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

Dante, Paradiso

Paradiso by Dante Alighieri My rating: 4 of 5 stars Here is what you've heard about the Divine Comedy: the Inferno, with its poignantly vivid tortures and its cacophony of wicked voices, is the most entertaining canticle, beloved of various and sundry; the Purgatorio, with its wistful focus on the lives and ambitions of poets and its … Continue reading Dante, Paradiso

Dante, Purgatorio

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri My rating: 4 of 5 stars Allen Mandelbaum begins his introduction to his wonderful translation thusly:   For the Virgil of Dante's Purgatorio, "love is the seed in you of every virtue/and of all acts deserving punishment" (XVII, 104-105). To find one same source for all good and all evil is … Continue reading Dante, Purgatorio

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine My rating: 3 of 5 stars Citizen is a prose-poetry compendium of racial microaggressions aimed at a poetic speaker who nevertheless speaks in the second person, and who fills the middle of her book with museum pieces on the macroaggressions of police brutality (and behind them lynching and … Continue reading Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Dante, Inferno

Inferno by Dante Alighieri My rating: 5 of 5 stars You know the story: a man in the middle of life is lost in a shadowy forest of ignorance and error, his path to wisdom blocked by impassable beasts. Then he is saved by the shade of the great poet, Virgil, sent to rescue the … Continue reading Dante, Inferno

Back to School: Literature and Life

Older generations of writers who had come up through the ranks of journalism (and who had often been to war) used to complain about the academic colonization of literature, particularly of the novel, that ostensibly most democratic of forms. In "American Plastic," for instance, his survey of postmodern fiction, Gore Vidal lamented a context so … Continue reading Back to School: Literature and Life

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium

Harmonium by Wallace Stevens My rating: 5 of 5 stars I have long had an interest in Wallace Stevens but have never read him with any disciplined attention. To correct this, I read Stevens's landmark first book, Harmonium (1923), in a library copy of the Goodreads edition pictured above, along with the selections from it … Continue reading Wallace Stevens, Harmonium

Marianne Moore, Observations

Observations: Poems by Marianne Moore My rating: 4 of 5 stars I have never known how to read Marianne Moore, either in the most elementary sense (as in, what book should I even be reading?) or the more advanced sense (as in, what on earth do these poems mean?). Encountering Moore's poems in anthologies, I … Continue reading Marianne Moore, Observations

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe My rating: 4 of 5 stars The two greatest American poets are Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; we have to take them together, like day and night. John Marsh's faith that Walt can save the nation's soul and his own is not exactly misplaced. What Emily can do for us … Continue reading Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson