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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jennifer Yaros: "Nature and the Self: Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver"

In the recently released Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue (Volume X, Number 1) of Valparaiso Poetry Review, Jennifer Yaros examines how prominent women poets in American literature have approached the topic of nature. Yaros—particularly through her exploration of poetry by Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Mary Oliver—discusses developments and discoveries readers have found in the works of these impressive women writers. Indeed, this essay included in the new issue of VPR offers observations and conclusions like the following:

Dickinson, Bishop, Plath and Oliver represent American women poets in a comprehensive and reflective way. Dickinson begins the tradition of how females utilize nature in their poetry. Her uncompromising perspective propelled her into a world that persistently questioned the presences filling nature. Her pursuit of answers might not have led to a full understanding of life, but her persistent process did embody fulfillment through her ability to participate in the quest. Bishop’s approach toward nature also questioned the physical and mystical attributes of the natural world, and her inquiries included treating herself as an outsider. While her technique earns her the praise of fellow poets, Bishop’s poetic personas are stronger than her own in real life. Her ability to create a landscape populated with unnatural or unreachable entities demonstrates the poet’s own feelings of being disconnected. Similar to Bishop, Plath treats nature as possessing something she wants but can’t have. Again and again, Plath’s speakers migrate through her scenery, enjoy being close to nature but ultimately feel rejected because of physical life. Plath separates the self and nature as a way to parallel the life and death choice she herself faced. Finally, Oliver is most similar to Dickinson in her reverence for the environment; however, in the poems presented, Oliver’s speakers don’t follow such a strong path of investigation or treat death as a satisfying end because of answers. In fact, the personas in Oliver’s poems are able to enjoy nature for the beauty it offers, even though it does leave much unanswered. Also, while her lines of demarcation aren’t as sharp as Bishop’s and Plath’s, she does recognize the ultimate union via death. She is the only poet in this group still living, and her poems continue a timeless tradition.

* * * * *

Nature and the Self: Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver

The importance of the natural world can be traced through time within the context of many disciplines, including science, religion, and literature, to name a few. Not only do humans rely on nature for survival, but many have learned to depend on nature for inspiration. During the early nineteenth century, American literature, under the influence of Romanticism, depicted nature as a source of “knowledge,” “refuge,” and “revelation” (Reuben). Works by male authors of the era—such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman—became instrumental in shaping contemporary and future writers’ ideas about nature. Specifically, American women poets of the nineteenth century and beyond have used nature to orient the poet’s place in the world by seeking the wisdom and escape that the natural world offers. Major female poets—Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Mary Oliver—all use nature as subject matter in a variety of ways, and a common link between these poets is their use of nature as metaphor in relation to the self.

Similarities exist in how each poet develops message and content. For instance, word choice, symbols, and images provide several examples of how a reader can link these authors, with some associations stronger than others. However, a reader can reference each poet’s biographical information in an effort to unravel particular styles and stances. Whether or not the authors intended for their personal lives to line the poems like shelf paper, connections between the personal and poetic undeniably exist. Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver share a common treatment of nature as metaphor that parallels biographical details about their lives. In addition, each poet portrays a distinctive desire to merge fully with nature in a way impossible to achieve while physically alive. A close reading of selected poems will result in a progressive portrayal of the American female poetic mind grappling with issues of spirituality, a sense of place, and identity as explored through nature.

Emily Dickinson: 1830-1886

Emily Dickinson led a unique life, held unconventional viewpoints, and spent the bulk of her later years devoted to writing poetry. She received an education from both Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where her ideas about religion and society molded into those much different from the norms of her community. This nineteenth-century poet wrote much of her work under the unusual circumstances of seclusion, and Dickinson did not aspire to publish, even though she wrote over 2,000 poems and communicated with a select few about her work. She wrote in an experimental, original style, and her content complemented the form. Her poetic power lay in her ability to use an everyday backdrop to present complex ideas in sharp-edged, compact stanzas often following a rhyme scheme.

Dickinson continually questioned and searched for meaning, and her poems can leave a reader with many unanswered questions. Throughout her poetry, she isn’t afraid to approach the world with honesty: “Despite Dickinson’s fanciful image and allegories, her poems insist on their own kind of uncompromising realism. They speak of the universal human effort to imagine experience in reassuring terms, but they do not suggest that reality offers much in the way of assurance…” (“Emily” 1042). While the poetic legend didn’t shy away from exposing nature’s unforgiving, unsentimental qualities, she also felt free to approach the subject with perpetual awe, trying to breach the boundary between human life and eternal knowledge. In a number of poems, she uses nature as metaphor for something separate from the self, ultimately exposing an illusive and invisible borderline. The qualities of the natural world she identifies and interprets are represented in varying tones through interesting symbols and word choice. She mirrors the ambiguity of nature in her own writing by leaving much unsaid and unexplained to the reader. She uses the uncertainty to her advantage in her sustained search for nature’s many revelations . . ..

[Visitors are invited to read the rest of the essay by Jennifer Yaros, as well as other works, in the new Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.]

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