#tobyreads: I Know Nothing About Poetry. I Am Reading Some Poetry.

Lots of letters on this edition of Eunoia.

The fact that I spent much of my twenties and — hell — several years in my thirties not reading much poetry has come back to haunt me. There are books I’ve had recommended to me where I’ve long since forgotten the title, and I can’t think that asking about them now will yield much. (“Remember a book you were reading in late 1999? It was a poem, and long, and the cover had….blue on it?”) But much like any creative discipline that I’ve neglected, the fact that I’ve been ignoring large chunks of work with the power to move me has, ultimately, gotten under my skin.

So: yeah, you’re probably going to be witness to my occasionally flailing attempts to read more poetry if you’re a regular reader of this space. You got that two weeks ago when I wrote about Amy Lawless, and you’re about to get more of it here.

Christian Bök’s Eunoia is yet another book I picked up after reading The End of Oulipo? I’d heard Bök’s name before, largely in a more theoretical realm involving genetics. The poems here abound with a love of language: each section features words using one vowel, which leads to lines like this:

Hassan grandstands at a grandstand, as all thralls lash back, wag placards and rant a clamant rant.

Reading this, I felt the same sort of boundless enthusiasm for words that one finds when reading, say, Joyce or Woolf — that love of language is contagious. Reading Eunoia led me to marvel at the underlying constraints, but that never overtook my enjoyment of the narratives that Bök conjured.

Shannon Tharp’s Vertigo in Spring is far sparser in its language. Often addressing an absent presence — sometimes a lover, sometimes a family member — Tharp’s poems evoke hazy late-night scenes, sometimes succinctly and sometimes rhapsodically. In four lines, “Groundhog Day” perfectly summons the titular event, along with an abundance of metaphorical baggage. And she has a way with perfectly contained statements that can be devastating, or illuminating. From “Postcard to My Sister”:

terror made us,
there is no other love.

The poems in Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth often evoke — as the title might suggest — cinema. These are also stark works, but also elliptical in their unfolding — and I must confess that I wasn’t as taken with them as I would have liked, though it’s hard for me to say why. Slowly, my own aesthetic as a reader of poetry is coming together; we’ll see where this leads.

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