put me in mind of the short stories of Haruki Murakami, as both writers employ a personal kind of dream-logic to their writing that is utterly compelling.
These four books are the best of what I’ve read recently. I could go on, but I’d rather get back to my reading, so I’ll just end by shoving these ones into your hands. If you, like me, have never been a great reader of poetry I hope you’ll find something here to change that.