When I was in Seattle last January, I purchased a used copy of The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade. Inside is an inscription written in simple print with a signature that caught my eye -- the "Y" of Jerry's name wraps around … Continue reading Giving the ‘Gift’ of Poetry: “Who knows what may come of that?”
The best part of buying a used book is the history that comes with it. Tucked in the pages, one finds photographs and letters used as bookmarks; on the inside cover and in the margins, long inscriptions to, from, about. It's true the printed text pulls us into the life of the author, but it's … Continue reading The book’s private journey through many hands and homes
While waiting in a Baltimore hotel lobby, I thumbed through one of its meant-to-be-seen-and-not-read bookshelves. There among old, leather-bound editions of Gibbon's History of the Decline and Roosevelt's Naval War of 1812, I found the collected works of William Cullen Bryant. A romantic, Bryant is known primarily for his poetic naturalism (see, e.g., "Thanatopsis") but he was also a prodigious translator, deciding at the age of 77 to translate Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. But as this was my first introduction to the poet, I knew none of this. Skimming the volume, I was not very impressed, but then I came across a poem that I stopped to read three times in a row. Its title: "The Murdered Traveller."
I've blogged before about the writing advice Robert Bly once gave me, and since then, I've translated pieces by Norwegian poet Julius B. Baumann (1869-1923; here) and Danish writer Ernesto Dalgas (1871-1899). Like Baumann, even though Dalgas is well-recognized in the canon of his country's literature, none of his work exists in English. So, this is my attempt … Continue reading Two translations of Danish writer Ernesto Dalgas
With the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there's been a renewed interest in Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here (1935). For those unfamiliar with it, it's about the rise-to-power of a Depression-era demagogue named Sen. "Buzz" Windrip who becomes president with a campaign based on religious zeal, patriotic fervor, and … Continue reading “American Dystopia”: Read My Review of Claire Sprague’s “It Can Happen Here.”
As my regular readers know, I write a lot about Sinclair Lewis. For example, there's the anecdote about him drinking with Gov. Floyd B. Olson, his advice on writing, and how those overseas understood his work. I also write about poetry, and recently I published here translations of Norwegian-American poet Julius B. Baumann. Well, here's where … Continue reading Translating Sinclair Lewis into English (Two Poems)
Many months ago I tried my hand at the pantoum form, using lines pulled from "last letters," to produce a series of poems that are simultaneously haunting, anxious, and desperate. I'm proud to say that on April 20 all four were published in Chicago's Literary Orphans magazine (Issue 24: Audrey). Here's the title poem: “The sun … Continue reading My poetic sequence “The Sun is Leaving the Hill Now” in Literary Orphans
“Only the first ten years matter,” a Minnesota State Prison inmate told John Carter, and "[w]hether or not the first ten years are all that matter, there is no doubt that the first six months are by no means six little drops of time.” It was 1905 and as the 19-year-old Carter listened, he settled … Continue reading John Carter of Minnesota: The “Convict Poet” Who Won His Freedom
My review of Bill Berkson's latest book of poems, Expect Delays (Coffee House Press, 2014) was published in the Fall 2015 online edition of Rain Taxi Review of Books: There are few poets writing today with the range and talent of Bill Berkson. The author of more than thirty books of poetry, collaborations, and criticism, his latest … Continue reading My review of Bill Berkson’s “Expect Delays” in Rain Taxi Review
"[D]on't be such a damn fool as ever again to go to work for someone else. Start your own business," the 34-year-old Sinclair Lewis advised his friend Alfred Harcourt. "I'm going to write important books. You can publish them. Now let's go out to your house and start making plans" (p.xi). That business became the publishing house Harcourt, Brace, and Company, and the next year, in 1920, it published the book that made Lewis famous: Main Street. Thus began a decade-long partnership that lasted until Lewis became the first American to the win Nobel Prize in Literature. As the only volume of Lewis' letters, From Main Street to Stockholm was published in 1952, the year after he died, and collects together his correspondence with Harcourt's publishing house. Given their relationship the letters just as often pertain to business as they do Lewis' European travels and the politics of the literary world. While the reader may not close the book with a richer understanding of Lewis' psychology, they will have witnessed an iconoclast at work. Through these letters one follows Lewis through the "Big Five" and the public's response, from Main Street (1920) being declared the most monumental book of the century to Boston's District Attorney banning Elmer Gantry (1927) from the city.