A stunning exploration of two powerful women poets – over @shinynewbooks @gail_crowther


I’ve been lucky enough to cover some wonderful books for Shiny New Books recently, and today I want to share my review of an absolutely stunning work which focuses on those two great American poets of the 20th century – Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

The book is called “Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz” and is written by Gail Crowther. Gail is an author with a history of producing fascinating books relating to Plath, and I’ve in fact previously reviewed one she co-authored for Shiny. However, with her latest work she explores the lives and works of both Plath and Sexton set against the background of their upbringing, the world in which they lived, the restrictions they fought against, the carving out of their poetry, the problems of health and marriage, and the treatment of their work and legacy after their deaths.

“Three Martini…” is a powerful book which seeks to reclaim the poets’ lives from the cliche of their deaths; Crowther never negates the method of their demise, but explores how truly inspirational and transgressive they were. Is the world ready yet for Plath and Sexton? Probably not – and if you read this book you might start to understand why! Needless to say, I loved, and highly recommend, this wonderful book and you can read my full review here.

Three things… #5 – Revolutionary humour – plus swathes of poetry


It’s a little while (October, actually) since I had a go at the “Three Things” meme created by Paula at Book Jotter (this is where we post things we are reading, looking (at) and thinking). However, I found myself pondering on poetry as well as serendipitous book finds so I thought it was time for another…
I’m currently deeply involved in this chance find from the Oxfam which I posted about recently. Mark Steel is a left-wing comedian and the book is his take on the French Revolution. It’s absolutely brilliant so far, combining wit and history in a very winning way. A fuller post will follow!
Looking (at)
Not at lot in terms of programmes – we still seem to be suffering from documentary drought though I have high hopes that this will improve soon! 😉 Meantime, I spend far too much time watching arty/crafty videos on YouTube when I should be reading (but am frankly too tired). And anything with the Scottish countryside in it…. I *have* come across any number of wonderful examples of women’s art on Twitter too, proving that you *can* find good things on social media platforms…
Yes. I have been pondering on poetry a lot lately. I picked up another interesting slim volume from Salt recently. Then there was the Elizabeth Bishop collection. And last week saw three more poetry volumes sneaking in – these are they:
As usual with me and books, there is a *reason* for each of these making their way into the Ramblings. The Soviet Poets was sitting looking at me in the Oxfam on Saturday (I tend to find myself at the poetry shelves first nowadays) and it had *me* written all over it. It’s one of those Progress Press USSR editions which I sort of hoover up if I come across them; it’s a bilingual edition and I’m hoping to discover new Russian poets.
As for the Adrienne Rich, she’s a name I’ve always been aware of and much like Elizabeth Bishop suddenly kept appearing in my sight line. I ordered a cheap copy online and was let down by the reseller; so in a fit of grumpiness I sent for a shiny new Norton Critical Edition with poetry and prose, hoping this will be a good Rich primer. I think this may be my first Norton Critical Edition and it’s awfully pretty – I mean, on a superficial level, isn’t that cover gorgeous????
Then there’s Mr. Tessimond, and thereby hangs a tale. As far as I’m aware I’ve never heard of him before. However, I stumbled across mention of his poem One Almost Might whilst doing some non-poetic research and when I checked it out online was a bit blown away. A little digging revealed an obscure but intriguing life and a collected volume which now resides at the Ramblings. Strangely when I opened the book at random the first poem I came to seemed oddly familiar, so maybe I have read him in the past…
So there are increasing amounts of poetry infecting the Ramblings, and I particularly seem to be encountering female poets – maybe they resonate with me more strongly? Certainly I have the substantial collections above sitting there looking appealing, but I keep wondering whether I should be exploring the work of Marianne Moore, or maybe Mary Oliver – they keep hitting my eye line too. I do find myself drawn more than ever to poetry nowadays; it seems to be touching me more deeply than other forms of writing, perhaps as a response to the unsettling and often unpleasant times we live in. Even when I opened up the huge but lovely Primo Levi box set recently it was his poetry which was calling. So if nothing else, at least I can feel that I’m well stocked for the rest of my life with collections of verse…. 😁
Previous “Three Things” memes:

Dipping into Poetry


I’ve been realising lately, as you might have noticed, that I do have a bit of a problem with unread books… And digging about has made me realize just how many of them are poetry books. I have a problem with reading this too, in that I find that I set out to read a whole volume in one go and that just isn’t working for me. It may be because the self-imposed discipline of writing about everything I read here means that I think I have to read a book, write about it and then move onto the next one. But that isn’t conducive to reading poetry I’m finding and so I may have to take a more dipping-in kind of approach.

And this is just a few of the titles I have on my shelves which are tempting me at the moment… It’s far from all of the poetry books I own – in fact, if I hauled all of them out of their other categories (Russians, Plath, Hughes, women etc etc) I reckon they’d take up a decent sized bookcase. *Sigh*.

As it’s my books we’re talking about there are of course going to be Russians. This is just a few of them: my lovely huge Mayakovsky book; Akhmatova; an Everyman collection Youngest Child gave me; a fragile early collection OH gave me; a Penguin post-war Russian poetry collection I’ve had since my teens; and the rather splendid Penguin Book of Russian. And yes – all very dippable.

There are Americans too… All the classic names I should be reading – or at least dipping into. I picked up the Frost and Lowell myself, but oddly had never owned Whitman until OH cleverly gifted me a copy.

Some 20th century greats: my beloved Philip Larkin (and actually I could probably happily sit down and read that one cover to cover); an old fragile Eliot I’ve had since the 1980s; and two Ezra Pounds. I know Pound turned into a reprehensible fascist, but some of his early stuff is amazing.

Some bits and bobs, now. Trakl comes highly recommended; Anne Sexton is essential; and Adrian Mitchell is a favourite British poet. If you’ve never seen the footage of him reading “To Whom it May Concern” aka “Tell Me Lies About Vietnam” at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, go and search it out – it’s stunning, powerful stuff.

And finally, Daniil Kharms. Is this poetry? I don’t know, but what I’ve read of it is fragmentary and beautiful and intriguing, so I’ll count it in.

So I’ll be reading poetry, and I might share the odd thought or poem, but I can’t see myself doing regular reviews of fully read poetry collections or anthologies. I think by taking away any restrictions on myself and allowing myself this freedom, I’ll actually get a lot more poetry read and enjoyed. Off to do some dipping! 🙂

Reading Verse for National Poetry Month



So, it’s apparently National Poetry Month! This was not something I knew about till it started popping up on blogs I read, and so I did a little investigating and found this out:

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month, held every April, is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Since I’m actually quite a poetry lover, albeit one who never seems to have enough time to read the stuff, I think this might be the impetus I need to get on with experiencing a little more verse. Fortuitously enough, I just indulged in a purchase, in the form of the Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, put together by the excellent translator Robert Chandler:

penguin russian

Isn’t it beautiful? And I know it could be argued that I really don’t need any more Russian poetry – after all, I have many volumes by individual poets, as well as this lovely book given to me by Youngest Child a Christmas or two ago:


However! The Everyman book, which I’m currently making great headway with, collects the poems by theme – which is interesting, but not always the way I want to read poetry. The Penguin volume, however, goes chronologically and features a great number of poets I haven’t read. So it’ll be ideal for checking out authors new to me, and as it features an erudite introduction plus short bios of all the poets it’s even better!

I shall try hard to read a poem a day – and I think I shall dig out these two that I was trying to make my through and see if I can dip into them as well. I have some time off work over Easter and it will be a good way to estbalish a new routine before I go back to work. Fingers crossed! 🙂

The offending doorsteps!

Why *is* it so difficult to read poetry??


A quite wide-ranging question, really – and I don’t necessarily mean the fact that the poetry is hard to understand (although some is!). I like poetry very much, and in the past I’ve read a lot of it. But nowadays I find it hard to settle to it, and I’ve been wondering why…

I think there might be a number of reasons why I’m struggling, and one of the main ones is probably something that’s my fault. I’m a fast reader – too fast, I sometimes think, as I always seem to be wanting to finish a book, no matter how much I’m enjoying it, so I can get on to the next one. Poetry can’t be rushed like prose sometimes can; it needs to be read carefully and slowly to get the full meaning of the words and what’s behind them.

The offending doorsteps!

The offending doorsteps!

The other main issue is size – I’m thinking in particular of two poetry books which are lurking: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton and a huge volume of the complete works of Georg Trakl which I bought on a whim after reading an intriguing article about him. Both are authors I really want to read – Anne Sexton particularly, as she’s a poet that’s been on the periphery of my literary vision for decades and a visit to her work is long overdue. But both books are huge, and look as if they’d take days and days of reading carefully to get through. (Come to think of it, my Rimbaud and Baudelaire volumes are huge too, which is probably why they’re still mainly unread).

However, casting my mind back to when I was reading lots of poetry in my twenties, I was reading slim Faber volumes of Plath and Hughes and the like. A small book of poems is not so intimidating – you can linger over each one and still feel like you’re making progress through the book. Conversely, these huge collected tomes, though a good way to acquire the works, are off-putting; you can’t read through the whole thing without committing to weeks of poetry and that’s *certainly* not a good way to experience it.

So I think the answer is that I need to take the pressure off myself; read a poem or two when the mood takes me, and not worry about reading everything in one go or finishing the book to do a big review. And the Sexton is divided up into its originally published volumes, so marking each one off may be a way to handle it.

New year’s resolution – allow a little time each week for a few poems! 🙂

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