Sunday, January 4, 2009

Two Reviews: Basho and Mary Oliver

Matsuo Bashô

I ran across two reviews today that I thought are of particular interest. The first is by Curtis Dunlap from Blogging Along Tobacco Road of Bashô: the Complete Haiku, edited by Jane Reichhold and featured here in a previous post. Here is the opening of the review:

My haiku journey has been one of cultivating a growing awareness of my surroundings. Through study, trial, and error, I have learned to preserve moments in my life and, occasionally, share them through haiku. I likely would have ignored such opportunities for composing poems had I not studied the works of other poets. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a number of people who have inspired me through their friendship, advice, and poems. Such encounters have always fueled my haiku engine... (the review continues here)

The second review is of A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver and comes from the A Poetic Matter blog. It begins as follows:

I have this fascination with poetry handbooks. I think it started after receiving my rejection letter to the MFA program at Colorado State. Looking back, the portfolio I submitted was atrocious, but I was still heartbroken. I’ve loved writing since the third grade when I wrote a story and totally ripped off the ending of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Why do so many children love the “it was all a dream” ending? Anyways, after getting rejected I didn’t do any creative writing for about 6 months. I don’t know why I took it so personally, but I was defeated. Eventually, I decided to try and figure out what was wrong with my poems– ... (continue reading here)

Both of these reviews manage to balance the personal and the professional, the subjective and objective, in just the right proportions to simultaneously engage and inform the reader. The first book I've read and found Curtis's review brought that experience into sharp focus and added some fine detail to that reading. The second I haven't read but will read now; I didn't imagine that this would be a title for me but the reviewer for A Poetic Matter was able to communicate very well why I it most certainly is.

Ironically, Oliver prefaces her Introduction to A Poetry Handbook with a poem by Bashô, creating one of those finely ringing, synchronous moments that, well, make life worth living:

The temple bell stops-
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
Basho, translated by Robert Bly

And, oh, yeah, there's that Bly guy.

Hmn. Is there an echo in here?



Charles Gramlich said...

Read as much poetry as you can, is very good advice for anyone who wants to write it. I think it holds true for fiction as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. I'm glad you find the book useful!

Greg Schwartz said...

thanks for pointing out those reviews. i've read quite a few poetry & haiku handbooks (not this one yet though), and i'm sure i'll read many many more.

didn't know Bly did any translations of Basho... pretty cool.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, that's the truth ... I read so much of both, I never read non-fiction ...

jej, you are welcome, thank you for the solid review ...

Greg, I was completely brought up short when I saw Bly's name translating Bashô, though I know his done a ton of Scandinavian and Spanish authors.