A subtitle for this collection of expertly crafted verse might be “A Memoir in Poetry.” Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has arranged the poems so that they loosely follow the chronology of her life. First come the dark memories of a grimly loveless childhood in the coal-mining region of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Wendell Berry has lived as a farmer and writer in Kentucky for a quarter century. In his fiction, essays and poetry, he often meditates on the human relation to the earth. His poem “The Slip” is precipitated by a disaster. A river bank has given way, leaving an acre of farmland swallowed by water.
Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winner, makes poetry out of unusual materials: lists of instructions, clothes items, apologies or questions. Her tone can be wry or playful or chilling. Her purpose is to shake us awake to how human history gets assembled from the smallest movements—impulsive or thoughtful, random or rational—of our minds and hearts.
Josephine Jacobsen says that she began writing poetry when she had experiences for which no adequate language existed. Only a new poem, she discovered, could reach toward the reality she had experienced.
Poetry doesn’t have to be solemn. In a series of poems first published in 1990, U.S. poet Scott Cairns invented a comic character named Raimundo Luz, a Portuguese postmodernist “radical theologian” whose autobiographical verses Cairns pretended to be translating.
The first thing that strikes us about Lucille Clifton’s poetry is what is missing: capitalization, punctuation, long and plentiful lines. We see a poetry so pared down that its spaces take on substance, become a shaping presence as much as the words themselves.
Art can bring together those parts of us which exist in dread and those which have the surviving sense of a possible happiness, collectivity, community, a loss of isolation,” wrote the American poet Adrienne Rich. Her insight helps me see why I’ve turned so often to the arts since September 11.
"The finest Christian poet alive today is the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas. Our century has produced some magnificent Christian poetry, but R. S. Thomas has written the most convincing.” So commented poet Mark Jarman in a 1998 interview from the Writer’s Chronicle. We can no longer claim Thomas as a major living poet: he died on September 25 at the age of 87.
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