I've decided books of poetry count.
I came to this decision mainly because this, uh, volume read more like an epic saga than poetry. There's a halfway house between modern poetry and modern literachure, and I feel Siken perhaps should have sought it out. (You know, the Thomas Pynchon V. Arundhati Roy Sanctuary of Flashbacking and Non-Linear Storytelling.) I ... don't feel any of these poems work too well as stand-alones, and they're all very much focused on the driving force of their existence - namely, Siken's relationship with the dude what died. I'm no expert on poetry - I'm no expert on anything, but the poetry I consider true, undiluted poetry is about the colours words can paint in your mind. One of my favourite ee cummings poems has this stanza:
how behind the doomed
exact smile of life's
placid obscure palpable
carnival where to a normal
melody of probable violins dance
the square virtues and the oblong sins
Like, what the fuck is that?! I don't know! And I don't care. Poetry is not quite music, it's not lyrics; poetry can make music all on its own. And while it can tell a story, it doesn't have to; I think that's where a lot of people go wrong. Poetry doesn't have to make sense, it just has to make.
My favourite poems were Primer for the Small Weird Loves and Saying Your Names. They made me choke up a little, because he really managed to convey a frantic sort of life-grief in both. I also had favourite lines in the other poems:
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we'll never get used to it.
(He likes wacky formatting, which is annoying because it conveys nothing extra. The only time I've seen it done well is in Ralph Fletcher's The Faithful Elephants. I didn't bother trying to reproduce it.)
We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can't punch ourselves awake and all I can do
is stand on the curb and say Sorry
about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.
A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he's still left with his hands.
But angels are pouring out of the farmland, angels are swarming
over the grassland.
Angels rising from their little dens, arms swinging, wings aflutter,
dropping their white-hot bombs of love.
That was definitely a heart-hurty moment for me, there.
You're in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you're trying not to tell him that you love him, and you're trying to
choke down the feeling, and you're trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you've discovered something you
don't even have a name for.
Dude is fixated on hands - there is hand metaphors all over the shop - and there's a few too many of the Meaningful Non-Sequiturs (example: That means it's noon. That means we're inconsolable.) That said, I liked it. I'm used to reading poetry in anthologies, with the best of one poet's work scraped up and presented all nicely. I will follow Siken's career with interest.
Helen and Mik, if you read this - and anyone else too - tell me what 'words burned' for you? I thought it was so interesting that Helen and I could look at the same poem and get something completely different, or nothing at all, out of it.
Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope |The Bostonians, Henry James | For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway | For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger | The Outsider, Albert Camus | The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot | The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope | Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans | Villette, Charlotte Bronte | The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James | The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler | Cecilia, Fanny Burney | The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark | Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut | Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann | Siddhartha, Herman Hesse | The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga | The Duke and I, Julia Quinn | Brave New World, Aldous Huxley | North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell | Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee | Catch-22, Joseph Heller | Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey | Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck | The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan | The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton | jPod, Douglas Coupland | 'Are these my basoomas I see before me?', Louise Rennison | Faro's Daughter, Georgette Heyer | Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman | The Accidental Sorcerer, K.E. Mills | Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold | V., Thomas Pynchon | The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway | The Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb | Orlando, Virginia Woolf | The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath | Snuff, Chuck Palahniuk