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Thursday, May 11, 2006

cover of The Poems of Laura Riding

Laura Riding Jackson is an interesting literary figure. She was a fairly major poet, but very few people now have heard of her-- due to her own renunciation of poetry, and the fact that her poems were not included in major anthologies. Even when she wrote poetry she thought of it as a spiritual venture-- to communicate truth-- and when she renounced poetry, it was due to her conclusion that poetry was not truthful enough, could not go far enough towards truth.

Her poems tend to be fairly spare (certainly not full of imagery or metaphor) and philsophical, and challenging to follow mentally. Her view of poetry is spiritual, but she is very scornful towards traditional religious beliefs (as particularly evident in two Christmas poems, but elsewhere as well), and this made it difficult to me to want to follow her challenging train of thought completely.

Reading this many pages of poetry by anyone is challenging, but particularly so in this case; I feel like I didn't spend enough time to really understand the poems, and grasp only the smallest fraction of what is going on here. It was not at all helpful to read Riding's preface from the 1938 edition of this collection, where she says that poetry should be read and written for the same reasons, and that since her work is written with all of the reasons of poetry, if her readers would only read the poems with the same reasons they would not find her poetry difficult.

Some of the poems were quite enjoyable (although I can't help but feel I liked the "simpler" poems since those were the ones I understood more easily). Here is one of my favorites.

The Troubles of a Book

The trouble of a book is first to be
No thought to nobody,
Then to lie as long unwritten
As it will lie unread,
Then to build word for word an author
And occupy his head
Until the head declares vacancy
To make full publication
Of running empty.

The trouble of a book is secondly
To keep awake and ready
And listening like an innkeeper,
Wishing, not wishing for a guest,
Torn between hope of no rest
And hope of rest.
Uncertainly the pages doze
And blink open to passing fingers
With landlord smile, then close.

The trouble of a book is thirdly
To speak its sermon, the look the other way,
Arous commotion in the margin,
Where tongue meets the eye,
But claim no experience of panic,
No complicity in the outcry.
The ordeal of a book is to give no hint
Of ordeal, to be flat and witless
Of the upright sense of print.

The trouble of a book is chiefly
To be nothing but book outwardly;
To wear binding like binding,
Bury itself in book-death,
Yet to feel all but book;
To breathe live words, yet with the breath
Of letters; to address liveliness
In reading eyes, be answered with
letters and bookishness.

Title:The Poems of Laura Riding: A new edition of the 1938 collection
Author:Laura (Riding) Jackson
Date published:1980
Number of pages:419


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