On My Nightstand

Here's what I've been reading lately:

The First Four Books of Poems by Louise Gluck
(includes Firstborn, The House on the Marshland, Descending Figure and The Triumph of Achilles)
I picked this up when the boys and I were at the bookstore last week (you didn't think I could enter a bookstore and not buy something, did you?).  I am always so torn between buying the books of up and coming, lesser-known poets -- wanting to support them and their work -- and buying books by poets who are already canonized, like Louise Gluck is.  This time, I went for learning more about the work of an important American poet who has won just about every prize, including the Pulitzer (for Wild Iris), and was Poet Laureate for 2003-2004.

These are her earliest poems, which, she says in a preface to the volume, she views with "an attitude of embarrassed tenderness."  When you read Louise Gluck's poems, you can readily believe that her father was the inventor of the X-acto Knife (so it says on her Wikipedia page).  She is the X-acto Knife of poets, with her precise and cutting language and images.  She shies away from nothing.

I'm just in the middle of my first, quick read-through, but here's an excerpt from a poem I love (being, as I am, a sucker for re-tellings), "Gretel in Darkness":

No one remembers.  Even you my brother, 
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you.  I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln --

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone?  Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.

I'm looking forward to reading more.

Seeing Things poems by Seamus Heaney
I first read this several years ago, when I wasn't as skilled at finding my way around the room of the poem.  It's nice to read it again and have a better sense of what's going on and what the poet is trying to do, although Heaney's work is full of classical and other references and you want to have the Britannica (or at least Google) nearby while you're reading.  I love all of his tool references and invented words, often a hyphenation of two existing words, like "word-hoard" and "love-drink"(the latter referring to a mountain stream).  This book contains a beautiful series of sonnets in domestic/family settings, Glanmore Revisited, full of slant rhyme, wordplay, and vivid insights and descriptions.  But my favorite poem in the collection is a meditation on second-time parenthood, A Pillowed Head (oops I forgot to say when I first posted this that this is an excerpt):

The trauma, entering on it
With full consent of the will.
(The first time, dismayed and arrayed

In your cut-off white cotton gown,
You were more bride than earth-mother
Up on the stirrup-rigged bed,

Who were self-possessed now
To the point of a walk on the pier
Before you checked in.)

The Grimm Reader translated and edited by Maria Tatar
This is a collection of many of the Grimm Brothers' Children's Stories and Household Tales.  I love all the old stories -- sacred texts and fairy tales and creation myths and the like.  These are not your Disney-fied fairy tales, but the real deal, wherein Cinderella's step-sisters have their eyes pecked out by doves as punishment for their transgressions, and Hansel and Gretel escape only by means of roasting the witch, and hear her screams through the oven door.  Did you know that scholars have identified 345 variants of Cinderella?  It makes me want to write a poem: "Cinderella, the 346th Variant."

(and way down on the bottom of the stack is) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
I'm finished with it now, but I keep it there in the same spirit as keeping a photo of a dear, old friend nearby.  It comforts me.

As February and many more weeks of cold and wintry weather yawn out in front of us, I've been trying to focus on the good things about winter (here I pause to thank my Grandma and my mom for passing down their rose-colored glasses).  One good thing about winter is there's plenty of good reading weather.  Happy reading to you, and thanks to all of you who sent a list or a memory of your favorite read-together book(s) last week.


Stephanie said...

Gluck's first four books of poems are my favorites of her work. So much good stuff in there!

Molly said...

I agree, Stephanie -- I am loving it!