Book List Update

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and is looking forward to an exciting New Year. When thinking about this blog and what I want to do in 2012, I realized that I very rarely share books I’m reading. In fact, I wish that other blogs did this more too because I love to know what people are reading and what I should check out. So, in the new year, I plan to post a little more about what I’m reading and what is informing  and influencing my own writing.

So, here it goes. I currently have a few different books cracked, and I’ll share those with you.

 I just ripped through Compendium 1 of the hit graphic novel/comic series The Walking Dead, which most people now know as a hit TV show on AMC. Compendium 1 features the first 48 issues of The Walking Dead. I’ll admit that I’m not a big comic guy or a huge fan of graphic novels, but I do love The Walking Dead, and not just because it features zombies and gore. I like the fact that no one is safe in the comics and several of the key characters die. It makes it a constant page-turner. In fact, by the end of Compendium 1, only one main character is left that was present in issue 1. I also like how the main characters, especially the protagonist, Rick Grimes, a cop, are often faced with tough moral choices that question just how much humanity remains in a postapocalyptic world. These characters unravel more and more as they lose friends and loved ones, and you’re not quite sure if there’s any hope at all left for them. If you like the TV show, you should check out the graphic novels. Though the show is good, the graphic novels offer more character depth, conflict, and plenty of zombie action!

Regarding poetry, I’m currently reading two different collections right now- What Work Is by Philip Levine and Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney. I often return to Levine’s work because I find his working-class portraits utterly beautiful and much needed in a time of global austerity and assaults on the middle and lower classes by the top 1 percent. Very few poets have influenced me more than Levine. I like to study how he depicts and humanizes his characters, how he makes the reader care about empy warehouses in Detroit and aging factory workers. His poems push beyond mere description into statements about humanity or meditative reflections.

 Heaney reminds me a little of Levine in the sense that he too sometimes writes about the working- class, including field hands and drunken boatmen, among others. However, Levine is known for his longer, descriptive, narrative poems, and Heaney often employs tight, restrictive forms. If you’re a poet or like poetry and haven’t checked out Levine or Heaney, you should. The local library or bookstore should have plenty of their collections.

Finally, I just started Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson, a bio on Hem that focuses on the years 1934, when Hemingway first achieved major fame, to 1961, when he committed suicide. I’m only about 50 pages in, but I like it thus far. The book uses various images and the history of Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, to address the twists and turns of his life and his struggle to be a good man in the midst of so much fame. What impresses me about the book so far is the personal side of Hemingway it shows. Included are various letters to his sons and friends that show a far less macho side of the writer that we aren’t used to seeing.

Feel free to tell me what you’re reading or what’s on your book list for 2012.

New U.S. Poet Laureate

A new U.S. Poet Laureate has just been named, and that honor goes to Philip Levine, who follows W.S.  Merwin  in the role. Upon learning the other day that Levine has been named poet laureate, I was surprised he never has been so before. He has been publishing for decades now, and it seems that at least one or two of his poems appear in every creative writing/poetry textbook or contemporary American poetry anthology.

Levine is one of my favorite contemporary American poets, and I’m so glad he got the honor. I first discovered his work through the anthology we used in my undergraduate poetry workshop courses. I then purchased his collecton of new and selected poems. Levine is a native of Detroit, and though he spent years working at prestigious colleges, he never stopped writing about his working-class roots. That’s what I’ve always liked about his poetry-how he focuses on the marginalized and the working-class, honoring such folks.

Despite the rough characters in his poems, there’s always tenderness to his work, no matter the labor the characters in his poems perform. One of my favorite Levine poems is “You Can Have it,” which is about the loss of his brother, who is “hard and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse for God and burning eyes that look upon/all creation and say, ‘You can have it.'” Like a lot of Levine’s work, that poem features direct, blue-collar language and description, but there’s a real tenderness and sorrow to it. The speaker is crying out for his brother, who died young, due to hard labor jobs.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and other publications ran nice articles about Levine this past week. But I especially like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s article. The article has nice background info about Levine, as well as a decent analysis of some of his poems and some strong quotes from the poet. I especially like that Levine promises  he will use the role of poet laureate as a bully pulpit for the kinds of characters that fill his poems– the working-class and marginalized.

Check out his work by clicking here.  And you should also check out the work of W.S. Merwin, the last poet laureate. He’s another great contemporary poet.