Saturday, June 2, 2007

Richard Marx Weinraub

Richard Marx Weinraub is a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico.

Wonder Bread Hill, his "sonovella" of 140 sonnets, was published in 2002.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Yesterday I finished reading Payday Loans by Jee Leong Koh, a book of thirty sonnets published by Poets Wear Prada. The blurb on the back cover intrigued me. The government of Singapore banned the reading of one of his poems because of its gay -- and bisexual -- content. The book is arranged as a kind of diary with one poem written for each day of April, and the banned poem ("April 13") exhorts straight men to experiment with loving other men. Although the sonnet piqued my interest, it is not the best in the book.

"April 25," for example, contains some gorgeous imagery in which "the red pocket my parents sent" turns into "roses the rich soil lent." Although the language is colloquial and the content is sometimes shocking, Jee Leong Koh has great control over the sonnet form and shows a fine understanding of literary tradition as he alludes to the work of Hart Crane, Paul Goodman, Proust, and many others in this impressive first book.

Two other books of poetry I highly recommend are The Silent Treatment by Richard Howard and Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems by Rachel Hadas. Howard, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet famous for his historical monologues, seems to be getting better with age. Two poems written in his own voice shine brilliantly. In "Sitting to Paul," the painter and the portrait he is painting (the poet himself) become a kind of conceit for God and His handiwork. "A Mistaken Identity" is a hilarious, poignant, and metaphysical poem about how the poet is convinced he sees a friend of his in a painting by Rubens.

Hadas reveals herself to be a master of form, wisdom, and the personal lyric in her lovely New and Selected Poems. My favorites include two poems about her son: "The Blue Bead" and "Twelfth Birthday." It is amazing and moving how we watch the relationship between mother and son mature with each successive book. Reading this collection by Hadas is like being allowed a glimpse -- and to be part of -- her extended family.
Read -- or listen to Richard Marx Weinraub read -- his poem, "The Ball of Earth and Heaven," in Slate.

--Marshal Zeringue