Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day 16: The Gift of Poetry

Welcome to Day 16 in our 24 Days of Books. What a wonderful gift a book of poetry makes; don't you agree? It seems there are always so many good collections from which to choose -- and we are especially blessed with so many lovely poets right in our own backyard. It's so hard to pick from the many wonderful collections at our fingertips, but here's just a few that come to mind.

One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver, so I'm thrilled that she has a new collection out in time for the holidays. And this isn't the first time I've mentioned in this blog the effect a beautiful cover has on me: a good cover doesn't always make for a good book, of course, but it draws the eye -- and how wonderful to display on your shelf!

In her newest book, A Thousand Mornings, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet once again opens our eyes to the beauty of nature, exploring the mysteries of our daily experience and the transformative power of attention. Whether studying the leaves of a tree or mourning her adored dog, Percy, she is ever patient in her observations and open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments.

In an interview on NPR, Oliver said that her work has become more spiritual over the years, growing from her love of the poets who came before her and the natural world — but that she feels a great sorrow over humanity's lack of care for that world. "One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear," Oliver adds. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now... sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem."

Another wonderful author -- one who fortunately for us lives right here in Portland -- with a new collection of poetry is Ursula K. Le Guin.  Though internationally known and honored for her imaginative fiction, Le Guin started out as a poet, and since 1959 has never ceased to publish poems. Finding My Elegy spans fifty years of work and includes some of the best of her earlier verse along with a rich series of new poems that she has been writing for the last four years.

The seventy selected and seventy-seven new poems consider war and creativity, motherhood, and the natural world -- from the titles of many you can see the influence of place on these poems, such as "At Cannon Beach," "Up the Columbia River," and Mornings in Joseph, Oregon."

And not to sound like a one-trick pony, but what a breathtaking cover. I should add that Ms. Le Guin also has a two-volume collection of short stories just out: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Land.

This is what The Guardian has to say about her short stories: "A century from now people will still be reading the fantasy stories of Ursula K Le Guin with joy and wonder. Five centuries from now they might ask if their author ever really existed, or if Le Guin was an identity made from the work of many writers rolled into one. A millennium on and her stories will be so familiar, like myths and fairytales today, that only dedicated scholars will ask who wrote them. Such is the fate of the truly great writers, whose stories far outlive their names." 

One of my favorite authors to hear read in person -- whether he's reading poetry, prose, or, I imagine, the telephone book -- is John Daniel, with his sonorous voice and big heart. [I am a HUGE fan of what he laughingly calls his "momoir' and his "popoir": Looking After: A Son's Memoir and Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone.] His newest book is a collection of poetry: Of Earth

His first new collection in eighteen years, Of Earth contains roughly half the poems from each of his two previous collections, Common Ground and All Things Touched by Wind, and a generous selection of newer work. Old or recent, most of these seventy poems were inspired by the landscapes where Daniel has lived or spent lengths of time over the last forty years. 

“I am a spiritual and scientific generalist,” Daniel writes, “intolerant only of fundamentalism in either realm. These poems are products of a kind of nearsighted groping toward forms of truth that can be realized, if at all, only in the process of seeking them. One name for this seeking is imagination, which is not a way of making things unreal but of trying to understand their reality by calling it forth in language. My intent is that each poem should embody its portion of truth in ways accessible to the general reader."

From another "locally owned" but nationally praised poet comes Mayakovsky's Revolver, by Matthew Dickman. At the center of Dickman's new collection is the suicide of his older brother, as the author explores how to persevere in the wake of grief. A book of hauntingly dark enlightenment, these poems take place in quiet moments, the shadows of memories.

Two recently published collections from two highly respected poets we lost in the past few years would make wonderful gifts. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010 and Adrienne Rich: Later Poems Selected and New: 1971-2012.
 Clifton's landmark volume contains all of her published work and 55 previously unpublished poems, with a foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison. Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.

In addition to her personal selections from twelve volumes of published work, Later Poems Selected and New contains ten powerful new poems, previously uncollected. We lost Ms. Rich in March 2012.

As always, you will find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. See you soon!

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