Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was early morning.  By the time I realized it wasn't, which happily happened before I started the coffee, I decided to read a bit to try to feel sleepy again--1 a.m. in the morning is too early for getting up for the day, even for me.

I decided to start Brandon Taylor's The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn't lull me back to sleep.  Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed.  The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets.  In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020's, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life.  But it's still an intriguing read.

I just finished Marge Piercy's Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet.  She's from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950's.  She's working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan.  I've read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I'm not sure why.

In some ways, it's like revisiting old friends and there's also the ghost of myself across the pages.  I think about these feminist writers who formed me, and I'm so grateful.  It's also poignant to reread the book at this time in the life of our nation.  Much of the book revolves around the issues of bodily autonomy in a time before abortions were legal and birth control was difficult for women to get.  I first read the book in the 1980's, when it seemed to be describing a distant time.  But now . . .

It also made me sad because it describes a time when one could find a cheap apartment in New York City and support one's early attempts at a writing career with part time jobs.  It describes a time when more people thought literature was important, when all learning was important.

As I was reading, I thought about my reading habits when I was an undergraduate.  If I had read different books by different authors, would I have made different life choices?  Like if I had stumbled across books that proclaimed the joys of motherhood, would I have had a gaggle of children?  Probably not.  I read everything, and those books were not the ones that affected me deeply.

Braided Lives makes me want to get back to poetry writing of my own.  I don't know if The Late Americans will have the same effect--it certainly doesn't make me want to go to Iowa to get an MFA.  But these days, I'm happy for books that take creativity seriously.

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