Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 8 September, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Another day, another round of mini reviews! This is another poetry edition as I’ve read a bit of poetry in the last few months that I wanted to talk briefly about 🙂 Included in this batch are:


The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: An Anthology
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

More than a century has now passed since F.T. Marinetti’s famous “Futurist Manifesto” slammed the door on the nineteenth century and trumpeted the arrival of modernity in Europe and beyond. Since then, against the backdrop of two world wars and several radical social upheavals whose effects continue to be felt, Italian poets have explored the possibilities of verse in a modern age, creating in the process one of the great bodies of twentieth-century poetry.

Even before Marinetti, poets such as Giovanni Pascoli had begun to clear the weedy rhetoric and withered diction from the once-glorious but by then decadent grounds of Italian poetry. And their winter labors led to an extraordinary spring: Giuseppe Ungaretti’s wartime distillations and Eugenio Montale’s “astringent music”; Umberto Saba’s song of himself and Salvatore Quasimodo’s hermetic involutions. After World War II, new generations—including such marvelously diverse poets as Sandro Penna, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Amelia Rosselli, Vittorio Sereni, and Raffaello Baldini—extended the enormous promise of the prewar era into our time.

A surprising and illuminating collection, The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry invites the reader to examine the works of these and other poets—seventy-five in all—in context and conversation with one another. Edited by the poet and translator Geoffrey Brock, these poems have been beautifully rendered into English by some of our finest English-language poets, including Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, Paul Muldoon, and many exciting younger voices

I bought this monster of a tome on sale at Book City; I’m always up to reading more translated texts and more Italian literature so the intersect between Italian literature and poetry with this book was a win-win for me.

Like the title and blurb mentions, the book covers Italian poetry over the course of the twentieth century, convering everything from life in Italy at the turn of the century to the two world wars, to experimentation in the latter half of the the twentieth century in culture. It’s a bilingual text, which I always enjoy checking out, and whilst there were some I didn’t care for or felt moved by (the really weird experimentation from the mid-century just will never appeal to me) there were others that did intrigue me and whose works I will keep a lookout for as solo collections, such as Giovanni Pascoli and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

Overall, I’m glad to have checked out this collection 🙂

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Miguel Hernandez
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Miguel Hernández is, along with Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Federico García Lorca, one of the greatest Spanish poets of the twentieth century. This volume spans the whole of Hernández’s brief writing life, and includes his most celebrated poems, from the early lyrics written in traditional forms, such as the moving elegy Hernández wrote to his friend and mentor Ramon Sijé (one of the most famous elegies ever written in the Spanish language), to the spiritual eroticism of his love poems, and the heart-wrenching, luminous lines written in the trenches of war. Also included in this edition are tributes to Hernández by Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda (interviewed by Robert Bly), Rafael Alberti, and Vicente Aleixandre. Pastoral nature, love, and war are recurring themes in Hernández’s poetry, his words a dazzling reminder that force can never defeat spirit, that courage is its own reward.

I mentioned it on Instagram but I read the first poem and immediately knew I would love his poetry (“Your destiny is the beach/My calling is the sea” was the line that hook me). I love the imagery he uses to convey his thoughts, ideas, and feelings; the poem “I Have Lots of Heart” is another one that really grabbed my attention (“Yesterday, today, tomorrow,/suffering for it all/my heart is a sad fishbowl/a cage of dying nightingales”). The poetry he wrote during the Spanish Civil War was also quite evocative, about the horrors but also about how life and the spirit will prevail. It’s heartbreaking learning that he passed away at the age of 31 in prison from advanced tuberculosis but that he was still writing to the very end.

If you love poetry by Federico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda, definitely check out his poetry, it is definitely worth the read.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Love Sonnets and Elegies
By: Louise Labe
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Louise Labé, one of the most original poets of the French Renaissance, published her complete Works around the age of thirty and then disappeared from history. Rediscovered in the nineteenth century, her incandescent love sonnets were later translated into German by Rilke and appear here in a revelatory new English version by the award-winning translator Richard Sieburth.

Ever experienced unrequited love? Well, Louise Labe’s got you covered: she really knows about unrequited love and the madness of love. I actually first encountered her poetry when I read French Love Poems (review) a while back so when I encountered the NYRB Poets collection of her works, I decided to check it out. On a personal note, I could absolutely relate to some of these poems and it came at quite a timely moment so let’s just say I really took to these poems.

What was especially delightful about this collection is that it’s bilingual! You can read the original–either written in French or Italian–on one side and the English translation on the other side. Very cool.

Suffice to say I really enjoyed this collection because she wrote some very beautiful poetry. Highly recommended.

Rating: ★★★★★

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And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future? 🙂

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