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Forgot one:

71. Into the War

Interesting but minor Calvino, three autobiographical stories. Only book I finished in the last eight weeks, as they've been hectic.
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70. Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop

Finally finished reading another book, except not really, and one I'd read most or all of before. It's short and clearly the editor had to be exhaustive to fill even this many pages - every newspaper write-up that involved her answering questions made it in. She gave only three or four substantive interviews, all here, and all in her last decade. The Paris Review one's probably the best, but Dana Gioia's reminiscences of taking her class at Harvard (with only four other students!) is included too, and gives you even more of a sense of her, and especially her relation to Stevens, dozens of whose poems Gioia says she'd recite from memory.

But the newspaper pieces are pretty amusing, especially the ladies' magazine-style first piece, from c. 1950, and a '60s one by a young Tom Robbins where we get a lot of Robbins and pretty much just a cameo from his ostensible subject. The articles by Brazilians are adorably respectful and ornate. Bishop was right, it's in the magazines that it's clearest we're historical.

She offers the same opinions and anecdotes over and over, as one does for these things, including touting the same poets: Whitman as the best American though temperamentally foreign to her, Edward Lear, her friend Lowell - though at one point confesses she hates confessional poetry. She identifies as the major influences on her Stevens, her mentor Moore (though she denies this was deep), and Herbert and Hopkins, the latter two for style rather than content, famous Unbeliever that she was. Though she might not have been when she discovered them in early adolescence. I'm still at sea with Moore and with few exceptions find Hopkins useless and annoying, but I think I begin to see the Herbert. Her simplicity and directness of tone are pretty astonishing - how hard that is - and I admit he's near peerless at conveying that in verse. She mentions passing through a Shelley phase, Browning phase, and brief Swinburne one in her romantic teens. Dickinson she mentions with ambivalence, perhaps because of being introduced to her in the sentimentalized and basically censored early editions, Frost not at all.
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69. Selected Poems of E.A. Robinson, ed. Faggen

Can't quite give this a 2nd in parentheses because I remember skipping the longer, blank verse poems eight years ago. I've read lots of Robinson since, probably nearly all but the really long poems, but not, you know, scientifically or down-writtenly.

I love him and he hasn't suffered in the slightest in the rereading. Neither did Frost earlier this year, but Robinson I feel even closer to. Robinson's eminence is hazy - you don't think of him as up with Stevens, say, but Stevens never wrote "For a Dead Lady." It's hazy even within individual poems, where often he's just interesting or confusing you for a while and suddenly someone visiting who knows everything drops one of everything's secrets.

I actually started with Donald Hall's selection and switched to Faggen's just because I remembered I hadn't quite finished it back in downtown Vancouver, but found they're 95% identical. It's interesting the percent of divergence you find for different poets, in how they're selected. Browning has the biggest range, I think - not that there isn't a core of must-selects, there's always such a core, but almost everything Browning wrote some anthologist or other selects and no one else has. Whereas almost any Tennyson selection will closely resemble any other with a similar page count - conceivably excepting which of the four or five better Idylls gets in. I'd have put in more from Robinson's first couple of books.

I think of the 2002-2003 period as a non-reading one because I finished very few books, but I read tons of poetry. Just a non-consecutive kind of reading, I guess, for need or joy rather than learning or credit. Probably much healthier. It coincided with my first appreciation of American poets, and seemed to fit them - I still think of this as how to read them, stray Leaves of Grass, random Emerson paragraphs. Oddly I did this with Wordsworth too. Probably because you have to or you'll stop, there's too much even before his thousands of pages of depressing late verse. Whereas Browning - who Robinson stays lovingly close to, probably too close, in his blank verse monologues - I tackled, sometimes abandoned, by the volume. But that was earlier, in that first great inhalation. The American phase was the autumn of my reading in a lot of ways.

The weather was like this then, dark and wet, and it must have been October or November. I still remember the couch, the hour - I think I'd read most of an edition of his early poems, but those came before he got quite so sad, if sad's the word, so I remember my awe. I must have been at my happiest but he affected me about the same, before I even knew which poems would be about me.

(That must be why I switched editions, rather, to complete the return. It's somehow a lovely book, despite being only a Penguin. Sargent's one of my favorite painters. But it was more the texture. I guess because I was closing the book so often and just stroking it or rubbing it on my face, the way you do in between when the poems are too much.)
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68. Selected Poems of Christopher Logue

The stray War Music episode here is fantastic, and his adaptations of Neruda and a Sophocles chorus quite fine too. His original poems are mixed - he's bitter and fitful, but never unreadable. He's self-announcedly of the Eliot school, and maybe the purest continuator of Eliot's bilious strain, though as far left as Eliot was right, so that part's good. His most political poems are usually not that interesting, whether from having dated some or having been written too angrily to be clear. Though a lot of '50s poets wrote a muddy or staticky sort of verse, it was the fashion for a while, I guess following Pound. He's better later, maybe nudged better by Homer, though father-daughter incest gets weirdly prominent among his themes, maybe some spillover from his pornographer side-career? Shorter: you can read mere Logue if you like, but you have to read Logue/Homer.
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67. The Waste Land: Facsimile and Transcript (2nd)

I like the Eliot of the drafts better, even when he's more of a dick. Puts it all out in the open, at least.

Still, I've read this enough for one lifetime. It fades. I don't think Prufrock will.
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64. The Romantic Dogs
65. Cain
66. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, tr. Merwin (2nd)

Bolano poems mostly paralleling The Savage Detectives, a book I abandoned because I felt I'd got its point - a feeling confirmed by these poems, moving as many were.

Cain isn't a major Saramago effort, just an amusing trashing of some bible stories. Several interesting audacities.

Logue adapted the 20 Love Poems, but I felt like I should reread Merwin's to see better what he does with them. Neruda is unfailingly impressive but I don't often feel close to him anymore. Maybe I'm just too far from nineteen, or too numb in this area.
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63. Cymbeline (2nd)

Seemed less strange this time 'round - Shakespeare's not so much making fun of the Fletcherian boy-actor tragicomedy (more like a melodrama, in modern terms) as pushing it to its limits. The thirty straight pages of revelations at the end, all of which we're already privy to except maybe some etymological business in Jupiter's prophecy, aren't so much parody as a way to maximize the appeal of that kind of ending. It's the happiest ending ever, at lest quantitatively, and we pretty much know it will be going in. I wonder how well that works in performance? This is a sturdy play, in its fashion, linguistically fresh and quite fun, but I'm not sure it does much more than turn up all the dials in someone else's dream machine. Shakespeare was never above slumming.
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61. Walt Whitman: Selected Poems, ed. Bloom
62. The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible

Putting it as delicately as I can: if you want to effectively praise the bible don't quote from it at length. Yes, there's a few exceptions, incongruously osmosed books like Ecclesiastes, Job et al. and scattered passages elsewhere.

I grew up with the bible but it was nevertheless foreign to me, which is a delightful thing to realize. Bloom grew up contingent, where the scriptures are something you live inside so you'd better find some way to be at home there. He very much did, his immense language consciousness soaked all of this up and reordered it at a primordial point. It makes him peerless at seeing how biblical modes, phrases and innovations seep into later culture - and explains how he could swim so easily and productively in Blake's tortured epics. But it makes for the one blind spot. Not that he isn't ambivalent, even frequently scornful, which he very much is. But one needn't be even that of this book, if they don't get you hard and early.

Yes, others' strong imaginings capture us, can control us. But so can weak ones early enough in our life, or in history. I raise an eyebrow at the notion that later enamelers made Shakespeare what he is to us, but that's exactly what happened with the bible. Bloom himself admits it about Tyndale's New Testament. There's often something beautiful about what people made of the book they were told was true at an age when a true book was needed. And that beautiful elaboration, and for context its source material, may be worthy of study as beauty, but rather less so than as the most important cautionary tale, ever, about what can go wrong in us.

Bloom himself muses that Shakespeare and Whitman, combined, would make a fine replacement for scripture. I second this with the whole press of my heart.
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60. Much Ado About Nothing (2nd or 3rd)

man is a giddy thing

Such a fun play. Maybe nothing more to be said about this one.
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59. Danton's Death (2nd)

I'm sure there's thousands of examples left deservedly in manuscript, but this is the only play I know of that tries to imitate Shakespeare closely, rather than adopt a few features but otherwise veer away, like Webster, Chekhov, and Buchner's fellow Romantics, even Musset, all did. Basically he's playing with Hamlet and with fire, and a lot of moments do end up feeling just weird, or too slavishly copied, or pasted onto someone else's posterboard. But overall it works. It's not a new Shakespeare play, but it's a hybrid with some life in it, maybe even fertility.

Can't compete with Carpentier as a post-mortem on the Revolution, though.
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58. Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Poems 1927-1979

Trying to remember to identify which read # for these now, so I'll know later. Hard for this one - 2nd through 20th, depending on the poem. Probably 3rd for most.
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56. Uncle Vanya

Mamet's version, the one from Vanya on 42nd St though I think some of Act I gets cut. I like Mamet's Chekhov better than Stoppard's or anyone else's - his take on dialogue somehow just fits these stifled, petering out people. And I think he did these versions before he became thoroughly awful. He was always latently awful, but achieved some good plays and movies wrestling with it.

57. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I was happy to be compelled to reread this since I'd read the last chapter hungover, in that strange hungover kind of reading where you turn the pages unhappily, registering all but not caring, just to be distracting yourself quietly till you feel better. I loved the book till then, both times, but still don't love the last chapter though it's very interesting as a manifesto and setup for Ulysses.
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55. The Magic of Reality

Not sure how to count pages for illustrated books, if I do finally go back and count pages. And anyway this was the iPad version.

I liked it. Editing fell off for the second half, for some reason, at least on the app, and the detail level understandably varied with his expertise (he admits to be being pretty hazy on relativity and totally at sea regarding quantum). I should have known most of it already, and maybe I did in an "oh, right, yeah" kind of way, but my mind is a sieve for most kinds of science, so it was fun to learn or relearn. His atheizing was amusingly sly here: each chapter answers some basic question about the universe first with various myths or debunked theories, then the science and how it was arrived at. The editorializing's mostly in the juxtaposition, till the final pages where he and Hume tag team miracles to death.

The illustrations were on average fine but one blew me away: an unlabeled version of the periodic table consisting of clear plastic boxes each containing a chunk or puff of the element in question. Must have been thought up by someone before but I'd never seen it - just beautiful. I hope McKean makes it available as a poster.
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51. Fortune's Fool
52. A Month in the Country (2nd?)
53. Train Dreams
54. Men in the Off Hours (2nd)
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48. Short Talks
49. One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, Rexroth
50. Nobody Move

The first a reread, the first two the sorts of books you reach for only if you're trying to get back into reading books when you've set an annual quota and are months behind. The third was very fun, and you can feel Johnson having that fun too while making it for you. I get the impression he read No Country for Old Men and thought, we're allowed to do that? Neat! But who knows.

Not that Short Talks isn't terrific, but most of them are in Plainwater, a tiny section in Plainwater.
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47. Angels
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46. Reasons for Moving/Darker/The Sargentville Notebook

Mark Strand's first two collections plus some jottings. I was familiar with his anthology pieces, translations and the many anthologies he's edited, but had been put off reading him through by my sister, who tried to convince me a decade or so ago that he's the best poet ever, better than Shakespeare even. I read enough to dismiss that and gave up on him till now. And now that I've read these I'm worried about her - not her taste, because whatever, but because this guy sounds messed up. He looks like a smoothed Beckett, which may be part of his appeal, but also makes me wonder if stretched out people get enough nutriment to their happy gland.

His style is pretty great, and he's mastered a dream mode near the border between Bisjop's and Kafka's. He's good with his two key images, lungs and breathed on mirrors. Lungs are the center of you, are life, but also holes; art gives us the promise of seeing what we are, like a mirror, but the contingency of being on this side rather than thay means the closer we get in to see the more our very breath, the annihilating nothing of our lungs, both stops us from seeing clearly and also reminds us we're on this side forever, that the framed safety of that knowable version of us is for it, never us. We're unknowable unsafe unselves and we know it. Maybe he gets cheerier later? Reductiveness works in art when the artist doesn't see it that way, when it's conveyed with authority, but I like my art to work on this side of the mirror too. I'm only picky that way because I find that a lot of it does. This melancholist tradition is quite powerful, I can't deny it, but it's not a power that runs my appliances. And yes, Shelley's a founder, but he founded other things too.
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44. The Name of the World
45. Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Someone I otherwise don't respect gave me the good advice to spend some time writing about everything I read, given my intended profession. I've tried to practice that this last year or so, but it's gotten rusty along with the reading lately. Six Memos is five lectures Calvino was about to go give at Harvard when he died, each about a value he wanted future writers to keep alive in their work: quickness, multiplicity, lightness, exactitude, some other one. Consistency didn't even get written - insert joke about death here. The book is largely a stitch job from literary essays found in English in the overlapping collections The Uses of Literature and Why Read the Classics, which makes it a good sampler of Calvino-as-critic. It's probably a wonderful book about literature, but Calvino's narrative voice has analysis blended into it so perfectly in his stories and memoirs that you miss that fullness here, where the artist knob's turned down and the critic one up. He can talk about anything inside stories and you love it, but talking about stories from without diminishes him to a curious degree. I wonder what it is that Borges has on him, here - self-dramatization as a critic? Whatever it is it's thoroughgoing, presumably innate. From day one Borges had the just right tone, while Calvino can be perfectly reasonable, original, exact and right on matters of great importance and still not excite as much as some snobbish, zany, misguided attack on fin du siecle suburban Buenos Aires bordello music Borges dashed off at age 25 for some drunk friend's ten-copy journal. You see the difference in the few pages of personal reminiscence Calvino allows in, on how American cartoons were republished in Italy without word balloons during his early childhood, forcing him to imagine the connections, encouraging him to inhabit them, mix them up with one another, think in and between images. You have to hear him tell it.

I'm overcritical but always in a good cause: something better is near and we must run to it at once. In this case, the other Calvino.
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41. Glass, Irony & God
42. Cold Calls
43. Pessoa & Co., tr. Richard Zenith

Two rereads, the other is more of Logue's Homer, Cold Calls, which I wasn't able to find in stores or libraries but noticed yesterday is on the Poetry magazine website in its entirety:

As are the probably two best sections of Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God, "The Glass Essay" and "The Book of Isaiah":

"Glass Essay" was the first thing I read of hers, back in the library of Capilano College, now University, in North Vancouver. In 2004, it must have been, since I was only there in 2004. You'll have seen that library, they do a lot of filming there. Any library scene where you can see a circular bench set into the floor is probably there. Looking at my ledger thingie I notice I've read something by Carson every single year since then, and also by Roth, who I also got into in '04. Roth publishes every autumn like clockwork, and Carson's been almost as regular, so that probably accounts for it - but it's for a reason that they're members of a bare handful of writers I bother keeping up with. I associate them with one another, which in some respects I agree is loopy, but both got burned by some pretty unpleasant-sounding opposite sex numbers in ways that branded their work forever after. Both are also remarkably wry and amusing about these obsessions - making them pinch-hitters when it comes to love, or maybe more basically comedians whose subject is anguish...or better yet, and to their immense credit, writers doing what Shakespeare did. Roth's historical excursions are an admittedly vaguer parallel to Carson's more purely classics-themed writings, but these do provide similar traction/distraction.

Carson didn't suffer much on the reread, but Pessoa took still less of a hit. I started A Little Larger than the Entire Universe, Zenith's companion volume, but decided it had been so long since I'd read the other that I'd better go back to that too. So I read all of each heteronym in order across both volumes, saving Campos for last, of which there's 140 pp left to go through in Universe. He leaves out a few poems from Keeper of Sheep so I supplemented with Honig/Brown.

I think I'll post a few of my favorites soon. Pessoa can be pretty pedestrian, even drab, and he can also be soul-wringingly amazing. To my surprise I frequently put the book down and closed my eyes the way you do when, you know, it happens. More often than with Carson, even. Perhaps that says more about the refractory period needed to get the most out of great poems, I don't know. She's much more consistent, as technician, entertainer, even voice, but he attempted a direct centrality, for lack of a better term, that other 20th century poets have mostly avoided - even Ammons and Borges are more oblique. And when he succeeds at it, esp. as Campos and Caeiero, he succeeds in 19th century terms, and I mean that in a really, really good way, a Whitman and Dickinson way. Anyway, examples to follow.

The Logue/Homer is also great. And funny, this time.
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39. The Essential Browning
40. The Anatomy of Influence

The Browning weeks ago, can't remember what I had to say about it. I found him mildly disappointing for the religious bits, which I'm tolerating less well in pretty much everyone as I age; I wonder if he did too,  they always feel strangely unintegral, but perhaps that's just because he forces so many poems to the point where you have to choose between life being something too hard for us to lift or the lightening prospect of an Autocorrecting heaven at its end. Fitzgerald/Omar's "He's a good fellow, and 'twill all be well" always feels aimed at this consoling shoulder-clap attitude of his. A much juster spearing than Hopkins', who claimed Browning's poetic voice was like someone beating on the table with their mouth full of bread shouting they'll stand for no blasted nonsense. Which describes the kind of person who would say such a thing, and a lot else in oft-pissy Hopkins, but never Browning.

I forget most of the many things I wanted to say about Bloom too, excepting about the bits I read this last week. But I do remember noting that the book isn't what his several introductions make it out to be - it's not a career capstone or literary biography or even a retrospective, it's just more Bloom. An essay volume like so many of the others, where the ostensible theme (genius, western canonicity etc.) isn't any more relevant than it is to all his other writings. Some of the pieces are very worked over, some casual - again, as usual. He does throw in more personal anecdotes this time, and explains his relationships with Ashbery, Ammons, and Merrill more fully than he has in the past. I wrote a paper once running through Ashbery's <i>Self-Portrait</i> volume analyzing his ambivalent responses to Bloom, who'd pretty much single-handedly crowned him poet-king in the years previous, beginning the avalanche of awards <i>S-P</i> contributed to - and I broke off after the first four because I was out of space. Bloom writes with some amusement about a later attack in <i>Flow Chart</i>, which I never got to. Ashbery fought him, Ammons embraced him, Merrill dodged him, basically. Bloom does admit there are many poets in Ashbery, of which he happily cedes several to the Language poets.

As usual he makes me much more excited about Crane's verse than most of Crane's verse does, and he wrestles with Whitman's 'tally' concept across several essays. It finally starts to sound like it was to Whitman what 'influence' is for Bloom, a word meaning pretty much everything at once.

Though a couple of his introductions do help clarify this concept, and what he feels poetry to be, finally. Lucretius takes over from Wordsworth, who perhaps he's burnt out on, as the chief influence on Romantic poetry here (including pre- and post). He still isn't ever quite sure what to say about Ovid, relying mostly on Thomas Greene, who I've actually read some of and like, for pre-Shakespeare stuff. Angus Fletcher is his guru for the American essays - someone I definitely need to read.

Weakest points were probably a couple short essays recapping his understanding of poems as "lies against time," which he means very literally now - and to which he's subsumed Stevens' notion of a necessary fiction, I think unfairly. It leads him to overvalue Leopardi as chief or co-chief Romantic, in an otherwise good essay about his Lucretianism. His several Shakespeare essays are pretty out there - not unentertainingly so, but you sense he's trying a bit too hard to outdo himself. I disapprove of overstatements where Shakespeare is concerned, though Hamlet Unlimited did have me convinced the way Freud has me convinced of whatever Freud's talking about till I sleep on it. Still, all fascinating.


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