Four Books of Poetry in Review

Her devotion to poetry is one of the greatest things that has happened to literature—this is how much Anne Sexton means to me. Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters is a book of revelation, a book of love. Anne Sexton wrote letters to her husband, her children, her friends, poets, editors, professors, students—hers were tempers shared with almost everyone who encountered her.

Reading Anne Sexton in her letters is so refreshing. It’s the same with reading Sylvia Plath. I wonder why the emphasis on something ‘dark’ in these poets. I mean, deep down I see bright, bright light and love in these poets. There is a balance.

The balance there is a life that is also an art, an endowment. In one of the letters, she admonished a young professor and poet, Philip Legler, to “Write it all down.” “Anything you write now will be gold later so mine it,” she added.

Behind My Eyes is a collection of poems everyone should read. Li-Young Lee does not only leave you with a haunting melody, he also allows you to taste honey.

Memory is major in this book: childhood, effects of immigration, parenthood, devotion to God, etc. The book is Lee opening his private affairs to flower for a reader to not only pry on but to as well connect with.

A poem is a generous offer, and Lee makes many of them. He also tries to render every emotion with humor. For instance, ‘Virtues of the Boring Husband,’ kept me laughing till I couldn’t hold myself. Beautiful, entrancing, the poem makes you want to never be a boring husband.

One of my favorite lines in the book is, “The lake keeps changing its mind” (p. 37).

Not only did the friendship between Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome herald one of the important poets to have ever lived, it examples the potency there is when people get together, when people share their spirits, genius. For over thirty (30) years they exchanged letters: empathy, encouragement, love, inspiration.

In a September 5, 1897 letter to Lou, Rilke wrote: “It is not enough for two people to find each other, it is also very important that they find each other at the right moment and hold deep, quiet festivals in which their desires merge so that they can fight as one against storms” (p. 19)

Rilke and Andreas-Salome: A Love Story in Letters is a collection of passion, privacy, epistolary proficiency.

My friend, Abike, loves oranges so much. So when I picked Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s poetry book, Oranges in January, it became a time for Pansy’s poetry to stir me along thoughts of my friend. We ask, what are friends for? My answer: oranges are for friends too.

The place we keep our favourite fruits, songs, is the same place we keep our friends or loved ones. It is a place near in space and time, a place of cheers and delight. The poet whispers, “I feel you so close I can draw you there” (p. 15). Here is an open confession of connection, a contact the persona has whole images or descriptions about.

With this book, Pansy brings out new perceptions, bright and tangible. In one poem, she says: “our bones / retain a memory of living” (p. 20). Though not shaped as a religious theory, it is easy for one to see this as a new testament to afterlife—a remark that says the memory of things, events, people lives with us as inseparable as we are with our bones, whether in death or not.

Especially my copy that now has a million underlines, Oranges in January is one book that will keep you company on a long flight.