Apples v oranges? Both are darn good.

I am reading two poets at the moment who could not be more different. And I am enjoying them both thoroughly.
A.B. Spellman, “Things I Must Have Known”
Janusz Szuber, “they carry a promise: selected poems”
I’m only halfway though each book, but here some observations and examples, thus far.
I’m astounded that, although Spellman has been the poet-in-residence at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Emory and Rutgers Universities, a regular jazz commentator on NPR, and the author of numerous books on the arts, this is his first full-length collection of poetry.
According to his bio, Spellman is “a founding member of the Black Arts Movement” and “one of the fathers of modern jazz criticism.” Perhaps he has been too busy to publish more poetry, which is a shame, because this collection is delightful.
My swing is more mellow
these days: not the hardbop drive
i used to roll but more of a cool
foxtrot.
so don’t look for me in the treble
don’t look for me in the fly
staccato splatter of the hot young horn
no, you’ll find me in the nuance
hanging out in inflection & slur
-Groovin’ Low
Read a few of Spellman’s poems back-to-back, and you’ll hear the jazz in them. His cadences, his line breaks will make you sway in time to some inner music. He writes about aging and music and mature love. Maybe it’s because I’m sliding slowly into middle age, but right now the love poems that touch me are those that speak of gentle, steadfast emotion, and Spellman has some particularly successful poems in this vein.
when
i’m in the bard’s disgrace
with fortune & men’s eyes
i call on the fool in you
who calls on the fool
in me & makes me whole
-The Truth About Karen
While Spellman’s name had sounded familiar to me when I picked up his book in a Washington, DC-bookshop, Janusz Szuber was completely unknown to me. I discovered him on the seventh floor (languages and literature) of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. Their lit department is very good about featuring new books in translation as part of the “countertop” displays near the elevators. I was, quite literally, on my way out when I stopped to peruse them. I opened Szuber’s book and read:
When my clock neared noon
I found myself among familiar forests.
On the left the great Alighieri paced,
A tame panther bounded along his trail.
On the right a passerby from the forest of Arden
Was choking with laughter
At the sight of foolish verses on the tree bark.
I picked up a stone. It was exactly a thing in itself.
-Readings
Sold! Proceed immediately to the checkout counter on the third floor; do not pass Go, do not collect any more books.
they carry a promise is Szuber’s first book to be translated into English (translator Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough), but he has published 18 collections of poetry in Poland and received numerous awards. As much as I like to rail against the big publishers for some of their business practices, I am thankful that a few – in this case Alfred A. Knopf – are willing to publish what must surely be a money loser: poetry in translation.
Szuber covers a wide range of topics in his poetry, but he always seems to be asking those same eternal questions about life and existence.
What, back then, did I know about that?
The real, hard as a diamond,
Was to happen in the indefinable
Future, and everything seemed
Only a sign of what was to come. How naive.
Now I know inattention is an unforgiven sin
And each particle of time has an ultimate dimension.
-About a Boy Stirring Jam
Both of these poets have included some incredibly difficult poetry in their collections – pieces that I don’t fully understand – but are worth the challenge of re-reading. I look forward to spending more time with each of them.

I am reading two poets at the moment who could not be more different. And I am enjoying them both thoroughly.

A.B. Spellman, Things I Must Have Known
Janusz Szuber, they carry a promise: selected poems

I’m only halfway though each book, but here some observations and examples, thus far.

I’m astounded that, although Spellman has been the poet-in-residence at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Emory and Rutgers Universities, a regular jazz commentator on NPR, and the author of numerous books on the arts, this is his first full-length collection of poetry.

According to his bio, Spellman is “a founding member of the Black Arts Movement” and “one of the fathers of modern jazz criticism.” Perhaps he has been too busy to publish more poetry, which is a shame, because this collection is delightful.

Things I Must Have KnownMy swing is more mellow
these days: not the hardbop drive
i used to roll but more of a cool
foxtrot.

so don’t look for me in the treble
don’t look for me in the fly
staccato splatter of the hot young horn
no, you’ll find me in the nuance
hanging out in inflection & slur

– “Groovin’ Low,” A.B. Spellman

Read a few of Spellman’s poems back-to-back, and you’ll hear the jazz in them. His cadences, his line breaks will make you sway in time to some inner music. He writes about aging and music and mature love. Maybe it’s because I’m sliding slowly into middle age, but right now the love poems that touch me are those that speak of gentle, steadfast emotion, and Spellman has some particularly successful poems in this vein.

…when
i’m in the bard’s disgrace
with fortune & men’s eyes
i call on the fool in you
who calls on the fool
in me & makes me whole

– “The Truth About Karen,” A.B. Spellman

While Spellman’s name had sounded familiar to me when I picked up his book in a Washington, DC-bookshop, Janusz Szuber was completely unknown to me. I discovered him on the seventh floor (languages and literature) of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. Their lit department is very good about featuring new books in translation as part of the “countertop” displays near the elevators. I was, quite literally, on my way out when I stopped to peruse them. I opened Szuber’s book and read:

When my clock neared noon
I found myself among familiar forests.
On the left the great Alighieri paced,
A tame panther bounded along his trail.
On the right a passerby from the forest of Arden
Was choking with laughter
At the sight of foolish verses on the tree bark.

I picked up a stone. It was exactly a thing in itself.

– “Readings,” Janusz Szuber

Sold! Proceed immediately to the checkout counter on the third floor; do not pass Go, do not collect any more books.

they carry a promise is Szuber’s first book to be translated into English (translator Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough), but he has published 18 collections of poetry in Poland and received numerous awards. As much as I like to rail against the big publishers for some of their business practices, I am thankful that a few – in this case Alfred A. Knopf – are willing to publish what must surely be a money loser: poetry in translation.

Szuber covers a wide range of topics in his poetry, but he always seems to be asking those same eternal questions about life and existence.

they carry a promise
What, back then, did I know about that?
The real, hard as a diamond,
Was to happen in the indefinable
Future, and everything seemed
Only a sign of what was to come. How naive.
Now I know inattention is an unforgivable sin
And each particle of time has an ultimate dimension.

– “About a Boy Stirring Jam,” Janusz Szuber

Both of these poets have included some incredibly difficult poetry in their collections – pieces that I don’t fully understand – but are worth the challenge of re-reading. I look forward to spending more time with each of them.

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2 thoughts on “Apples v oranges? Both are darn good.

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