The title of this collection is very apt, as these poems of Ian Vannoey are really very stupid. Vannoey does the job well. The poems are silly, funny, totally daft, though sometimes they can reference relevant political happenings (which, in and of themselves, can be very stupid indeed). I think this collection is for those who need a fun brain break, and to be silly for a while. You can definitely tell, as well, that this is a British collection, which may resonate with readers even more, considering not only the political events of Brexit, but also the tendency of Anglophilia (I also am an Anglophile, hence why I chose to read this collection!).
The reason I gave this book three stars, however, is not because it is a bad collection. There will be so many people who love this collection for what it is; however, it is simply not for me.
I think the best part about Ivy in Bloom is that it has the most gorgeous illustrations by Kristin Blackwood. The illustrations start in the Winter, with heavy whites, grays, and browns, and at the end blooms in bright spring colors. The poetry by Vanita Oelschlager is very simple, and wonderful for a child who is just getting into poetry. What is great about the poem, though, is that each line is adapted from or inspired by a poem from a famous poet. These poems are noted and written out in the back of Ivy in Bloom, and such poets include Charles Dickens, John Greenleaf Whittier, E.E. Cummings, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and so many others.
I recommend this book to anyone who needs a little spot of spring in this Wintertime.
I read this collection for my thesis on reception of Vergil’s Eclogues in 21st century poetry. The last two poems “Corydon & Alexis” and “Corydon & Alexis, Redux” take after Vergil the most, being Powell’s own version of Eclogue 2. Most of the poems in this collection describe Powell’s experience with the AIDS crisis and his experience with disease and love. The last two poems combine all of these themes together. More than this, though, Powell writes about what does and doesn’t last and endure. Very relevant to today’s world whose days, due to the dangers of climate change, are numbered. What lasts is the tradition of humanity, saved in texts like these.
I went into Garden of Ravens thinking I was going to get a clever collection of poems that uses themes of folklore and fairytale. After all, as the description says, it is a” collection of dark poetry that journeys through folklore, twisted tales, mental breakdowns, and depression”.
What there actually was of folklore was very little, and I would not call the use of these references clever. There were references to Little Red Riding Hood, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Macbeth, Greek Myths, and a few others; I can see how they were trying to be used, in a way of feminism and representation of abuse. However, all these references did was add a small amount of intellect to an otherwise depressing collection. All in all the folklore themes really were not very important to this collection, which is disappointing.
Most of the collection is about heartbreak and it is very clear that the author needs therapy. It is in the same style and theme as the poems of Rupi Kaur. I understand why it sells, it directly evokes a lot of emotions that people feel when they are unlucky in love. However, the constancy of that theme makes the collection (and others like it) very oppressive and, again, not clever. There was no cleverness in the meter or words used; there were sometimes rhyme schemes but that felt like using rhyme scheme for the sake of rhyme scheme and not for any particular poetic purpose.
Some of the poems, also, were quite creepy. Not horror/folktale creepy, but as if the author is a stalker creepy. I honestly wonder why the publisher thought this collection was a good idea. The themes are good, but the execution is just plain awful and shows no careful or artistic thought. I would not recommend this to anyone.
Imperfect Pastorals was the most fortuitous find for me this Spring. I am in the midst of writing my thesis on the reception of Vergil’s pastoral poetry in contemporary pastoral poetry, and after copious amounts of research and digging in places beyond the scope of my field, I came across Gail Wronsky’s wonderful collection. I have read this collection through the perspective of my thesis, and enjoyed wonderfully how Wronsky referenced Vergilian themes within the theme of pastoral, such as liminality (of life and death represented by both nature and through myths like that of Orpheus), man vs. nature, Lucretian philosophy, and of course Vergil’s famous bees.
All of the poems are in un-rhyming verse, and yet Wronsky has structured the poems to be read at a certain rhythm. Though there is no meter as Vergil puts in his works, Wronsky divides stanzas to be each read alone or with the others, employs internal rhyme where it fits, and uses other poetic structures that make the poems flow or jump to representations of nature.
Aside from the classical references, there are mentions of pastoral in the context of Wronsky’s own pastoral landscape of Topanga Canyon, CA (also right in my own hometown), designating her as a Los Angeles poet writing particularly Los Angeles idylls. It is a genre of pastoral all its own, evoking, at least to myself, paintings of Los Angeles by artists such as David Hockney.
I recommend this collection to those who find meaning in the connection, or even disconnection to nature, and its philosophy; and to those who are, like myself, fascinated with the Vergilian and non-Vergilian ideas of myth in pastoral.
I started reading No Matter by Jana Prikryl not knowing at all what to expect. What I did not want was more poetry of heartbreak. I wanted poetry that worked with language not only to connect with the reader, but also to absolutely confuse them. Jana Prikryl does just this, and I cannot be more grateful for such a master of language.
I had picked this book of poetry from a selection of titles on NetGalley because of its description on the website: “Set in cities toppling past the point of decline-and-fall–Rome, London, Dublin, and most of all New York–these poems capture the experience of being human in the late days of empire, when the laws protecting weak from strong are being torn away.” As a classicist studying ancient Roman literature and myth, this seemed right up my alley.
It is true that most of these poems are set in New York – and I probably would understand them better if I knew more about New York culture and geography – but many of the poems are set against language that evokes ancient myth and history. The physical descriptions of the city also use language that hints at archaism, especially the use of “brownstone” to describe the bridges and buildings.
The theme of most of Prikryl’s poems reminds me of The Aeneid, my particular area of study – ergo my interpretation of these poems focuses mostly on that. Prikryl compares New York to Troy in her poem “Ambitious”, telling how heroes pass through and make the city his own and that of his own people (an allusion to Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy). Prikryl also features well-known characters from this epic. The character that shows up in the titles of many of the poems is the Sibyl, an oracle who helped Aeneas on his journey into the Underworld. Here she is presiding over what seems to be the change of cities and the people described in these poems. In the second-to-last poem, also called “Sibyl”, there is imagery that alludes to things, especially plants, that grow in the Underworld. Dido is another character from the Aeneid who is featured in this book, exactly twice. With her we see what could’ve happened between Aeneas and Dido if he had to redo his actions. The fact that Prikryl uses the Sibyl more than Dido as a featured voice is really interesting; it is possible that if Dido were the main voice there would be more reference to love rather than the change the Sibyl represents as the liminal figure between the Underworld and the world of the living. A symbol of change.
The way Prikryl uses language in these poems, besides the language that reference The Aeneid, is astounding. The manner in which she constructs her verses really draws the eye to what’s important. The way I feel reading it is how I imagine my own thoughts would look if they were written down on paper.
My biggest issue was understanding a lot of the poems, though I would say that is the way it is with most poetry. It is personal, and not every poem is meant for everyone (and, as I said before, I am sure New Yorkers would have a much easier time understanding). However, even if we don’t understand, I wholeheartedly recommend giving Prikryl’s verse a chance, even if just to enjoy the clever mastery of language and ancient allusions.
I am always interested in fairytale retellings. I’ve read Michael Cunningham’s rough take on the familiar stories; Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, dark and full of unvarnished guts. Transformations was the first time I have read fairytales in the form of poetry for a while, and I absolutely loved this take. It felt like going back to what tales used to be. Not necessarily what these specific tales were, but how those older were presented, all in poetry, in some form of meter, bringing the reader or auditor into a certain rhythm (or even throwing the reader completely off it).
Anne Sexton tells each fairytale – some familiar, some new to me – in their traditional ways, though her thoughts come into it like an omnipotent presence knowing the ways humans are, the hearts of man. Knowing where things will go wrong and why – all in poetic psychology.
I was not bored for a moment. Each poem-tale had me compelled to read on, to find out what sort of revelation would appear at the end. I saw the characters differently from how I traditionally know them. I would have never realized without Sexton’s take that the stepmother in all her jealousy was in love with the maiden; that the kind man was more afraid than anyone else of being cheated in life. I cannot get over how terribly human Sexton makes each character, and I want more.
I really have no criticisms to give on this collection of poetry, and I am eager to read more of Anne Sexton’s work.
I recommend Transformations to anyone who loves fairytales and real, human characters.