I confess: I have not read all the way through Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Why not? Great question! But I’ve long heard about Duino Elegies, and when Tavern Books came out with a translation by Gary Miranda, I knew that would be my starting point.

I say starting, because I could read these poems many times over, and study them in between. I feel like I’m beginning a lifelong relationship.

The poems feel archetypal. The voice feels conversational–and yet the images and the conversation they frame are so dense. We’re hearing about love and lovers, about death, and some celebration of those who die young (hard for me, but these aren’t my poems).

And the angels! My brain kept cross-wiring to Herakles in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Red > Doc and at times Dante’s Inferno.

“First Elegy” begins

“What angel, if I called out, would hear me?”

and later:

“But who, then, can help us? Not angels, not men.
And the animals, instinctively, have already noticed
that we aren’t really at home in our talked-about world.”

Then “Second Elegy” begins

“Every angel terrifies. Still, though I know
how almost-deadly you are, you birds of the soul,
I call out to you.”

“Tenth Elegy” is when I start to think about Dante, as the young man climbs the mountain.

This week, I have no link for you, because what I could find online was not from the same translation. Instead, I’ll offer question: Have you read the Duino Elegies–and if you have, which translation?

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It’s true I haven’t posted here much since the end of Poetry Month–except for the Saturday poetry pick (sneak peek: this week, it’s Rilke’s Duino Elegies). But I do have a guest post up at Superstition Review exploring the difference between poetry and prose, the role that music plays.

The rest of the time, I’ve been working and in traffic–vast stretches of time sitting in traffic. I’ve listened to a lot of NPR–which I love. But I still felt, especially on commutes lasting longer than an hour, that I was sacrificing too much of life to the traffic gods. Last Saturday, I had a cheap CD player installed in my 18-year-old car and ordered Learn Italian CDs. Yesterday was my first day driving while learning how to say, “There is a car. There is a big car. There is a white truck. Is there a car?” I’m not much of a conversationalist anyway–but it made sitting in bumper-to-bumper rush hour on 405 and 520 feel valuable instead of frittered away. And as my foot got sore from pressing the clutch, my mouth got tired switching from sounds like “machina” to “nuova” or “piccola.” A kind of progress.

Finally, it’s lavender season. At Father’s Day brunch, I mentioned this to the family–time for lemon tart and lavender ice cream, and we made a plan for Wednesday, which happily is my work-at-home day, when I can use some of that traffic time for other activities. I remembered to put the ice cream maker in the freezer a day ahead, plucked the lavender on my way back from the gym, infused the cream early–and we gathered for dinner that night. Chicken thighs in a rhubarb sauce (from the New York Times, with a little lemon thyme from the garden), steamed potatoes with butter and parsley, roasted asparagus, and then the lemon tart and the lavender ice cream. More important, we had time together. Tom pointed out that we were seizing the moment and living in it: lavender = party = joy.

The lawn still needs to be mowed, but its rainy Junuary here and I’m going to get into the car and wrap my mouth around some more new words. Happy Friday!

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about imagery–about what makes an image strong. Susan Rich’s new collection, Cloud Pharmacy, bursts with powerful, startling, playful images. From the first lines of the book in “Blue Grapes

There were days made entirely of dust
months of counter-winds

and years unbalanced on the windowsill.

and later in the poem

God visited, delivered ice cream; returned your delinquent library books.

and then

The dying are such acrobats—

You see them ringing doorbells with their clipboards

remarking on the globes of lilacs.

That’s from the first poem!

Or in “Clouds, Begin Here“,

If we’re lucky, the mind sits up straight

in our interior garden, our house of sky

the remodeled one car garage. Open the suitcase

of ink and erasures; let language spill out

in mid-air.

Images of fire flirt through these poems and sometimes take center stage, as in “There Is No Substance That Does Not Carry One Inside Of It” (how’s that for a title!) and “Darling, This Relationship is Damned.”

Another kind of fire–many of the poems explore romantic love–in all its upsides and downsides, its exuberant moments and the hollowing loneliness between them. The stoically hopeful “Perhaps You Are–” ending with “You will live / this life alone– / and you will write” is followed by “Anniversary,” a relationship coming and going and coming, always unsettling, as in life.

And in the midst of this energetic unsettling, “After Shiva” shifts to another kind of love–the love of a daughter for her father; the middle ekphrastic Dark Room section that investigates a photographer’s self-portraits taken after her daughter’s death.

The poems in this collection are a celebration and an image feast. I found so much to enjoy, but I’ll leave you with the two poems linked above as your first taste.

 

 

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I love subtle rhymes, slant or full–the rhymes that don’t announce themselves, the poems that lead you through almost to the end before you discover you’ve been reading rhymes, and then you have the pleasure of going back, matching up those rhymes.

Floyd Skloot deftly uses rhyme this way, and I’ve long been a fan. His book Close Reading, from Eyewear Publishing,  offers many such finely crafted poems, and some that seem to slip in and out of rhyme, as well as those that don’t rhyme but have a resonance and pace as if they did rhyme.

Thematically, there’s a lot going on–poems about Cezanne, Paul Klee, Jules Verne, a heartbreaking poem about Pachelbel (“His children hear / him leave, but he feels this is good / practice for them all.”). Then poems about his brother and growing up. Poems exploring Skloot’s struggle with vertigo, and the poem ends with a villanelle, “Closing in July,” that begins

We planned to live here at least fifteen years
buying this house to grow old in,
which didn’t take as long as we thought.

For a sneak peek at Close Reading, see “Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait.”

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I’m a process geek–and part of that involves structure. I love looking at the structure of poems and the structure of books, and The World’s Tallest Disaster, by Cate Marvin, gave me plenty to enjoy.In the book, the first poem is “Dear Reader,” the first poem of the second section is “Dear Petrarch,” and the final poem is “The Readership.”

The imagery is volatile–but then there’s the way Ms. Marvin weaves different voices in the poems, and the way she uses repetition in the poems. Some of my favorites were “Cry Heard, Far Off,” “Cigarillo,” and “Dear Petrarch.” Enjoy.

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