The Wild Iris

The Wild IrisThe Wild Iris by Louise Glück
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this better than I did. 3 stars is perhaps generous. I felt I was starting to get into the rhythm of it by the second half. The first half seemed to be too heavily focused on anger, depression, and despair. I liked the structure of this, like a song cycle, revolving simultaneously through the year from winter to fall, and through the day from “matins” to “vespers.” There were lines I could identify with here and there as a gardener, but over all I was unmoved by these poems. I only read the whole thing because it was quite short, and I need to make up 4 books to hit my annual goal for the year.

Description: This collection of stunningly beautiful poems encompasses the natural, human, and spiritual realms, and is bound together by the universal themes of time and mortality. With clarity and sureness of craft, Gluck’s poetry questions, explores, and finally celebrates the ordeal of being alive.

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and a quick read, this is a childhood memoir written in free verse. The audiobook was read by the author. I never felt like I was listening to “poetry” but it all had a kind of flow that worked for each short snippet of memory. I am not sure how this would appeal to children, but to a white woman who also grew up in the 60s, this was a trip down memory lane. It made me think about my own childhood and the part that family, religion, and school teachers played. She describes a life both extraordinary and ordinary, both different and familiar to my own. I never felt distanced by her experiences as a black person growing up during the Civil Rights movement, or her memories of racism. I was more struck by how universal her experiences and memories were, and I think anyone reading this, young or old, black or white, will find much to relate to.

Book description: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Upstream: Selected Essays

Upstream: Selected EssaysUpstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely, contemplative book. I’m sure it would reward rereading. I loved the first third of the book where she talks about growing up and getting “lost” in nature, and her observations and musings on the spider in the stairwell. This is when Mary Oliver is at her best. The rest of the book seemed a bit uneven to me. I was a little disappointed in the section on the great romantic poets. I love Thoreau, Emerson, and especially Walt Whitman, but I didn’t feel there was any depth to her comments – it didn’t give me any insights into their work, or inspire me to pick up their poetry anew. I love Mary Oliver’s poetry, but this didn’t wow me.

Book description: A collection of essays in which Mary Oliver reflects on her willingness, as a young child and as an adult, to lose herself withing the beauty and mysteries of both the natural world and the world of literature. She contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, her boundless curiosity for the flora and fauna that surround her, and the responsibility she has inherited from Shelley, Wordsworth, Emerson, Poe, and Frost, the great thinkers and writers of the past, to live thoughtfully and intelligently, and to observe with passion.

Mercian Hymns

Mercian HymnsMercian Hymns by Geoffrey Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather interesting. It starts out as a panegyric to Offa, King of Mercia in the 8th century, but within a few lines we have encompassed all of English history. The juxtaposition of past and present continues through all 30 poems, along with a blurring between Offa and Hill, himself, perhaps. A bit bewildering at first, the final impression is of Englishness, landscape, history, depression/decline, abuse of power, and the things that last for hundreds of years – (Offa’s dyke, his coinage, the language.) Written in imitation of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with hints of Beowulf, Milton, Boethius, and probably T.S. Eliot.

(This was my start at reading the Whitbread awards – a project I have since abandonned in favor of the Walter Scott historical fiction shortlist.)