genre poetry

The Shining Light

“Poetry has always been in the Kazakh blood, and Galym Mutanov is one of the newly independent nation’s leading poets, a shining light in the Kazakh literary world. In the range of his poetry, Mutanov truly captures the essence of the Kazakh spirit – from the tough and ageless traditions of the wild steppe to moments of tender intimacy. The measured Islamic wisdom and deep sense of morality so intrinsic to Kazakh life of old shines through in verse after verse.

The figure of Abai, the 19th century visionary, the deeply spiritual poet of the steppe, looms large over Kazakh poetry. Mutanov takes up the challenge that Abai threw down – to create verse that is both steeped in the Kazakh tradition of oral verse yet rises to a new clarity and spirituality relevant today.

Mutanov wrote originally in Kazakh, but many Kazakhs speak only Russian. So his poems were translated into Russian by leading poets Vladimir Buryazev and M. Adibaeva. It is these Russian versions that provided the source for John Farndon’s translations with Olga Nakston for this collection.

A Kazakh poet Galymkair Mutanov is not only an interesting and gifted creative personality, but also a very original, distinctive philosopher. His poems are heartfelt, extraordinary and modest. The poems are the memories, reflections and advice of a truly wise and outstanding person. They are not trivial and vain, but really bright, with deep philosophical associations.

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Mesopotamia

“A unique work of fiction from the troubled streets of Ukraine, giving invaluable testimony to the new history unfolding in the nation’s post-independence years

This captivating book is Serhiy Zhadan’s ode to Kharkiv, the traditionally Russian-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine where he makes his home. A leader among Ukrainian post-independence authors, Zhadan employs both prose and poetry to address the disillusionment, complications, and complexities that have marked Ukrainian life in the decades following the Soviet Union’s collapse. His novel provides an extraordinary depiction of the lives of working-class Ukrainians struggling against an implacable fate: the road forward seems blocked at every turn by demagogic forces and remnants of the Russian past. Zhadan’s nine interconnected stories and accompanying poems are set in a city both representative and unusual, and his characters are simultaneously familiar and strange. Following a kind of magical-realist logic, his stories expose the grit and burden of stalled lives, the universal desire for intimacy, and a wistful realization of the off-kilter and even perverse nature of love.”

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Isla Negra

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the International Peace Prize, & the Lenin Peace Prize, Pablo Neruda remains one of the most influential voices in world literature.

“Few writers are as integrally bound to a place as Pablo Neruda was to the landscape of Isla Negra on Chile’s coast. From his arrival there in the late 1930s to his death in 1973 [from what is suspected to be poisoning by the Chilean military dictatorship], Neruda captured Isla Negra in words fundamental to an understanding of his work. It was at Isla Negra where Neruda ‘in the company of his muse, walked alongside the source of his most lyrical inspiration, the sea...and discovered a new way of seeing, as the ocean became a living metaphor for the infinite riches of the world.’”

Neruda’s imagery with words is sublime & this slim volume will make you long to live along the coastline. Neruda has been referred to as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” & is recognized as one of the 26 authors that make up the Western canon of literature along with the likes of Jane Austen, Dante, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, & Borges among others.

Note: The book voted to be read by the club was a thriller/mystery/historical fiction novel about this poet. Since a number of book club members also wanted to read this poetry, it’s a short volume, & reviewers have noted the novel is best accompanied by the poet’s work, both this volume of poetry above & the novel are included as the monthly read. (Members can read either or both.)

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Transparent City

A Vanity Fair “Hot Type” book, A Globe and Mail best book of 2018, a Lit Hub favorite book of the year, a World Literature Today notable translation, & winner of the José Saramago Prize

“Darkly pretty...peppered with poetry...These disparate stories are woven into a beautiful narrative that touches on government corruption, the privatization of water, the dangers of extracting oil for wealth, and the bastardization of religion for profit.. The novel reads like a love song to a tortured, desperately messed-up city that is undergoing remarkable transformations." - Publishers Weekly

“In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odonato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless. A captivating blend of magical realism, scathing political satire, tender comedy, and literary experimentation, Transparent City offers a gripping and joyful portrait of urban Africa quite unlike any before yet published in English, and places Ondjaki, indisputably, among the continent’s most accomplished writers.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Carol Weldon for the suggestion.)

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Nefertiti in the Flak Tower

“Clive James’ power as a poet has increased year by year, and there has been no stronger evidence for this than Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Here, his polymathic learning and technical virtuosity are worn more lightly than ever; the effect is merely to produce a deep sense of trust into which the reader gratefully sinks, knowing they are in the presence of a master. The most obvious token of that mastery is the book’s breathtaking range of theme: there are moving elegies, a meditation on the later Yeats, a Hollywood Iliad, odes to rare orchids, wartime typewriters and sharks—as well as a poem on the fate of Queen Nefertiti in Nazi Germany. But despite the dizzying variety, James’ poetic intention becomes increasingly clear: what marks this collection out is his intensified concentration on the individual poem as self-contained universe. Poetry is a practice he compares (in ‘Numismatics’) to striking new coin; and Nefertiti in the Flak Tower is a treasure-chest of one-off marvels, with each poem a twin-sided, perfect human balance of the unashamedly joyous and the deadly serious, ‘whose play of light pays tribute to the dark’.”

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The Promise of Hope

Slain in a terrorist attack in Kenya, Awoonor did not live to see this final volume of his published, but his spirit endures through his verse which combines the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people of Ghana & contemporary symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization.

"Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s most accomplished poets, had for almost half a century committed himself to teaching, political engagement, and the literary arts. The one constant that guided and shaped his many occupations and roles in life was poetry. The Promise of Hope is a beautifully edited collection of some of Awoonor’s most arresting work spanning almost fifty years. 

Selected and edited by Awoonor’s friend and colleague Kofi Anyidoho, himself a prominent poet and academic in Ghana, The Promise of Hope contains much of Awoonor’s most recent unpublished poetry, along with many of his anthologized and classic poems."

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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

"Latin America's great poet rendered into English by the world's most celebrated translator of Spanish-language literature.

Sor Juana (1651–1695) was a fiery feminist and a woman ahead of her time. Like Simone de Beauvoir, she was very much a public intellectual. Her contemporaries called her 'the Tenth Muse and 'the Phoenix of Mexico,' names that continue to resonate. An illegitimate child, self-taught intellectual, and court favorite, she rose to the height of fame as a writer in Mexico City during the Spanish Golden Age.

This volume includes Sor Juana's best-known works: 'First Dream,' her longest poem and the one that showcases her prodigious intellect and range, and 'Response of the Poet to the Very Eminent Sor Filotea de la Cruz,' her epistolary feminist defense—evocative of Mary Wollstonecraft and Emily Dickinson—of a woman's right to study and to write. Thirty other works—playful ballads, extraordinary sonnets, intimate poems of love, and a selection from an allegorical play with a distinctive New World flavor—are also included."

(A special thank you to book club member, Judy Shenk for the suggestion.)

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The Book of Disquiet

"For the first time—and in the best translation ever—the complete Book of Disquiet, a masterpiece beyond comparison.

The Book of Disquiet is the Portuguese modernist master Fernando Pessoa’s greatest literary achievement. An 'autobiography' or 'diary' containing exquisite melancholy observations, aphorisms, and ruminations, this classic work grapples with all the eternal questions. Now, for the first time, the texts are presented chronologically, in a complete English edition by master translator Margaret Jull Costa. Most of the texts in The Book of Disquiet are written under the semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper. This existential masterpiece was first published in Portuguese in 1982, forty-seven years after Pessoa’s death. A monumental literary event, this exciting, new, complete edition spans Fernando Pessoa’s entire writing life."

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Clearvigil in Spring

This slim volume of "Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias’ Clarivigilia Primaveral or Clearvigil in Spring is Asturias' creative reworking of Mayan mythology in his native Guatemala. The Nobel Committee called this mythic poetic cycle an 'impressive' work that 'deals with the very genesis of the arts and of poetic creation, in a language which seems to have assumed the bright splendor of the magical queztal's feathers and the glimmering of phosphorescent insects.'"

Professor Gerald M. Martin of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world's top Asturias scholars, has called this translation 'truly excellent.'"

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Narrow Road to the Interior (Shambhala Centaur Editions)

"Here is the most complete single-volume collection of the writings of one of the great luminaries of Asian literature. Basho (1644–1694)—who elevated the haiku to an art form of utter simplicity and intense spiritual beauty—is best known in the West as the author of Narrow Road to the Interior, a travel diary of linked prose and haiku that recounts his journey through the far northern provinces of Japan. This volume includes a masterful translation of this celebrated work along with three other less well-known but important works by Basho: Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones, The Knapsack Notebook, and Sarashina Travelogue. There is also a selection of over two hundred fifty of Basho's finest haiku. In addition, the translator has provided an introduction detailing Basho's life and work and an essay on the art of haiku."

Note: A variety of different translations are available with this version recommended as the best.

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