Charles Wyrick

In his introduction to Three Centuries of American Poetry: 1623-1923, editor Robert D. Richardson, Jr., cuts straight to the chase in order to defray any criticism that this new anthology of poets is just another lump in the already overstuffed shirt of the Western canon. To quote Richardson, "There ain't no canon. There ain't going to be any canon. There never has been a canon. That's the canon." Though Richardson's collection doesn't totally debunk literary tradition, it does attempt to widen perceptions about poetry and literature in general. Rather than posing as a who's who of American poetry, Richardson and co-editor Allen Mandlebaum explore poetry's various forms. Their refreshing approach emphasizes diversity and invention. The collection places anonymous hymns and spirituals side by side with the big names in American literature. In the end, what Three Centuries of American Poetry reminds us is that poetry is a fluid form. A canon is a standard, a fixed point by which measurements are drawn; in short, canons are static. Poetry is ever-changing. Richardson and Mandlebaum's vision treats poetry as part of a grand continuum. In the spirit of this celebration of verse, here's a brief look at four poets writing today who excite us with their unique creations.

Those who known Michael Ondaatje as author of the bestselling novel The English Patient might be surprised to find out that Ondaatje is an also an accomplished poet. His new book entitled Handwriting deals with the imprints or impressions humans make on the natural world. Writing beautifully about his native country of Sri Lanka, Ondaatje's poems take us in and out of the teeming jungles that form such an important part of his country's character. But Ondaatje is not what one would call a nature poet. His interest lies more in watching humans struggling against greater forces. In Buried Ondaatje follows a bronze buddha as it is taken from a temple into the jungle to be hidden from thieves during war. Through minimal line construction he builds a remarkably lyrical description that intertwines religion and myth into his characters' encounters with the lush yet unforgiving landscape. Here individuals struggle under religious law and natural law as the poem reveals its complex and haunting portrayal of the immutable spirit of humanity and the indomitable power of nature.

Like Ondaatje, Philip Levine builds grandiloquent portraits out of regional materials. Instead of bejeweled buddhas, Levine deals in slag heaps, sliding garage doors, poolhalls, and parking lots. Writing about the industry-worn landscape of Michigan in The Mercy, Levine finds inspiration in industrial images. In the poem Drum, oil barrels and trash mounds transform into the sleeping forms of "A Carthaginian outpost sent/ to guard the waters of the west." Here and elsewhere Levine makes imaginative discoveries out of his surroundings. In forgotten refuse, Levine sees an ancient army. Throughout his new collection discoveries such as these are made. Yet Levine's great gift as a poet lies not only in his keen eye for catching surprising associations, but in his compassion. Levine's poems will dovetail from imaginative daydreams into powerful meditations that explore suffering, time, and transcendence. Through a hard-won alchemy that sets life against industry, humans versus machines, Levine addresses hopes, aspirations, and desires. More than a poet of things, he is a poets of beings, a chronicler of individuals and families whose lives are tied to a land of machines. All of the poems that comprise The Mercy involve us in Levine's understanding of not only the details of labor but the lives hidden deep within industry's shadows.

Unlike Ondaatje and Levine's somewhat geocentric work, Louise Gluck's new book Vita Nova focuses on less easily identifiable terrain. In the collection's title poem, Gluck coolly relays the particulars of a dream. Gluck often uses abstract concepts for launching the themes in her work, choosing dreams, memories, myths, or philosophical conundrums as keys to her poetic explorations. Vita Nova's recurring theme is grief. The poems in her book repeatedly express the sorrow of losing a loved one. Through her artistry Gluck seeks to position her grief in relation to herself and to the other forces that shape her life. Yet balancing sorrow with life doesn't make poetry. What carries the book is Gluck's voice. Using a verse form of her own invention, she manages to sound both elegant and informal in her maneuvers with and around her sorrow. Her writing style invokes a grave tone that sounds graceful and profound even when syntax belays informality. Gluck is a true master of her language in the manner by which she draws her life-learned themes out of the carefully staged, elegant yet powerful lines of her art.

Like Gluck, Rita Dove, the greatly heralded former Poet Laureate of the United States, is less a poet of place and more an archaeologist of the self. Yet unlike Gluck, Dove's sense of self is closely interwoven with her deeply felt pride in race. Several poems in her new collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks find her telling tales of women who fought for racial equality through peaceful action in their everyday lives. In Rosa a short, quiet, and beautiful homage Dove honors the power of Rosa Parks's political action by matching the simplicity and dignity of Parks's protest with a simple, memorable poem. Doing nothing was the doing Dove says of Parks, and this beautiful line both encapsulates and honors Parks's courageous action. The subtle lyrical strength of this powerful poem testifies not only to Rosa Parks but to Rita Dove and the power her words will have over generations to come.

Whether addressing a place or a feeling, private or political action, poetry lives through individuals and their voices. So forget the Western canon and try out some new poetry this spring. Maybe April will turn out better than predicted.

In his introduction to Three Centuries of American Poetry: 1623-1923, editor Robert D. Richardson, Jr., cuts straight to the chase in order to defray any criticism that this new anthology of poets is just another lump in the already overstuffed shirt of the Western canon. To quote Richardson, "There ain't no canon. There ain't going […]

Winter has many moods. Sometimes it may seem angry when its cold winds blow harshly across empty fields. At other times it can be calm and peaceful. There is nothing like the quiet that falls over a night of first snow. In Winter Eyes (ages 4-8), Douglas Florian captures winter in all its glory, celebrating this wonderful, many-faced season in a book that beautifully combines poetry and painting to express the author's love of wintertime.

As a poet, Florian has a natural aptitude for creating verse. Even our teething eight-month-old, who usually prefers to eat a good book, was transfixed by the rhythm and cadence of Florian's language. One often feels the urge to read these poems softly, letting the words fall from the page like heavy flakes of snow. It should come as no surprise that some of Florian's poems hint at a (highly appropriate) respect for Robert Frost. Not only does Florian find inspiration in winter like the venerable Frost, but he also exhibits a command of rhyme that brings great poets to mind.

Florian is at times a playful bard. Poems like Sled show that he also holds less traditional poets like E. E. Cummings in high esteem. Sled visually acts out the action of sledding while also expressing the poem's action in words. This particular poem is a fun example of how Florian integrates his words with his paintings. Here, the lively words follow the author's endearing images in a spirited combination of ink and paint.

There are many things to love about this delightful collection of poems, and it's one that all ages will enjoy. Winter Eyes is the perfect book to curl up with on a chilly day, or whenever you want to make a special trip to a winter wonderland.

Winter Hues Winter has to pick and chose. The clothes she wears Are few in hues: A raw sienna, A dark burnt umber, Some yellow ochres Scant in number, Steel gray day, Navy night, And winter white And winter white.

Charles Wyrick is a musician in Nashville.

Winter has many moods. Sometimes it may seem angry when its cold winds blow harshly across empty fields. At other times it can be calm and peaceful. There is nothing like the quiet that falls over a night of first snow. In Winter Eyes (ages 4-8), Douglas Florian captures winter in all its glory, celebrating […]

Anyone familiar with a collection of short stories entitled Fishing the Sloe-Black River knows the strength of Colum McCann's writing. Like Thomas Wolfe, McCann writes lyrical prose that is both refined and urbane. Given the structure of the short story, McCann's talents distill themselves into wonderfully descriptive passages that segue gracefully into and out of the action of his well-captured characters. McCann is a master at making his language float about whatever subject or object he has chosen to describe. In his stories his vocabulary slips easily from the archaic to the profane, proving him to be much more than a literary stuffed shirt. McCann's strong knowledge of words is only out done by his even stronger sense of the way words sound. Whether expressing dialect or trying to evoke the emotion of a certain exchange, one cannot help but admire the way McCann's dialogues draw out sounds. The stories of Fishing the Sloe-Back River are a wonderful testament to a writer with an incredible ear for language.

This Side of Brightness follows in this tradition of powerful writing. This new novel captures all of the admirable qualities of his short stories and expands them. The long form of the novel suits McCann well in this generational story about one man's struggle to raise a family in New York City. The novel begins just after the turn of the century when we meet Nathan Walker, a transplanted Georgian working as a digger in the New York City subway system. Walker is embroiled in the burgeoning Irish community of the Lower East Side as he works in the dangerous and somewhat heroic position as a lead digger in the tunnels being excavated underneath the East River. After a disaster in the tunnels, Walker's ties to an Irish family are deepened by his eventual courtship and marriage to a deceased friend/coworker's daughter. From this marriage springs the great tale of the Walker clan as it spans three generations living in Harlem under the stigma of a being a family born from a racially mixed couple.

As a novelist McCann could not be better fit for such a remarkable tale about such a memorable family. His strengths at dialogue are well served not only in his rendering of life in the growing Irish community of New York but also through the thoughts and conversations of a mysterious homeless narrator whose place in the novel takes on an almost prodigal nature. McCann addresses the big issues of race, love, and time with a literary majesty that completely befits the nature and scope of this family epic. His tone as novelist is a wonderful reminder of the self-assured poetics of his shorter fiction, yet now even more of a literary treat as he traces out his tale through the vicissitudes of time. This Side of Brightness is an epic not only in its embrace of one family's generational struggles, but in its accomplishments as powerfully written art.

Anyone familiar with a collection of short stories entitled Fishing the Sloe-Black River knows the strength of Colum McCann's writing. Like Thomas Wolfe, McCann writes lyrical prose that is both refined and urbane. Given the structure of the short story, McCann's talents distill themselves into wonderfully descriptive passages that segue gracefully into and out of […]

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a good month to gamble on unknowns. Here's a look a three debut novels definitely worth checking out in 2000. Interested in medieval settings? You know, stories with castles and serfs. Well, if you are, then The Testament of Yves Gundron (Farrar, Straus ∧ Giroux, $25, 0374221790) is right up your hedgerow. This debut by Emily Barton invites us into Mandragora, a small, medieval country located in the interior of a remote island. In Mandragora we meet Yves Gundron, a fairly ordinary peasant farmer. Yves works hard in the fields to support his family, and one day, in an inspired moment, he invents the harness, an implement that makes life just a little less difficult for himself and everyone else. But if the creation of the harness comes as a revelation to the Mandragorans, then you can only imagine what the appearance of Ruth Blum, an anthropologist from Boston does to this primitive society. In this imaginative first novel, Barton continually surprises us with her quirky plot changes. As you might have guessed, Mandragora turns out to be a secluded medieval society somehow forgotten by a world brimming with 20th-century conveniences. Her novel thus details the emotional and psychological upheaval of a community suddenly caught between the Middle Ages and modernity. Plot surprises aside, the real fun in this book lies in Barton's take on the medieval mind. Written from Yves Gundron's point of view, this clever novel pokes fun at the habits and suspicions of Mandragora's backwards inhabitants. Burton deftly captures the dispositions of these charming simpletons as she sets them up for their shocking communal epiphany. This novel is a fine-tuned comedy well suited for fans of historical fiction. In an equally imaginative albeit less fantastical vein Zoe Heller's debut takes a more serious look at life's surprises. In Everything You Know (Alfred A. Knopf, $22, 0375407243) Heller takes on the voice of an aging British writer convalescing from a heart attack in Mexico. Willy Muller is a man born to face hardship and suffering. Consequently he is a man who despises just about everything. A true misanthrope, Muller's rage at the world manifests itself in his verbal and psychological abuse of those closest to him. His girlfriend, his agent, his nurses, and his few friends all bear the brunt of his caustic temperament. As author, Heller does an amazing job at capturing the acidity of this aging curmudgeon, but the overall power in this story comes from the unraveling of Muller's life. Though Muller seems born to be bad, slowly we begin to understand him as a man born to experience sorrow.

Having lost his first wife in an accident for which he was blamed, Willy is completely estranged from his two daughters. During Willy's convalescence we also discover that his youngest daughter, Sophie, has recently committed suicide.

Through a strange twist in fate, Willy finds himself in possession of Sophie's diary. While recovering, he reads his daughter's journal in an attempt to recapture something of her lost life. This is a heartbreaking tale told masterfully by a writer seemingly wise beyond her years. Heller writes convincingly from Muller's point of view, but the real triumph here is the depth of her insight into the tragedy of this man's life. For all the story's bitterness, this is a truly engrossing book. Heller surely will be a writer to watch in years to come. Eliza Osborne's debut, The Distance Between, also takes a hard, sober look at family tragedy. Like Heller, Osborne captures a character who is forced to survey the more difficult terrain in life. This well-crafted novel follows Mattie Welsh as she travels by car to her parents' home in Pennsylvania. Mattie's elderly parents have been injured in a car accident. Osborne's novel thus focuses on the inward monologue of a woman faced suddenly with her parent's mortality. The Distance Between relates a stirring personal journey. Osborne's writing is electrifying in its poetic intensity. There are some passages in this novel that recall the furious intensity of Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish, while other sections are reminiscent of the subtle, lyrical gifts of T. S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. It is not often that novelists bring poets to mind, but Osborne is a writer of such inestimable talent one cannot help but hear poems in her prose. Yet it is not just fascinating language that brings poets to mind. Like Eliot and Ginsberg, Osborne's writing tackles timeless issues. Her novel is a poignant meditation on family, love, and loss wrapped in a plot that basically involves nothing more than a woman and a car. Here is a debut of a highly admirable order. From the humorous to the heartbreaking, these three novels make astounding debuts. So this new year, try some new authors. They won't disappoint.

Charles Wyrick is a writer and musician living in Nashville.

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a […]

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a good month to gamble on unknowns. Here's a look a three debut novels definitely worth checking out in 2000. Interested in medieval settings? You know, stories with castles and serfs. Well, if you are, then The Testament of Yves Gundron (Farrar, Straus ∧ Giroux, $25, 0374221790) is right up your hedgerow. This debut by Emily Barton invites us into Mandragora, a small, medieval country located in the interior of a remote island. In Mandragora we meet Yves Gundron, a fairly ordinary peasant farmer. Yves works hard in the fields to support his family, and one day, in an inspired moment, he invents the harness, an implement that makes life just a little less difficult for himself and everyone else. But if the creation of the harness comes as a revelation to the Mandragorans, then you can only imagine what the appearance of Ruth Blum, an anthropologist from Boston does to this primitive society. In this imaginative first novel, Barton continually surprises us with her quirky plot changes. As you might have guessed, Mandragora turns out to be a secluded medieval society somehow forgotten by a world brimming with 20th-century conveniences. Her novel thus details the emotional and psychological upheaval of a community suddenly caught between the Middle Ages and modernity. Plot surprises aside, the real fun in this book lies in Barton's take on the medieval mind. Written from Yves Gundron's point of view, this clever novel pokes fun at the habits and suspicions of Mandragora's backwards inhabitants. Burton deftly captures the dispositions of these charming simpletons as she sets them up for their shocking communal epiphany. This novel is a fine-tuned comedy well suited for fans of historical fiction. In an equally imaginative albeit less fantastical vein Zoe Heller's debut takes a more serious look at life's surprises. In Everything You Know Heller takes on the voice of an aging British writer convalescing from a heart attack in Mexico. Willy Muller is a man born to face hardship and suffering. Consequently he is a man who despises just about everything. A true misanthrope, Muller's rage at the world manifests itself in his verbal and psychological abuse of those closest to him. His girlfriend, his agent, his nurses, and his few friends all bear the brunt of his caustic temperament. As author, Heller does an amazing job at capturing the acidity of this aging curmudgeon, but the overall power in this story comes from the unraveling of Muller's life. Though Muller seems born to be bad, slowly we begin to understand him as a man born to experience sorrow.

Having lost his first wife in an accident for which he was blamed, Willy is completely estranged from his two daughters. During Willy's convalescence we also discover that his youngest daughter, Sophie, has recently committed suicide.

Through a strange twist in fate, Willy finds himself in possession of Sophie's diary. While recovering, he reads his daughter's journal in an attempt to recapture something of her lost life. This is a heartbreaking tale told masterfully by a writer seemingly wise beyond her years. Heller writes convincingly from Muller's point of view, but the real triumph here is the depth of her insight into the tragedy of this man's life. For all the story's bitterness, this is a truly engrossing book. Heller surely will be a writer to watch in years to come. Eliza Osborne's debut, The Distance Between (Soho Press, $24, 1569471800), also takes a hard, sober look at family tragedy. Like Heller, Osborne captures a character who is forced to survey the more difficult terrain in life. This well-crafted novel follows Mattie Welsh as she travels by car to her parents' home in Pennsylvania. Mattie's elderly parents have been injured in a car accident. Osborne's novel thus focuses on the inward monologue of a woman faced suddenly with her parent's mortality. The Distance Between relates a stirring personal journey. Osborne's writing is electrifying in its poetic intensity. There are some passages in this novel that recall the furious intensity of Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish, while other sections are reminiscent of the subtle, lyrical gifts of T. S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. It is not often that novelists bring poets to mind, but Osborne is a writer of such inestimable talent one cannot help but hear poems in her prose. Yet it is not just fascinating language that brings poets to mind. Like Eliot and Ginsberg, Osborne's writing tackles timeless issues. Her novel is a poignant meditation on family, love, and loss wrapped in a plot that basically involves nothing more than a woman and a car. Here is a debut of a highly admirable order. From the humorous to the heartbreaking, these three novels make astounding debuts. So this new year, try some new authors. They won't disappoint.

Charles Wyrick is a writer and musician living in Nashville.

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a […]

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a good month to gamble on unknowns. Here's a look a three debut novels definitely worth checking out in 2000. Interested in medieval settings? You know, stories with castles and serfs. Well, if you are, then The Testament of Yves Gundron is right up your hedgerow. This debut by Emily Barton invites us into Mandragora, a small, medieval country located in the interior of a remote island. In Mandragora we meet Yves Gundron, a fairly ordinary peasant farmer. Yves works hard in the fields to support his family, and one day, in an inspired moment, he invents the harness, an implement that makes life just a little less difficult for himself and everyone else. But if the creation of the harness comes as a revelation to the Mandragorans, then you can only imagine what the appearance of Ruth Blum, an anthropologist from Boston does to this primitive society. In this imaginative first novel, Barton continually surprises us with her quirky plot changes. As you might have guessed, Mandragora turns out to be a secluded medieval society somehow forgotten by a world brimming with 20th-century conveniences. Her novel thus details the emotional and psychological upheaval of a community suddenly caught between the Middle Ages and modernity. Plot surprises aside, the real fun in this book lies in Barton's take on the medieval mind. Written from Yves Gundron's point of view, this clever novel pokes fun at the habits and suspicions of Mandragora's backwards inhabitants. Burton deftly captures the dispositions of these charming simpletons as she sets them up for their shocking communal epiphany. This novel is a fine-tuned comedy well suited for fans of historical fiction. In an equally imaginative albeit less fantastical vein Zoe Heller's debut takes a more serious look at life's surprises. In Everything You Know (Alfred A. Knopf, $22, 0375407243) Heller takes on the voice of an aging British writer convalescing from a heart attack in Mexico. Willy Muller is a man born to face hardship and suffering. Consequently he is a man who despises just about everything. A true misanthrope, Muller's rage at the world manifests itself in his verbal and psychological abuse of those closest to him. His girlfriend, his agent, his nurses, and his few friends all bear the brunt of his caustic temperament. As author, Heller does an amazing job at capturing the acidity of this aging curmudgeon, but the overall power in this story comes from the unraveling of Muller's life. Though Muller seems born to be bad, slowly we begin to understand him as a man born to experience sorrow.

Having lost his first wife in an accident for which he was blamed, Willy is completely estranged from his two daughters. During Willy's convalescence we also discover that his youngest daughter, Sophie, has recently committed suicide.

Through a strange twist in fate, Willy finds himself in possession of Sophie's diary. While recovering, he reads his daughter's journal in an attempt to recapture something of her lost life. This is a heartbreaking tale told masterfully by a writer seemingly wise beyond her years. Heller writes convincingly from Muller's point of view, but the real triumph here is the depth of her insight into the tragedy of this man's life. For all the story's bitterness, this is a truly engrossing book. Heller surely will be a writer to watch in years to come. Eliza Osborne's debut, The Distance Between (Soho Press, $24, 1569471800), also takes a hard, sober look at family tragedy. Like Heller, Osborne captures a character who is forced to survey the more difficult terrain in life. This well-crafted novel follows Mattie Welsh as she travels by car to her parents' home in Pennsylvania. Mattie's elderly parents have been injured in a car accident. Osborne's novel thus focuses on the inward monologue of a woman faced suddenly with her parent's mortality. The Distance Between relates a stirring personal journey. Osborne's writing is electrifying in its poetic intensity. There are some passages in this novel that recall the furious intensity of Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish, while other sections are reminiscent of the subtle, lyrical gifts of T. S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. It is not often that novelists bring poets to mind, but Osborne is a writer of such inestimable talent one cannot help but hear poems in her prose. Yet it is not just fascinating language that brings poets to mind. Like Eliot and Ginsberg, Osborne's writing tackles timeless issues. Her novel is a poignant meditation on family, love, and loss wrapped in a plot that basically involves nothing more than a woman and a car. Here is a debut of a highly admirable order. From the humorous to the heartbreaking, these three novels make astounding debuts. So this new year, try some new authors. They won't disappoint.

Charles Wyrick is a writer and musician living in Nashville.

A trio of fresh new voices If you are looking for ideas for New Year's resolutions, why not resolve to read something completely new this January? Though this might not sound like the wildest suggestion, let's face it, when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author? Thankfully, January is a […]

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