Books to Read
closed book “The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.”
— Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), The Hero as a Man of Letters
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Poetry Books: listen to them for insight & inspiration...
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Stephen Mitchell Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translated by Stephen Mitchell (1987), Random House, ISBN: 0394741048— Rilke's Letters to a Young Poetare probably the most famous and beloved letters of the 20th century. Written when the poet was himself still a young man with most of his greatest work before him, they were addressed to a student who had sent Rilke some of his work, asking for advice about becoming a writer. The two never met, but over a period of years (1903-1908) Rilke wrote him these ten letters, which have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of readers for what Stephen Mitchell, the translator of this book, calls the “vibrant and deeply felt experience of life” that informs them. The Milwaukee Journal wrote: “Rilke's letters have become classic statements of the creative process and spiritual development... They help us to know ourselves.” Avg. Review (11): 5 stars
Here is another translation of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
M. D. Herter Norton (tr.), Letters to a Young Poet(Reissue edition, 1994), Norton & Co., ISBN: 0393310396
Rainer Maria Rilke, Essential Rilke, Translated by Galway Kinnell & Hannah Liebmann Rainer Maria Rilke, The Essential Rilke, Translated by Galway Kinnell & Hannah Liebmann (1999), Ecco Press, ISBN: 0880016760— From the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell and co-translator Hannah Liebmann comes The Essential Rilke, with newly translated selections of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and an informative introduction. This collection also features all of the poems in their original German on facing pages. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) enjoys ever-increasing popularity. Throughout his poetry, Rilke addresses questions of how to live and relate to the world in a voice that is simultaneously prophetic and intensely personal. Kinnell and Liebmann's translations put accuracy first and yet retain the power and grace of poetry. When Rilke had writer's block, the sculptor Rodin suggested a visit to the Paris Zoo. You'll find these “in-seeing” poems of Rilke here— The Panther, The Flamingos, The Swan, as well as The Duino Elegies— all beautifully rendered by Kinnell and Liebmann. Avg. Review (2): 4.5 stars You'll also enjoy these collections of Rilke's poems:
Stephen Mitchell (tr.), Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (1989), Vintage, ISBN: 0679722017
Robert Bly (tr.), Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1981), HarperCollins, ISBN: 0060907274
Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson (1976), Little Brown, ISBN: 0316184136— The only authoritative paperback collection of all of Emily's poetry. Thomas H. Johnson, a longtime Dickinson scholar, arranged the poems in chronological order as far as could be ascertained. The editor has also assembled a reading text of the preferred forms of all 1775 poems, & has included in his introduction an explanation of his selection of texts, plus a helpful outline of Emily Dickinson's career. This volume enables the reader to see as a whole the work of this remarkable poetic genius, the complexity of her personality, the fluctuation of her moods, and the development of her style. The 784-page book has an index of first lines & a subject index which is helpful to locate themes in Dickinson's poems. Avg. Review (9): 4.5 stars
Richard Benson Sewall, The Life of Emily Dickinson (1994), Harvard Univ Press, ISBN: 0674530802
Thomas H. Johnson (Ed.), Emily Dickinson : Selected Letters (1985), Belknap, ISBN: 0674250702
Ellen Louise Hart & Martha Nell Smith,<BR> 
Open Me Carefully:<BR> Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters<BR> to Susan Huntington Dickinson Ellen Louise Hart & Martha Nell Smith (Editors), Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson (1998), Paris Press, ISBN: 0963818368
For the first time, selections from Emily Dickinson's 36-year correspondence to her neighbor and sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, are compiled in a single volume. Open Me Carefully invites a dramatic new understanding of Emily's life and work, overcoming a century's of censorship and misinterpretation. This remarkable correspondence brings to light Susan Huntington Dickinson as the central source of the poet's passion and inspiration, and as her primary reader and literary companion. Gone is Emily as lonely spinster recluse of Amherst. Here is Dickinson in her own words, passionate and fully alive. The romantic and erotically charged writings with faithful reproductions of the original letters will surprise many readers. I love especially Poem 102: “Sweet Sue, There is no first, or last, in Forever— It is Centre, there, all the time—” and Poem 219: “That Susan lives— is a Universe which neither going nor coming could displace—” hinting of Emily's insight of space-time and experience of cosmic consciousness. Avg. Review (2): 5 stars
Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry Sue Ellen Thompson (Ed.), Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2005), Autumn House Press, ISBN: 19322870067The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry is an exciting collection of work from more than ninety of the best poets writing today including Phillip Levine, Rita Dove, Stephen Dunn, Jean Valentine, Gerald Stern, Maxine Kumin, Tony Hoagland, Denise Duhamel, Nick Flynn, Jo McDougall, Tim Seibles and many others. The volume includes a full-page photograph and short biography of each poet. At the 31st Foothill Writers' Conference (2007), poet Andrea Hollander Budy recommended this book to students in her workshops. She has taught poetry writing for many years and says "There's not a weak poem in the entire collection in this book. Based on her inspiring seminars and poetry exercises which have helped many writers, this book is strongly recommended for aspiring poets. 5 stars
Sharon Olds, The Gold Cell Sharon Olds, The Gold Cell (1987), Knopf, ISBN: 0394747704— Sharon Olds' poems are finely crafted like elegant Ming porcelain— beautiful, delicate, and sensual. Yet her images and metaphors could scorch like the fiery breath of a dragon. This is what makes her poems so endearing and memorable. David Leavitt writes in The Village Voice: “Her best work exhibits a lyrical acuity which is both purifying and redemptive. She sees description as a means to catharsis, and the result is impossible to forget... Sharon Olds is enormously self-aware; her poetry is remarkable for its candor, its eroticism, and its power to move.” Some of my favorite poems in this book are “Little Things”, “Topography”, and “The Blue Dress.” Avg. Review (1): 5 stars
Other Sharon Olds' books I recommend heartily:
Sharon Olds, The Wellspring (1996), Knopf, ISBN: 0679765603 Avg. Review (5): 3 stars
Sharon Olds, The Father (1992), Knopf, ISBN: 0679740023 Avg. Review (3): 4 stars
Sharon Olds, The Dead and the Living (1985), Knopf, ISBN: 0394715632 Avg. Review (6): 4.5 stars
Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems (1993), Beacon Press, ISBN: 0807068195— Mary Oliver received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 for American Primitive, and her poems continue to delight a wide and ever-growing audience. Now, in New and Selected Poems, Oliver makes a representative collection of her work over the past 27 years available for the first time. This volume includes 30 new poems as well as selections from her eight previously published books. Mary Oliver's perceptive, brilliantly crafted poems about the natural landscape and the fundamental questions of life and death have won high praise from critics and readers alike. “Do you love this world?” she interrupts a poem about peonies to ask the reader.“Do you cherish your humble and silky life?” Oliver's passionate demonstrations of perceptual delight are powerful reminders of the bond between every individual and the natural world. My favorite poem in this collection is “Some Questions You Might Ask” Avg. Review (10): 5 stars
Other Mary Oliver's books you'll enjoy reading:
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (1995), Harcourt Brace, ISBN: 0156724006 Avg. Review (4): 5 stars
Mary Oliver, House of Light (1992), Beacon Press, ISBN: 080706811X Avg. Review (4): 5 stars
Mary Oliver, Dream Work (1986), Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN: 0871130696 Avg. Review (3): 5 stars
Helminski, Rumi Collection Kabir Helminski (Editor), The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1999), Shambhala Publications, ISBN: 157062531X— A Sufi poet and mystic of 13th-century Persia, Rumi (1207-1273) is one of the literary and spiritual greats of all time. This anthology comprises the work of nine translators, so we may hear the voices of Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Nevit Ergin, Andrew Harvey, William Hastie, Kabir & Camille Helminski, Daniel Liebert, John Moyne, and Peter Lamborn Wilson— and gain a better sense of Rumi's voice behind them all. In recent decades, Rumi's poems have been read perhaps more than any other poet in North America. He speaks to us because we recognize Rumi as a cosmic human being, calling us to tap into the infinite and eternal. In Rumi, the divine and human realms intermingle— our spiritual dimension and our human nature find joy in being united. Rumi is the clearest, most powerful voice of divine, ecstatic love— that God could be the Beloved of humans and vice versa. There are so many gems in this book that you will experience countless ephiphanies. Make Rumi your mentor. Listen to his Mathnawi I.91: “Discipline enabled Heaven to be filled with light; / discipline enabled the angels to be immaculate and holy.” Now practice, practice, practice with delight. 5 stars
Edward Hirsch, How to Read a Poem Edward Hirsch, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), Harcourt Brace, ISBN: 0151004196— “Read a poem to yourself in the middle of the night. Turn on a single lamp and read it while you're alone in an otherwise dark room or while someone sleeps next to you. Say it over to yourself in a place where silence reigns and the constant buzzing noise that surrounds you— has momentarily stopped. This poem has come from a great distance to find you.” So begins this astonishing book by the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poet and critic. In an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling, Hirsch writes about what poetry is, why it matters, and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can reach us and make a difference. For Hirsch, poetry is not just a part of life, it is life, and expresses like no other art our most sublime emotions. In a marvelous reading of world poetry, including verse by Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, and Charles Baudelaire, Hirsch discovers the meaning of their words and ideas and brings their sublime message home into our hearts. I enjoyed especially Hirsch's critique of one of my favorite poems— Anthony Hecht's “A Hill” that lifts the reader's mind to places of wonder. This is an extraordinary guide to the magic and meaning of poetry by a master poet that will endear readers who long to place poetry in their lives. Avg. Review (5): 4 stars
William Harmon, The Top 500 Poems William Harmon (Editor), The Top 500 Poems (1992), Columbia University Press, ISBN: 023108028X— Here are the 500 English-language poems that have appealed most often to 400 contemporary editors, critics, and poets for inclusion in their own widely disparate anthologies, which were indexed in the 9th Edition of The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry. These are the poems in English of the last 700 years that have risen to the top of the “Poetry Chart” arranged in chronological order from Chaucer to Plath. Harmon introduces each poet with a brief biographical sketch, and with pithy, insightful comments situates each poem in its proper context. You could read the poems chronologically, or by popularity (An Appendix lists them in the order they were most often anthologized), or simply at random— the 1132 pages lay flat! This is a wonderful anthology, beautifully bound with wide margins and clean layout— a good reference book for poetry lovers. Avg. Review (2): 4.5 stars See the Top 100 Poems from this anthology.
Philip Smith, 100 Best-Loved Poems Philip Smith (Editor), 100 Best-Loved Poems (1995), Dover Publications, ISBN: 0486285537— For a penny a poem, Dover Publications is serving a sumptuous buffet of 100 best-loved poems. From Arnold's Dover Beach to Yeats' When You Are Old, you'll find your favorites here. Some of mine are Blake's Tyger, Burn's A Red, Red Rose, Byron's She Walks in Beauty, Dickinson's This Is My Letter To the World, Frost's The Road Not Taken, Hopkin's Windhover, Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn, Kipling's If, Longfellow's The Village Blacksmith, Poe's Annabel Lee, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, Shelley's To a Skylark, Williams' The Red Wheelbarrow, Wordsworth's Daffodils, and Yeats' Lake Isle of Innisfree. For the complete list of 100 best-loved poems, click the book's cover to our link where you can buy this book for the bargain price of $1! Avg. Review (5): 5 stars
Willis Barnstone, To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light Willis Barnstone, To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light (1999), New Directions; ISBN: 081121396X— This book contains Barnstone's translations of ten mystical and spiritual poets' visionary and ecstatic works: The Biblical Song of Songs, Aphrodite Poems of Sappho, Cosmic Fragments of Herakleitos, Saying Poems of Yeshua the Messiah, Apocalypse by John of Patmos, Taoist-Buddhist Poems of Wang Wei, Bestiary of Bishop Theobaldus, Mystical Poems of Mirabai, Mystical Poems of St. John of the Cross, and Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. The poetry spans 3000 years and contains some of the most profound and inspiring literary writings ranging from fantastic realism to mystical-erotic. As Barnstone says: “There is a moment of vision, otherness, apparent timelessness, erotic sublimity, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, for which there is no easy verbal equivalent except in the metaphors of poetry. These experiences are called ‘ineffable’ and relegated to oblivion, but in the instance of our authors, the unsayable has been refashioned into the precision of poetry.” The book's title is from Sappho's poem: “I could not hope / to touch the sky / with my two arms.” 5 stars
Bill Moyers, Fooling With Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft Bill D. Moyers (Editor), Fooling With Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft (1999), William Morrow & Co, ISBN: 0688173462Fooling with Words is an intimate and inspirational celebration of the power and pleasure of poetry. Bill Moyers brings to life for the reader one of the most vibrant cultural events in the country— the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the "Woodstock of poetry." Every two years established and emerging poets gather in Waterloo, New Jersey, to share their craft with poetry fans from all over the country. This "demonstration of the democratic spirit," says the dean of American poets, Stanley Kunitz, "is one of the most important revolutions in the whole history of modern poetry in this country. Bill Moyers has covered that revolution for a decade in a series of public television specials. In the fall of 1998 he returned to the Dodge Festival to record the performances of the poets and, in interviews with them, a dazzling array of sounds insights images, metaphors and emotions. His conversations with the poets take us behind the performance to explore the sources of creativity and imagination. Stanley Kunitz, now 95 years old, quietly captivates with his poems "Halley's Comet" and "Touch Me." Coleman Barks not only reads from his translations of Rumi but also shares the poems that he wrote in tribute to his "most beautiful granddaughter." Mark Doty talks with Moyers about "poetry's great power to preserve, its ability to take a moment in time and hold it forever." Jane Hirshfield talks about the influence on her poetry of the eight years she studied Zen, how it taught her to pay attention. Avg. Review (1): 5 stars
Adrienne Rich, Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 Adrienne Rich, Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 (1999), Norton, ISBN: 0393319849— “Look: with all my fear I'm here with you, trying what it means, to stand fast; what it means to move.” In these astonishing new poems, Adrienne Rich dares to look and to extend her poetic language as witness to the treasures—the midnight salvage— we rescue from fear and fragmentation. Rich's work has long challenged social plausibilities built on violence and demoralizing power. In Midnight Salvage, she continues her explorations at the end of the century, trying, as she has said, “to face the terrible with hope, in language as complex as necessary, as communicative as possible— a poetics which can work as antidote to complacency, self-involvement, and despair. I have wanted to assume a theater of voices rather than the restricted I. To write for both readers I know exist and those I can only imagine, finding their own salvaged beauty as I have found mine.” This is a major new work by one of the essential voices of our time. Avg. Review (2): 4 stars
Denise Levertov, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems Denise Levertov, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems (1999), New Directions, ISBN: 0811214036— When Denise Levertov died on December 20, 1997, she left behind 40 finished poems, which now form her last collection, This Great Unknowing. Few poets have possessed so great a gift or so great a body of work— when she died at 74, she had been a published poet for more than half a century. Although the poems in this book have not been organized with the incredible care Denise Levertov exerted on the more than twenty collections she published with New Directions in her lifetime, the poems themselves shine with the artistry of a writer at the height of her powers. “She will be sorely missed,” as Robert Hass remarked in The Washington Post, remembering walking once into a classroom where she had been teaching and seeing “scrawled across the blackboard in her hand these words: 'Accuracy is always the gateway to mystery.'” The book's title is from her poem “Translucence” where she perceived holy faces in everyday life: “I perceived that in such faces, through / the translucence we see, the light we intuit / is of the already resurrected, each / a Lazarus... / They know of themselves nothing different / from anyone else. This great unknowing / is part of their holiness. They are always trying / to share out joy as if it were cake or water, / something ordinary, not rare at all.” Beautiful. Spoken like an angel. 5 stars
Stephen Dobyns, Best Words, Best Order Stephen Dobyns, Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (2nd Ed., 2003), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 1403961476— In this collection of essays about poetry, Stephen Dobyns celebrates Coleridge's dictum that poetry is the best words in the best order. Dobyns's probing examinations of the elements of poetry— metaphor, pacing, tone— and his study of the evolution of free verse are intended for serious students of poetry. Dobyns, the author of 15 volumes of poetry (and 21 novels), believes, like Baudelaire, that "each poem ... has an optimum number of words [and] an optimum number of pieces of information ... and to go over or under even by one word weakens the whole." Poetry, he says, belongs to the reader, not the writer, and as readers, "at the close of the poem, we must not only feel that our expectations have been met but that our lives have been increased, if only to a small degree." And, if that's not challenge enough for the writer, add to it "that the conclusion of a given piece must appear both inevitable and surprising." The final third of the book comprises chapters on four writers, each of whom represents to Dobyns an ideal in poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, who Dobyns says worked harder than any other poet to develop and change his work; Osip Mandelstam, an exemplar of moral centeredness; Anton Chekhov, for his sense of personal freedom; and Yannis Ritsos, for his "sense of the mystery that surrounds us." 4.5 stars

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