August 5, 2011

Summer Reading

As the summer winds down, I wanted to recommend two books I’ve read this year that should be of interest to poetry enthusiasts. First, Blueprints: Bringing Poetry Into Communities (ed. Katharine Coles), which offers great suggestions for poetry outreach by spotlighting twelve successful programs. The second book is a murder mystery by Matthew Pearl called The Dante Club.

In June, the Poetry Foundation held an open house at their beautiful new building. Jen Shook and I attended. The event featured readings, book-signings, and books for sale. One great thing about the building was that the sound from the microphones in the Reading Room was projected into the courtyard, so anyone walking by could hear poetry being read. We each went home with a lovely Poetry Foundation tote bag emblazoned with a quote from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and a copy of Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities, a new book edited by Katharine Coles. I particularly enjoyed Patricia Smith’s piece on Poetry Slam, Elizabeth Alexander’s meditations on Cave Canem, Luis Rodriguez’s powerful description of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, and Dana Gioia’s discussion of Poetry Out Loud. (I judged the Regional Finals for the Chicago Suburbs and the City of Chicago in February, and was very impressed by the students’ passion for poetry and excellent recitations.) Blueprints is published by the University of Utah Press and is quite inexpensive (list price: $8.95). There’s also a great “Toolkit for Poetry Programmers” that includes many ideas that are relevant to arts programming in other disciplines (i.e., theatre).

If you like gruesome murder mysteries infused with poetry, history, and translation (who doesn’t?), you’ll love The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. Published in 2003, The Dante Club finds Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell on the trail of a diabolical murderer who is staging crime scenes that mimic the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Longfellow and friends are working on the first American translation of Dante, and the pattern of murders uncannily follows the Cantos they are revising each week. The murders are really grisly, especially the first one. There’s also a healthy dose of Harvard politics and post-Civil War anxiety. Great travel reading! I mostly read it on the CTA. Come to think of it, I mostly read Blueprints on the CTA, too.

What are you reading this summer?