Witches and Mermaids, oh my

36297088It has been a long winter so far, and it has barely started. Work has been kicking my ass, and I have been trying to get my Christmas shopping done before December (mostly succeeded) because I hate crowds, so I avoid malls and shopping centers in the month of December.

One part of Christmas shopping that I enjoy, though, is getting everyone on my list a book as part of their gift. Figuring out just which book to get each person is a lot of fun.

In the meantime, while my personal reading has been curtailed, I do have some book reviews to catch up on.

In recent years, I have been trying to read more poetry. Before this, I was not aware of the concept of Instagram Poetry. The poems tend to be shorter, and the poets younger, and often female. Names like Rupi Kaur, Nikita Gill, and amanda lovelace (yes, lowercase) come up in this category. The first did not work for me, the second blew me away (and I now follow on Instagram), and now I’ve tried the third, and I have become a fan of her as well.

The collections The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One and The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One are part of a series of poetry collections that examine feminist themes through. The first uses imagery from witch burnings, and the second The Little Mermaid (where the mermaid sacrificed her tail for a man who turns to someone else). They are taking the stories we grew up on and giving them a little twist for the modern era.

When I started reading this type of poetry, it took a while to get used to it. My memories of poetry in school was of longer poems with complicated rhyming schemes. Instagram poets tend to be short free verse, verging on being slogans. When well done, they can definitely provoke thought.

And being short, these books are perfect for reading a few pages before bed (or, I hate to admit it, sitting on the toilet)

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read The Mermaid’s voice.

A different type of Classical Poetry

40893727Reading classical poems can always be problematic, because attitudes have changed drastically over time. The poems of ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad in War SongsĀ were written in the sixth century CE (or more than 1400 years ago, in other words). Today, the idea of a warrior (not soldier) who will then turn around and compose poems about his enemies, his allies, his *horse*, is just not something that feels real to a modern reader. Or writing odes about his lost love, while also referring to ‘my woman’ (ie, a slave who travels with him).

I found the historical lessons in the introduction to the book to be fascinating, and I’m wondering if there are any books about ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad, or about the time period. Apparently there is a comic book based on him, though.

Beyond all that, the poems were enthralling (although sometimes a very modern term will make me stumble, since I expected something a little more stilted). My only wish is that while each poem is preceded by notes about the translation, there is a lot of material in the appendixes (such as commentaries from Arab writers closer in time to the original), that I would have preferred to have had with those notes instead of having to flip back and forth. But considering that this is a publication from a university press, I really appreciated the thoroughness of the coverage.

End of winter poetry reading

20829968Last year I started actively reading poetry, in a way I haven’t since I was in my high school English class. I’d read a number of poetry book in the decades (oh dear lord, has it really been decades) since then, discovering Rumi and Mary Oliver, the last year and a bit has led me to other poets, some of which I have liked, and some did absolutely nothing for me (There’s a collection that has been on bestseller lists for a long time that I found mostly annoying).

BL Bruce’s award winning first collection, The Weight of Snow, was definitely a book I liked. The poems, for the most part, seem to occupy the border between wild lands and inhabited lands. It is very nature based, leaving an impression of winter along with late fall and early spring. You know, wet and muddy, and grey. Not all the poems fit into that season, so maybe I’m influenced by the title and the current season (in Ottawa, we are expecting snow and ice and rain this weekend, even though it is mid-April)

It also deals a lot with love, but similarly, it leaves a heavy impression of a love whose days are numbered. I don’t know what the author’s personal relationships were like, but the poems left me with a feel of two women living with the knowledge that despite their love, the relationship is crumbling around the edges.

The feeling I was left with at the end was a soft melancholy. Not the depressing type, but the melancholy that leaves you embracing flashes of blue sky because it is so intensely blue, and who knows what the sky will be like tomorrow.

Oh wow! Raving ahead

36053486In the last couple of years, I have been trying to expand my reading outwards. NetGalley has been a great way to try out some things that I might not have read otherwise.

One area that I’ve been working on is poetry. I’ve read several collections, some of which did not work for me, and some did to varying degrees.

Wild Embers falls into the category of not just working for me, but blowing me away. In fact, by the time I was a quarter of the way through the collection, I had bought Nikita Gill’s previous collection. By the time I was half-way through, I knew I was going to be buying a copy when the book hit the stores last week. And when it did hit the stores, I bought three copies: one for myself, and two that will be going into Christmas gifts for the two teenaged girls on my list.

The poems were beautiful. They mostly had a feminist bent, but will great imagery. The first section had poems interpreting life through astronomy. There was a section that had different takes on fairy tale characters, done as prose examinations instead of standard poetry. Another section similarly looked at women of Greek mythology.

This was the first poetry collection I’ve read since my first Mary Oliver collection that made me sit back and say ‘yesssss’.

Seriously, though, I want to rave about this collection to every woman I know, and strangers on the bus. I want to buy a stack of copies and give them to everyone who will take one. I can’t wait to see what Nikita Gill does next.

Modern Poetry

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Poetry is a category of writing that bored me as a student (high school does a great job of sucking all of the life out of a lot of reading). But now I have decided to give poetry another go. I started with more traditional poetry, with The Essential Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks), and A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (Goodreads Choice 2012 winner).

Then I saw The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory available of NetGalley, and decided that it sounded intriguing, so I put in a request.

The poems in this book were interesting. Very definitely free verse, with no rhyming, or even the sort of formatting I would have expected. And yet, the poems resonated with me. There was a lot of focus on the modern world, and technology (which was a pleasant change from most poetry) and a sort of whistful look backwards.

If there was anything negative about the collection, it was that there is little emotional variation. Pretty much every poem left me somewhere between melancholy and depression. In general this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it made it difficult to read more than a handful of poems at a time. I know that poets aren’t going to take orders, but still, the occasional poem that was more upbeat would have helped the reader.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes.
Am I going to rush out to find the author’s other collections? Maybe not.
Would I recommend it to other people? Only if I was sure they had no tendancy towards depression, since I think it would make things a lot worse.