Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Poetry of Sarah Manguso

I just realized that I have been writing so much about film lately! This realization comes along (unsurprisingly) with the quarter-life-crisis epiphany that perhaps I should have applied to Master's programs in Film Studies rather than Ph.D. programs in English Literature. But right now I'm telling myself that English is my sturdy horse and I can always do a film concentration. Hell, I don't even know if I'll get into school!

But along those lines, you all should really read Sarah Manguso.

Look, isn't she pretty? And I'm not just saying you should read her because she happens to be one of my authors (or will be, come June). Even if you don't like poetry, you'll like Manguso. She's an excellent writer and her poetry is the best contemporary poetry I have read in years.


Before I gave my eyes to a liar with ruined entrails
I saw the shape for the fifteenth time.

I thought I saw how the story got told.
And I gave it everything.

Blind I listen to all the little sounds.
How pretty they are.
I arrive and arrive.
Look——I am the statue that thinks it's running.

I don't know about you, but that last line really kicks me in the gut.

This poem is from her second collection of poetry, called, Siste Viator. Her first collection is entitled The Captain Lands in Paradise. See these and more (like a short story collection from McSweeney's) at her website.

Manguso's upcoming book (with us) is The Two Kinds of Decay, a memoir about a life-threatening illness that struck her when she was a freshman at Harvard. I hate illness memoirs, but I can honestly say this is one of the best books I've read, ever. Manguso's poetry (and her prose, which reads like poetry) has a psychic, celestial quality to it, and her comfort with violence and death is perplexingly both refreshing and terrifying. Siste Viator has been my amulet against bad blood and feelings of helplessness many a time. I recommend it for constant-carrying in your bag.

I'll let Sarah do the work here, but do let me know what you think.


Sometimes I think I understand the way things work
And then I find out that on Neptune it rains diamonds.
On this world you can get out of work early, unclog the drain,
hear music. Any of the above should prove the existence
of God or at least some kind of beautifying engine
but in Germany when they couldn't figure out
how to tranquilize the polar bear and he was standing
in the park, the cage door broken, they shot him dead.
Nine hundred pounds——that's a lot of dead bear.
Neptune's pretty close to immortal,
as we understand the word, and I wouldn't like to be
that planet. But if I had to I would take it,
the decades of punishing rain, and the fires
on neighboring planets I would watch,
thankful I was never touched by them,
and that the diamonds were mine.


Mary-Laure said...

The poem 'Everything' is really quite good, unlike any contemporary poetry I've read recently - I don't even bother reading the New Yorker poetry anymore, it's such so uniformely bad.
Good luck to Sarah.

I like the Jean Seberg pic on your blog. When I was a teenager, I cropped my long hair just like hers after seeing 'Breathless'. She is so exquisite.
I also love Tim Burton. His cartoon last year (the ghost story, you know, what was it called again...) was my movie of the year.
Thanks for leaving comments on my blog. I don't know if you've noticed, but Benjy is a dachshund just like the one Anton Chekhov had (I actually think he had several, one of which appears on the picture of Chekhov on the Chekhov's Mistress blog, which I see you also like).
One more thing, about flowers: it's not that expensive an addiction, you know. One fresh bunch of hyacinths costs about 5 euros ($6.50), which is the price of a couple of Starbucks treats, and lasts about a week. Very good price/happiness ratio.
OK, I'm going to bed now... Goodnight...

Snobber said...

i'm so glad you like the poems. there is something rotten in the state of contemporary poetry and i think sarah has a really unique voice. i agree that the new yorker poems have gone to pot. it's basically one huge cycle of nepotism and cronyism, which i resent. it just gets old!

jean seberg is so beautiful, she's lately become my fashion inspiration, so i thought i would pop her up there.

glad to hear you're a burton fan! i actually didn't like corpse bride that much, but the nightmare before christmas is a masterpiece.

aw, benjy is adorable, and yes he does come from a long line of literary hounds. thanks for the advice on the flowers!

m said...

i have really loved sarah manguso since you posted that poem on fbook awhile ago. really lovely.