Book Report: Winnowing Out Our Souls by Jane Hoogestraat (2007)

I picked this chapbook up on the Local Interest shelf in Borders here in Springfield, hoping to find a collection of poems about the Ozarks. However, Hoogestraat is not of the Ozarks, she merely teaches college English in the Ozarks, no doubt to her disappointment. The collection of poems, then, is a standard slot of the Important Lessons modern poetin’ professors want to lay on their students. In a turn of good luck on her part, she wound up in Springfield, so she got to write a poem about a lynching 104 years ago that has Great Implications Today about the inherent oppressiveness of Springfield residents even today. A toothless bearded man makes an appearance in another poem.

Not my bag, really. Nothing in it that touched me or made much of an impression on me. I’m kinda sorry I bought the book and am really sorry I paid full price for it. Back in the olden days, chapbooks were only $3. You know, cheap books.

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Headline Triggers A Memory

Here’s a headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Incorporation of Okauchee Lake area under study.

Which reminds me, I might be the only man in history to have used Okauchee Lake in a sonnet:

Okauchee Light

Across the dark Okauchee lake, a light,
the marker for the end of someone’s dock,
is strangely lit at nearly twelve o’clock
and breaks the solid black that is the night.
From here, across the chilling April lake,
through busy bar room glass I see that glow,
but life or rooms beyond I’ll never know.
One light does not a utopia make.
Quite like your smile, that single man-made star:
Up there, on stage, you flash a smile at me,
and crinkle eyes to give the gesture weight,
but like the dock-end light, you are too far;
your glow is there for someone else to see,
and now, for me at least, it is too late.

Back in the early 1990s, in my sonneting days, my friends and I followed a band called the Surf Boys from festival to festival in Milwaukee. The band was Nick, the lead singer, a guitarist named Dave, a keyboardist named Debbie, and a drummer. However, these backup players were not the original Surf Boys, and when they wanted to reunite, they cast off the other players. One night, we drove out to a bar on Okauchee Lake to see the Dave, Debbie, et al, in their non-Surf Boys incarnation. I ended up writing a sonnet about it. Not that I was that interested in Debbie, per se; she was cute, but I think I had a sum of one conversation with her throughout. But I thought the sonnet has a cool Great Gatsby vibe, and a musician on stage does offer a good unattainable woman conceit.

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Book Report: Crossword Poems Volume One selected and introduction by Robert Norton (2000)

When I bought this book, I bought it on title alone, so I expected some sort of collection of crosstic poems or something, maybe poems based on crossword puzzles. As a matter of fact, it’s a collection of poems whose lines appear in crossword puzzles a lot. The introduction indicates that the editor thought there was a time where schoolboys new the poems enough by heart to get the poems from quoted lines in the clues, but alas, those days are passing, so here’s a collection with the pertinent quotes highlighted in red.

Regardless of the motivation behind it, this is a nice little anthology that reprints a number of often-anthologized poems from English literature, including works from Herrick, Keats, the Brownings, Drayton, et al. Who couldn’t use an excuse to reread some of them? Also, at 64 pages, it’s compact and not very daunting to start or to carry around.

I guess since this is entitled Volume One, the series includes more. They might be worth a pick-up, but I wonder how they could top this small selection.

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Book Report: A Friend Forever edited by Susan Polis Schutz (1980, 1982)

This is a simple collection of “poems” and quotes about friendship from famous people taken from magazines. Think of Reader’s Digest‘s Quoted Quotables section, but with 70s pop art.

Again, it’s good to read some bad poetry to remind you what good poetry is like. And some of this is not very good.

The strangest thing, though, is that the copy I have is from the third printing. And the book cost 4.95. In 1982. And I guess someone was buying them.

And, on the other hand, the editor and author of many of the poems within founded the company that published this book and created, which they sold to Excite for $780 million. So she’s got that going for her. Me? I’ve published a couple of chapbooks and have a couple cool blogs.

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Book Report: Three Volumes of Poetry by Ogden Nash, T.S. Eliot, and American Greeting Card Corporation

Many Long Years Ago by Ogden Nash (1945)
Reflections on Our Friendship by American Greetings Corporation (1975)
Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats by T.S. Eliot (1939, 1982)

If laddie reckons himself to be a poet, laddie really ought to read diverse styles of poetry and, yes, sometimes even poetry that is not very good. Not that I reckon myself to be a poet these days.

The volume of Nash’s represents the longest of the five I bought in 2007 (I hope–it’s 330+ pages, which is a lot of one poet in a row). Nash’s poems are light and easy to read, but sometimes their rhthyms are way off and the words are stretched and misspelled on purpose to make a rhyme, which can be distracting more than truly humorous. But sometimes, he puts a thought or observation into such stark and clear language you cannot help quoting it.

On the other hand, the American Greetings Corporation book is a collection of meh things full of proper rhymes, fair cadence, and imagery like the ocean that washes away from the beach and whose individual waves you cannot remember after the vacation is over. On the other hand, these poets are in more volumes than I am.

The T.S. Eliot book is light and humorous verse about cats, of course. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is based on it, but I’m not going to run right out and see a musical based on reading this book. Eliot is really good technically, with good cadence and rhyme and use of repetition, but it’s only an amusing book about, well, cats, so it didn’t yield any insight into the human condition for me. Unlike, say, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.

If you’re a novice looking to broaden your horizons, I rank them Eliot, Nash, and American Greetings Corporation, but you could probably skip the last. Although its lack of availability online indicates it’s rare, so in my own interest I should say “You should read Reflections on Friendship, or you’ll die ignorant and uncultured (available at MfBJN for $299.98.” But I’m not doing this for myself, gentle reader; no, I write these book reports for you. TO KNOW HOW MUCH AND WIDELY I READ!

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Book Report: The Private Dining Room by Ogden Nash (1953)

It took me some time to read this book, because I’m reading poetry volumes aloud these days and although one child cannot flee from the poetry, the other one can, so it has been slow going. Still, they like Ogden Nash. Or perhaps I like reading Ogden Nash to them.

Nash’s silly verses are laden with classical education allusions amid the crazy goofing with the language to get a rhyme. Also, a number of the verses are essentially 18 line setups for a pun Nash needed to work in. Still, some of the lines and quips bear repeating and sometimes get it, although most people who quote Nash probably don’t know it.

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Book Report: Love Sonnets selected by Louis Untermeyer (1964)

This is a small collection of sonnet’s greatest hits, sort of. About 25 of them, from Browning to Shakespeare and Petrarch.

Unfortunately, the poems appear in a handwritten font (calligraphy, the credits call it) and they have “illustrations” on the left page of each. The font hurt my eyes, and I ignored the illustrations totally.

Still, I enjoyed some of the poems (again, in many cases, as the major ones are anthologized everywhere else). A couple points:

  • Translated poems, especially those in tight forms like sonnets, probably come through very garbled from the original.
  • Based on these sonnets, I might have been one of the best sonneteers of the late 20th century before I retired. If I could get my two year old to illustrate the book, I could probably match this volume.

Overall, the volume probably isn’t worth your time unless you really dig eye-crossing simulated handwriting.

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Book Report: And To Each Season by Rod McKuen (1972)

I am going to postulate that McKuen poetry before 1970 was tolerable, and that after 1970 not so much. I wonder if the quality of the books correlates inversely to the amount of I AM KING OF THE WORLD fluff appears in the about the author page. Perhaps by the time 1990 rolls around, McKuen cured cancer, in addition to being the best selling poet of all time and a sellout recording artist.

These poems run right to the next, with little to differentiate them from any of the others or the rest of the canon. Maybe there’s slightly more reminiscing about getting laid than actual getting laid, but that vein runs throughout. As this is supposed to be his most personal book ever (at least to 1972), I’d rather have read his book of best poems.

The introduction indicates he’s kinda dealing with the death of his mother, but without the introduction, I’d not have known. Of course, the last poem, “The Leaving of Little Joe”, starts out as a poignant reflection on his mother’s death using the metaphor of his mother’s favorite cat running off, but as with many of McKuen’s poems, you turn the page and there’s not a new title indicating a new poem. Instead, for some reason, the current poem goes on. And what might have been a touching reflection on his mother’s death turns into a poem about cats. Maybe the continued, extending metaphor was too subtle or sublime for me, but it was just a long poem about cats.

Why do I read these books? I don’t know. Somehow, I kinda feel for the KING OF THE WORLD, whose poetry was taught in colleges all around the world in 1972 falling into obscurity in the course of 20 years; by the time I got to college, nobody talked about McKuen. Instead, oddly, we talked about Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Eliot, and Millay (although those conversations were sort of one-sided).

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Book Report: Lonesome Cities by Rod McKuen (1968)

So J2 didn’t dodge the McKuen bullet for long. This collection, a 1960s collection of McKuen’s lyrics, uses the schtick of travelling, as the sections are titled after cities but only sometimes have to do with them. Mostly, though, they deal with lost love and alienation. Not a bad set of topics for poetry.

The pieces aren’t very image laden, but after the book below, this was a bit refreshing.

The book foreshadows some of the self-indulgence and self-consciousness that makes McKuen’s later work lesser, including poems written for people because McKuen wanted to write a poem for someone. That’s a police composite sketch, not a work of art.

Still, one of McKuen’s better works, worthwhile even if it doesn’t put children to sleep.

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Book Report: The Braille Woods by Ann Townsend (1997)

This chapbook, published by the St. Louis Writer’s Center, was J2‘s first volume of poetry. Unlike his elder, he did not receive the Rod McKuen treatment fresh from the womb.

As I was active in the poetry scene in St. Louis at that time, I thought perhaps I might know of her. However, she’s a professor at some university in Ohio with a pile of literary magazine publications, not one of the locals who stepped beyond the Kinko’s chapbook.

The poems have a lot of dense imagery within them, but mostly, that’s it. I didn’t get a lot of other deeper meanings or connections with the pieces. Nothing I’d like to read again, and certainly nothing I’d memorize to recite to myself when bored. Nothing I’d quote, and nothing I’d set my Yahoo! IM status to so I’d sound smart. That means, I guess, she’s no Ogden Nash or Michelangelo.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Maybe an incident, nicely evoked, of seeing a blind person in the woods while you’re on a hike and not saying anything to the blind person, even though the blind person senses you’re there, means something to you. That’s the title poem in a nutshell.

Did nothing for me.

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Book Report: Versus by Ogden Nash (1949)

Ogden Nash didn’t take poetry too seriously; the verses are light things with rhymes and runon lines used to comedic effect. I don’t know what else to say about it; they were fun to read aloud and amusing, which is what Nash was no doubt going for. He tortures spellings to get rhymes and tacks on couplets with the punchline to long enumerations, but I liked them well enough to read more.

Which is a good thing, since I bought four volumes at once.

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Book Report: My Poems from the Heart by Pam Puleo (1992)

This book is a chapbook; that is, a small collection of poetry published probably at Kinko’s and often sold for a nominal fee. Back in 1994 and 1995, I did a couple of my own, although I forked out for the double-sided printing and the saddle stapling instead of the single-sided tape bound print job evidenced in this book.

Not too long after this book’s publication, I met Pam on the open mike circuit in St. Louis, so this represents I suppose the first time I bought a used book from someone I know and reviewed it herein. Ergo, I am going to offer a sunnier, more encouraging review than I’d give to someone I never knew. Be forewarned.

Puleo has a good sense of rhythm and sense for how words sound; I could read these aloud without stumbling or trying to determine the cadence in stride. She’s also fair enough with her eye for imagery.

However, this book shows her as an underachiever. She relies on too much repetition that provides little effect and enjambs a lot of lines that could have been better served with line breaks and punctuation.

She’s somewhere above Rod McKuen. Maybe tied with Sylvia Plath.

As a bonus, here’s a book review I wrote about her in 1995:

Bonus Book Report: St. Louis Jazz by Pam Puleo (1995)

This review first appeared in the Fall 1995 edition of the St. Louis Artesian, a free little pickup literary magazine I published 1994-1996. Puleo gave me a copy of the book, so I reviewed it because, frankly, the hardest part of putting out the magazine was coming up with enough literary stuff to fill it.

Puleo Plays Jazz

Pam Puleo titled her new chapbook St. Louis Jazz, and the title fits her style. Puleo’s well-developed voice binds her poetry like a slender thread woven throughout her works. The voice of wisdom, of been-there, done-that, somehow blends into a softer shade of poetry, into a velvet purple by her continued, although muted romanticism.

Puleo packs many songs into this volume, most describing the search for love in a world that is neither cold nor hot, but only room temperature. The poet’s brief epiphanies and occasional insights we can share as she grows older, grows wiser, but never grows hard not bitter.

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Book Report: Poems of Friendship edited by Gail Harvey (1990)

I read another book in this series, Poems of Flowers, earlier this month. Like that book, I enjoyed the accessibility of these poems. One could read them aloud and follow the images and the syntax and the stanzas to the ultimate point of the poet (unlike some poetry).

This book collects a similar cast of poems about friendship, including work by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Longfellow, and a suspicious number of “author unknown” (read: modern poems not in public domain but for which we didn’t want to pay).

The quality of imagery and profundity is uneven, but the cadences and sound of the poems are not; you can sit down or stand and read these aloud and not stumble over the way the words fit together or bluster through enjambment that only seemed to indicate the maximum number of characters that would have fit on one line.

So the book was middlebrow and almost fun. Worth a buck.

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Poems of Friendship

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Book Report: Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)

Somewhere in the 20th century, the academics killed poetry. Sylvia Plath served as one of the weapons, although it’s not clear she intentionally participated.

That is, poetry used to be accessible to the masses. Good poetry was accessible and profound. You could read a poem and get its point, enjoy its language if applicable, and reflect upon its meaning. Sometimes, if a poem was good, people could memorize them to recite for pleasure. No fooling. I’ve done it myself. Bad poetry that was accessible and not profound sort of went in one ear and out the other, but many had cadence (iambic pentameter, forced if needed be) and rhymes (forced, if needed be) that sounded good aloud and end-stopped and everything. Good poems, though, that had both that accessibility and brought profundity–a deeper meaning that resonated–along with provocative and evocative imagery, those poems lasted and brought pleasure for hundreds of years of readers.

But somewhere along the line, academics grabbed a hold of poetry and said, “We’ll tell you what’s good poetry.” Perhaps the markets were already drying up for middlebrow poetry consumers. But the academics started liking and promoting poems that were inaccessible and profound, which became the new Good. If they couldn’t be profound, they could still be inaccessible. The more inaccessible, the more academics with time on their hands, whole days of life unbroken by actual life except for the accursed office hours where they had to face impertinent and unteachable students of the bourgeoisie, could determine the beauty and meaning of the chaotic clapping of syllables and characters.

Sylivia Plath is slightly better than that, but not much. She’s slightly better with imagery than Rod McKuen, but tied for last with him (and much of the Poet race) in cadence and earsound. Her jumpcut imagery, though, really doesn’t serve to keep the reader in the moment of the poem and obscures her meaning. Except for the default men suck and I want to die which we can infer from her continued relevance to modern academics and her eventual success in the latter.

This book represented the second book of Plath’s poetry I’ve read; the first was Colossus, which I read in college for no apparent reason (that is, not because it was a class assignment, but instead because I liked to read poetry). So I recognize the relevance and can sometimes get something from a couple lines of her poems, but never a complete poem.

I think I have The Bell Jar still on my to-read shelves. Fortunately, I have plenty on them to keep me occupied for the next decade until I work myself into it.

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Book Report: Poems of Flowers edited by Gail Harvey (1991)

As I mentioned, I bought this book at an estate sale this weekend. Since it’s one of those lite collections of poetry that came out in the early 1990s, printed by companies happy to have content from the public domain, I assume that Mr. Paul got it as a gift.

It contains 43 poems dealing with flowers. Irises, hawthorn, roses, and fields of flowers. Poets including Dickinson, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Herrick, and so on extol the virtues of blooming plants. Most of them are accessible even though many are hundreds of years ago. These are definitely middlebrow poems, written with cadence and rhyme for the enjoyment of all readers before the academy determined that poems should be inscrutible to the bourgeoisie.

So it’s a nice collection of fun little poems to read. A couple of insights into the human condition, but mostly various poets playing with words pleasingly.

Apparently, it’s not available currently on Amazon; I had not realized how much of a collectors’ item (hem) this was. I have provided a book search link below for your convenience, if you’re interested. You see, here at MfBJN, it’s all about your convenience, gentle reader, not my ability to make a couple quarters every couple of years from Amazon referrals. You illiterate sops.

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Book Report: Tangled Vines edited by Lyn Lifshin (1992)

This book is a collection of poems about the mother/daughter relationship. So I read it at my son.

Honestly, I bought this book at the tail end of our trip to the St. Charles Book Fair this year, when the box of books I was buying grew heavy and from some rows over the lad grew ill-tempered. So I saw a book I thought was by Lyn Lifshin and threw it in the box because my beautiful wife likes her. Heather later pointed out that Lifshin only edited it, but I had it anyway.

So I read it.

After reading a pile of McKuen and the Sonnets of Eve, an anthology was nice. You know that if you don’t like a poem, you won’t have to suffer through another fifty or so just like it.

And I have to say, you chicks have some odd relationships with your mothers/daughters. The early poems are fraught with envy of the youth of the daughters, some serious dwellings on the pending sexuality, discord, and eventual understanding in the eulogy. I’m glad we males have simpler competitive relationships with only the desire to supplant/prevent supplantation on the throne of Olympus.

A quick enough collection, with enough good pieces, to be worth the time. It’s got its share of fluff, though, and some outright poor pieces with too much “I” in them to be good poems.

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Book Report: Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen (1967)

This was the second collection of poetry from Rod McKuen. It’s better than Suspension Bridge, too, but right now I am hard pressed to think of what wouldn’t be.

The book comes in three parts; “Listen to the Warm” collects numerous poems relating to the fear of losing one’s love and then the actual loss of one’s love, so its narrative made the total fair enough even though many of the individual poems don’t stand alone well. The second part lapses into what would later delegate McKuen to his low position in my esteem–that is, obscurity, reliance upon locations and “you had to be there” to make sense, and dedication to people I don’t know. The third section, a collection of song lyrics, actually holds up very well, as McKuen demonstrates a sense of rhythm and some rhyming that elevate the simple images.

Still, he’s no Carl Sandburg or Edna St. Vincent Millay.

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A Sonnet Series: Wherein Brian Puts Up

In the book review for Sonnets of Eve, I mention being a fan of the sonnet series. Here’s one I wrote in the early 1990s when I was a laddie who fancied himself a poet:

    A Story

    A Prelude

    O air, o sweetest air, why flee you so?
    My tightened lungs can scarcely keep with you!
    A thief, she steals my breath and doesn’t know,
    this goddess sweet and yet a mortal too.
    O words, my wondrous words, where are you now?
    The longing songs, the wit I hope I own?
    What will I say, what voice, what face, and how?
    I must, or find myself again alone.
    O voice, my treacherous voice, o fail me not!
    Command you I to speak a flowered verse,
    or make a jest, I could, I ought!
    But what were she to laugh or something worse?
    Yet I resolve with steeled heart to try,
    I open up my mouth but walk on by.

    A Prelude

    My thundering youthful heart, beat not so hard,
    for volume’s strength can never measure love.
    Your maddening thuds may put her on her guard,
    and now she looks this way, o Lord above!
    My reddening cheeks, how dare you color so?
    The blood is needed somewhere else, I’m sure,
    so cheeks to normal hue, for no winds blow,
    and any tint is but a sign to her.
    My whitened hands, you tremble with no cause.
    No beasts with snarling fangs or bloody cries
    are here to threaten me, to give me pause:
    no thing to fear, except those sapphire eyes.
    To rest, I need to shirk or take the task;
    that means to flee, or worse, to simply ask.

    A Heartening

    But am I not a somewhat virtued man?
    No god, tis true, but somewhat more than beast.
    No Hercules, no Titan but I can,
    with passioned might, hold tightly her, at least.
    No Apollo I, but Phoebus has his chore.
    Around the earth he daily makes his way,
    and I, the mortal one, have less but more,
    for she would be the center of my day.
    No Zeus am I, no thunderbolts or such,
    no power or the wish to take a life,
    but then, I lust for but one woman’s touch,
    remaining true to she, my dreamed wife.
    No perfect god could I e’er try to be,
    perhaps there’s good within my modesty.

    A Resolution

    No god, but something more than beast am I
    and virtues must I have to make me so.
    Not swine that roots about his muddy sty,
    but I exhume my heart that way, I know.
    No sloth who loafs about his treetop bed
    and never ventures far from places known.
    I am a vigored youth with love unfed,
    I must then go the way my heart has shown.
    No mouse am I who fears to softly tread
    on ground too near to any human frame.
    I am a man of couraged heart and head,
    who’ll call, with hopes and fears aside, her name.
    And with a braced heart and hopeful eye
    and steady voice shall speak to her, and try.

    A Proposal

    “O sweetest light that ever graced my eyes,
    that made complete the painting of my world
    as does the sun when warming bluest skies
    or oysters when they’re found as lightly pearled,
    will you consent to let me warm your nights
    when you are cold of chill or cold of heart
    and let me salve with care your deepest frights
    with healing words which are my only art
    and sit with me before the snapping flames
    throughout the harsh and snowy winter days
    with cider and our talk and loving names
    to keep the tender fires within ablaze
    –oh, I digress, my question is but this:
    will you be mine and share in loving bliss?”

    A Rejection

    “You silly boy, you talk with dumb big words
    that make no sense to human ears like mine
    and tangle up your sentences like other nerds
    who think they’re talking smart and looking fine.
    Are words like that supposed to win my heart?
    An oyster with a pearl? A sunny sky?
    How strange you speak of me! It’s hardly art.
    I think you are a little out there, guy.
    And to propose a ‘loving bliss’ with you,
    well, bliss is not the word that comes to mind.
    I’d say a dreadful hell, eternal too,
    were I to think of it and be unkind.
    So boy, you go and build your cloudy castles,
    but I don’t need those silly poet hassles.”

In my defense, I wrote that when I was 21 years old and was under the influence of Millay, Spenser, Shakespeare, and whatnot. I got better, but not much.

Also, note that the preceding is copyright 1993 Brian J. Noggle and cannot be reproduced without the expressed written consent of the author. This means you, Harvey.

I remember in like January 1994 performing the piece at MoKaBe’s coffee house back when it was in Kirkwood, Missouri. I had spent the time before the poetry reading playing chess with Michael O’Brian, local poetry slam superstar, and he was falling prey to the Noggle blitz. That is, he thought perhaps there was method in my propensity for putting pieces in danger chasing his pieces; maybe that simple harvesting of my rooks and bishops was an intentional sacrifice in my long term plan. However, he became bored with the game when he probably suspected I didn’t know what I was doing and wandered off. That’s right, he RESIGNED in the face of the OVERWHELMING Noggle blitz.

At any rate, it was one of my first open mic nights, so I read the pieces from printed sheets of paper. I did, however, enlist a young lady named Amy to perform the final piece in response to the first five sonnets, and she probably did better than I did.

I would later write my first piece geared specifically for performance, “Visions and Revisions: A Prelude for Amy”, for the young lady. I performed it for her while sitting in the lobby of the local theatre while we awaited Dancing at Lughnasa. She was so impressed she used me to get the attention of my best friend at the time. Ah, youth.

But I digress. That’s what I have to offer for a series of sonnets as a means of comparison to Flora May Johnson Pierce.

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Book Report: Sonnets of Eve by Flora May (Mae) Johnson Pierce (1973)

As you may recall, gentle reader, I bought this book earlier this year at the Friends of the Webster Groves Library book fair.

It’s a collection of 82 sonnets that tell the arc of the Eve story. You know, Adam and Eve, but not limited to the Genesis account of it. Using that myth as a framework, the sonnets explore the archetypal experience of womanhood as each woman discovers good and evil, relates to her husband, and raises her children. All in the pursuit of knowledge and godliness after the fall.

It’s definitely a labor of love; the book was probably a short run and misspells the author’s name either on the dust jacket (Mae) or on the title page (May). Author has signed the book twice, once with an inscription, and has added some hand-written corrections to the credits on the dustjacket. A note tucked inside the book indicated that its going price on the Internet was $28.00, and that wasn’t even signed. Since that book is apparently still on the Internet for the same price, it’s probably best that the Friends of Webster Groves Library only priced it $5.00.

Now, what of the sonnets themselves? They were okay; author was certainly familiar with the form. However, I didn’t think that most of them stood alone nor offered individual quality that impressed me. As a fan of the sonnet and the sonnet series myself, I appreciate the effort, but not everyone can do Fatal Interview like Millay.

But the book was better than Suspension Bridge.

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Book Report: Suspension Bridge by Rod McKuen (1984)

Spare the Rod and spoil the child, that’s my new motto. I continue reading Rod McKuen poetry at my son (at because he’s often only in the room when I’m reading poetry to him these days; he’s at an interim age where he’s too engaged in moving around and his own projects to sit quietly on one’s lap for reception of book knowledge or storytelling). I do so even though I’m really unimpressed with most of McKuen’s work past the middle 1960s, and my positive impression of the remainder of his work only moves him from bad poet to mediocre poet in my estimation, but I’m not Allan Bloom, so you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s so many Rod McKuen books floating out there you can probably pick one up for a quarter somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find them for free in a mass landfill buried with old Atari E.T. cartridges.

This book refers back to Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows with the additional reflection of fourteen years’ elapsing. The poet has endured a number of relationships moving on in that time, so all the poetry is extra-sepiaed. A particularly devilling tic in the book is its name-dropping; a large number of the poems are dedicated to someone and many more use names as shorthand for the passage of time. Frankly, it doesn’t work for me because I don’t know who he’s talking about.

Unfortunately, McKuen suffers additionally from my recent reading of Carl Sandburg. McKuen comes out better when I’ve just bitten off a chunk of Emily Dickinson than when I read someone who’s enjoyable and deep.

One more down, several more to go. I also have this weird sense I am going to try to get a complete set of McKuen’s works just because I can. That, friends, is the drive of a diseased book collector.

Books mentioned in this review:



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