Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop My rating: 5 of 5 stars Elizabeth Bishop went to Brazil in 1951 and stayed for 15 years, living with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares. The first half of this 1965 volume of poetry, her third, variously documents this extended sojourn: titled "Brazil," it includes not only lyrics… Continue reading Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell My rating: 3 of 5 stars The tag next to Robert Lowell's corpus in the museum of literary history designates him the most influential American poet of the 20th century's second half—less the founder of a school (Confessional Poetry) than an author the gravity of whose work legitimated… Continue reading Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders.… Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love's Labor's Lost by William Shakespeare My rating: 4 of 5 stars This early Shakespearean comedy, dating from the 1590s, is paradoxically slight but weighty, thin but dense. That's no doubt partially owing to the lavish verbal resources it spends on such a simple plot. The story it tells is this: the King of Navarre… Continue reading William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe My rating: 5 of 5 stars Goethe's Faust, including Part One and Part Two, was written over the entire course of the author's adult life, begun when he was in his twenties and finished when he was in his eighties, at the threshold of death. Many dates can be… Continue reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Hart Crane, The Bridge

The Bridge by Hart Crane My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Bridge (1930) is a long poem seven years in the making. It was written under several varieties of duress, alcoholism and despair chief among them, by a poet who would, within two years of his masterpiece's composition, take his own life at the… Continue reading Hart Crane, The Bridge

Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith My rating: 4 of 5 stars This celebrated 2011 volume from the current U.S. poet laureate is her elegy for her father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble telescope. Your context changes how you read any given book, and I was reading this in the context of… Continue reading Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars Why is this bizarre, disorderly, long, and poorly transmitted tragedy from the turn of the seventeenth century the central work of the western literary tradition, its hero the keystone in the arch of modern literature? Because the distance he created between himself and the world… Continue reading William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck

Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich My rating: 3 of 5 stars In the blurb on the cover of this paperback, Margaret Atwood promises that this book "forces you to decide not just what you think about it, but what you think about yourself." Rich's seventh collection, written in the early '70s,… Continue reading Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck

My Year in Books, 2017

But let's start with movies. Ten years ago, the Scottish musician and critic Momus observed that one of the most acclaimed films of 2007, Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-Civil-War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, was morally and politically simplistic and (or because) artistically complacent. He gave ten objections to the film; I will quote the first two: 1. The… Continue reading My Year in Books, 2017