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Friday, October 09, 2009

poetry lovers

For all the common wisdom that Americans don't read poetry anymore, I'd like to know why every time I check out a book of poetry from the library it gets recalled. I mean the university system libraries, of course -- the local public library has little of value when it comes to poetry, and what is of value is the most well-known poetry on earth: Shakespeare's sonnets, Walt Whitman, Neruda, etc. University of Maryland (College Park campus) does an excellent job of collecting contemporary poetry in their main library; I am always impressed when I think I've come upon something obscure and it's available from McKeldin. But I'll have it for a week and suddenly get a recall notice. This doesn't annoy me as much as you might think; I am quite heartened to know that there are other university system patrons who are interested in new poetry. It bodes well for my chosen vocation.

Chances are good that the person doing the recalling is a poet herself or himself, enrolled in the MFA program at UMCP or UB, or perhaps an undergraduate creative writing major. But I suspect that most people who buy poetry -- at least anything that's not on the top 20 best poetry sellers on Amazon -- are writers. I certainly do my share of supporting my fellow poets by purchasing their books. My usual procedure is to read a review on Good Reads, try to find poems online or check the book out from the library, and if I get into this poet's style, buy the book. If it weren't for the internet and libraries, I doubt I would take many chances. Literary journals are very expensive and not so easy to find in stores. I am lucky to live in the city of Atomic Books, which carries some of the less well-known litmags. I always walk out of there with a couple new journals. What can I say? Book-buying, especially poetry and short-stories, is my weakness.

You may want to know who I've been reading lately, and I am happy to oblige.
  • Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler. I tore through this book faster than Hurricane Katrina. As someone in my poetry workshop said, despite knowing what was going to happen next in terms of the story (which is about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans), she couldn't wait to find out what happened next. I felt the same way. Smith's mastery of tone and persona is something to be envied. You must read this book.
  • Lee Ann Roripaugh, Year of the Snake. I don't even remember how I discovered Roripaugh; it was just in the past month. I found some of her work online and her refreshing facility with language really opened my eyes and imagination. I bought all three of her books, actually. I started reading her blog, too, which is hilarious, although she should update more frequently. (I'm one to talk.)
  • Many random things from anthologies, Rilke, and handouts from my poetry workshop. I know that's not very specific, but it's the joy of discovery I am encouraging here. Go up to your university library's PS617 section and pull out a bunch of anthologies. Sit down and read a dozen poems by different writers and find something you love. If there's a famous poet you've heard of but have no idea why he or she is famous, find some of the work online and figure out what the fuss is about. Nothing is more rewarding than making an amazing discovery.


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