Monday, April 19, 2010

Front List / Back List: Full Moon On K Street: Poems About Washington DC and A Hundred And Seventy Chinese Poems Translated by Arthur Waley

The poetry anthology is the theme in today's Front List/Back List. Beginning with what I believe is a very important new release followed by a celebration of a landmark anthology.

From The Front List

Full Moon On K Street: Poems About Washington, D.C. edited by Kim Roberts. Published by Plan B Press in association with Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Poetry Anthology. Trade Paperback. 147 pp. ISBN: 9780977824366. $20. Buy it direct from Plan B Press.

There is one essential element to any great anthology: didacticism. The well-organized and thematically clear anthology not only successfully frames the individual content but also engages in an instantly educational tone. In the case of poetry, the most subjective of literary forms, this allows for a very useful point of reference for the reader.

I referred above to Full Moon On K Street as important because of a couple key reasons, the greatest of which is the merit of the poetry within. These are great poems. Good poetry alone however, cannot make for an important anthology. The editor plays a nearly equal part in such considerations, and in the case of this very provincial collection editor Kim Roberts has done a marvelous job.

Roberts is the editor and publisher of the online Beltway Poetry Quarterly, which she has been putting together for twenty-five years. A perusal of the site, and in particular her bibliographic piece on D.C. poetry anthologies, will quickly inform you of the depth of her knowledge.

I am unfamiliar with other D.C. anthologies but as a reader of poetry and a person quite familiar with other landmark anthologies I can confidently say that Roberts has assembled just that: a landmark. This is important work, not just to the community of Washington, D.C., but to the nation at large. No doubt part of that national interest is born of the fact that this anthology deals with our nation's capital.

Washington, D.C. is a singular place. There is no such thing as passing intellectual curiosity there. If you are interested in something then you must attain proficiency in that subject less you suffer humiliation. In D.C. you are surrounded by professionals of nearly every field. Naturally politics drive much of the intellectual community. You can't expect to fair well in a political discussion with D.C. citizens if you are armed only with an hour or two of NPR. The guy selling you hot dogs knows more political scuttlebutt than many Ivy League political profs. Hyperbole maybe. But just maybe.

What makes Roberts anthology so successful is its care for the individual poets and a drive to provide information on how the poem or poet relates to the city. Every single entry is introduced with a brief bio of the poet followed by an explanation of why it is about D.C. It is a very historical collection. You will learn as much about the architecture and public transit of Washington as you will the inequalities of those who live in D.C. versus those who work there.

From the founding role of D.C. artists in what eventually became transplanted and known as the Harlem Renaissance to the protest poetry of the Bush presidency, with many a sun-baked or moonlit edifice between, Full Moon On K Street is remarkable as much because of the city as the poets' individual talents.

Do not confuse the fact that the poems within the collection are all intrinsic. They are D.C. just as Frank O'Hara's poetry is New York and yet you can sit on a stoop in Bakersfield and enjoy them all the same.

I congratulate Kim Roberts and stevenallenmay of Plan B Press on bringing this book to us.

From The Back List

A Hundred And Seventy Chinese Poems translated by Arthur Waley. Originally published in 1919 by Alfred A. Knopf. Elaboration on its current availability below.

There is no other way to describe the famous Sinologist and translator's first published anthology. It is a landmark of publishing history and poetry collections for a couple of reasons. It created a taste and a trajectory for decades to come.

Whether you approach it from an individual standpoint and gauge its influence on the likes of Kenneth Rexroth or assess it from the vantage of the publishing-wide trend of publishing Chinese and Japanese writing that followed for several decades after its publication, it is easy to understand that Waley's anthology has had a lasting effect. It was the vehicle in which Eastern thought arrived in the philosophy of the Beats and the first treatment of Asiatic poetry with a fair and even hand. In his insightful foreword to the anthology Waley goes to great lengths to explain the differences.

What Chinese poetry lacks in pyrotechnics and philosophic rigor it more than makes up for with a singular and enviably tranquil approach to contemplation. As I mentioned in the above Front List anthology it is Waley's ability as editor that makes the collection. Nearly forty of the two-hundred and forty odd pages consists of a history of Chinese poetry. From dynasty to dynasty, trend to trend, Waley assembles a complete portrait of two millennia of verse. The dizzying variety, from epigrams to nearly Parisian seeming prose poetry.

Published over ninety years ago, A Hundred And Seventy Chinese Poems is no longer in print from the original publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. It exists now in the chaotic bin of public domain publishers. Scanned editions, imperfect and expensive, are available from a few reprint publishers. It is also available on Yes. Free.

Part of B&N's partnership with Google Books is to provide free etexts in order to help sell their nook. It is comical to behold the $26.75 paperback reprint hovering above the free edition. Why bother going to your local bookstore (if you still have one) when you can just get the book free from B&N online. Really. This shit is getting ridiculous. You bet your ass I have a special comment about this coming on Friday.

Aggression shelved temporarily, I bring up Waley's anthology to represent all such classic anthologies. Whether poetry of the American Civil War or a collection of Russian verse from the height of the Cold War, anthologies prove incredibly important in their ability to educate and introduce. In that sense they are nearly perfect choices for such awareness based initiatives as National Poetry Month.

SO go grab yourself a copy (in the case of the Waley you might have to go to a used bookstore) and read. At least the big retailers haven't yet monopolized that final process.

About The Players

Full Moon On K Street

Kim Roberts: poet, publisher and editor can be read of here.

stevenallenmay: poet, publisher and ever more respectable than he's probably comfortable with can be read about here and his press, Plan B, can be read about here.

A Hundred And Seventy Chinese Poems

The famed translator and Sinologist can read about on wikipedia, the most accurate reference tool ever.

No comments: