Recent Poetry Read-a-thon | Mini-Reviews

I think we all handled (and continue to handle) quarantine in our own individual ways. I, myself, made the assumption I’d be extra productive and possibly read more than ever. In the end, I wasn’t wrong per se but I wasn’t exactly right either. Can anybody relate?

One good thing to come out of all that alone time, was an ants-under-my-skin, blog-worthy poetry read-a-thon. It was the perfect mix of classic words + modern ones and reignited me in a time of very little emotional inspiration.


I ended up flying through six poetry books before I finally hit the “crash” button. Usually, when reading poetry, I absorb collections little by little (not in one-sitting) but this go ’round, I gulped them down. Maybe because it ended up being such a good mix of reliable old favorites and new interests. Maybe because, overall, it was a decent haul. Maybe because it was quarantine-2020. Who knows? Either way: I read them all quickly.

I would like to note, before I dive into this – I think reading poetry is such a personal experience, even more so than literary fiction. Therefore, rating poetry is hard for me, simply because I don’t think what I take away from someone’s words should be set at a tangible value. Do NOT let my ratings sway you from reading these collections, or any collection mentioned in the future.

This recent poetry read-a-thon, I read:

  • Hold by Bob Hicok ★★★
  • Brute by Emily Skaja ★★
  • A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver ★★★★
  • erotic poems by e.e. cummings ★★★★
  • Love Poems by Pablo Neruda ★★★ 1/2
  • Reverie (The Poetic Underground) by Erin Hanson ★

I’m discovering, slowly and painfully, how much I dislike this contemporary wave of poetry we’re currently doused with on social media. (Agree to disagree if you’re a Rupi Kaur fan, okay?) You know which poems I’m talking about, right? The ones with four or five lines that everyone thinks convey such a “deep message” but feel…somewhat plastic? I’m not sure if it’s the free-form way of writing, the accessibility/the ease or just the “phase” – but I really don’t enjoy 99.9% of it.

Sorry if we have opposite feelings on the spectrum – I promise I don’t mean to insinuate these writers aren’t true poets or anything of the like. They simply don’t appeal to me; I want to read words which feel deeper and personal and hard-earned and lyrical.

So, I turned to a few classic, staple names at the beginning of this read-a-thon: Pablo Neruda, e.e. Cummings, and Mary Oliver for my first three picks.

1. My favorite of the trio was erotic poems – e.e. cummings, easily. This edition was a combination of his words and erotic drawings, published in 2010 in paperback. There was his typical humorous sketches but also a few which made my heart quicken or stop beating all together. His “silly” poetry is one thing – because even those words have heat. But the serious stuff? My goodness.

2. Next up was A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver and her words never seem to disappoint. Several of the poems in this collection moved me, several of them didn’t. However, I gave it (4) stars in my book journal simply for two of the poems: “The Mockingbird” and “Poem of the One World.” These two pieces were special to read for the first time and have remained rooted in me. “Poem of the One World” is only sixteen lines but managed to be my solid favorite of the whole collection. The way Oliver writes about nature speaks to me and fills me.

(Sidenote: Mary Oliver was 28 years old when her first book was published. As a 29 year old, that trivial fact rang some tiny dinner bell within me. It truly is never too late, is it?)

3. Thanks to Thriftbooks, Reverie (The Poetic Underground #1) by Erin Hanson found its way to me quickly after finishing Oliver. I will, point blank, say this was my least favorite of the whole bunch. Initially, I was excited to get my hands on it – in the end, I fell wellllllllll into the unpopular opinion bracket. The average rating on Goodreads was 4.49 stars –> I gave it 1 (in my book journal) and left it “unrated” on my Goodreads profile. I had spoiled myself on two good poetry collections beforehand, therefore I found this lacking. Flaky. Short-sighted. Uncomfortable. The rhyming even felt cheap. (Please don’t ask me to explain that. It just did.) I would’ve loved this when I was…thirteen. But, as an adult? The words rang hollow.

4. Bob Hicok’s Hold had odd little moments of electric-shock but the majority fell short for me. It was almost like, the more nonsense he wrote, the more superior he came across. Maybe I’m way off-base but his words portrayed a writer who believes himself to be morally and mentally “ahead” of the people he wrote about. (Minus his wife, whom he clearly adores/adored.) There wasn’t a specific poem in this collection that grabbed me, sadly. *Shrug.*

5. After a few let-downs, I reached for Neruda next like I was drowning. I was hoping Love Poems would be my lifesaver, ya know? There were many gems I enjoyed but none I truly felt I connected with personally. I was drawn to his nature depictions, the way he describes women so powerfully, and the breathe in-breathe out rhythm of his words. “We Together” was a new favorite, along with “Wind on the Island.” “If You Forget Me” was like returning to an old friend’s house and having a beer on the back step.

6. Lastly, I opened Brute by Emily Skaja. This book took home some notable rewards and, based on some of the reviews I read, I headed into this one thinking I’d find a new favorite voice. Alas… Y’all. This felt like hanging out with “that girl” who always wants to rehash her worst relationship to remind you she had it so much worse that you ever did. (YES I KNOW HOW THAT SOUNDS. I’m mean.) One reviewer wrote: “This is therapy, not poetry.” Which I both agree and disagree with on certain levels. Either way, I really struggled to finish it. *Slam dunks it into the donation box.*


So…some good, some bad. That’s usually how read-a-thons work, I imagine. This round encouraged me to add more to my poetry collection (slowly taking over my living room) and I ended up ordering W.B. Yeats, David Baker, (more) Langston Hughes, and a Dylan Thomas collection.

For now, I bid you adieu-

-B

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