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Poetry AnthologiesThe weekly photo challenge topic is illumination, but this post isn’t about the photos; it’s about illumination of the mind.

I recently borrowed Harold Bloom’s poetry anthology from my town’s library because someone in a poetry group recommended it. It has been a while since I have been in school, so this was a challenge for me. I love and write poetry, but nowadays I read modern American poets (most of whom are still living). The wonder and beauty of anthologies, of course, is that they expose the reader to a variety of poets and poetic styles, allowing him or her to compare them and choose new favorites — hopefully sending them off on a journey of discovery and learning. In this case, it actually sent me back to my own bookcase!

bookcaseMy office bookcase is chaos and a catch-all. It is also full of what I consider my “necessary” books: anthologies from when I was a student of literature. For the most part, I never read them straight through; I extracted different pieces for papers. Their purpose was to get a broad spectrum view of a time period or some other random criteria (women poets, American poets, etc.). As I read, “Till I End My Song,” I discovered different poems from familiar poets and poems from poets I had never read before. It also contained works by poets whose names sounded familiar to me, but just in a peripheral way; I had never sought out their work. I found a new-for-me (but dead) poet whose work I wanted to read more of: Stevie Smith.

One of her most famous poems is “Not Waving but Drowning”:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

and not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

and now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

and not waving but drowning.

My interest was more immediate than an Internet or Library search: I went straight to my bookcase and …VOILA! Several of my anthologies contained poems by her. This was step one: after reading those I could decide if I wanted to turn to my library for a deeper look (the answer was “Yes,” BTW). I love being able to do that.

As an editor and reader I have always been in love with books. The day is yet to come when I will turn to a Kindle or a Nook, but I have changed my book buying and retention habits in recent years. I no longer keep novels unless they are first edition or signed, or I absolutely love the book. (Wuthering Heights will always have a place on my bookshelf!) I consider poetry books or short story anthologies necessary books; they can always be revisited at different times and bring different illuminations to a hungry mind.



et cetera
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