This Poetry Post Is Amateur at Most

I don’t know a lot about poetry and I haven’t read that much of it since college, but I’m about to write a blog post about…poetry. (Instead of my usual focus on novels.)

It was the idea of Kat Lib, one of the regular commenters here, and I decided to go with her suggestion and hope that readers more “versed” in poetry will help me out in the comments section.  🙂

Heck, songwriter Bob Dylan, who some consider a poet, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. And various other musical greats — Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Phil Ochs, Rush drummer Neil Peart, and Renaissance lyricist (but not band member) Betty Thatcher, to name a few — wrote words that could stand alone, or almost stand alone, from the melodies with which they were coupled. So poetry, if some lyrics in popular music can be called that, is still kind of mainstream in a way.

As an English major in college, I read (or, in some cases, was forced to read!) tons of poetry. I liked Chaucer and Shakespeare; Milton and Alexander Pope not so much. Since then, the little poetry I’ve consumed has often been part of novels — including A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Lewis Carroll’s Alice sequel Through the Looking-Glass (“Jabberwocky”!), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scott was a renowned poet (“oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive”) before turning to novel writing. Interestingly, one of the reasons Scott wrote his books anonymously was because poetry was considered more prestigious than novels in the early 19th century.

On the flip side, Thomas Hardy was a renowned novelist before turning to poetry during the second half of his writing career. Also, the writing that Herman Melville did after lapsing into obscurity during the last half of his life was mostly poetry (with the posthumously published novella Billy Budd an exception).

To revisit Possession for a minute, the fictional poets Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash in Byatt’s book were inspired by real-life poets Christina Rossetti and Robert Browning or Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Anyway, some of the poets I like most — whether read in college or when I very occasionally perused verse in the years since then — include Walt Whitman (“Song of Myself,” “I Hear America Singing,” “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” “O Captain! My Captain,” etc.), Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven,” “To Helen,” “The Bells,” etc.), Robert Frost (“The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” etc.), Gwendolyn Brooks (“Paul Robeson,” etc.), Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”), Margaret Atwood (though I’m more a reader of her novels), the BrontĂ« sisters (ditto on the novel thing), Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, W.B. Yeats, John Donne, William Blake, Rabindranath Tagore, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca, Dorothy Parker, Shel Silverstein, and so on.

I realize I named some rather obvious poets and poems there! I just haven’t followed poetry enough to be aware of many lesser-known greats — though I do see some darn good poetry on a number of other WordPress blogs.

Who and what are some of your favorite poets and poems? Anything else to say about the poetry genre?

And for your poetic and musical enjoyment, here’s a vintage clip from the aforementioned band Renaissance.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Novelists and Other Nobel-Nabbing Names

Like those who comment under this blog, I take pride in having read many fiction writers. But, for me, a look at the list of “Nobel Prize in Literature” recipients punctures that pride a bit.

That major honor was first offered in 1901, and since then 112 people have won it. But I’ve read only 31 of those writers — in some cases, only a small sample of their work.

Those 31: Rudyard Kipling (1907 winner), Rabindranath Tagore (1913), Anatole France (1921), William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O’Neill (1936), Pearl S. Buck (1938), Herman Hesse (1946), T.S. Eliot (1948), William Faulkner (1949), Par Lagerkvist (1951), Ernest Hemingway (1954), Albert Camus (1957), Boris Pasternak (1958), John Steinbeck (1962), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970), Pablo Neruda (1971), Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982), William Golding (1983), Wole Soyinka (1986), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Toni Morrison (1993), V.S. Naipaul (2001), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Doris Lessing (2007), J.M.G. Le Clezio (2008), Mario Vargas Llosa (2010), and Alice Munro (2013).

(Kipling, 42, was the youngest of the 112 winners and Lessing, 88, the oldest — with 64 the average age.)

Why haven’t I read more Nobel recipients? Well, there are many great non-Nobel authors to enjoy. 🙂 Also, I’m drawn to many works by female authors, and women have unfortunately won the prize only 14 times. Then there’s the matter of some authors being little known in the U.S. (or even their own countries) until winning the prize; some not having English translations of their work before (and in certain cases even after) receiving the Nobel; some having a reputation for not being easy to read; and some hailing from countries with which I might feel I don’t have enough cultural knowledge to fully appreciate their writing. I like to read sometimes-challenging authors from a fairly wide range of countries, but I could do better.

Since 1901, the most Nobel recipients have come from France (15), followed by the United States and United Kingdom (10 apiece), Germany and Sweden (8 apiece), Italy and Spain (6 apiece), etc. Among the many other countries represented in the winners’ circle have been Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saint Lucia, and Turkey.

The Nobel has certainly spurred me to read some writers for the first time — including J.M.G. Le Clezio and Alice Munro. Other writers I’ve read with little or no thought of them having been Nobel recipients (Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and others).

Here’s a link to the list of Nobel literature recipients. How many have you read? Who are your favorites? Any other thoughts on the prize and the authors who’ve won it?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.