Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
Full disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.
When it comes to prose, Ursula K. Le Guin has been a favorite of mine since I read The Dispossessed back in the eighties; I’d say her slim young adult novel Very Far Away from Anywhere Else is one of my hundred or so favorite books of all time. I had, however, forgotten that I had already brushed up against Le Guin’s poetry (Hard Words and Other Poems, read and reviewed in 2009) and found it not to my liking when I grabbed a copy of Finding My Elegy from Vine. And it turns out that Hard Words was the tip of the iceberg.
I usually use a flat fifty-page rule when it comes to books I just can’t stand, but that seems like cheating to me when it comes to New and Selected-style books. Would you want to be judged by stuff you published thirty years ago without someone at least sampling the new stuff? You can rationalize by saying (it’s a Selected, not a Collected) that if the poet didn’t still feel the poems were worth reading, she wouldn’t have included them, but still. That said, I knew when I encountered 1980’s “While the Old Men Make Ready to Kill”, a piece of thoughtless message crap that, aside from Le Guin having a better grasp of the English language, wouldn’t be out of place in Sue Doro’s infamous Heart, Home, and Hard Hats (“Cassandra must be virgin/as all women are, this I’ve lived to learn,/but in man’s definition; she must speak/to men in the language of men with a man’s tongue/and then they will not hear her/because they understand her.”), that pushing on to the New half of the New and Selected was going to be a slog. But I gave it the good old college try… until I got to “American Wars,” which sits there on page 82 not even trying. “While the Old Men Make Ready to Kill” at least has some sort of allusive language, some attempt to be kinda-sorta poetic. But at some point every message poet mixes up the words “poetic” and “polemic”. And so I ended my journey here on page 83, ten pages before getting to the New. If things got that worse between 1980 and 2006, I can’t imagine another six years changed much. (zero)