Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Emerson

If you have the opportunity to pick up a copy of Poet's Choice, Edward Hirsch's latest effort (or non-effort), which I did, used, and for only a few bucks,--DON'T. An over-stuffed compendium of pedestrian paeans and glorified glosses--the stuff of his newspaper columns--, the book will inevitably disappoint those of you who took up his previous effort, The Demon and the Angel, which, despite its hokey over-Romanticizations, was at least an enjoyable read in a general-interest sort of way. The "chapters" in Poet's Choice (130 in all) average around 2 pages, a ridiculously cursory length when you consider Hirsch cites at least one whole poem, and sometimes two. Aside from two brief intros, the book doesn't hold together; there's no weight to the pieces therein. The Demon and the Angle, however, reminds me how I need to revisit Lorca and, even more so, Emerson, who Hirsch cites early and, to my pleasure, often:

"Doubt not, O Poet, but persist. Say, "It is in me, and shall out." Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity."

from "The Poet"

"The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why . . . Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment."

from "Circles"

How important to be reminded of our first literary loves, of how we need NOT to know sometimes, how we need to return. Hokey or dis-proven Romanticism? Perhaps. But at a time when it seems every poem wants to over-intellectualize, there's something to be said for abandonment and ravishment.

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If you want a great bio on Federico Garcia Lorca, check out Leslie Stainton's Lorca.

Other notable literary biographies:
Robert Gittings's John Keats
Paul Mariani's The Broken Tower and Dream Songs
David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde

Less compelling reads:
Paddy Kitchen's Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (Just plain uninspired)
Ekbert Faas's Robert Creeley: A Biography (Poorly written, completely lacking in vividness)
John Felstiner's Paul Celan (Way too much time spent working out the poems' etymologies)

Has anyone read either of these? If so, which one is worth reading first:
White's Hopkins: A Literary Biography
Martin's Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life

What other bios do you recommend?

3 comments:

Tim Peterson said...

Hi Morgan, It was a pleasant surprise to find your blog while searching the web this morning...

2 I can suggest are Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered, by Peter Brazeau (an oral history of Stevens by people who knew him) and also the recent book on Frank O'Hara by Joe LeSeur.

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Tim. I've been wanting to read something on O'Hara for a long time now.

-k said...

Seconding that suggestion for LeSueur's book... I also liked Ron Padgett's book on Joe Brainard (published last year).