BOOK REVIEW: 100 Poems to Break Your Heart ed. Edward Hirsch

100 Poems to Break Your Heart100 Poems to Break Your Heart by Edward Hirsch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

Release Date: January 31, 2023

This anthology (and the accompanying analytical essays by Hirsch) covers over two-hundred years of poetry and works with a large set of translated languages as well as poems of English language origin. Therefore, the poems include an eclectic set of forms and schools of poetry. There are narrative poems and philosophical poems. There are sparse poems and elaborate poems. Besides the fact that they are all short to intermediate length poems (a few pages, at most,) the only thing the included poems have in common is some serious subject matter at each poem’s core. There are elegies and cathartic poems of illness or ended relationships, as well as tales of various types of tragedy (personal, global, and of scales in between.)

That said, not all of the poems feature a dark and melancholic tone. There are several poems that are humorous — in a gallows humor sort of way. Such poems include: Dunya Mikhail’s “The War Works Hard,” Harryette Mullen’s “We Are Not Responsible,” and Stanley Kunitz’s “Halley’s Comet.”

Of course, there are many poems that are as devastatingly sad as the title leads one to expect. Of these, Eavan Boland’s “Quarantine,” the story of a man carrying his illness-ravaged wife in search of survival during a famine in Ireland in 1847 takes the award for saddest. There are poems in this book that are more brutal, encompass vaster scales of suffering, or combine lyrical skill and emotional experience more artfully. But none of those poems socked me in the chest like Boland’s. One thing that struck me during my reading was what an intense force multiplier story is in creating poignant poems. Several others among my favorites told stories that made for visceral reads. These include: “Song” by Brigit Pageen Kelly, “The Race” by Sharon Olds, “Terminus” by Nicholas Christopher (also among the most savage tear-jerkers,) and “The Gas-Poker” by Thom Gunn.

Other favorites include: Langston Hughes’s “Song for a Dark Girl,” Miklós Radnóti’s “The Fifth Eclogue,” Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving but Drowning,” and “Mendocino Rose” by Garrett Hongo.

I’d highly recommend this book for poetry readers.

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BOOK REVIEW: There Once Was A Limerick Anthology Ed. by Michael Croland

There Once Was a Limerick Anthology: Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Carolyn Wells, Woodrow Wilson and OthersThere Once Was a Limerick Anthology: Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Carolyn Wells, Woodrow Wilson and Others by Michael Croland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

Release Date: August 17, 2022

This little book gathers a diverse collection of about 350 limericks. [Limericks are a five-line poetic form with an aabba rhyme scheme and short -b lines, and are often humorous – or, at least, punny, quirky, or absurd. The form often uses forced rhymes or contorted language as part of the humor, leaning into the genre’s lowbrow image.] For those who’ve read Edward Lear and may be concerned that these limericks will, like much of Lear’s work, lack punch and humor to the modern ear, that’s not the case. The selected limericks include many clever and witty examples that land as well today as ever. [Lest it sound like I’m dissing Lear, I agree with Langford Reed’s limerick included in this edition – i.e. “We should never forget // That we owe him a debt”]

The limericks are grouped by a classification scheme. The book starts with the most common categories — those that feature locations or proper names in the lead line. It has a few chapters that play with language, twisting it about through misspellings or plays on abbreviations. There’s a chapter that is all tongue twisters. Two of the more popular chapters are toward the end. One is a collection of limericks written by famous writers and personalities, such as: Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Frost. The other features ribald limericks. For many, ribald and risqué is what comes to mind when one thinks of limericks – e.g. “There once was a young man from Nantucket.” This book aims for a general audience, and – therefore – avoids the edgiest of material, but it’s good that they realized they couldn’t dodge bawdy and raunchy material altogether, and still claim to be an overview of the form.

I enjoyed reading this collection tremendously. With so much public domain content, I thought there might be a lot of limericks that wouldn’t land, but – on the contrary – most were clever and fun. If you’re a fan of the form, this book is definitely worth reading. And it’s part of the Dover Thrift Edition collection, so no doubt you can pick it up for a song.

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BOOK REVIEW: Embodied ed. by Wendy Chin-Tanner & Tyler Chin-Tanner

Embodied: An Intersectional Comics Poetry AnthologyEmbodied: An Intersectional Comics Poetry Anthology by Wendy Chin-Tanner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars page

Out: May 18, 2021

This is a poetry anthology in graphic novel form. All of the poems offer a feminine perspective, some considering the feminine in conjunction with other issues (race – e.g. “Red Woman;” or gender – e.g. “Gender Studies.”) As one might expect of an anthology, the poetic and artistic styles vary considerably from one entry to the next. That said, the 23 poems are predominantly short (most written or excerpted to fit one page) free verse poems that focus heavily on human experiences that are either unique to womanhood (e.g. motherhood) or for with the feminine perspective is quite distinctive (e.g. migration, war, etc.) While the artistic styles are quite varied, they are of a range one would see as a reader of graphic novels — some rough, some cartoonish, and some elaborate.

While the anthologized works all conform to a common feminist motif, there is quite a variety of topics and tones across the various pieces. The most widespread topic is that of motherhood, though from various perspectives (i.e. new mother, mother-to-be, prospective mother, a daughter’s relationship with mother, etc.) and attitudes. There are visceral entries that deal in various traumas – e.g. “Speak-House” (deals with the question of whether one speaks of trauma of living in a war zone freely) or “University Toxic” (which describes an incident of sexual harassment.) Love and relationships is another recurring theme (e.g. “To the Cherry Blossoms on 16th and Wharton” and “Drown.”) Other topics touched upon include menopause and wicca / witchcraft. [On a related note: While it does have a serious side, “Capitalism Ruins Everything, Even Witch Craft” is probably the most humorous of the poems, dealing with the issue of how quickly spiritual practices that propose to eschew materialism become the most outlandishly materialistic domains of all.]

The included artistic styles reflect realism (e.g. “Good Bones,”) surrealism (e.g. “Rubble Girls” and “Gender Studies.”) My favorite artwork of the book was in “Half Girl, Then Elegy.” Its panels are vivid, evocative, and beautifully rendered. (It’s also one of my favorite poems of the collection.) That said, favorites are very personal, and your view may vary. “Settlement” (which deals with immigration) is another of the more attractively illustrated works, as well as being quite an intense poem.

There aren’t a lot of poetry collections that employ graphic novel style illustration. Besides making the anthology more aesthetically pleasing, this approach offers a couple of other benefits. The most obvious is that the illustrations offer another reader’s (the illustrator(s)) perception of the poem — presumably a take on the poem that came about via discussion with the poet. [Note: this might not be seen as a benefit to all readers. Some might want to take the poem in without being subject to the interpretation of another. A nice feature of this book is that each poem is presented in text form after the illustrated version, giving the reader an opportunity to take the poem in without being flavored by a third-party perspective. Thus, one can read the poem straight first, and then go back and take in the illustrated edition (granted it would be a more awkward reading experience,) but it would let one compare one’s own picture of the poem with that of another.] A less apparent benefit is that it makes it easier to influence the pacing and pausing of reading. Dramatic use of white space for just this purpose has been used by poets for a long time, but building the textboxes around the art can make pacing changes all the more apparent.

There is a study guide and sketch art included as ancillary material. The former consists of a few questions about each poem that might be used by a book club or the like.

I thought this was a splendid collection of poems, and the art all worked – whether it was simple and chaotic or stunningly beautiful. I’d recommend readers of poetry check this anthology out, particularly if one likes the idea of merging the graphic and poetic arts.

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