Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stan Plumly's Posthumous Keats: The Type of Book I'd Like to Write Someday

I’ve been reading Stan Plumly’s new book Posthumous Keats. Subtitled, A Personal Biography, the book is a gorgeous exploration of Keats in the last year of his life and the creation of his reputation after his death. First, after having studied with Stan at the University of Maryland it is incredibly powerful to read this book. I hear his voice mulling through the great poet which has been a source of profound inspiration for him. There is something quite intimate about reading a book in that way.

My admiration for this book is more than knowing Stan, however. This is a beautiful meditation on a major poet. There are oodles of books on Keats and that is one of the challenges in writing a new book about Keats. I think about that in relationship to my own work and writing about and thinking about Elizabeth Bishop. I have always felt and in some ways continue to feel that I never want to publish anything about Bishop. I love her too much, first of all, and second of all, everything seems to have already been said, in most cases more delicately or beautifully than I could ever say it. Yet, Posthumous Keats takes this challenge and runs with it. It brings together many things that have already been written about, but writes them anew, in a profound and ruminative way.

Another thing that I admire about this book is its structure. It sits you in the middle of things and spirals you as the reader out from there. Stan talked about organizing the book as one organizes a book of poems. I like that idea. There are seven chapters; each has seven parts. (Oh, the prime numbers bring me bliss, too!) Each of the parts is an extended meditation on an object, an incident, a relationship. It is extraordinary in its structure and in how it choses to cast the narrative eye.

I”ve not yet finished the book, choosing instead to read slowly and savor it. I read a section. Set it down. Read another book or embroider (this is the joy of summer!) On each page, I think to myself, this is the type of book I’d like to write someday. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.

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