Saturday, August 1, 2009

Desert Island Poetry

I've always been fascinated by desert island lists - both my own (which are ever changing) and other folks' (which may be as well). Today I'm curious... if you knew you were going to be stuck on a deserted island (or locked in a cell or otherwise removed from libraries, bookstores and the internet) for exactly one year with no reading material besides ten books of poetry, which ten would you choose? My list would be a fairly even mixture of books I haven't read in their entirety and books I've finished but am aching to re-explore. I'd also lean heavily toward heavier books, ones with lots of pages and poems - and, if permitted, I'd define poetry as loosely as possible. Here's the list I'd make this morning:

The Complete Poems by William Blake
ukanhavyrfuckinciti bak by d.a.levy
Collected Poems 1912-1944 by H.D.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (preferably ed. by David Bevington)
Collected Poems by Federico García Lorca (revised bilingual edition)
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
"Spain, Take This Chalice from Me" and Other Poems by César Vallejo (bilingual)
The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (bilingual, ed. by Ilan Stavans)
Ulysses by James Joyce (I told you I'd define it loosely)

I've included three bilingual books both because I love their poetry and because their inclusion will be good for maintaining and refreshing my rusty Spanish. Why should I stop multitasking just because I'm on a desert island?

Now it's your turn. Which ten books of poetry would choose to have on your island? And why?


Mike Finley said...

"Collected Poems" I would want to have with me under the coconut tree:

Charles Reznikoff's

Rene Char

James Wright

Rainier Maria Rilke

Emily Dickinson

Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River books

whoever wrote Job

Shakespeare's plays

yes, William Blake

a big book of Rumi

John B. Burroughs said...

I like your DIP list, Mike. But I have to admit I've never read the Spoon River books or anything by Charles Reznikoff(I'm adding them to my "to do" list).

Mike Finley said...

You will be impressed by Reznikoff's humility. He never gives you the high-hat.

And Masters told terrific stories about actual people. To me his anthology is spiritual because he locates the angel in everyone in the cemetery, from town drunk to hardware store owner. It's a vision of the the longing in every heart for what is good. And it's completely readable, not stylized to shit, never "mysterious."

Mike Finley ~ Big Vanilla said...

One other thing. We all think Rumi is the greatest here, but I rent rooms to Saudi students, and not one in 30 has yet heard of the guy.

sammy greenspan said...

M a/or R, the different streams of Islam can be notoriously unfriendly to one another. From an article on the ongoing resonance of Rumi's message:

"Not all Muslims approve of Rumi and Sufism.

In Saudi Arabia, Sufis endured various forms of harassment and had to meet in secret until post-Sept. 11 scrutiny of the country's dominant Wahhabi sect forced the Saudis to relax restrictions."

John B. Burroughs said...

I enjoyed the article, Sammy. Thanks!

I've been wanting to add more Rumi to the Crisis Chronicles Online Library. But alas, the only English translation I can find in the public domain (the same used in the Dover Thrift edition) seems even entirely inadequate most of the time.

Shelley Chernin said...

Well, you raise an interesting issue, defining Joyce's Ulysses as poetry. Makes me realize that for the most part, I'd rather take books that most people define as prose, but that I find poetic, like

and also Finnegan’s Wake
Brautigan, but which one? Trout Fishing,
Hawkline Monster
Samuel Delany, Dahlgren
Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 or The Echo Maker
Janet Frame, Snowman Snowman
Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Jeannette Winterson, The Passion
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

Point being, I guess, the distinction between prose and poetry can be artificial.

Ten “poetry” books:

Christian Bok, Eunoia
Richard Brautigan, Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork
William Matthews, Search Party: Collected Poems
Margaret Atwood, Eating Fire
John Ashbery, Collected Poems
Allen Ginsberg, Howl
Isaac Asimov and John Ciardi, Limericks Too Gross
William Carlos Williams, Collected Poems
Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems
Shel Silverstein, the boxed set with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up

J.E. Stanley said...

Agha Shahid Ali, Call Me Ishmael Tonight
Christian Bok, Crystallography
Joanne Cornelius, Mermaid on the Edmund Fitzgerald
Adelaide Crapsey, Verse
Daphne Gottlieb, Why Things Burn
Robert Hunter, Night Cadre
Robert Hunter, Sentinel
Mark S. Kuhar, e40th & pain
John Sweet, Human Cathedrals
Catherynne M. Valente, A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects

Ten is not enough, of course (too many missing poets and missing books by the poets listed). I deliberately avoided poets that I know personally even though they've had the most effect on me and deserve to be listed. Two of them still managed to overpower me and force their way onto my island, although I can't imagine why they’d want to be here.

John B. Burroughs said...

I agree, Shelley, the line is often extremely artificial. I came very close to including Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra as well.

And thanks to both you and Jim for sharing your lists. Lots of things for me to check out. J.E., the only authors I've read on your list are Joanne, markk, Cat, and Hunter, all of whom I dig - but the only actual book I've read on your list is e40th & pain. As for Shelley's: on your poetry list, I love the Atwood, Ginsberg, Dickinson and WCW, but haven't read the rest yet. Would you choose volume I or II of WCW's? On your broader list, I would love to finally read Finnegan's Wake and The Satanic Verses. Since both of you have picked works by Bok, I'm moving him further up my priority list.

To Mike: I just picked up the Spoon River Anthology at the Westlake library yesterday. Looking forward to digging in....

Thanks again, all, for participating/commenting!

Shelley Chernin said...

Tough choice between Vol 1 or 2 of WCW, but I think I'd take Vol 1, much as I'd miss the Bruegel poems. There's such a simple, primal quality to WCW's early poems. I can see myself happily sitting under a tree, drinking coconut milk, savoring To Waken an Old Lady: "Old age is / a flight of small / cheeping birds..."

Fun post. Thanks. I'll be curious to hear how you like Bok. One of those poets people either love or hate.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau