Just Read It is a regular feature in which the State Journal seeks recommendations from Wisconsin authors, literary enthusiasts and experts, focused on the contributor’s particular genre of expertise.
Max Garland, a UW-Eau Claire professor of English, also holds the title of Wisconsin poet laureate for 2013-2014. His first poetry collection, “The Postal Confessions,” drew on his years as a rural mail carrier. That and his second book, “Hunger Wide as Heaven,” both received national poetry awards. Here, he chooses three works by poets who continue to serve as inspiration.
1. “Stories That Could Be True” by William Stafford (Harper and Row). Stafford is rumored to have written a poem a day for 50 years. He announced that whenever he felt writer’s block he merely “lowered his standards.” In book after book, however, the standards are high, the poems deceptively plainspoken, by which I mean they seem simple until you notice some twist or leap that brings you back years later, realizing you’ve just scraped the surface, and there’s something, actually everything, still to be discovered. Stafford considered poets nothing special, just people who exercised the normal human impulse to record what occurred to them, to rescue what they could of time through words. Here are a few lines:
... it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
2. “Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works” by Lorine Niedecker (University of California Press). Every year the poems of Lorine Niedecker move deeper into the public consciousness. Niedecker lived most of her life near Fort Atkinson and reflected upon that place, while at the same time expanding the limits of place with an imagination “wider than the sky” as Emily Dickinson, with whom she is sometimes compared, might have put it. Niedecker looked deeply into and then under the surfaces of daily life. She reminds us that poetry is often closer than we think, and if we can find the right words for who we are, and what we feel, those words might someday illuminate other lives as well.
3. “Poems of Nazim Hikmet,” (Persea Books). Hikmet spent much of his life in Turkish prisons for writing what the authorities of his day would not allow. He wrote many of his best poems behind bars, including the “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” and “Advice for Those in Prison.” For decades, with little hope for release, threatened with execution, he expressed love for the world outside the walls. Deprived of family and freedom, Hikmet’s poetry was a means of survival, and not only for him. Now his poems have been translated into 50 languages and are often sung and recited by Turkish schoolchildren. It’s always possible to survive, Hikmet writes, “... as long as the jewel/ on the left side of your chest doesn’t lose its luster!”