This series is being born out of a dangerous whim, which I can only attribute to the temporary giddiness of a new library card.
Upon seeing the (truthfully rather average sized) poetry collection at the main branch, I was seized by an impulse to read from one end of the poetry section to the other. From A to Z (if, in fact, it ends in Z).
I don’t think I’ll like everything. In fact, I know I won’t. I started with 3 books, and I only enjoyed one. But I do have some (snarky?) things to say about them, and I thought if I’m taking myself on this (admittedly arbitrary) journey, you might enjoy coming along for the ride.
Along the way I hope we will discover some fantastic poetry from throughout the ages. Most of it will probably be bad. But that’s where the thrill of the hunt comes in!
Why read bad poetry? You may ask. My answer to this is that as a relative new comer to this genre I want to read as much and as widely as I can to really get a feel for what’s out there, who came before, who’s writing now, and what I actually like. And since I don’t have to shell out for volumes I don’t like, I’m hoping to build my library with only poetry volumes I can’t wait to reread.
Even if you don’t like poetry, I hope this series inspires you to delve into something you’re interested with new eyes. Maybe you’ll find a book here that intrigues you, or maybe you’ll start your own challenge for yourself!
Or maybe you’ll just have fun reading while I complain about terrible books. There’s something for everyone on this journey.
So we might as well get to it.
Book 1: By Avon River by H.D. Hilda Doolittle Aldington (1949)
H.D. (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961) was a modernist poet known for free verse and imagist style associated with poets like Ezra Pound. She married a poet named Aldington, which is why she was cataloged at the beginning of this alphabetical journey. There’s a clarification of that written in pencil on the title page. It seems off to me that she’s cataloged under her married name instead of her pen name, especially since her career was already well underway by the time she was married.
Themes: Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry
Published for Shakespeare day 1945, this book has a short section of verse inspired by Shakespeare. Like 25 pages. Most of it is centered on The Tempest and even more squarely focused on one offstage character, Claribel, who sets the plot in motion but never gets a real voice in the play. Her poetry delves into the relationship between the poet and Claribel and her relationship to the rest of the play and its characters. She becomes kind of a haunting, distant presence, but one who has a lasting impact even though the mention of her is fleeting. I really enjoyed the second poem, “Rosemary” the best, which alternates form, points of view, and theme in the different sections.
Read through again, Dramatis Personae;
She is not there at all, but Claribel,
Claribel, the birds shrill, Claribel,
Claribel echoes from this rainbow-shell,
I stooped just now to gather from the sand“The Tempest” by H.D., from section IV
While the verse gives voice to Claribel, the remainder of the book (about 70 pages) is an essay discussing Shakespeare’s contemporaries and their writing. It’s a lot of names and dates and quotes, which I (mostly) skimmed, but some of the discussion of themes especially mortality were interesting. Mostly it was a total snooze, especially since H.D. really never bothers to make an argument or get into why it’s important to look at Shakespeare in this context. It reads more as an associative catalog with some interesting quotes.
She never had a word to say,
An emblem, a mere marriage token,
Nor even trod a rondelay
Or watched a play within a play
With other ladies–and yet–
I wonder when the time was short,
And he had said farewell to court,
And pondered, fingering the script
Can this then, really be the last?
If he remembered Claribel.“Rosemary” by H.D., from section IX
Ultimately, not the most promising start even with the rather interesting verses about Clairbel, but the next book will make up for it. Stay tuned.
Have a favorite Shakespeare play/line/character? Have you read H.D. before? Let me know in the comments!