“Grief is the thing with feathers,” eh? I see what you did there.
Read me, he said.
Just because the title grabbed me? I don’t think so. Have you seen my list of books to read? Who wrote you?
I’ve never heard that name before.
I’m his first book.
Crow is an immaculate conception, a virgin birth (not that Max Porter is a virgin, although he might be, you never know).
I’ve never heard of you and I have no idea what you are. I bought three books this week that I want to read – forget it.
I can’t. I am crushed by the weight of all the books I haven’t read. Go away.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Knock. Knock.
But I’m really short. Look at me. You could finish me this afternoon if you wanted to.
Rat-a-tat-tat. BANG. BANG.
FINE. (I throw my twenty-euro bill on the counter like it has personally offended me.)
No need for that kind of violence.
Picture Credit: Unicorn Parade Shop @ Etsy.
If you’re looking to smash the patriarchy and read some fantastic poetry at the same time, I have got some great reading recommendations for you.
“On The Road” (2012) still.
In an older study advice post on how to approach poetry, I wrote that a good poet should be able to make you feel something, whether you fully understand the work or not:
Often poems are not so much vessels of information, but more like an experience. A good poet can reach out and get an emotional response from you even if you have no clue what (s)he is talking about. Sometimes you need to read a poem a few times before you fully understand it, or you can spend the rest of your life reading a work and still not grasp what is actually about. Sometimes the poets doesn’t want you to get it. You’re not stupid or illiterate, it’s just… Poetry. If you feel it, you feel it. If you don’t, you don’t.
Even though Richard Siken is a fairly accessible poet, I had no idea what the poems in Crush were about the first time I read it, little over a year ago. But it didn’t matter, because I felt it. The words tugged on heartstrings I never even knew I had and left me staring out the window, trying to find the right words for the rush of emotions washing over me. I have read Crush two more times since then and I feel like I have a better grasp of it now, but it still leaves me staring out the window, at a complete loss for words.
…But let’s give it a go anyway.
Note: I read the second edition, published in 1981. From what I understand, Penguin now sells George Walter’s In Flanders Fields repackaged as the new Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. Check which edition you’re getting if you decide to buy a copy!
Now, before you all grab your pitchforks and come after me for giving anything less than five stars to a book that has work by Wilfred Owen in it, let me explain: I did not deduct points for the poetry itself. Where this collection fails, quite spectacularly, is editing. Jon Silkin was undoubtedly a very intelligent man who knew a lot this particular period, but I have issues with many of his decisions.
Drawing by Siegfried Sassoon.
Inspired by this year’s centenary events and wave of media attention, I have spent the last few months diving into works from the Great War and encountered some true gems along the way. It is a fascinating era where artists struggle to put unspeakable horrors into words and try to find meaning in the chaos. For everyone who wants to get into WWI literature, I have put together three reading lists with suggestions, ranging from the big names of the period to lesser known publications that I think deserve more attention. The first post in the series deals with poetry (see: non-fiction and fiction), both from the era itself and by contemporary authors looking back.
Poetry and I have had a rocky journey. For the longest time I didn’t read or like poetry at all, with the exception of the occasional Robert Frost. I was convinced that it was all unnecessarily vague, overly abstract, artsy fartsy nonsense, and that the whole form just wasn’t for me. Why struggle to make sense of these scraps of pretentiousness when you can spend that time reading a novel instead?
Then in my first year of university I decided to volunteer for a poetry festival (one of my better life decisions). Watching all these poets perform their work made me realise the wide variety that is out there and the effect a good reading can have on an audience. I bought a collection of poems at the festival and began reading it on the bus ride home. Then I asked my mother if I could borrow her poetry anthology. Then I bought the collected works of W.H. Auden. And the following year, I volunteered for the poetry festival again.
You too may think that poetry is not for you or maybe you want to try but you find the whole thing a bit intimidating. I have put together a list of tips to help you across the first couple of hurdles, and you can take it from there. You can do it. Trust me.
Here is what you need to know about Wilfred Owen: he died too soon.
Owen was twenty-five years old when he was killed in action, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice would end the war. This means that all of his poems only fill up one 192-page collection (unfinished bits and pieces included) and it is not enough.