By and large, our experience of poetry is an active affair. Reading a poem well generally demands diligence and attention, which partially explains poetry’s neglect when compared to other artforms that are often experienced somewhat passively – from film to the visual arts, to music, to audiobooks, and even the novel, which generally relies less on an actively constructed meaning.
Of course, recordings of poems abound, and a recording of a poem can be experienced just as passively as an audiobook or piece of music. But there’s something to be said for Philip Larkin’s argument that ‘[h]earing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much – the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end.’
As someone who prefers to experience poems from the page, it’s a delight to have access to Alice Allan’s regular Poetry Says podcasts, a series of lively and engaging conversations about poetry. The podcasts are perfect for those moments in which reading poems from a book is impractical.
Over 100 episodes of Poetry Says are available, including episodes on Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Jack Gilbert, Ted Berrigan, Judith Wright, Jorie Graham, and contemporary Australian poets, such as Michael Farrell and Jill Jones. The episode on Plath’s bee poems is highly recommended. Invariably, an episode sends me back to a poet and their work with fresh insight and new regard.
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This Saturday, 20 July 2019, my debut book of poems will be launched at Mothership Studios, at 18-22 Sydney Street, Marrickville, Sydney, from 2:30-4:30pm, along with new books of poems by Peter Boyle, Natalie Harkin, and L.K. Holt. Sydneysiders are welcome to attend. Copies of CARTE BLANCHE will be available at the launch, and are available already from vagabondpress.net, along with all of Vagabond Press’s 2019 releases – books by Peter Boyle, a.j. carruthers, Toby Fitch, Natalie Harkin, L.K. Holt, and Jessica L. Wilkinson. A launch in my home city, Adelaide, will follow. Further details soon.
I’m delighted to have my poem ‘Cut’ published in the newly released The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss. The anthology includes work by 89 writers – both poetry and prose – including poems by Ali Cobby Eckermann, Adrienne Eberhard, Quinn Eades, Lucy Dougan, Kevin Gillam, Alex Skovron, and fellow South Australian poet Jules Leigh Koch. Editors Terry Whitebeach and Gina Mercer have been at work on the anthology since at least 2014, and it’s recently found its way into the world. The Sky Falls Down (308pp) is available from Ginninderra Press.
A few of the books I’ve enjoyed reading, or returning to, in February and March 2019:
- Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family: Book I of the six My Struggle (Min Kamp) novels (autobiographical novel: Vintage, 2009).
- Ada Limón’s The Carrying: A follow-up to 2015’s acclaimed Bright Dead Things (poetry: Corsair, 2018).
- JL Carr’s A Month in the Country: Published by Penguin as a ‘Classic’, and the source of a 1987 film starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, in their third and second film roles respectively (short novel: Penguin, 1980).
- WS Merwin’s Garden Time (poetry: Copper Canyon, 2016).
- Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency (poetry: Grove, 1957).
- Alejandra Pizarnik’s The Galloping Hour: French Poems: Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander’s translations of the French poems of Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who died in 1972 (poetry: New Directions, 2018).
- Forrest Gander’s Be With (poetry: New Directions, 2018).
- WS Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius (poetry: Bloodaxe, 2009).
- Ron Rash’s Poems: New and Selected (poetry: Ecco, 2016).
- David Marno’s Death Be Not Proud: The Art of Holy Attention: An extended study of John Donne’s poem ‘Death, Be Not Proud’, which argues for the possibility of poetry as a kind of ‘inception’ (criticism: University of Chicago, 2016).
A few of the books I enjoyed reading, or rereading, in January 2019:
- Patrizia Cavalli’s My Poems Won’t Change the World: a selection of Cavalli’s poems from 1974’s My Poems Won’t Change the World through to 2006’s Lazy Gods, Lazy Fate, edited by Gini Alhadeff, with translations from the Italian by Alhadeff, Jorie Graham, Kenneth Koch, Susan Stewart, and Mark Strand (poetry: Penguin, 2007).
- Pablo Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses (Los versos del Capitán): translated from the Spanish by Donald D. Walsh (poetry: New Directions, 1972).
- Autumn Royal’s She Woke and Rose (poetry: Cordite Publishing, 2016).
- Clare Nashar’s Lake (poetry: Cordite Publishing, 2016).
- John G. Trapani Jr’s Poetry, Beauty, and Contemplation: The Complete Aesthetics of Jacques Maritain (philosophy: Catholic University of America Press, 2011).
- Albert Camus’ Selected Essays and Notebooks (essays: Penguin Books, 1970).
- Franz Wright’s Earlier Poems: a selection of Wright’s poems from 1982’s The One Whose Eyes Open When You Close Your Eyes through to 1995’s Rorschach Test (poetry: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).
If you’re new to poetry and don’t know where to start, try getting hold of an anthology of contemporary poetry from your local library or bookshop.
What is a poetry anthology? It’s a book that includes poems by a variety of poets, rather than just one poet. Anthologies often have a particular theme (e.g. Harbour City Poems: Sydney in Verse), or focus on a particular place and/or time (e.g. The Best American Poetry 2018, or The Forward Book of Poetry 2019), or present a survey of poetry over time (e.g. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, which includes poems in English from the 7th century to the present, or Australian Poetry Since 1788, or Puncher & Wattmann’s Contemporary Australian Poetry).
Why an anthology? Because an anthology includes poems by a variety of poets, though usually only one or two poems by each. This helps you get acquainted with a range of poems, in a range of styles, with a range of themes, and by a range of poets. It increases the likelihood you’ll come across poems you enjoy. As you read the anthology, trust your judgment on which poems you like or dislike, enjoy or don’t enjoy, are engaged by or not engaged by. Follow up on the poems you like best: see if you can find more poems by those poets online, or try getting hold of a book of poems specifically by that poet.
Why contemporary poetry? Because contemporary poetry, meaning poetry from the 20th and 21st centuries, generally uses words and syntax that are familiar to us – in contrast to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, for example, which reads: ‘And for a woman wert thou first created, / Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting.’ There’s a good argument for reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, but if you’re new to poetry, why not start with something closer to home, in terms of what a poem describes and the way it uses language to describe it.
If you’re confused about apostrophes the difference between horse’s paddock and horses’ paddock may seem a small thing. But it’s a big thing to have an extra horse, or horses, wandering around inside a sentence.