Buying Poetry

The last poetry-related journal entry I posted was about getting rid of a collection of books, and coming to terms with the ramifications of that now, decades later. One of the points was that I find myself here today, a poet with few books of poetry at hand. If you want to know a bit more about how I ended up with no books, go back and read this entry. Moving forward, I thought I’d chronicle my efforts at rebuilding a poetry collection as I go. Here’s the first entry, written after one afternoon of visiting two in-person, brick-and-mortar, bookstores. I think I’m going to let the story wander where it takes me.

My collection had been largely based in Modern, post-war, American poetry, largely the Beats, and some post-Beat, hippie literature I’d collected in San Francisco while working on my MFA thesis. I recognize that I’m a creature of habit, and something of a completist, so I spent a fair bit of effort letting myself not feel the need to replace the collection exactly. Which I wouldn’t be able to anyway. But I did have a few items I knew I wanted right off the bat.

Anthologies. The Voice That is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, edited by Hayden Carruth. It was the first anthology that really spoke to me, largely for Carruth’s introduction, which at about 18 or 19 years old, seemed to speak to me directly as he discussed feeling like he’d been born at the wrong time, too late. Also on my list was a particular Hayden Carruth title, super meaningful to me: From Snow and Rock, From Chaos. (Eagle eyed readers will note the ebook version of my own book of poems, A Long Quiet Word, blatantly steals the simple cover design from the New Directions Carruth paperback.)

But this mass-market paperback anthology, The Voice That is Great Within Us, was high on my list, and I found it at the first of two stops that afternoon. I’ll add, my current library’s poetry section consists of two books: Leaves of Grass, and the Tao te Ching. Also, that I have a gift card to spend, which made the adventure even more fun.

Back to anthologies, though. I didn’t have any other specific anthologies on my list, I mostly wanted wide-ranging coverage. In time period, and every other way. My old collection was not cannon, by any means, but it was pretty male and white. I specifically wanted an Imagists collection of some kind, and at the first stop I found one I’d previously owned, The Imagist Poem: Modern Poetry in Miniature, edited by William Pratt. though this one was a new edition from the old one I had owned prior. This book made me quite happy. 

Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology edited by Paul Hoover was another I’d previously owned, and picked up used at the first stop of the day. It picks up, chronologically where The Voice That is Great Within Us leaves off, in a sense. Beginning with Charles Olson, and quickly running through Beat poets, and beyond. These are poets from my lifetime, some of whom I saw and heard read, or even was fortunate enough to take classes from. Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Robert Creeley. I’d forgotten about this one, and was glad to have found it.

The last anthology I picked up on this first shopping trip was 180 More: extraordinary poems for every day life, selected and edited by former US poet laureate Billy Collins. I’m dedicated to having a few anthologies of popular poems, or accessible poems, using Collins’ way of thinking of accessibility as in entering a building. Poems with a clear beginning. I play enough of the me vs them game with “society”, sometimes I need help remembering what moves people besides me. I find these anthologies helpful for that.

Beyond these, I had certain poets, of course, I wanted to find. I had successes–The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, though I purchased it new, instead if used. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda. Howl, by Ginsberg. I was very happy to find a nice little edition of Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Bashō, translated by Sam Hamill. Bashō was a very important poet to me in my MFA program, so I was super excited to find this, not that I expected difficulty in doing so. And a copy of Selected Poems by Richard Hugo. Selected by the poet from his first three books, this is Seattle’s poet, he’s loved because wrote about people with respect, honestly. I know I can learn from him.

I really wanted to find Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck in some form. As part of a collection, on its own, however. But I couldn’t find it. So I looked around and read poems, and I handled books and I thought about all the things there are to think about when you are fondling and handling books, especially poems which don’t have to be read, from beginning to end, front to back, necessarily. You can treat them like books of art, or photo books and flip and look and flip and look. Looking at the shapes and designs, and imagining new books.

The last thing I’ll add to this story is, knowing I wanted to write something about this experience of starting a new book collection, I thought I’d start by picking one poem from these books, and meditating on it. I decided to find something by Audre Lorde, as she had come to mind recently, and it being a week into Black History Month as I write this. FAIL. Not a poem by her to be found in these books, so obviously my work is far from done here.

Stay tuned for further adventures in book looking and book buying. Next stop, Open Books, a poetry specific bookstore here in town.

Published by pedalpoet

Poet, writer, and songwriter living in Seattle, WA

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