Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

The Monitor Guide to Poetry Bestsellers

1. TWENTY LOVE POEMS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, by Pablo Neruda, Penguin Books, $5.95 These are the love poems of a young man. Call it Narcissus turning away from his image in the pool only to find it wherever he looks: in trees, sea, cloud, flower, and animal. Nature is metaphor for connection, isolation, discovery, ecstasy, or despair. Writing in 1924, Pablo Neruda is as much exploring himself as he is the passions of youth. The translation, both a technical and an esthetic matter in any verse, is workmanlike. The quality of the poetry is for the carnal, temporal heart. Only the young are so ready to give so much, or even die, for love. (68 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

2. THE INFERNO OF DANTE, translated by Robert Pinsky, Noonday Press, $40 Dante did not revolutionize Western literature with just the sumptuous truth of The Inferno, he shook things up with his colloquial jargon. In the academy's latest crack at anglicizing the Florentine epic, US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has attempted to represent the intrinsically Italianate dolce stil nuovo with the terza rima meter in a poetically honorable scheme that approximates the rhyme of English words as much as possible. The Inferno flows at an energetic pace, and this translation is fresh and accessible. (427 pp.) By Elisabetta Coletti

About these ads

3. THE HANDBOOK OF HEARTBREAK, collected by Robert Pinsky, Rob Weisbach Books, $18 Robert Pinsky serves up a remedy for the heavy hearted ... sigh. He has amassed 101 poems that sing and lament through the centuries with emotional texture, rich metaphors, and crisp imagery, which he promises will console. Works include William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson. If verse about love and loss strikes your fancy, this poet laureate's collection will make a bittersweet reminiscence or introspective stroll even more poignant. (154 pp.) By Stephanie Cook

4. VITA NOVA, by Louise Glck, Ecco, $22 In all of Louise Glck's collections, the poems stand alone but tell part of a larger story. In "Vita Nova," the Pulitzer Prize-winner is once again writing about change and new beginnings. But this time, the change is her move to Cambridge, Mass., after a failed marriage. The new beginnings deal with love. She makes references to Dante and upends myths about lovelorn women. There are compelling moments and strong endings, but what's most striking is the looser, flatter language. Glck's distinctive, sharp language just isn't here. (51 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

5. NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, by Mary Oliver, Beacon, $16 Mary Oliver's poems contain very few people, and that's just the way her fans like it. Her work focuses on the earth and its creatures. She knows just how to capture the rhythms of nature, its violence and its beauty. Oliver's poems have simple surfaces, but they build toward serious, sometimes profound mediations. Her imagery and endings often make wonderful leaps. This book shows why Oliver is not only a Pulitzer Prize-winner but one of the most beloved poets writing today. (255 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

6. THE CAPTAIN'S VERSES, by Pablo Neruda, New Directions, $9.95 Pablo Neruda found love in ecstasy and fury. Often, one or the other emotion overwhelmed him. In this collection, he records his successful struggle to achieve lasting love. Published in 1952 but written over many years, "The Captain's Verses" are wholly autobiographical. The poems recount a wide range of changing passions in his relationship with Matilde Urrutia, whom he married in 1955. Love here is as substantive as sunlight on a tossing sea. Neruda's simple and direct language allows for a precise and readily intelligible translation. (151 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

7. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, HarperCollins, $12 One of the most popular poets in recent years is actually from the 13th century. Rumi, a Persian religious scholar, is much celebrated in the Islamic world but also admired by Christians, Jews, and Buddhists. Coleman Barks, who has translated 12 books of Rumi's work, has brought to light a passionate, often playful verse that celebrates the presence of God in all things and richly embellished with Middle Eastern imagery: "Live in the one who created the prophets, else you'll be like a caravan fire left to flare itself out beside the road." (281 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery

8. FULL WOMAN, FLESHLY APPLE, HOT MOON, by Pablo Neruda, HarperCollins, $15 Stephen Mitchell's translation gives us a glimpse inside Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's life - a life that sees the profound in the ordinary: "What is good is doubly good when it's a matter of two woolen socks in winter." In these ordinary moments, we find ourselves pondering the profound. Neruda celebrates life - even in the most mundane moments. He fills them with animals, plants, cities, and emotions. He takes an ordinary object and brings it to life with clever detail and rich texture: "The tender-hearted artichoke got dressed as a warrior." (261 pp.)

By Kris Axtman

About these ads

9. COLLECTED POEMS 1920-1954, by Eugenio Montale, translated by Jonathan Galassi, $40 Italy's most important 20th-century poet, Nobel Prize-winning Eugenio Montale was an innovative Modernist steeped in the poetic traditions of his country, from Dante to Leopardi. A difficult and challenging poet who piled metaphor upon metaphor, allusion upon allusion, Montale addresses a feminine muse, his latter-day version of Dante's Beatrice. Galassi's freshly translated collection (with side-by-side versions of the poems in Italian and in English) is an exemplary work of scholarship. The explanatory notes are very helpful. (626 pp.) By Merle Rubin

10. MEANIE, by Jim Behrle, Meanest Books, $3 Meanie, a photocopied "zine," describes itself as a quarterly "freshie-smooth verse rag for the culturally liberated." Translation: Starkly contemporary poems ranging from the cleverly artistic to the insurgently juvenile. But the collection has an unbridled creativity and Quentin Tarantino-crunch that some may relish. Works span "A dog stalking a squirrel in Harvard Yard," by Doug Holder, to "E-mail from a dead man," by Del Ray Cross. Most Meanie lines are etched for a "Real World" culture that would slam lacey prose. (37 pp.) By Stephanie Cook

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.