Blog,  From My Bookshelf

From My Bookshelf: Nineteenth, Seamus, Norton

In the spirit of National Poetry Month, I am featuring three of my poetry anthologies – well, the three poetry anthologies – from my bookshelf. I used to be quite adverse to poetry because I could never get past its fleeting feeling (I definitely never willingly read long poems) and it’s a lot more work to read most poetry than it is to read prose. Yeah, I said it, for all of you who disagree. But by now, in my old [mid-twenties] age, there are a few poems that I enjoy reading over and over again, and most of those few happen to be in American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Opened Ground (A collection of Seamus Heaney’s poems), and The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I know, I know, this is an extremely narrow selection (which I only acquired through a poetry class in college), but since my preference is prose and fiction, I’ve worked more on expanding my reach with the latter than the former.

Opened Ground | Seamus Heaney | From My Bookshelf | National Poetry MonthAmerican Poetry: The Nineteenth Century John Hollander

This century happens to be my literary favorite, but I cannot say I’ve read many of the poems in this particular anthology. My multiple tabs on the pages of this book fall only on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson’s pages – those were likely the primary poems we studied from this book in my college course. This isn’t to say I haven’t read any other poems inside; “Autumn Leaves” by Jones Very, “Autumn” by Alice Cary, and I suppose “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore are a few I return to every now and then.

Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. I haven’t read this entire collection, but the poems I have read, and did read for class, are heavily annotated, which was fun to review when I selected this book for this post. He wrote a lot about his upbringing in Ireland, nature, farms and cities, and wrote beautifully about things like decaying bodies and mud. “Digging” and “Death of a Naturalist” are two of his best known poems, and I highly recommend reading both. “Station Island” might actually be my favorite; its length makes this an uncharacteristic favorite of mine, because I’m still not a
big fan of long, drawn out poems. Here is a part of it:

Opened Ground | Seamus Heaney | From My Bookshelf | National Poetry Monthcunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, ‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’ 

The Poetry Foundation has plenty of information on Seamus Heaney, his work, and his life if you want to know more. Just click here.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry | From My Bookshelf | National Poetry MonthThe Norton Anthology of Poetry
Margaret Ferguson | Mary Jo Salter | Jon Stallworthy

This 1300+ page anthology is the Shorter Fifth Edition, and I’ve annotated and marked up many of the poems (a couple of Seamus Heaney’s poems are inside, actually, and he did the translation of “Beowulf” in this edition).

Some of the specific poets I’ve tabbed with ripped up post-it notes include Anne Bradstreet, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore (“Poetry” is one of my favorite poems), Charles Bernstein (“why we ask you not to touch” is another personal favorite), and Philip Larkin. His “This Be The Verse” is a must-read, for its combination of lighthearted rhythm and cynical subject matter is quite entertaining.

I don’t ask for book recommendations in From My Bookshelf posts; because of the many unread books on my shelves I really shouldn’t add more to my personal library. However, for this post I am, because I should expand my knowledge of poetry and of poets. Therefore, if you’d like, leave the title of your favorite collection, a favorite poet, or even a favorite poetic subject matter in the comments. And as always, leave your thoughts about these books From My Bookshelf.


    • Kelsey

      Please do! I had a hard time picking which excerpt I wanted to use for this post because it’s all so great – I hope you enjoy the rest. 🙂

  • Claire Saul (PainPalsBlog)

    I know what you mean about poetry, and for me it always takes me back to the poetry I had to study for A level…and therefore hated!! I am going back to the 80s and my teacher chose all older texts, so the poetry was the Metaphysical poets (John Donne etc), Bunyon & Milton. But I am looking at some more contemporary stuff through my kids’ studies so starting to appreciate it…and write my own! My daughter is looking at Songs of Ourselves for GCSE – she says not for leisure!! Will look yours up….C x

    • Kelsey

      I recently listened to a reading of John Donne in a podcast, and was intrigued by the urgency and rhythm, but I enjoy poetry that is much more straightforward, I guess…We didn’t do much with Metaphysical poets in my studies – I think I may have liked poetry much less if we did! It’s wonderful that a different perspective has you starting to appreciate it – and that’s great about your daughter! I’m going to look into that anthology, too.

  • Gary

    Claire said it right there….school….Thomas Hardy book AND poetry. It made me think of Vogons in Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy. Wring age to be dwelling on Hardy IMO.

    I’m weaning back though via Epic Poetry. The Station looked good though, so maybe I can delve in that direction 🤔

  • josypheen

    I feel like a bit of a failure with poetry. I don’t think I own any poetry at all, despite all my filled bookshelves! 🙁

    A couple of weeks ago I was asked to translate some children’s poetry from Japanese to English. I did my best, but it is sooo hard. I don’t think poetry is my forte, so it took me sooo long.

    I’ll have to give poetry more of a chance! Eep!

    • Kelsey

      Even with owning poetry collections I often feel like a failure with poetry, too. I have to be in the right mindset to read it, and I’ve found that reading poetry aloud gets me more invested in each piece. I’m going to take a look at some children’s poetry – I’m not sure if I’ve really encountered it, or if I have, realized it was strictly poetry!

  • Unbound Roots

    I loved the Station Island quote you presented here – just beautiful. Poetry is something that I have not read a lot of, but I find myself getting more interested in doing so. I’m glad you shared some of the books you did. I’m going to add them to my list. Thanks, Kelsey!

    • Kelsey

      Thank you – I had a hard time deciding which excerpt to use from the poem because the entire thing is quite excellent. Happy reading! 🙂

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