Tag Archives: poetry

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

War Dances cover

I haven’t read any Sherman Alexie since The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian back in high school, and I had forgotten how much I missed him. Another reviewer, when writing about this book, called Alexie’s work “honest”, and I think that’s really the best description of this little collection of short stories and poems (there’s even a chapter where Alexie gives us a poem he wrote about his father and then deconstructs all the lies in it). Not all the stories are fantastic, but most are lovely and sad. Especially the last one, “Salt,” which will stomp your heart into tiny little pieces and not apologize for it. I also loved the sections where an unknown interviewer asks questions, and Alexie’s responses generally ignore the question completely and create something else entirely, like this exchange in “Big Bang Theory”:

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The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Richard Lattimore)

Odyssey cover

Before buying a copy of this in a secondhand bookstore, I had a passing familiarity with The Odyssey. My introduction to the story, as was the case with a lot of classic literature, was provided by the PBS show Wishbone (you have not lived until you’ve seen a Jack Russell terrier in a toga firing an arrow through twelve axe heads, trust me on this). Then in high school, one of my English classes read some selections from the poem – I remember reading the Cyclops part, and the stuff about Scylla and Charybdis, and I think also the stuff with Circe. But I had never read the entire story as a whole before now, and a couple things surprised me:

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The Iliad by Homer

I don’t know why I read this. It isn’t on The List (I guess because it’s technically a poem, not a novel), and it wasn’t assigned reading or anything. But for whatever reason, reading The Iliad was on my mental to-read list for a long time before I finally picked it up.

My first reaction: dude, this epic is epic. (thank you, I’ll be here all week) It’s full of dudes getting killed in really exquisite detail, dudes talking about killing or not killing dudes, dudes mourning dead dudes in a totally-not-homoerotic way, and dudes yelling at each other about the chicks who ruin everything. The battle sequences are long and action-packed, everybody is Zeus’s kid or nephew, the men are men and the women are decoration. It’s pretty awesome, is what I’m saying.

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Complete Poems by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore is delightful, and one of the few poets I know of that I’d actually enjoy hanging out with. It’d be great – we’d sit around drinking tea and talking about art, and then she’d be like, “Hey, do you want to hear about squids?” And then she would tell me all about squids and then share the poem she wrote about them, and it would be lovely.

Marianne Moore studied biology, so she really does write about stuff like that – nautiluses and fish and pelicans and buffalo, and it’s all really good. She wrote a six-page poem just about an octopus. An octopus!

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Paradise Lost by John Milton

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heav’ns and earth
Rose out of Chaos, or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.”

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The Waste Land by TS Eliot

Here’s my thing about T.S. Eliot: the man is ungodly brilliant and I love almost everything he’s written. Does this mean I understand a single goddamn word of it? Of course not. But (and this is the great part) that doesn’t matter. Eliot has been quoted as saying he’s perfectly aware that no one has any idea what his poems are about, and he’s perfectly cool with that. Understanding Eliot’s poems is not the point; the point is to recognize that he writes with incredible skill and to just lose yourself in the words. My Lit book, How to Read a Poem, said it best:

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The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald

 

As is the case with most poetry, a good chunk of this book went over my head, but I really liked the parts I understood.

“Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain – This life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.”

Good stuff. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did read this because I remembered the Rocky and Bullwinkle episode where they look for the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayham. Also good stuff.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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