Unpacking the Poetry Books

September 27, 2017

The postings here have been sporadic lately because I was finally moving into a lovely apartment in Seattle.  I hope this will be my last move, but you never know.   It was exhausting and overwhelming, but one of the rare bright spots was unpacking my poetry books.  I keep them in alphabetical order so I can find things easily   Despite all the shuffling back and forth, it was full of pleasure.  Some poets take up half a shelf or more, with their books and books about them: Ashbery,  Berryman, Bishop, Carson, Dante, Dickinson, Eliot, Frost, Ginsberg, Gluck, Goldbarth, Heaney, Homer, Levine, Merrill, Merwin.  Plath, Pound, Rilke.  Simic, Stevens, Strand, James Tate, WC Williams.   From Jonathan Aaron to Martha Zweig.  From some of the earliest I read when I was starting to write–Margaret Atwood, Diane Wakowski, Transtromer, Bly, Kinnell, Plath, Stanley Plumly, to recent discoveries–Alice Oswald, Karen Solie, Tim Siebles.  From well known to maybe less so: a collaboration between James Tate and Bill Knott titled Are You Ready, Mary Baker Eddy?  A beautifully made book, Paul Hannigan’s The Carnation, published by Barn Dream Press in Massachusetts.  I remember where I bought many of the books, or who gave them to me: Jonathan Galassi gave me The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barret Browning when he had recently started work at Houghton Mifflin and I interviewed him for an article on poetry publishing in Boston.  Or my first reaction: reading Wind in a Box–Terrance Hayes can do anything!  Milosz’s Anthology of Polish Poets where I read Szymborska for the first time.  And I notice what’s missing: the little paperback of Stevens’ poems, Palm at the end of the Mind, that fell apart after I carried it everywhere with me for years.  And I don’t see the first anthology of contemporary poetry I ever owned, Poems of our Moment, edited by John Hollander.  As I remember, three of the thirty-seven  poets included were women: May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, and Sylvia Plath.  It’s possible I finally threw it out.  Working my way through my shelves is working my way through my life–but in alphabetical rather than chronological order, so there’s a wonderful weaving back and forth between pieces.  There’s a murmur of conversation, whispers and shouts.  More than one mover said to me, “You should get rid of a lot of these books.”  Over my dead body.  I’d love to hear the stories of your poetry bookshelves.

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5 Comments

  • Reply July September 27, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    At Lesley, I remember someone saying “If anyone tells you you have too many books, tell them it’s your job.” I’ve always taken that very seriously.

    I love the relationship you have with your books, and getting to witness the unpacking of them into this beautiful new place.

  • Reply Martha Zweig October 1, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I too love Goldbarth, his avalanches of phenomena in details each given its perfect words, the exact names everything wants to be called by, summoned, & everything rises & romps to its name(s), sheer joy of being in the universe & called. Pat Corbus does this too.

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet October 2, 2017 at 1:09 am

    Hey, Martha, I love all the romping ampersands. I don’t know Pat Corbus, but I’m off to google. Thanks!

  • Reply Rich Lyons October 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    I have every book I’ve ever purchased. Those books went from Boston to Tucson and back. To Houston and Back. To Memphis. To Starkville, MS.

    In 1980, I even carried a large metal frame backpack of books all over Bavaria where I taught a comp class.

    I’m currently reading poets from Eastern Europe and the Balkan States. Good translations and decent translations.

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet October 2, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    I love it. I’ve moved so often I had to keep getting rid of some, but now I wish I had them all back. I’m down to maybe thirty boxes of books total. Some crazy friends of mine have 300 boxes. It’s like a memoir, a history of my life.

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