Friday, February 20, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 40 (Gwendolyn Brooks)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brooks, Gwendolyn

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Strangely, I remember a fair amount about the purchase of this book. Ben Friedlander, I am pretty sure, turned me on to Brooks' poetry, with its wildly inventive rhythmical structures, rhyme schemes and measures. I had been meaning to buy some of her work for a while, but had not done so, when I happened to be at the bookstore, having a conversation with Jonathon Welch, owner, a not uncommon thing for me to be doing of an afternoon. I looked behind him and saw this book on a shelf. It's kind of an odd book. The blue cover stock feels more like something you'd find wrapping a Gideon's bible than a book of poetry. I think Jonathon told me that Brooks and her husband had published it themselves after having gained the copyrights to much of her prior work. It's not the finest print job I've ever seen -- the spine feels somewhat loose and much of the ink seems to be disappearing from the pages. But no mind -- the poetry is spectacular. If you have any love at all (and I know you do!) of meter and rhyme, you'll love her work. Despite her consistent use of supposedly worn our forms like the ballad and the sonnet these poem surprise me every time I read them.

Here's one I love from the collection Annie Allen:

the sonnet-ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover's tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won't be coming back here anymore.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."
Oh, mother, mother, where is happiness,

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