Wednesday, February 21, 2018

101 Books, Number 33

34: Collected Poems, 1943–2004, by Richard Wilbur (1921–2017)

His recent death disturbed The Force—
In literary ways, of course.
There are few poets I have read
Who wove their words with golden thread

The way that Wilbur did—with ease?
His forms were formal (shaped to please);
His rhymes were subtle—not clich├ęd.
His subjects—wrenching, well-conveyed.

My mother knew him fairly well—
Their church, the same,* and she would tell
Me what he sometimes said and did—
And I became her jealous kid!

He signed some books of verse for me—
Most treasured things, I guarantee.
I’ve memorized a handful, too—
My treasured friends—so pure, so true.

*St Stephens Church (Episcopal); Pittsfield, Mass.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

101 Books, Number 34

34: Sister Carrie, 1900, by Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945)

I read this book in ’64–
Or think it was (my memory’s poor?).
A class in Hiram College days
When I still lived in such a haze.

The book was long, and I believed
To finish it I’d be relieved
To have an odious task complete—
But I was wrong, for I would meet

A writer who—in whole and part—
Explored the helpless human heart.
I turned the pages; Carrie fell.
And so did I: a Dreiser spell.

I read some others through the years—
And saw him there with pioneers
Who wrote about the painful dark
In novels wrenching, real, and stark.

Monday, February 19, 2018

101 Books, Number 35

35: Middlemarch, 1871-72, by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans, 1819–1880)

A book of hers I didn’t read—
Although I did read Adam Bede
And other works (though not with speed).

This is a book I listened to—
Yes, book-on-disk I chose to do
On daily drives (more than a few)

I took back in 2009–
My cancer wasn’t doing fine—
And I had radiation (whine!).*

I loved the story—first to last;
I loved the varied, clever cast—
Though some of them left me aghast.

I’m not a fan of hearing books—
I’d rather give them lingering looks
In quiet, friendly, home-fire nooks.

But Eliot? I’d read or hear—
For either way her voice is clear—
She draws from me the laugh, the tear.

*In January 2009 I was driving down to the Cleveland Clinic, M-F (about 45 min away), where I got thirty daily radiation treatments. I listened to this book, going and returning, and after my last treatment, I arrived home with about ten minutes left. I sat in the car and finished it.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

101 Books, Number 36

36: Colored People, 1994, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1950–)

I had my students read this book
For ten of my last years.
A memoir—West Virginia—where
Gates grew and conquered fears.

He writes about his schooling there—
His relatives, the town
Of Piedmont, and, of course, of race,
Which didn’t bring him down.

He worked so hard and ended up
At Harvard (as you know),
Where he writes books and, now and then,
A special TV show.

We met him once,* did Joyce and I,
In Cleveland, where he spoke.
We shook his hand and talked a bit—
We loved to hear him joke.

He’s done so much research—he writes
With knowledge and with skill.
He’s made the journey to the top
Of scholarship’s steep hill.

*Thursday, January 18, 2003, at the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards; Cleveland Play House

Saturday, February 17, 2018

101 Books, Number 37

37: The Last Man, 1826, by Mary Shelley (1797–1851) 

Her best-known novel, Frankenstein
She’d published eight long years ago— 
It’s still a favorite book of mine. 
Yet there’s another book aglow 

With Mary Shelley’s active mind— 
A very futuristic tale— 
The end, it seems of humankind— 
A common sight: a coffin nail. 

An illness has swept o’er the earth— 
And people die so helplessly. 
There is no hope—in love, in birth. 
And fear now reigns so thoroughly. 

We follow several women, men— 
And see some die (so bad, so sad)— 
And we are not too sure just when— 
Or if—there’ll be a Galahad. 

The future that she shows us here— 
Is ominous—depressing, too— 
For some of it seems very near— 
Some fatal, viral Waterloo. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

101 Books, Number 38

38: Goldilocks, 1978. by Ed McBain* (1926–2005)

He wrote so many, many books—
Oh, yes, it’s quite a pile.
And if you stacked them, first to last,
They’d probably reach a mile.

His first was 1952;
His last, 2005.
That’s not such bad production, eh?
(For one who is alive.)

And Goldilocks—the first he wrote
With fairy tales in mind.
They featured lawyer Matthew Hope—
The best guy you could find!

He wrote some other Hope books, too
The last in ’98.
And I read all of them (of course!)
And loved them—no debate.

I read a lot of others, too,
But, oh, he wrote with speed!
In fact he cranked them out too fast
For dudes like me to read!

*born Salvatore Albert Lombino; also wrote under the pen name Evan Hunter

Thursday, February 15, 2018

101 Books, Number 39

39: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, 2013, by Mary Roach (1959–)

I had to write a book review
About the latest book from Roach,*
And since my usual approach
Is reading all an author through,

I took the journey through her prose
And felt each time along the way
She had the freshest way to say
So many things that no one knows.

Well, some folks know them—that’s for sure—
And Roach goes looking for the ones
To interview—in fact, she runs
Toward them, takes their tour

Through knowledge most of us ignore—
Or choose to shun or to avoid—
We want no verbal Polaroid.
Discomfort—yes, deep in our core—

That’s what a Roach book will provide—
We learn about our gruesome guts,
And sex (no if’s, no and’s—but butts!).
We learn about what just has died.

And so discomfort is one way
To learn about the world we’re in—
And who we are, and where we’ve been—
And what we’ll be one future day.

*My review of Roach’s Gulp was in Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 7, 2013.