The beginning of this semester marks exactly one year since my graduate studies began. My area of study (as one might be able to deduce based upon the premise of my blog) is English, with an emphasis in Literature (my personal focus being American literature.) It’s been a momentous year in that regard, full of hard work, good fun, and new friendships. Something I’ve noticed, though, is that, ever since the start of my higher education, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to poetry. This is not a sudden interest, per se, as I’ve read and enjoyed the art form before on more than one occasion. There simply seems to be a renewed interest on my part, and I’m not exactly sure why. This year alone, I’ve exposed myself and, in turn, been exposed to a number of poets whose works I’ve come to love and enjoy. The following are the poetry titles I’ve read in the past twelve months, and I hope you check them out for yourself and enjoy them as much as I did!
A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud (New Directions, $13.95)
Notoriously rebellious and scandalous, enfant terrible Arthur Rimbaud created quite a stir in 19th Century France, not just with his poetry (which shattered all norms and expectations at the time,) but with his lifestyle. He had a torrid, tempestuous love affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, for example, which ended bitterly after being fueled by quarrels and absinthe. A Season in Hell is an epic poem of sorts, a personal tome in which Rimbaud seeks salvation not just for his troubled mind, but in the eyes of God. This edition also boasts the original French text alongside the English translation, so the beauty of his words can be appreciated and understood in both languages.
Plath (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series, $14.95)
Sylvia Plath is arguably one of the most popular poets to emerge from the 20th Century. Her tragic demise at the young age of 30 has, for better or worse, contributed to her fame. Full of dark humor and a sardonic edge, this collection is quite extensive and boasts some of Plath’s best-known poetry, including “Daddy” and “Ariel.” Some of her early works, written when she was in her teens and early twenties, are also included, offering insight into the great literary figure she was destined to become.
Kaddish and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (City Lights Books, $9.95)
To this day, Allen Ginsberg remains my all-time favorite poet. A luminary of the fabled Beat Generation of the mid-20th Century, I first read his landmark “Howl” when I was 14 years old. To say it had a profound impact on me would be the grossest of understatements. It, (along with a couple of other iconic literary works,) undoubtedly planted the seeds for my wanting to become a writer and pursue the study of English. Unlike his aforementioned masterpiece, “Kaddish” is more introspective, a meditation on the passing of his mother, Naomi, with whom he shared a close bond. (Kaddish, of course, is the Jewish blessing for the dead or those who have passed away.) It is considered by many to be his finest poem and, having read it, I can see why.
Baudelaire (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series, $14.95)
“Modern poetry begins with Charles Baudelaire,” reads the summary on the front flap of this little book. Baudelaire was one of the most prominent and important French poets of the 19th Century, inspiring the likes of Rimbaud and other Symbolists who would cite his infamous Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) as a seminal work of their literary and artistic movement. Indeed, when The Flowers of Evil emerged on the scene, it was met with criticism and scandal, for it challenged the rapid urbanization that was taking place in Paris at the time and gave voice to the destitute, “sinful” individuals who populate his poems who would otherwise have no voice in the realm of literature. “Baudelaire looms over all the work…created in his wake,” concludes the front flap summary and, upon reading his poetry, it’s easy to see why.
Paterson by William Carlos Williams (New Directions, $17.95)
In my personal opinion, William Carlos Williams is extremely underrated as far as Modernist poetry is concerned. People are quick to mention Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, but Williams is oft-overlooked, which is a shame, because his poetry is some of the most imaginative, innovative, and unique in all of 20th Century literature. This epic poem, considered by some to be his masterpiece, tells the story of his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, in a free-verse, stream-of-conscious style that was inspired, in part, by James Joyce’s classic, controversial novel, Ulysses. With Paterson, Williams sets himself apart from the other Modernist poets by crafting a uniquely American epic poem using everyday language. The result is simply stunning, and a breathtakingly beautiful work the likes of which hasn’t been seen since.
A question for my followers: Do you like poetry? What are some of your favorite poems or poets? Leave your answers in the comment section!