Tag Archives: Poetry

Farewell to a Dissident Poet

On February 22, one of the greatest living men of letters in America died 30 days short of his 102nd Birthday. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a poet, a painter, a publisher, and a bookseller. His City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was founded in 1953 and is the best known bookstore in America.

In 1956, he published Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg in his Pocket Poet Series (#4). It resulted in a major obscenity trial that could have resulted with Ferlinghetti going to prison. But he won and censorship was defeated. This case was made into a very good movie, Howl, starring James Franco as Ginsberg.

In 1958, New Directions published Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. It became the all-time bestselling book of poetry in America with over a million copies sold. It is the first book of poetry that I read cover to cover. I highly recommend it. He paints pictures with words.

During the final years of my college experience, A Far Rockaway of the Heart was published. It is a sequel to Coney Island, set 40 years later. So I wrote my final college paper on it. Ferlinghetti was 80, and I thought how much longer can he go on?

He did go on and continued to write, of which I read bits and pieces. Occasionally, the entire book. But then on his 100th birthday, he published a novel, titled Little Boy. I couldn’t wait to get it and I devoured it. Maybe too quickly. So about a week before his death, I was listening to his good friend Bob Dylan’s latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, and one of the long songs reminded me of Little Boy, so I decided to reread it. But a bit slower this time. And then the sad news hit. And now this book took on special meaning to me. So I watched Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for about the 20th time and began reading slowly.

Little Boy is a small book, just 179 pages, and it is unlike any novel that I have read before. Perhaps similar to the few pages that I have read of Finnegan’s Wake. It is really, just one long run-on sentence like a saxophonist holding a long note. It moves and it moves fast. And it really isn’t a novel. It is autobiography mixed with a history of literature and the 20th Century. But it is pure poetry. Only a poet could write these sentences.

Ferlinghetti had a very interesting life. Born the fifth child to a mother who just whose husband had just died. He was taken in by his aunt, later abandoned. He was an orphan for a time but eventually was taken in by a rich family related to the founder of Sarah Lawrence College. They had previously lost their son named Lawrence. It was a family without hugs and kisses, but provided him a good education.

Being a bad boy at times, Lawrence was sent away to a sort of reform school. There he met a boy with two novels in his pockets: The Sun Also Rises and Look Homeward, Angel. He eventually followed the boy, Thomas Wolfe, to the University of North Carolina.

Then WWII came. He was skipper of a submarine chaser and was at Normandy beach. After the war, Lawrence attended Columbia University. He also earned a Doctorate at the University of Paris, where he met George Whitman (future owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank). He would remain a lifelong friend until his death in 2011 at age 98.

In 1951, Lawrence moved to San Francisco and opened City Lights in 1953. He took the torch from Kenneth Rexroth, who was the leading Anarchist, dissident poet in San Francisco. And then he changed the world. So this little boy lived to 101 but remained as open minded as a child. He had the bite of an old school Anarchist but always was a Romantic.

RIP Lawrence (3/24/1919-2/22/2021). A life well lived. I hope readers of this review will pursue what he had to say.  

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

A Spring of Poetry

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”

W.H. Auden


Nothing Gold Can Stay Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

During quarantine I became immensely comfortable with my couch and by extension my television. Many hours were lost to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. One series that surprised and delighted me was Dickinson. It is a comedy which follows a young Emily Dickinson as she observes the constraints of gender, society and family in the 19th century. Hailee Steinfeld leads the cast as Emily and her portrayal brings to life the poet whose presumed life choices has overshadowed her poetry. Her poetry, or poetry itself, is the crux of my rambling – after watching an episode I went to my bookshelf to find The Poems of Emily Dickinson so I could read her words again.

I find reading poetry immensely energizing, it brings me great joy, so I leap at the opportunity to share it. Lucky for me a whole month is dedicated to celebrating it; April is National Poetry Month* and this year is the 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, this year’s celebration looks different from past years – there may not be as many public readings or SLAM performances, but you can have your very own poetry reading from the comfort of your couch. You can celebrate the occasion by reading a poem-a-day, picking up a book of poetry from the bookstore or library, or watching famous and local poets perform their work on YouTube.

There are also abundant resources to help you celebrate on Poets.org.

The Library has opened its doors just in time to celebrate, come browse our shelves and discover the world of poetry.

Below is the inspirational Tedx Talk “Poetry: Why it is Important” with Scott Griffin. Griffin is the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize which promotes excellence in Canadian and International poetry.


*National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets; a national, member-supported organization that promotes poets and the art of poetry. The nonprofit organization was incorporated in the state of New York in 1934.

– Article by Carolyn, Main Library

Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs

From the Yale Series of Younger Poets, Ultima Thule is a lovely and worthy read penned by Kentuckian Davis McCombs, especially recommended now during African-American History Month.

The hero of the first sequence of poems is the enslaved Stephen Bishop, the early explorer and cartographer of Mammoth Cave. A trusted guide, indeed the master of an underground world, his skill meant he was relied upon completely by educated, wealthy, powerful, white men and women who visited the Cave in its early years as a tourist attraction, yet Bishop was always aware of his station as property of another. The imagined voice McCombs summons in these beautiful, quietly musical, unrhymed sonnets allows us to appreciate the man as more than what was recognized in his own time. Here he is philosopher and naturalist, observer, entertainer, lover…a complete human denied that recognition of his humanity during his lifetime, his voice unheard by the world that benefited from his talents. The credit for his exploits and his fame was co-opted by his master, the Doctor.

Click here to read more about Stephen Bishop.

In the second and third cycle, McCombs pivots to verse inspired by his own life, including his own time spent as a ranger at Mammoth Cave. No less lyrical, these poems are deeply rooted in the importance of place. The natural beauty of the Commonwealth pours from the pages and invites city-dwellers, confined by routine, a pandemic, and winter storms to plan our own small explorations.

Here’s a taste:

Stephen Bishop’s Grave

“It took four summers here for me to realize

the cave looped back under the Old Guide

Cemetery, that what was mortal floated

in a crust of brittle sandstone or leaked

into the darkest rivers and was caving still.

I went that drizzling night to stand

where the paper-trail he left had vanished:

woodsmoke, mist, a mossed-over name.

I knew enough by then to know that he,

of all people, would prefer the company of rain

to my own, but I went anyway, thinking

of my pale inventions, and stood a long time,

vigilant for his shadow in my own,

his voice as it differed from the wind.”

– Review by Scott, Main Library

Horsepower: Poems by Joy Priest

"Horsepower" is in large white block lettering stretching the width of the cover, with "Joy Priest" right aligned in much smaller mustard yellow text above it. The background picture is of a steering wheel covered with moss, the black Volvo dashboard in the background with a tree limb coming through where the windshield should be. There are wet brown leaves on the driver's seat at the very bottom of the frame.
Horsepower: Poems
Joy Priest University of Pittsburgh Press (Sept 2020)
68 pages
Link to Horsepower in LFPL’s collection

The poems in Joy Priest’s Horsepower speak powerfully of a Black girl’s experiences growing up in the South End of Louisville. The personal struggle with racism in a family gives way to the wider struggle of racism in society as the three movements of the collection reflect the growth of a racehorse from timid foal to wild filly throwing off her harness. Priest’s study of Louisville captures the push and pull that makes this city so hard to define — horse racing in an urban setting, southern traditions that range from harsh segregation and the KKK to the joys of cruising and muscle cars. This collection of poems is a must-read for any white Louisvillian working through their racism. Priest is uniquely suited for this examination as a Louisville-native herself, as it’s easy for any local reader to picture the old landmarks and streets mentioned, dripping with atmosphere unique to this Weird Louisville (TM).

While this might be her first published collection of poems, I have eagerly been following her work in Best New Poets and other places one wouldn’t expect poets to be published (like her piece for ESPN on “The Athleticism of Beyoncé” ) since 2014. While Priest writes more than poetry in verse, she has a strong poetic voice and sense of atmosphere that can be seen in many of her works, including “Denial is a Cliff We Are Driven Off Of”. Everything she writes is beautiful, something that inspires the reader to connect more directly with both the subject as well as the poet’s past and selfhood. The poems that are included in Priest’s Horsepower collection are no exception.

View Joy Priest’s full list of published works on her website, here

– Review by Valerie, Newburg Branch

National Poetry Month is here!

“National Poetry Month in April is a special occasion to celebrate the importance of poets and poetry in our culture. In this time of uncertainty and great concern, we can rely on poems to offer wisdom, uplifting ideas, and language that prompts reflection that can help us slow down and center mentally, emotionally, spiritually.” – Poets.org, The Academy of American Poets

Poetry has always brought a sense of calm to me regardless of the state of the world, so I hope our patrons find comfort in this poem by Joyce Kilmer. Visit poets.org to learn more about the National Poetry Month celebration and to read more wonderful verse from our nation’s poets.

Trees

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

Carousel Books – Part I

In my reading life, there is a selection of choice books that I refer to as my carousel reads.  These are books that I read time and again, with the common thread among them being the wisdom, inspiration, and uplift I believe they have brought to my life.

The other day, and for reasons still unknown to me, my copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, which I inherited from my paternal grandmother, called to me from among the scores of other books surrounding it in the bookcase where it rested, saying, “It is time.”  Since I am one who is rarely contrary to talking books, I removed it from its repose and began to read.

But first, a few words about Mr. Gibran. Born in 1883 in Lebanon, Mr. Gibran demonstrated early in his life an innate talent with the arts, which was of such magnitude that he lived the vast majority of his life as an expatriate successfully working as both an artist and writer, the products of which brought him worldwide celebrity.  In fact, an article from the January 7, 2008 issue of The New Yorker said of Mr. Gibran:

“Shakespeare, we are told, is the best-selling poet of all time. Second is Lao-tzu. Third is Kahlil Gibran…” 

Wow.  I would say this statement provides a definite perspective.

As to The Prophet, first published in 1923, it is a brilliant meditation upon life and the conditions in which we humans find ourselves, conditions  not rooted in a particular religious philosophy or nationality; in other words, it is universal.  Ruminating on such subjects as love, work, friendship, and beauty, the reader is provided a lens through which life is examined with a unique perspective, and it is this perspective that I find refreshing and is the reason for my return to its pages.

During this most recent reading, one passage immediately drew my attention:

“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.  Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love.”

And further, as example:

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

With countless other profound phrases and erudition, I imagine that The Prophet would make for a strong candidate for the select lists of carousel books of others; thus, joining in a perpetual celebration of the human condition that this lovely book provides.

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Formats Available:

  • Regular Type
  • Large Type
  • eBook
  • Audiobook on CD
  • Downloadable Audiobook
  • DVD

Where Fiction May Lead

parchementoleavesI recently had the opportunity to facilitate a group discussion of A Parchment of Leaves by the great Kentucky author, Silas House. While I enjoyed the book tremendously, there was another aspect of this novel that I came across during my research in preparation for the book discussion that I found equally wonderful: the poetry of Kentuckian James Still.

You see, it is a poem by Mr. Still from which Mr. House derives the title of this book. The poem, entitled I Was Born Humble, is a truly awe-inspiring contemplation, in my mind, of life in general, life not necessarily rooted in the place of Kentucky.

The following is the full text:

I was born humble. At the foot of mountains
My face was set upon the immensity of earth
And stone; and upon oaks full-bodied and old.
There is so much writ upon the parchment of leaves,
So much of beauty blown upon the winds,
I can but fold my hands and sink my knees
In the leaf-pages. Under the mute trees
I have cried with this scattering of knowledge,
Beneath the flight of birds shaken with this waste
Of wings.
I was born humble. My heart grieves
Beneath this wealth of wisdom perished with the leaves.

My reaction is the same each and every time I read or recite these lines: an overwhelming sense of both joy and sorrow. But isn’t life, after all, both joy and sorrow?

It is here that I must admit that I oftentimes find poetry somewhat inaccessible. While I admire and am familiar with the household names in this genre, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost, it is when I branch out to lesser-known poets that I find myself a bit befuddled.

This, I hope and believe, will no longer be the case, as I find a renewed interest in such structured musings and now possess the resolve to venture further. Hitherto, I have always turned to fiction to better understand history, tragedy and triumph, the human condition, etc., but it seems to me now that there is an additional literary vehicle available to me by which I can come to a better understanding of the world. They say that a thing is better late than never, an expression that I take solace in on this new, and somewhat belated, journey into the realm of that most objective of aesthetic art – poetry.

Two collections of Mr. Still’s poems that I would recommend, in addition to A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House, are:

Formats Available:  Book (Regular and Large Type), Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

darksparklerDark Sparkler is a stunning look into the dark and alluring world of Hollywood and the toll it claims. It is a haunting glimpse into how Hollywood and the world fixate on actresses/women/icons; then discards them.

Just to warn you it’s a book of poems all inspired by dead actresses. You know, thought I’d throw some light reading at you for the New Year.  🙂   But if you enjoy poetry and/or unsettling, provocative prose like I do give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Tamblyn’s poetry is exquisite and the short glimpse of each of these women was an intense and emotional experience. Tamblyn explores over 25 different Hollywood actresses with poetic sway and truth. It’s enough to knock the wind out of you.  Some pages are a punch to the gut. Check out Lindsay Lohan, Taruni Sachdev and Sharon Tate to name a few (I know, Lohan isn’t dead. Take a look at her “poem” though).

Some of the names I had heard of and others I had to look up. Each one is equally fascinating and evocative. Tamblyn, (an actress herself) often inserts herself into the narrative, particularly in the epilogue, which is superb in itself. Possibly facing her own demons? Regardless, Tamblyn is a legit poet that I highly recommend checking out.

Formats Available: Book

Review by Heather, St. Matthews