Archive for poetry

The Metamorphoses

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by acousticchick

I love Roman mythology for the same reason one of my best friends loves video games: I can’t ride a chariot made of fire in real life, but I can read about it. That said, Ovid doesn’t really have anything to add to the stories I’ve heard before. He doesn’t skimp on the gore and orgies, but all the uncontrollable hormones in the world wouldn’t make ‘The Metamorphoses’ a must-read.

My lamentable attention span probably casts an undeserved shroud on the book. It’s not a bad read, but it isn’t broken up very well. Instead of using chapters, Ovid strung all the stories together with little more than an “and then.” Sometimes I found myself in the middle of a new myth without noticing that the previous one had ended and had to backtrack, which always makes me twitch.

When I did know what was going on, though, I enjoyed Ovid’s writing. ‘The Metamorphoses’ was written as a poem, which is probably why the prose translation I read felt musical and almost feminine. I wasn’t really a fan of the convoluted sentences the translator substituted for verses, though I guess I can’t pick on him until I learn Latin.

As a whole, ‘The Metamorphoses’ is a little tedious, but the individual stories are as entertaining as a reader could want. Whenever mortals and gods wander around pissed-off or lust-ridden (or both), exciting circumstances ensue. And hey, one of the myths inspired a poorly-drawn comic by yours truly.

American parenting as illuminated by Phoebus and Phaethon.

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The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on January 29, 2011 by acousticchick

Emily Dickinson isn’t a particularly inspiring poet, but she isn’t annoyingly dull, either. She writes about flowers and Jesus and dying in a way that is impossible to feel strongly about. There isn’t much texture or flavor in her poetry; it’s just nice. It reminds me of something…
 
 

Yeah, that's it.

 

The Poems of Alexander Pope

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on July 4, 2010 by acousticchick

Reading eight hundred pages of rhyming is not for the faint-hearted. That said, Alexander Pope makes this feat slightly easier with his wide range of subject matter. Whether satirizing, writing romance or history, or just ranting, this guy does it all and does it elegantly.

Pope’s early work is frankly astounding. At age twelve he paraphrases Homer, breathing life into stories made stale by retelling and the passage of time. By seventeen he’s translated both Chaucer’s “The Merchant’s Tale,” about a love triangle with some fairly twisted motives, and “The Wife of Bath,” in which a woman puts not one but five husbands through a merry hell. Both poems are long (twenty and twelve pages, respectively) but darkly funny and thus quick reads.

By his early twenties, Pope outgrows paraphrases and translations and starts his own writing. “An Essay on Criticism” isn’t a bad start; it’s cleverly written and has a ring of defiance, but Pope stumbles into stereotype when he inevitably portrays critics as arrogant bad guys and poets as the valiant underdogs. Given this, and my natural cynicism for romance in literature, I went into “Eloisa to Abelard” with some apprehension. The story (of a couple separated for years by calamity) seemed sure to be brimming with sentimentality, but I was startled by Pope’s poignant expression of vulnerability, self-doubt, and loneliness–and his ability to do so without inducing eye-rolling or nausea in the reader. This would have been my favorite of the poems Pope wrote as a young adult, if only it weren’t for “On a Lady who Pissed at the Tragedy of Cato.” Short, sweet, and hilarious, the poem not only paints a vivid picture but imparts a sensible message. After all, if you’re attending a sad play, why cry when you can just pee yourself?

Unfortunately, Pope runs out of steam after age thirty. His poems consist of pointless babbling or religious babbling, made all the more tedious by his incessant rhyming. Pope retains his elegance, but his sense of humor and knack for story-telling evaporate. I found “An Essay on Man” to be little more than fifty pages elaborating on the idea that God knows best and mankind’s place is to keep our heads down and our mouths shut (an odd notion for a writer to live by). This was followed by fifty pages of moral essays. Pope does finally try his hand at satire again, furnishing his later career with its only bright spot. “The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated” is a fictional dialogue between Pope and a friend in which the poet cheerfully acknowledges the criticism of his satire as “too bold” and just as cheerfully rejects his friend’s advice to be sensible, stop writing, and settle down. This triumph is drowned in more mind-numbing rambling, and the few amusing epitaphs tacked onto the end of the book by editor John Butt aren’t enough to revive the reader.

There’s something to be said for doing one thing well, but there’s also something to be said for testing your limits. As prolific and willing to experiment with themes as Pope was, the fact that every poem sounds the same is frustrating. Pope’s rhymes were charming at first; hundreds of pages later, they started to grate on my nerves. This is a poet best taken in small doses. You have been warned.