There is something poetic about autumn; for many poets, the intricate beauty of fall has symbolized the changing seasons in our lives. Whether it's cooling temperatures, bursts of red and yellow leaves, or ripe pumpkins ready for harvest, there's no cozier time to curl up with a book of poetry and a cup of tea. Your old college Norton Anthology wouldn't be a bad place to start. However, here are a few newish books also worth checking out.
HERE BY WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA
Who can resist a poet who begins a poem with, “Why not, let’s take the Foraminifera.” Yes, why not? Foraminifera, in case you're wondering, are amodeboid protists, or, in case you're still wondering, tiny, mostly marine microorganisms. They’ve left quite an extensive fossil record for scientists, and Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, to ponder:
They lived, since they were, and were, since they lived.
They did what they could since they were able.
In the plural since the plural,
although each one on its own, in its own, since in its own,
small limestone shell. Time summarized them later . . .
It’s this pondering on small things that shows off Szymborska’s quirky, light-hearted, yet darkly ironic gifts. She asks the questions your adorkable kid sister might ask, except from the vantage point of someone much older. In Here, Szymborska (who died in February of this year) seems to enter a kind of second childhood, where instead of dementia, one gets wisdom and wonder.
PITY THE BEAUTIFUL BY DANA GIOIA
It’s rare that a book of poems can make you both laugh and cry, but Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia manages to do just that. He takes on truly terrifying subjects like the death of a child and the serious illness of another, but also makes imaginative and humorous leaps, such as casting the seven deadly sins as dining companions at a dive restaurant:
Notice how Avarice
keeps refilling his glass
whenever he thinks we’re not looking,
while Envy eyes your plate.
RAIN BY DON PATERSON
Not as famous in America as in the UK, Don Paterson is a Scottish poet whose collection Rain is not so new, but very much worth reading. Beginning with the endearing “Two Trees” the poet tells an almost fable-like tale of a man who tried to graft his orange tree to his lemon tree to make a “magic tree”. Playful and unpretentious, Paterson can be very funny. He can also be quite touching. In “Correctives”, he watches his son still a shaky hand by steadying it with the other:
the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand’s kindness to the other.
BREAK. BLOW. BURN. BY CAMILLE PAGLIA
And finally, if the fall leaves have you thinking wistfully of school terms and literature courses, why not pick up Camille Paglia’s Break. Blow. Burn. Paglia selects 43 of what she deems “the world’s best poems” and pairs each with her unique, insightful reading. From classics like Donne and Herbert to poets less canonical (she takes on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”), you’ll feel that you’re auditing a course from a favorite professor right from your couch. Or wherever it is you like to read on cool autumn afternoons.
Allison Elliott works in business communications in New York City. She holds an MFA from Emerson College and is a book review editor for
The Adirondack Review