While my 2015 reading challenge is going strong (11 out of 14 read so far), I’ve come to a stumbling block with my promise to review the books I’m reading. My review of The Stairwell was supposed to be posted in September, and I procrastinated all month, before deciding to leave it for National Poetry Day in October. Which was 2 days ago.
Some of the problem is that I struggle with how to approach poetry reviews. Brand New Ancients, which I read earlier in the year, was comparatively easy – it’s one long poem, which tells a compelling story. The Stairwell is a collection of individual poems, albeit tied together by the theme of loss, and I find myself unsure whether to talk about the collection, or to pull out a few individual poems as examples.
Which leads to my next problem: I didn’t enjoy The Stairwell enough to want to discuss it at all. There were no turns of phrase or images that struck me as memorable, and while there was a discernible theme, it seemed to only loosely tie quite disparate poems together. I could have thought back to my undergrad English Lit days and pulled something together, but I risked turning the post into a bad essay – the kind written on 20 cups of coffee in 24 hours, and turned in just before the deadline.
What The Stairwell has taught me about myself is that I prefer complete stories to quick sketches, whether the medium is poetry or prose. I’m encountering the same problem with Donne’s Complete Poems, another of the books on my list, and I found that even reading his biography (which added helpful context to some of his poetry) didn’t fire any enthusiasm for his work.
This is not to say that I feel I’ve wasted my time by reading either collection; the purpose of the challenge was to step out of my reading comfort zone, and I’ve learnt more about the kind of works I enjoy by doing so. As for The Stairwell, I will keep hold of my copy, in the knowledge that I may revisit it with a different perspective when I experience a loss of my own.