Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Poems For Hard Times. Yeah, I'm such a dweeb. Ginger Andrews' "The Cure" was something I copied from a book I gave my mom called Good Poems For Hard Times, the sequel to Keillor's Good Poems. So let that stand by way of correction. An admission to correct an omission. I'll let you send in your admonitions.

When I was a teenager, I stalked (not stocked -- that came later) the Value Villages and Goodwills in Hamilton. My friends and I used to come across an old English textbook, a book of poems edited by Dennis Lee and Roberta Charlesworth called An Anthology of Verse (hardcover edition: green, softcover edition: orange). Mostly, the copies appeared to have been never returned to the high schools they were from: borrowed, forgotten, and eventually given to the second-hand shops.

Anyway, there are about five friends and I who all have copies, dutifully displayed on our bookshelves. I have a green hardcover one which according to the inside cover I paid $1.50 for. It's from the fourth printing of the book in 1967. The inside also tells me that Charlesworth was "coordinator of English for the Board of Education, Borough of North York" and that Lee was a "teaching member of Rochdale College, Toronto" in 1964, when the book was first issued. It's publisher, Oxford University Press thoughtfully notes that the book was published through its "Canadian Branch."

The book has the Hamilton Board of Education 1968 stamp on it. There are five high school signatures under it, the last of which is Pat McMaster's, dated 1974/75. The stamp says, "You are given the use of this book on the understanding that you will use it with care."

Message received. God, I used to love this book.

I've got a pile of cute anthologies (as I mentioned in another post I used to collect them) including the Billy Collins-edited Poetry 180 and the famous Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. Nowadays, they're less to my taste than full-length offerings by single authors for two reasons: one is full-length collections give a fuller feel for the context and intertext of a poem and the second is that it takes you off the beaten path of expected, played out poems.

I'm still a big sucker for author-edited anthologies, because today's poets (who tend to be the only ones reading their contemporaries) can take you off the beaten path. And I guess I'm a bit of a sucker for the personality game played by major authors. I dunno. Is it the cult of the celebrity? Many of my literary infatuations came from reading anthologies, so at least at one point it was an important part of my literary coming of age.

Oh, there's more on the Hamilton Board of Education stamp. "Do not mark it in any way, since another student will use it next year." Is it time for me to pass the book on?

And having promised you something from Good Poems and then not delivered last week, here's another steely one:

Poem about morning
William Meredith

Whether it's sunny or not, it's sure
To be enormously complex--
Trees or streets outdoors, inside whoever you share,
And yourself, thirsty, hungry, washing,
With an attitude towards sex.
No wonder half of you wants to stay
With your head dark and wishing
Rather than take it all on again:
Weren't you duped yesterday?
Things are not orderly here, no matter what they say.

But the clock goes off, if you have a dog,
It wags, if you get up now, you'll be less
Late. Life is some kind of loathesome hag
Perpetually threatening to turn beautiful.
Now she gives you a quick toothpaste kiss
And puts a glass of cold cranberry juice,
Like a big fake garnet, in your hand.
Cranberry juice! You're lucky on the whole,
But there is a great deal about it you don't understand.

(reprinted in Garrison Keillor's Good Poems)