Typically, at the end of every month, I make a blog post listing everything I read over the course of that month from short stories and essays to novels to poems. This month, however, was crazy. For my classes, I read more than 70 pieces, about 60 of which were poems, and I am under no illusions that anyone wants to read that long list. Rather, here are my favorite pieces I read in February.
- Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison. Technically this is a chapter from Ellison’s book The Invisible Man, but holy cow. Talk about emotions. I haven’t read The Invisible Man in its entirety, but from this chapter I read, the book is about a young African American man who is haunted by some advice he receives from his former slave grandfather to maintain the appearance of submission to his white oppressors but to never submit to the oppression within his heart and mind. The narrator buys into the social philosophy of Booker T. Washington, but “Battle Royal” places him into disturbing situations that challenge his ideas of the appropriate response to racism. I read this chapter for a literary theory and criticism class I’m taking, and after reading it, I definitely want to get my hands on the rest of the book.
- On the Road: The Original Scroll by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac wrote this book in three weeks after spending about seven years driving around the United States. Instead of typing the book on individual pages, he typed it without any punctuation on one long piece of paper, which resembled a scroll. Because the book is biographical, the names were changed in the edited versions. However, the original scroll was recently found, and the book was republished using the real names. I’m taking a class on bohemianism, and I am fascinated by the Beat generation. I could never live the type of hand-to-mouth lifestyle that they did, but reading about it and the literature they produced is so interesting. The only thing I didn’t like about On the Road was its representation of women, but because it is largely based on Kerouac’s actual experience, I tried not to analyze it outside of its social and historical context.
- No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. This was one of two books I was able to read for fun this past month. I was first acquainted with Miranda July in my introduction to creative writing class last semester, so when I saw her book at Barnes & Noble, I decided to give it a go. The book is a collection of short stories, and most, if not all, of the stories deal primarily with female characters, explorations of loneliness, and the lengths to which people will go to feel loved. The content and subject matter sometimes verge on absurdity, but July’s ability to take the unusual, very singular habits of her characters and reconcile the character’s experience to the reader’s is something I really enjoyed about this collection. I can’t wait to read July’s recently released novel The First Bad Man.
- The Feather Room by Anis Mojgani. As I’ve mentioned before, Anis Mojgani is my all-time favorite poet and someone who I draw a lot of inspiration from as a writer. If I am correct, he is primarily a spoken word poet, but he has three published volumes of his poetry, of which I’ve read two. The Feather Room was an interesting read for me because Mojgani weaves elements of magical realism and the fantastical throughout the collection in order to traverse themes of loss, heartbreak, and love.
- You Are Jeff by Richard Siken. I’ve really been enjoying prose poetry lately, and this prose poem by Richard Siken is one of my favorites. It is extremely difficult to parse out, partially because it’s fairly long, but also because the nature of it lends itself to many different interpretations. Personally, I believe this poem is a commentary on possibility. Also, the language and narrative are absolutely beautiful.
- In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson. Tennyson wrote this poem over a period of seventeen years following the unexpected death of his best friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem, which is incredibly long, is Tennyson’s exploration and acknowledgement of his own grief and a sort of coping mechanism. Each lyric, of which there are 131, was written as a separate poem and compiled into one long poem years later when Tennyson decided to publish it. In Memoriam is certainly not light reading, but it is definitely worth a read as it does such a powerful and effective job at transcribing a strong emotion at the core of human experience and embraces several Victorian themes.
- Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare. Sonnet 130 is my favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Generally, I’m not crazy about love poems, so this one is just my speed. Shakespeare’s sonnets can be divided into two sections based on the person to whom they are addressed: a unknown male and the Dark Lady. This particular sonnet pertains to the Dark Lady, and I like it because in it, Shakespeare satirizes the traditional love poem. He says that his mistress isn’t the most beautiful. Her hair is like wires, and sometimes her breath smells bad. Regardless, he possesses the rarest kind of love because he sees her as she is and loves her anyway, rather than trying to force her into an idealized image with far-fetched comparisons.
Let me know what you read this month!
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