Reading Through the Stacks: 6. Religious and Rhymey

Reading through the Oakland Public Library’s poetry collection.

Let’s journey back to 1968 today with George Huitt Atwood’s Thunder in the Room.

Normally I start off these posts with a short introduction on the poet, but the only biographical information I could find on Atwood was on the inside jacket. He was born in 1919, served during WWII, and ended up living in San Francisco and working for the department of the interior. I’m pretty sure he’s the George Hewitt Atwood buried in Colma in 2010, since their birth dates/place are the same. But I could find no other information about the poet and no one really seems to have read this book as it has no Goodreads ratings and I couldn’t even import it on Story Graph.

That might seem strange except…. the book isn’t all that good.

Although the jacket flap makes great pains to link Atwood to Frost and Dickinson, I think those comparisons are largely…how do I say this nicely? Inflated. Although Atwood makes use of Dickinson’s short poem/line format, personification, and rhyme schemes he doesn’t have….any real spark or irony or insight. Dickinson’s gift lies in giving you something to chew on but not revealing the whole. These poems are obvious and quite pious. Not exactly my cup of tea.

I embarked with Doubt one day
Upon a troubled sea,
But that companion quickly proved
Unworthy company

Atwood, from “Life” section, No. 24

Atwood, to his credit, definitely can make a line scan but you’d hope by 1968 he’d be looking around at the more interesting things fellow poets were doing and maybe not scan quite so nicely. Dickinson certainly doesn’t, and that adds emphasis and brightness to her poems.

I just got tired very quickly of these odes to virtue, filled with platitudes, pithy endings and succinct morals.

Also, he uses the word “comprehendeth.” In 1968??! What is this book?

Someone in the Oakland Public Library obviously took a lot of care in choosing local authors to add to the collection, but I’m not really sure what this one is adding. The best thing about this book is undoubtedly the cover.