Monday, February 13, 2006


Recommended reading, 3

Another short list of some of the reading I've found worthwhile recently. (I use a flexible definition of "recently.")

Collected Poems by Don Gordon, edited by Fred Whitehead, published 2004 by University of Illinois Press. Don Gordon (1902-1989) was one of the legendary "Marsh Street Irregulars," the loose circle of poets and artists who gathered around poet Thomas McGrath in Los Angeles in the 1950's and 1960's. Gordon's poems speak with a clarity and tension, and a relevance to the world, that combine the most effective qualities of early 20th century modernism, the Proletarian literature movement of the mid-20th century, and the probing intellectual inquiry prevalent in much American poetry in later years. Thomas McGrath described him as "One of the best of the revolutionary poets." The Collected Poems includes an ample biographical and critical essay, a bibliography, notes to the poems, and a bibliography of Gordon's works. I will write at greater length about Don Gordon's poetry in a future post.

Gypsy Cante: Deep Song of the Caves, selected and translated by Will Kirkland (1999, City Lights Books). The songs and poetry of the Gypsy or Romany people of Spain provided a vast wellspring source and sense of direction for much of the Spanish poetry of the 20th century, particularly for the incomparable Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca, among others, wrote and spoke much of the Spanish cante jondo ("deep song") tradition, of which the lyrics in this collection form a part. This is a work of earnest scholarship. drawing short song lyrics from a variety of sources, covering a period of some 200 years or more. Kirkland includes the original Spanish of each selection (sometimes in a more or less phonetic transcription of a local dialect), and some background information on some of the more renowned singers of cante jondo, various styles of song and performance, and the broader history and traditions behind them. Kirkland's English translations, though not everything I would hope, are quite readable. Kirkland also includes a bibliography of works about cante jondo and flamenco, and a discography of recordings. This is an essential collection.

The Whole Song: Selected Poems by Vincent Ferrini (edited by Kenneth A. Warren and Fred Whitehead, published 2004 by University of Illinois Press) makes available work by a poet whose poetry has endured relative obscurity for too long. These are poems of a tough, spare, critical mind, often dealing with the life and psyche of the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts where Vincent Ferrini has lived much of his life, and where he was a long-time friend -- and sometimes spirited adversary -- of that other poet of Gloucester, Charles Olson. Over the years Olson and Ferrini carried on a sporadic and sometimes oblique dialogue with each other in their poems. Vincent Ferrini's poems are sometimes formidable, requiring effort to find one's way through fragmented syntax and assembled bits of idea and image. They are invariably worth the effort. Always underlying the poems, sometimes emerging into full light, sometimes more subtly, are Ferrini's deeply rooted left-wing working-class politics. The book includes a highly useful introduction, notes to the poems, and bibliography.

Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry edited by Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman, translated by Jack Hirschman and Boadiba (Curbstone Press, 2001). An excellent selection of poets and poetry providing a stunning view of the life and culture of the Haiti. Among the 40 or so poets included are Paul Laraque, Joj Kastra, Jan Mapou, Lenous Surprice, Denize Lotu, Patrik Silven, these among many; most of the poets were previously unfamiliar to me. Whether speaking of the difficult realities of life in the modern world, or denouncing imperial conquest, or whispering love, or murmering sorrow, this is a gathering of poems thoroughly infused with a politically conscious outlook on the world. Includes the original Haitian Creole poems along with the English translations.

Finally this time, two books by poet Doren Robbins: Driving Face Down (Lynx House Press, 2001) is a wonderful collection of Robbins' poems, rich with evocations of the grit and texture of daily modern life, poems of warmth and compassion and political engagement, written with an invigorating clarity. ** And, Parking Lot Mood Swing, aptly subtitled Autobiographical Monologues and Prose Poetry. Ranging from lightly surreal insanely funny to intensely charged with reality, the written pieces here could constitute a map of the varied and rapidly changing textures and frequencies of the world in contact with human senses as we edge into what is, in some calendars, the 21st century. The titles of the individual prose pieces give a provocative sense of the flow of the book: Chaucer's Quill, Sappho's Libido, Frida Kahlo's Eye Brows; Dealing with the Insomnia Surf; Beating the 1968 Draft; Pantagruel Antigruel; At Polly's Famous Pies; Whitman, Artaud, and the Punk Nation; Green Torso; The Dog's Robe; My Broccoli Life; just to name a few. ** I seek out and read whatever I can find by Doren Robbins. His work is essential. Read him.

That's all for right now. As always, I'll say more about the above poets as soon as I have a chance, and will list more good reading somewhere down the road.

Frida Kahlo's that caught my attention. They WERE striking.

You do realize that you're going to make me go completely broke, don't you??:-)
Lyle -
I love coming here - these small moments of excitement take me thru your posts. I work with a lot of students from Haiti who speak Creole - I'll have to get that one book... thanks for bringing it out. And I have to tell you: the library where I work is giving away books & I'm snatching up anything related to Spain, the Spanish and lit/poetry. I'll be doing a short write up soon at my blog on my book boon.
I'm going to have to put the haitian Creole anthology on my wish list. Once again Lyle, you've outdone yourself with these reviews. Thanks for what you do here.
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