I’m back, ish. I fell behind on my reading and even further behind on my writing about it during quarantine (I got absorbed in fiction projects again). Still, I’ve read some good books, both virtuous and fun, and I hope to write a bit about what I’ve read as well as my projects.
I left off with Sera Beak and Charles Williams, whose books constituted an excited detour from my original plan. I hopped back on the bandwagon by reading — well, not Wallace Stevens’ collected works, because that is a lot, and he’s a very difficult poet, but one of his published books. I had been planning to read one that was new to me, but instead I came back to his first book, Harmonium, which I’d enjoyed a lot when I read it for my poetry class last year. Then I read a few essays from The Necessary Angel, a book of criticism he wrote.
I plan to write about Stevens at some length in my next post, stealing freely from the notes I took during class last year, but the ultimate takeaway is something like: Harmonium is playful, funny, strange, and exuberant — but perhaps a bit sterile and simple compared to his later work (which, on the bright side, makes it more accessible); The Necessary Angel, meanwhile, makes many different, dizzying attempts to explain the role of imagination and reality in poetry, and succeeds in being very interesting and rather obscure (and, unlike the poetry, more obscure than I think it needs to be).
From Stevens I moved on to Yeats, and have slowly worked my way through some of his earlier poetry: I finished Crossways and The Rose, and I’m almost through The Wind Among the Reeds in the Wordsworth Poetry Library’s edition of his collected poems. I like early Yeats, I think — it’s certainly beautiful, sometimes quite evocative, sometimes a little obvious, and sometimes (just a little) too r/Romantic for me to relate to (most contemporary poetry is not nearly r/Romantic enough, so….probably I need a subtler vocabulary for discussing my tastes). At any rate, I will try to blog about Yeats after blogging about Stevens.
I’ve read a titch of Marianne Moore in the meantime and a touch of Chesterton’s biography of Aquinas (the latter is more fun, the former probably better for me). Then I read the first two books of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, which pulls me in and makes me think hard about Evernost and fantasy. The first book, Every Heart a Doorway, is a murder mystery set at a school for children who’ve been to fantasy worlds and want to go back so much they have difficulty with “real” life. I am very fond of many things about it and plan to keep reading — although I find the character who dismisses C.S. Lewis as someone writing religious allegory who knows nothing about having been to a fantasy world…a bit confused.
Lewis had a childhood in many ways as grim as most of McGuire’s protagonists’ (at least, the schools he attended sound truly hellish, and I understand his home life was difficult). What’s more, though Narnia does not meet today’s political/moral standards, it’s a (&*%!! of a lot more than a cold, glib religious allegory — and to find his religious vision opposed to, or even alien to, the kind of longing McGuire describes in the series is profoundly misguided. Lewis, as I understand, regularly broke down in tears over things like the line “Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead” or toy gardens made of moss, and spent so much of his life chasing after that very sensation of desperate loss that he would have looked quite strange to most of his contemporaries. In short, while he never, as far as I know, went bodily to Narnia, or to Heaven (I wonder whether, among McGuire’s children’s worlds, “High Virtue” is correlated with “High Nonsense” and “High Wickedness” is correlated with “High Logic” because “High Logic/High Virtue” experiences just tend to be coded as religious experiences) during his life, he was much more like one of McGuire’s “wayward children” than most of us will ever be lucky enough to be.
In the meantime, Evernost is, as always, getting weirder and longer, and I am thinking of starting to sell art prints and merchandise on Redbubble — expect an update on that later as well.