Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Robert Lowell's Voice

During recent days Critical Mass, the blog for the National Book Critics Circle board of directors, has been examining Robert Lowell and the last collection of his poetry, Day by Day, published just before the poet’s death in 1977. This focus on Lowell begins a promising ongoing series, “In Retrospect,” intended to revisit past works that were National Book Critics Circle award winners and finalists.

The past week’s posts have included an Adam Kirsch essay on Day by Day, a letter from Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop written as he was completing that collection, some valuable links to other sources, a personal reflection by Nicholas Christopher about his experiences as Lowell’s student at Harvard, and Michael Hofmann’s brief response to Day by Day. The handful of posts presents an admirable beginning to this series, and at the same time offers another example of how literary blogs might be more useful for such close and extended considerations of books than would be possible in a newspaper’s book review section.

In fact, as I read the posts mentioned above, I was persuaded to pick up again my copy of Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter. As I reread many of the nearly 1200 pages in this volume, I recalled the range of reactions it received upon its release. Some suggested the weight of this collection finally matched the heft of Lowell’s importance to American poetry in the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which he may have been the nation’s unofficial poet laureate. Others reviewed once more the development and changes so apparent throughout Lowell’s career. Discussions arose over the balance of Lowell’s merits as one of our finest poets and the great influence he exerted on other individual poets, as well as his impact on the direction taken by many American poets at the end of the century, particularly the emphasis on free verse poems concerning personal incidents and intimate relationships.

Although Lowell disliked the label of “confessional poetry,” originally placed upon his work by M.L. Rosenthal as an unflattering characterization, certainly that term has been coupled with many of Lowell’s poems through the decades and has become a point of contention for many conversations on the appropriateness of personal or private revelations as a tactic that could draw the reader more fully into the poet’s actions, as well as his unique observations. A few have questioned the continuing relevance in much of Lowell’s most personal poems since their immediacy seemed to rely upon the circumstances and individuals related within the stanzas. When Lowell’s Collected Poems was published, one colleague even asked me if his work still held importance for today’s poets or was as eagerly read by my students.

Like numerous poets of my generation, I must acknowledge my own debt to Robert Lowell’s poetry. Although I have a bit of difficulty with those poems in which he seemed to abandon his best poetic sense in order to bare raw moments from his private life (causing considerable pain to loved ones and others close to him), when Lowell wrote poetry that balanced his urge to confide intimate details with his artistic imagination and his gift with language, he seemed to illuminate a productive way for poets to venture forward.

In 1999, I spoke of this in an “Inaugural Lecture” at my university, a presentation traditionally delivered to the community upon attaining full academic rank. In an excerpt from that paper (later published as “Writing Poetry: Art, Artifacts, and Articles of Faith”), I commented: “three writers who have greatly influenced my writing of poetry are Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, and Robert Lowell—my literary trinity. The three ‘Bobs’ I like to call them. (My wife insists that if I were complete in my list, I would add Bob Dylan as well.) Though I would be the first to admit the following is a much too general characterization, one might say I have learned the use of nature as metaphor from Robert Frost, the ambitious use of language to express emotion from Robert Penn Warren, and the integration of personal experience with art from Robert Lowell.”

In my writing I further connect the three:

Frost described “the figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” In a more comprehensive description, Frost declares writing of a poem “begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and it ends in a clarification of life—not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

Frost says elsewhere, “we enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.” And isn’t there great truth in this? A twisted walking stick made of a broken branch is just as effective as a straight store-bought cane, but so much more interesting. Likewise, one might suggest readers enjoy the journey to the end of a piece of literature as much as they feel rewarded by the goal eventually achieved at the conclusion of that work of art. I always try to keep this in mind when writing my poems.

Robert Penn Warren, in his important essay on poetry, “Pure and Impure Poetry,” appears to complement Frost’s statement. Warren suggests: “Poetry wants to be pure, but poems do not. At least, most of them do not want to be pure. The poems want to give us poetry, which is pure, and the elements of a poem, in so far as it is a good poem, will work together toward that end, but many of the elements, taken in themselves, may actually seem to contradict that end, or be neutral toward the achieving of that end.”

Throughout his writing, Robert Lowell seems to suggest those contradictions and elements that are “impure,” in the sense that Warren identifies them, exist in poems exactly because the best contemporary poetry reflects life, which is itself an impure process. In his poem “Night Sweat,” Lowell writes: “one life, one writing.” Those elements in poems which reflect experiences or emotions from our lives are what I refer to as “artifacts”—the manmade objects which act as reminders of moments in personal or social history.

Consequently, I have enjoyed the invitation by the writers at Critical Mass to look back once again at Robert Lowell’s poetry, and I recommend readers also take a moment to listen to Robert Lowell’s voice. Wonderful readings by Lowell of his poems, “Skunk Hour” and “Dunbarton,” are available at the Salon page, “Robert Lowell: The Voice of the Poet.”

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