4.6.05

Rereading

I needed to look up some literature references yesterday for the mid-year examination, which sent me to the poetry and drama corner of our book collection. And that's when I realised, that for all that Terz and I were both English majors, our poetry and drama collections are really quite thin.

They sit together in what is really a corner, between the bed and the window, on two paltry shelves: one low enough for regular paperbacks, the other tall enough to accommodate the likes of Norton anthologies. Only The Riverside Shakespeare resides in another room, since it's too large to fit on these shelves.

Besides the Riverside, we've got a bunch of Shakespeare (most visibly my heavily marked Arden editions from junior college Special Paper days), some Chaucer, a few Jacobean tragedies and a little Ibsen. There's also a collection of Modern Canadian Plays from Terz's university career, though a quick flip-through showed that 'modern' merely meant something written in this century, not necessarily anything later than the 1960s. And that's sadly it for drama.

Poetry's a lot more eclectic, mostly my doing. There's a stack of Robert Lowell, a leftover obsession of mine from (again) junior college days --- among others, my still sturdy 'A' level text, a disintegrating edition of Life Studies I picked up for next-to-nothing in Prague, of all places, and a newish Notebook, its spine still uncrinkled. Beyond the Lowell shrine, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Derek Walcott and William Carlos Williams provide stout ballast, sandwiching relative newcomers like Singaporean writer Alfian Sa'at and American Barbara Edelman.

Every book is a memory in itself: my first poetry class, first quarter in university; another class taught by a Walcott expert; this anthology flipped through madly for a Whitman paper; that edition picked up while browsing at a university bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. If I went through our entire book collection this way, I'd be reminiscing for days on end.

And that's before even paging through the book to reread familiar verses or to encounter new poems for the first time. Those are memories of a different texture:

From Lowell's "For The Union Dead": Mr K playing (being) the Boston brahmin, standing on Boston Common before the monument to the 54th Regiment one cold spring day in 1996, shivering before it on an even colder winter day in 1999, hearing an MP3 off Salon of an old recording of Lowell himself reading the poem.

From Alfian Sa'at's "The Merlion": the first time I read it in One Fierce Hour, encountering it in an examination paper at the school where I used to teach, reading it again in the original collection because it made more sense there, the Merlion today.

None of which is to imply that poetry or literature's only any good when you have a physical connection to the place. If anything, these are just the visceral jolts, the flirtations of memory before you actually get into reading the poem proper. And that's where the really good stuff lies.

I didn't find anything I could use for the exam, but maybe that's just as well. Some things are best left on the shelf, to be savoured in their own time.

11 Comments:

At 6/04/2005 4:09 pm , Blogger Neil said...

Tym - may I recommend the Penguin 70 Years anniversary boxed set of 70 books? It contains (as edited highlights):

Paul Theroux
George Orwell
WG Sebald
Simon Amitage
Vladimir Nabokov
Will Self
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gustave Flaubert

I bought it (ouch on the wallet) and am loving it!

 
At 6/04/2005 4:32 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

"Poems to last a lifetime", an anthology put together by Daisy Goodwin, is all the rage here thanks to a certain Leah Aw =P.

It's a nice collection of life-cycle themed poems - worth a look! =)

 
At 6/04/2005 9:24 pm , Blogger Abigael said...

The Penguin 70 Years Anniversary Boxed Set ... that was on my list of blackmail items to Darth B. Check it out on the Penguin website. Sigh ... why can't I fall for something simple like a lightsaber or something?

 
At 6/05/2005 1:16 am , Blogger Tym said...

Thanks for all the recommendations. Pocket Penguins, huh? But I like reading the whole book!

 
At 6/05/2005 1:47 am , Anonymous The Fell Bat said...

I read far too little poetry.

Lish, do you think you could, like, bring back several of your poetry books this coming month?

Including the one you just mentioned, sounds interesting.

 
At 6/05/2005 2:35 am , Anonymous Lana said...

I'm all about Rumi. You can blame that on Keet. ;)

 
At 6/05/2005 5:21 pm , Blogger ampulets said...

Milosz edited an anthology "A Book of Luminous Things", which i always go to when i'm thinking of what 'new' poet to read. he's organised it by "themes" - epiphany; nature; places, the secret of a thing... and everyone from Tu Fu to Walt Whiteman to Robert Hass.

Are you are setting a "practical criticism" paper (I was reminded how outdated practical criticism is when a friend - who never had to suffer A levels - needed prompting with the name Leavis. heh.)? Some how these 3 poets pop up: Marianne Moore, Margaret Atwood & Edna StVincent Millay. Good luck!

 
At 6/05/2005 5:25 pm , Blogger ampulets said...

Re-read your rereading post. Haha, you are spot-on about books and memories. I always wonder how people can bear abandoning their books to libraries, the kalang guni man, teenagers or the rain. They must have reached some amazing level of transcendence, or the memories must be pretty bad ones ;P

 
At 6/07/2005 12:27 am , Blogger Tym said...

Lana --- I've never read Rumi, even though ampulets (see her comments above) has mentioned them many times to me.

ampulets --- I have A Book of Luminous Things --- in fact, we have two copies between us --- but somehow not very useful for what I need. We've done Millay recently, so maybe will consider Moore or Atwood (all the 'M' names, huh?). Of course, now that I've mentioned all this publicly, I may have to forego them altogether, lest the kids 'spot' questions! --- And yes, parting with books is well nigh impossible nowadays. Ondine and I have swopped copies of Misconceptions, and though I truly don't mind, I feel like something's just a little out of joint...

 
At 6/07/2005 10:01 am , Anonymous Gwen said...

I was also an English major at university, and I somehow developed a taste for modern poetry and for Milton, oddly enough.

My favourite book by a poet is actually T.S. Eliot's Collected Essays, which inludes the brilliant, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," something I think every writer, aspiring writer, and teacher of writers should read.

If I can find a copy before we leave Singapore (no date yet), I will pick it up for you as a parting gift.

 
At 6/07/2005 10:01 am , Anonymous Gwen said...

I was also an English major at university, and I somehow developed a taste for modern poetry and for Milton, oddly enough.

My favourite book by a poet is actually T.S. Eliot's Collected Essays, which inludes the brilliant, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," something I think every writer, aspiring writer, and teacher of writers should read.

If I can find a copy before we leave Singapore (no date yet), I will pick it up for you as a parting gift.

 

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