Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men On The Words That Move Them. Edited by Anthony and Ben Holden.

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men On The Words That Move Them. Edited by Anthony and Ben Holden. ( Simon and Schuster) $25.

Review by Doug Holder

Ben Holden, who along with his father Anthony Holden ( Both accomplished writers in their own right) are editors of the  new poetry anthology Poems that Make Grown Men Cry… Ben Holder points out in the introduction to the book that Charles Darwin was at a loss to explain “crying,” describing it as that “special expression” attributed to humans. And this raw, mostly involuntary mode of expression is something we often try to hide—at least in public. But there is something blatantly honest about it in a world of artifice that makes us uncomfortable. We have all been at the oh-so polite poetry readings where people posture in poses of forced ecstasy and drone the perfunctory ah and um. Here, in this anthology, the readers of these poems unabashedly cry. And these aren’t just any readers. This collection is a survey of one hundred men of letters and the arts—poets, critics, authors, directors, artists, etc… who don’t cry at the first blush of cheap sentiment thrown at them. Their emotions cannot be bought for the price of salted peanuts and a cocktail. Such noted men as John Le Carre, Harold Bloom, Chris Cooper, Clive James, Jonathan Franzen, Billy Collins and many others shed a well-considered tear here.
As for me I didn’t cry. But I did have a wistful sigh; I experienced a haunting shudder; I noticed my hands trembling clandestinely under the table—perhaps a transient burst of indigestion coming from the depths of my throat.

After browsing through this volume I found much to recommend to the reader. Terry George, a Belfast-born screenwriter cites the lamenting poem by Seamus Heaney “Requiem for the Croppies.” The poem deals with the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Here the population revolted against British rule. As George writes:  “…tramp priest and peasant…they fought with farm tools against cannons.” The men were heroic; the results were tragic:

    Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
    The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
    They buried us without shroud or coffin
     And in August... the barley grew up out of our grave.

The novelist Nicholson Baker writes about Stanley Kunitz’s poem “End of Summer.” It deals with that poignant moment when you realize things have changed—you can’t go back—the die is cast. Here Kunitz gets a signal from nature:

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

And as we all know there is always comedy peppered in tragedy. The poet Jack Mapanje cites “The Book Burnings” a beautiful piece by Bertolt Brecht with a delicious dollop of gallows humor. Here the poet in the poem rages at the despotic powers that did not burn his book with the others:

 To his horror, that his books
Had been forgotten. He hurried to his desk
On wings of rage and wrote a letter to the powers that be.
Burn me! He wrote, his pen flying, burn me!
Don’t do this to me. Don’t pass over me! Have I not always told you
The truth in my books? And now
I am treated as a liar!

    I order you:
Burn me!

I wonder why this anthology only had weeping men. Maybe it is because men are perceived as less emotionally accessible. However I am sure many women will do a discrete dab with their hankies, when they read these evocative selections.

Highly Recommended.

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