Babylon in a Jar and TPR Challenge Next Steps

I finished Andrew Hudgins' Babylon in a Jar this morning.  It has always interested me that I love to read poetry, and I write poetry almost exclusively, but I do not read it nearly as fervently or frequently as I do fiction.  It is odd to realize that I would credit no poet as being my favorite writer but poet is the only writing title that applies to me at present.  Anyhow, my insertion of poetry into most of my days has been much like the practice of a daily devotion for the Christian: it has made me think about poetry, poetics, and my own poems more each day just as daily reading the Bible draws the believer's ears and eyes to Christ in a more intentional manner.

This collection is divided into two sections, and I must admit that I preferred the first to the second.  The poems had greater presence for me in the first half, a contrast especially noted in the (I presume) intentional mirroring of the two "Ashes" poems.  The first is the 4th poem in section 1, and I loved it.  It has a narrative, conversational flow, an intriguing page presence, and an ending that leads to significant rumination.  Its counterpart in the second section (also the 4th poem in this set) feels too conventional.  It is a story I've heard before, an unpleasant scattering of ashes, and I didn't feel it offered a new angle on the bigger issue.  It stayed too self-absorbed, too interested in the actual events of wind and ash and cough to stand aside itself and cast a thoughtful gaze. 

The second section did offer me two great animal poems, a tremendous feat when you realize how difficult it is to render a domestic pet poetically without descending into schmaltzy sentimentalism.  Hudgins does it well in "Ball," where he captures the pure animal spirit of a retriever simply retrieving.  And in "Hammer and Scourge," he uses a Beowulf-like epic tone to allow us into the mind of a cat.  It is fine indeed.  Others in the section were too reliant on ancient history or imagery that did not speak to me, mostly due to my own ignorance.  Despite a somewhat lackluster conclusion, I must acknowledge that Hudgins' skill as a craftperson, an artisan are considerable, and I'm glad to have encountered this collection at this time in my reading life and my writing career.

In other corners of my reading universe, I have been reading Room by Emma Donoghue, which has intrigued me since its release.  I am loving it.  Love. Ing. It.  Whereas the Grossman had all sorts of GREAT EXPECTATIONS to live up to and then was only sort of painstakingly enjoyable, this one is a screaming success.  I have torn through it, partially because of the easy pace and interesting plot and partially because it was too emotionally difficult to linger over the first section.  I will look forward to posting a full report soon.

I've been thinking lately about where to go next with the TPR Challenge.  Salman Rushdie just released his Luka and the Fire of Life, and though I am anxious to read it, I'm not really interested in buying a new book right now.  I think I will ask Elizabeth Bishop to be my next poetry companion, and I already have Toni Morrison's A Mercy.  I also can get my hands on a library copy of Paul Auster's Sunset Park.  I will undoubtedly scatter in a few non-TPRs as well, so I think I will consider this my year-end plan.  The Bishop will get started when I return to campus and be ongoing for awhile.  I've just placed a hold on the Auster, which is still "in process" at our library, so as soon as that comes available, I'll get started.  Then, I'll finish the year with the Morrison.  Then, in January, I'll make a more detailed list of what is to come.  What do you think?


  1. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on Bishop. She's one of those greats whom I just haven't been able to appreciate, however much I've tried.

    I found the Auster interview quite intriguing, and am also curious about your impressions of him. Overall, good plan!

  2. Oh, finally we have a place where our opinions don't naturally align, Emily! I'm glad actually as it was getting a little awkward always agreeing with you about EVERYTHING! ;) I love Elizabeth Bishop. Serious, major, total, complete author-love here. Her short story "The Farmer's Children" is so very fine it hurts. And though it has been years since I read her poetry with any attention, I remember adoring her. So, yes I will see if my expectations of her align with my experience this time around. And though I have my suspicions about why our opinions differ, I'll withhold judgment until I read again.

  3. I love Bishop too, Sara! Last year I bought Words in Air, the letters between Robert Lowell and Bishop-- wonderful, wonderful stuff! You should get that and dip into the collection of letters here and there as you read Bishop's poetry! :)

  4. Yes, Brigitte! I just saw that one in the collections and thought I would do exactly that! Maybe I will make it my goal to keep reading Bishop until January. Thanks for the recommendation.