Driving Without a License, by Janine Joseph. This poetry collection is unusually candid, being about the experiencesof an undocumented American immigrant.
Janine Joseph’s family (we assume from the poetry) came to America from the Philippines illegally, or at least part of her family did. Joseph writes some beautiful poetry, some of it just about being young, but most of it about what it’s like to be an invisible teenager. She talks about finding a job without a Social Security Number, confiding in friends who don’t seem to understand her fear of Immigration showing up on her doorstep, and trying not to draw attention to herself or those around her.
The poetry is good. I wouldn’t say she’s my favorite poet, but it is very good poetry. And regardless of your political beliefs on the whole American immigration mess, I think this is a good collection to read just for the sake of empathizing with those who are wading through it. ♦
Of Darkness, by Josefine Klougart. I picked up this book for my Reading the World challenge; the author is from Denmark. And I flipped through it and it looked poetic. As in, it was in stanzas most of the time. Anyways. It looked avant-garde and interesting.
So this book is weird. It doesn’t have a plot line. Or recurring characters. Or really anything you can hang onto. What it does is tell a long, drawn-out emotion, rather than a story. And despite how weird that makes it, I really liked it.
Instead of telling a story, Klougart tells something like poetry—sometimes it’s verse, sometimes it’s prose, sometimes it’s just a very detailed description of a scene. And you never get any names of people, or really any characters you’re sure are the same from the last section. But what you do get is a very real sense of grief. Several different kinds of grief: grief for a dead loved one, grief for lost love, grief for a failing marriage, grief for someone in the process of dying. Grief when you discover you have a terminal illness. Grief when you realize someone you know is sick and dying. And while it’s odd at first, once you stop trying to figure out who’s talking, you just get this wave of emotion.
And when I say “wave of emotion,” I don’t mean that you’ll be overcome. It’s more like sitting in the shallow end of the pool and feeling the water move up and down. It just kind of washes over you and then leaves you remembering the feeling. It’s not a tear-jerker. And it’s not depressing, either; I’m not really sure how she does that. It’s somehow just…human. Human, and slightly uplifting.
Anyways. If you need a story, don’t read this. But if you’d like to branch out your poetry side, pick up a copy of Of Darkness. I’d like to have someone to discuss it with. ♦
I picked up Native Guard, by Natasha Trethewey, on a whim. I was looking through the poetry section at Pioneer Book, and it was small enough to be easily tackled. The book is half poetry about being a Black American generally, and half poetry about being a Black American during the Civil War. These last poems are imagined, of course, since the Civil War was about 150 years ago—but it’s a side of the war we don’t often hear about, especially that of a Black soldier.
To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this collection of poetry. It’s good, but I can’t really tell you why. It’s not overly flowery, but it’s not exactly everyday slice-of-life stuff, either. It does a good job of presenting the difficulties of Black Americans and the way their stories fit into American history overall. I would recommend it to probably anyone. 4 stars. ♥
I don’t usually tell people what my works in progress are. This is for several reasons. One is that I want the creative license to dramatically change my writing at the drop of a hat. That means I don’t want people to say, “But I really liked that idea! (or character, or what-have-you.)
Another reason is because I figure there are only a few select people who really care about the writing before it’s finished.
But the biggest reason is probably that when people know I’m working on a project, they ask me how it’s going. And then I stress out about it, because sometimes it’s not going so well. Or not going at all. Or I’ve completely abandoned it and started something new. Long story short, I don’t tell people about my works in progress because I’d rather give someone a pleasant surprise than look like a flake.
So… I have a pleasant surprise! I’ve just finished a book! It’s a poetry collection inspired by the absurd names we have for animals. For example, a group of crows is called a murder. A group of sharks is a shiver. Monkeys literally come in barrels. And the book is called An Embarrassment of Pandas. (Yes, that’s the real name for a group of pandas.)
And—added bonus—my good friend Holly Black agreed to do the illustrations for me (which is why that panda on the front cover looks so svelte and put-together.) The whole thing ended up with a kind of Shel Silverstein flavor, if I may flatter myself.
I’ve got a book signing here in Provo on Dec. 2 (and I’m only freaking out about it a little bit.) The event is at 11am at Pioneer Book (450 W Center Street), and there will be snacks. Obviously. The book is perfect for poetry readers of all ages, so everybody’s welcome.
And if you want to buy it online, click here!
I Explain a Few Things is a collection by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I read a collection of his love poems earlier in the year (or was it last year?) and I liked it okay—but I felt like I might like him a little more if he were being a little less romantic and more matter-of-fact. So I picked this one up, hoping it would be a collection of non-love poems.
Here’s my impression: Pablo Neruda really liked Federico García Lorca. I figured this out because he wrote an ode to Lorca. (I’m clever, aren’t I?) But in addition to writing about Lorca, he also writes a lot like him.
I read Lorca’s collected works a while ago for my world-reading challenge. Lorca is a well-known Spanish poet, who wrote some brilliant lines and then buried them in a mountain of absolute garbage. Forgive me. But I really didn’t like Lorca. He just didn’t make any sense.
The good news is this: Neruda made sense. He still used a lot of the unexpected word combinations that Lorca inspired. And Neruda still wrote sentences that didn’t make any sense. But when you look at the poem on the whole, you at least get a full picture of the mood, the idea that Neruda was trying to convey. A few poems lost me, but most of them were fairly easy to follow; I could even follow a few of them in Spanish. (This is a bilingual edition.)
So if you want some good poetry dripping with metaphor, pick up Neruda. And if you want something even less mundane, go ahead and try Lorca. ♦
The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks was an impulse buy. I was already in the bookstore. It was just staring at me. I had to buy it.
Anyways. I wasn’t very familiar with Brooks’s works before buying this book. I mean, I’d heard of her—she won the Pulitzer Prize, among others—but I couldn’t tell you what she’d written.
Well, she wrote poetry, and a lot of it is race-related. This makes sense; she was a Black woman in a very unfriendly America. But with the possible exception of Countee Cullen (who I haven’t read in a while), I think she may have described Black anguish better than any other poet I’ve heard. In addition to this, she followed the rules just enough to be taken seriously at the time, reinventing the sonnet.
You may have learned “We Real Cool” in school, if you want a sample.
I don’t think Brooks is my favorite poet, but she’s probably in my top 5. Go look her up. ♥
So. I’m exploring poetry. I’m also exploring the world. Which is what brought me to Spain’s Federico García Lorca, and his entire collected works.
Which are really great, once in a while. One of my favorite poems from this collection has a section which reads, “Por tu amor me duele el aire, el corazón y el sombrero.” (Your love gives me an air-ache, a heartache, and a hat-ache.) Lorca has a beautiful gift with words.
Unfortunately, he spends his gift with words on an avant-garde approach that pushes the limits just for the sake of pushing the limits. Sometimes I can appreciate this. But … not for an entire life’s work. Like, I think it’s great to make poems that don’t make sense. But for crying out loud, please make at least 1 out of 10 follow-able.
I love the way Lorca’s poetry sounds, but I really wish it was a little more accessible. What I really want is to find a poet who uses language as clever and unpredictable as Lorca, but who still wants the reader to know what the poem is talking about. Can anyone direct me to someone like that? ♦