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here, bullet

Source: Borrowed from Serena
Rating: ★★★★☆

I haven’t had a lot of time for reading these days, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to take part in the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, especially since Serena does so much to encourage people to try poetry.  I’m glad I chose one of the books I borrowed from her for the War Through the Generations challenge, and while I finished it in one sitting, I definitely could see myself returning to this book to dig deeper into the poems.

Here, Bullet is a slim collection of poems by Iraq war veteran Brian Turner.  I haven’t read much about the wars in Iraq, but as Turner indicates in the poem “Gilgamesh, in a Fossil Relief,” history tends to repeat itself when it comes to war.  This makes one contemplate the continued relevance of old war stories and question why history is constantly allowed to repeat itself.

History is a cloudy mirror made of dirt
and bone and ruin. And love? Loss?
These are the questions we must answer
by war and famine and pestilence, and again
by touch and kiss, because each age must learn
This is the path of the sun’s journey by night. (page 53)

Turner’s poems focus on the brutality of war and the beauty of it as well, from his use of color to create beauty out of a horrific, fatal wound in “AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)” to the painful imagery of knives and teeth in “The Hurt Locker.” The poems touch upon the chaos and confusion of war, how it turns things upside down for people, of course, but even for animals, as shown in “The Baghdad Zoo.” There are recurring themes of dreams and light within these pages, and even more sensual poems, like “Where the Telemetries End,” that focus on love as an escape from the war raging in the background.

I found myself taking note of numerous lines throughout the book, but I was most struck with the vivid imagery in “2000 lbs,” which describes the moments before and after a bomb explodes in a market in Mosul. Turner shows how everything is normal one minute, then utter chaos in the next, from the points of view of soldiers, civilians, the suicide bomber, and even the dead. It’s almost as if you can hear and feel everything going on in the market, which is difficult to pull off in a poem.

…he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebreak
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how so much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street’s concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreckage, with no one there
to whisper him gone. (page 42)

Here, Bullet is a collection of narrative poems that bring to life the different experiences of wartime, from the shock of bombs exploding in crowded markets to the challenge of navigating war in a strange land. With images that both enlighten and haunt, Here, Bullet ensures readers will know and remember what happened.

national poetry month

dive into poetry

Book 1 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

war challenge with a twist

Book 9 for the War Challenge With a Twist (Gulf Wars)

Disclosure: I borrowed Here, Bullet from a friend.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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love ten poemsFor the 2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit, I thought it would be fun to read some of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s work.  I borrowed this very short collection, Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda, from Serena, and it was a good place to start.  These poems are from the movie Il Postino (The Postman), which I haven’t seen. (I wonder if I would have enjoyed them even more if I’d seen the movie?)

Neruda’s use of language is beautiful, with unforgettable lines like “Love is so short, forgetting is so long” from “Tonight I Can Write.”  I especially love how this collection has the original Spanish on the left and the English translation on the right.  Some of the poems felt a bit over my head but sounded nice when read aloud — but they sounded even better when read aloud in Spanish.  I finished this collection thinking that I need to add Neruda to my poetry shelf!

Here’s my favorite poem from the collection:

Poetry
by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires,
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened,
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
(pages 7, 9)

I love the idea of poetry as a being, seeking out the poet, how poetry is a calling, something that chooses the poet.  And I love the idea that poetry is used to explain, describe, feel, experience, and find wisdom in the “big” things.

What do you think?  What’s your favorite poem by Pablo Neruda?

national poetry month

dive into poetry challenge

Book 2 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Love: Ten Poems from Serena. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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eyes, stonesEyes, Stones is my book club’s first poetry selection, and I can’t wait for our discussion on Jan. 19.  Poet Elana Bell is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, so it’s not surprising that the poems in this collection touch upon the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The poems are grounded in history and human suffering, and Bell gives voice to both sides of the conflict.

Bell uses narrators to tell stories in verse, and she manages to convey a significant amount of pain and emotion in so few lines.  I was most affected by the poems featuring Zosha, a Holocaust survivor, particularly “God,” in which she arrives home to find that her mother and everyone else have been taken away and questions her faith.

You sit put. So that’s how
I survive. What do I know

from God? … (page 21)

There are poems about survival, like “Visiting Auschwitz,” which considers the randomness of how one person survived and another did not.

what glint willed the breath
what saw her and said live. (page 28)

Some hit you immediately with their descriptions of violence and feelings of hopelessness and despair, like “Kishinev,” which is about a three-day pogrom that occurred in 1903.

We are inside the dream of a God who’s forgotten us. There is no other way to say it. Through the stippled glass I watched the neighbors hammer nails into the Jewish babies’ eyes. (page 16)

But Bell goes beyond the persecution of the Jews and tenderly writes of the Arab connection to their homes and land. “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm,” focuses on Amal, a Palestinian whose family has farmed their land for generations, and her love for this land, juxtaposing her life with that of someone who moves around and has no connection to the earth. I was struck by the beauty of these lines:

…Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring. (pages 36-37)

The Girl (age 12) read the poems aloud with me, and though we both know little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we appreciated the stories told here about people who are divided yet have a common understanding of what it means to suffer. My daughter’s favorite poem was “Refugee,” about the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, in which the Arabs of Ramla were displaced by Jewish immigrants.

Who lived here? The doors swing
like slabs of meat on their hinges.
Inside, the cupboards gaped
to reveal their goods, stacked tight,
except a few cans rolling on the floor,
a pot on the stove still steaming.
Who lived here? I tiptoed
into the smallest room and crouched
by the foot of the bed. Mama
pulled me up and cupped my face.
Tonight you’ll sleep in a proper bed
she crooned. (page 9)

While content to merely listen to me read the other poems, The Girl wanted to spend time with this one. She was struck by how it described the end of a certain way of life for one family and a new beginning for another.

Eyes, Stones is a slim volume of poetry that can be read fairly quickly, but it begs to be pondered in more depth. My husband (who is new to reading poetry) loved it and wants to buy his own copy so he can spend more time with these poems. Bell is skilled in her ability to tell both sides of the story in a compassionate, respectful way, exploring the gray issues of a contentious conflict.

dive into poetry challenge

Book 1 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Eyes, Stones from Serena. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Sonics in Warholia, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is an intriguing poetry collection that pushes the boundaries.  It straddles the line between prose and poetry and is structured like a series of essays.  Chock full of pop culture references, it is a letter from Megan Volpert to Andy Warhol.

I have to be honest and say that Sonics in Warholia wasn’t my cup of tea.  At times it felt like Volpert was trying too hard to be edgy, and there was a lot of what seemed to me to be nonsensical rambling.  And I’ve actually read novels with more poetic language and imagery.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to appreciate Volpert’s writing.  In fact, there were some passages that I thought were brilliant, mostly when the narrator moves away from the chatter about Andy Warhol and reveals more about herself.

I see myself, and therefore am not quite myself. The camera is here somewhere, a sturdy ladder and a bird’s sharp eye patched with electrical tape. A direction to act natural is impossible to obey, everything having an out of control seemingness. (from “Recurring Fear of Flat Champagne,” page 52)

The poem that stood out the most for me was “Dear Diary of a Dead Man’s Telephone Number,” in which the narrator has two of Andy Warhol’s old phone numbers and debates dialing them. What starts off as somewhat amusing soon becomes quite sad. Her brother was killed, and she waits until his birthday to dial his old cell phone.

Two rings brings a simple hello in a south Louisiana twang belonging to a young man just like so many times before that I believe through some kind of phone voodoo I am listening to my Lazarus. (page 36)

I think my enjoyment of these poems was clouded by my lack of knowledge about Andy Warhol, aside from what I learned about him in a college Art History course, and the fact that most of the pop culture references went right over my head. Although I enjoy narrative poetry, I think these prose poems are too heavy on the prose for my tastes.

However, the more I revisit Sonics in Warholia, the more I am able to find passages that grab my attention and speak to me. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to read these poems, and I honestly think I just didn’t get what Volpert was trying to accomplish. Even so, Sonics in Warholia is a collection I won’t soon forget, one that underscores the diversity among poets and poetic forms.

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 7 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Sonics in Warholia from Sibling Rivalry Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Beyond the Scent of Sorrow, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is a collection of poems that aims to bring awareness to issues with which women worldwide struggle.  Sweta Srivastava Vikram mainly focuses her writing here on women and nature, going so far as to state in the preface that the goal of the collection is to compare the plight of women to the destruction of the once revered eucalyptus tree.

Vikram’s poetry touches upon such themes as rape and other forms of violence against women, poverty, discrimination, loss, and grief, with many poems depicting the suffering that women endure at the hands of men.

God was seen residing in me once,
just like the tree.
With time, death listens
to the voices of unholy men sitting
on the tip of tongues
satiating desires. (from “Unholy Men,” page 5)

What can I say to a man
who eats pleas for dinner and calls me
the fungus destroying the root of our family’s tree!

Dark are letters that sit on the tip of my tongue.
To climb the mountain of your dreams,
you sent my son to serve the nation, he came back as ashes. (from “Loss,” page 19)

While I mostly enjoyed the imagery and could feel the pain and sorrow in these poems, sometimes they felt preachy and a little too much. However, I think that’s to be expected in a collection in which every poem centers on the same theme. Maybe if I’d read a poem here and there instead of all of them at once, it might not have felt so overwhelming, so stifling. Also, I think my inability to really relate to the poems — coming from a relatively privileged background compared to the women depicted in the poems and not having experienced such oppression and loss myself — may have impacted my reading.

Regardless, Beyond the Scent of Sorrow is a thought-provoking collection of poems, one that aims to empower women and give those without a voice a chance to be heard. Moreover, Vikram stresses that “pro-woman doesn’t mean anti-man” and even dedicates the book to her grandfather. Vikram’s poetry is emotional and powerful, and she exemplifies how the written word can be used to raise awareness about important issues and to educate people in the hopes of sparking change.

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 6 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Beyond the Scent of Sorrow from Modern History Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is an emotional collection of poems.  The triptych, like the title suggests, focuses on three women:  Annette, a psychiatrist; Julia, her daughter; and Milena, one of her patients.  Emma Eden Ramos is a writer of both poetry and prose, and this shows in her narrative style.

With Three Women, I felt like I was reading a novel in verse.  Ramos tells a story about grief and family heritage, anger and suicide, and immigrant issues.  I like that Ramos doesn’t use flowery or abstract language and just tells the story.

We spoke our usual mother-daughter dialect
she cursed wildly
I eyed her with disgust
this rabid creature with my DNA
held hostage my distress
and we argued
she raged
it was about five minutes before she left me
in peace (page 7)

M: Hey, I say what I think. I don’t tip-toe like Americans.

J: What does that even mean? You don’t sound foreign.

M: Well I am, I’m Croatian. I actually wasn’t born here.

J: You sound American to me.

M: Well I came here when I was one.

J: So you were raised here, which, I think, makes you one of us. (page 25)

Following the triptych are three separate poems, my favorite of which was “Letter to Suicide (an old friend)”

We met first then
and
Later when Maribeth decided to go the Woolf way
(giant pebbles and all).
She had, after all, graduated with an English degree. (page 30)

Three Women is the kind of poetry book to read when you want a break from prose but don’t want to have to think too hard to decipher imagery and symbolism and just want to enjoy an interesting story.  I don’t think the “Selected Poems” were necessary to include, but they don’t detract from the triptych, which is the main focus.  And just because Ramos’ work is very accessible doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

What I enjoyed most about Three Women was the raw emotion displayed by the women.  I really felt their anger and their sadness.  I felt like I really got to know the characters, much more than I expected given the short length of the triptych.  If Ramos can pack that much emotion and that much characterization into a poem spanning about 30 pages, I wonder what she could do with a novel?

Please give a warm welcome to Emma Eden Ramos, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her writing, Three Women in particular, and her favorite poetry collections.

Could you tell my readers a little about yourself (your interests, writing, etc.)?

I am a twenty-four-year-old writer from New York City. I am also currently a student at Brooklyn College.

I’ve been writing since I was fifteen but only began seriously working on my craft in 2009. At that time I was majoring in Psychology, which has greatly influenced my writing.

Describe your poetry in 5 words or less.

Prose-like, semi-autobiographical, moody, character-based.

The poems in Three Women are very narrative, which I enjoyed. Do you prefer writing poetry or prose?

Poets and fiction writers tend to be very different creatures, especially when it comes to time and space. Many poets have the ability to obliterate the concept of time as linear movement (although there are fiction writers–Virginia Woolf for instance–who manipulate the bounds of temporal space). Poetry can exist in a space of its own. It does not have to be cohesive or even logical.

For me, however, working with a narrative structure that fits into a specific space and time is essential. So yes, when it comes to writing, prose is my preferred medium.

Why were the final three poems chosen to follow the triptych? I thought the triptych stood well on its own.

Originally I conceived the triptych to stand on its own, and it is still the main focus of the collection. The chapbook, however, needed to be a specific length, so I chose the final three poems because they expanded on some of the themes that were forefront in the triptych.

What are some of your favorite poetry collections?

I have many favorite poetry collections. To name a few: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich, Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson, Longing Distance by Sarah Hannah, Odes to Opposites by Pablo Neruda, and there are many others. One of my favorite novels is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which consists of a poem of 999 lines written by the main character and a commentary on that poem by his eccentric neighbor. It’s a work of genius.

Any hints as to what you’re working on now?

I have a middle grade novella coming out from MuseItUp Publishing in September, and I am beginning to pick up bits and pieces of what will hopefully be a full-length novel. Fingers and all other flexible appendages are crossed. That may account for the difficulty I’m having typing.

Thanks, Emma! Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Indie Lit Awards. I wish you much success!

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 5 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems from the poet as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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A review of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers by The Girl (age 11)

[The poem can be read in its entirety here.]

*I think this poem is about a man taking time out of his day to enjoy nature in the woods.

*My favorite lines were “He gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake.”  I like those lines because they give you a really good picture in your mind of what the man’s horse is doing when the man stops to observe nature.

*I thought the illustrations were great, but they were also distracting because I like to make my own pictures in my mind when I read a poem.

*This wasn’t my favorite Robert Frost poem, but it did make my top 10.  [For the record, her favorite Frost poem is "Fire and Ice."]

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Disclosure: The Girl borrowed Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening from the local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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What Looks Like an Elephant was the runner up in the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Poetry category and well deserving of that honor.  I must admit that a blurb on the back cover about the use of math and science language and metaphors intimidated me a bit, but there was no need to fear.  Edward Nudelman’s interest in math and science comes as no surprise, given he is a cancer research biologist, and his occupation clearly contributes to his desire and ability to observe the world around him and better enables him to transform these observations and insights into poetry.

In many ways, his keen observations about life reminded me of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows.  Nudelman’s narrative poems come to life, like in “Father’s Cobra,” which shows the curiosity of children in a scary sort of way.

Holding a heavy firearm evoked no feelings
of danger, just a twinge of guilt
and a heady sense of relief.
I looked straight into the barrel,
my hand nowhere near the trigger. (page 27)

There are poems about animals, like “Molly,” about putting a beloved, once energetic dog to sleep; relationships, like “Privileges,” a humorous poem about a wife’s gripes and a husband’s unwillingness to change; and youth and old age. I grew nostalgic when reading “On the T, Near Park Street,” remembering my days in Boston, my favorite city.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “One Way to Understand War.” In my mind, the flock of geese symbolized the beauty and romance of war in their ordered flight formations.

Admire their long graceful necks
twisting and bouncing off the ground.

Follow the geese with your eyes.
Watch them look back one last time,
re-form, and race out of view. (page 41)

Admittedly, there were poems that went right over my head, some of which included those science and math metaphors, but I could extract something — even the smallest nugget of understanding — from most of the poems.  I never expect to love every poem in a collection anyway.

What Looks Like an Elephant really drove home the point that you shouldn’t avoid poetry because you think it’s going to be too philosophical or too abstract.  If I’d passed over this collection, I would have missed out on Nudelman’s skilled use of imagery and (mostly) simple but effective language and his ability to churn up emotions and make me think about the natural world around me and my relationships within it.  I don’t take a scholarly approach to poetry; I just read the lines and see how they affect me.  There were many times while reading this book that I stopped to contemplate life in general or nodded emphatically over a shared experience, and personally, I believe that’s the best kind of poetry.

Runner Up - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 4 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of What Looks Like an Elephant from the poet as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Laurie Soriano’s poetry collection, Catalina, published by Lummox Press, was the unanimous choice of the voting members as the winner of the 2011 Indie Lit Awards in the Poetry category.  Catalina exemplifies everything I love in a poetry collection.  While I have no idea whether these poems are autobiographical, it certainly seems as though Soriano exposes her soul in these stanzas.  They affected me deeply with their heaviness and their beauty.

The poems are broken up into four sections, with the first two seeming to focus mainly on childhood.  In “Parents,” she paints a portrait of a troubled marriage, alcoholism, and abuse.

Then there was the drinking,
the reason we got hit
before bedtime, the reason we lay alone
shivering in our beds at unreasonable hours
hearing them murder each other, over and over,
leaving puddles of failure and self-pity
all over the living room. (page 21)

There is a haunting quality to the poems in which the narrator remembers her childhood, but the last two sections of the book focus on a happier time, when she is married with children.  Yet, emphasizing how the past never leaves us and has made us who we are, the moments of joy and becoming one with nature are contrasted with darker poems dealing with death.  Catalina takes readers on a journey as Soriano flees her childhood in Connecticut and embarks on a new life in California, the poems progressing from a painful time to one in which she has come to terms with things.

I think I loved Catalina so much because the poems spoke to me, and I could understand where she was coming from as she described a troubled childhood, falling in love, becoming a mother, and watching her children grow.  “Sweet Bean” is beautiful in its imagery as she describes her daughter’s transition from girl to woman.

The peaceful nipples wake up and announce
pinkly the parade of hormones is here,
the breasts bloom into little pillows,
your belly flattens, the waist carves itself,
and suddenly you have a colt’s legs,
big feet, and a supple back that someone
ought to paint a picture of. (page 72)

My favorite poem in the collection is “Impatiens,” in which the narrator tells her lover that she has met someone else, the man who would become her husband and the father of her children, and she describes him as a flower.  The poem is beautiful in its intensity, perfectly describing the beginnings of true love though it is written after they have already been together for years.  When you finish this poem, you know in your bones that her leaving this other man was the right thing to do and that somehow he understood.

The man is simple like the earth, loamy, radiant
and when my eyes behold his face,
the confident smooth masculine skin gives way
to the flashes of color that no one deserves
that are his eyes, flashing that way
because of me. (page 68)

Catalina has become my favorite contemporary poetry collection because I could relate to the experiences Soriano describes in these poems.  Soriano’s blend of narration and poetic language are perfect.  The poems are subtle, yet at the same time they are intense, intimate, and sensual.  The themes of love and loss, pain and joy, birth and death are ones we can all relate to, and her images are vivid yet never too much.  From here on out, whenever someone tells me they don’t read poetry because they can’t understand it or it doesn’t speak to them, I will encourage them to read this collection.

**The Indie Lit Awards poetry board had the opportunity to interview Laurie Soriano.  I hope you’ll take the time to check it out!**

Winner of the 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 3 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Catalina from Lummox Press as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards.  I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition, 1997) edited by the late British poet Jon Silkin features poems from numerous poets who served on the front lines, some of whom were prophetic in predicting their own deaths in battle, giving a haunting quality to the verses.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and in the introduction, Silkin said he selected these based on the English versions.  He adds that the second edition was revised to include poems by women.  Silkin states that he chose the poems for the anthology based on what he deemed good, noting that “the reader will be correct in thinking that the more poems there are by a poet, the more highly I think of him (translated works excepted).” (page 74)

Before I discuss the poems, I want to say a few things about the introduction, which at 77 pages was the longest I’d come across in an anthology.  I admit to skimming and skipping because it was (sorry to say) boring, too heavily focused on the work of Wilfred Owen, and featured too much discussion of meter and form.  I did study meter and form in college, but these days I read poetry to simply enjoy the language and imagery and not think about how many beats there are per line.  Still, I can appreciate that Silkin included a wide range of poetic styles.  Moreover, since I took a course on the English Romantic Poets, I thought it was interesting how he made comparisons between the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the poetry of The Great War.

Looking at the list of poets included in the anthology, it’s obvious that Silkin is a fan of Edward Thomas, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg because of the number of their poems he included.  He also features the work of Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Rudyard Kipling, E.E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, Carl Sandburg, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a handful.

There are so many poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry that it’s impossible to mention them all, but there are some common themes throughout the collection.  Religion and patriotism come to mind right away.  These poems also touch upon a soldier’s disillusionment and the sadness and the anger that rise to the surface when they begin to question why they are fighting.

I have been young, and now am not too old;
And I have seen the righteous forsaken,
His health, his honour and his quality taken.
This is not what we were formerly told. (from Edmund Blunden’s “Report on Experience,” page 113)

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied. (from Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War (1914-18),” page 136)

And after witnessing the effects of a gas attack:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” page 193)

In “Lament,” F.S. Flint writes about young men going off to war, but there is no excitement, no being gung-ho about going off to serve one’s country and fight the enemy.

The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crimes of their fathers. (page 147)

The shift from excitement at the beginning of the war to despair and anguish after they have seen fighting is best summed up in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Glory of Women,” which takes a harsh look at the patriotism on the home front.

You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace. (page 132)

But even the women soon feel the impact of the fighting and understand the senseless loss. May Wedderburn Cannan’s “Lamplight” is so sad in that war took away their hopes and dreams along with the men they loved.

We planned a great Empire together, you and I,
Bound only by the sea;
Now in the quiet of a chill Winter’s night
Your voice comes hushed to me
Full of forgotten memories: you and I
Dreamed great dreams of our futures in those days, (page 151)

Of course, no anthology of war poetry would be complete without a description of the horrors of the trenches and the lasting impact of all that the soldiers saw and did.

‘Well, as to that, the nastiest job I’ve had
Was last year on this very front
Taking the discs at night from men
Who’d hung for six months on the wire
Just over there.
The worst of all was
They fell to pieces at a touch.
Thank God we couldn’t see their faces;
They had gas helmets on…’ (from Richard Aldington’s “Trench Idyll,” page 143)

One of my favorite poems in this collection, Edgell Rickword’s “Winter Warfare,” personifies winter and the freeze that covered the trenches.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men, and lice. (page 139)

As in all wars, the mental and physical state of the veterans is an important consideration. The men did heroic things in battle, were courageous under fire, but war takes a toll and breaks these heroes down, and some cannot show how broken they are on the inside.

Where are they now, on state-doles, or showing shop-patterns
Or walking to town sore in borrowed tatterns
Or begged. Some civic routine one never learns.
The heart burns — but has to keep out of face how heart burns. (from Ivor Gurney’s “Strange Hells,” page 119)

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Book 6 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I won The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry in a giveaway on Savvy Verse & Wit ages ago. It’s about time I read it! I am an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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