Finding My Elegy: New And Selected Poems, by Ursula K. Le Guin
It is perhaps surprising that this is the first book I have read of this author, despite my noted fondness for fantasy literature. I may perhaps read more of her in the future with regards to her fantasy, but it is pretty likely that I will happily read more of her poetry based on this excellent collection. The titles of the poems included are whimsical, sometimes to the point of excess, and one can tell that the poet has a lot more going on than merely the surface of what is said, but the deeper layers of meaning turn out to be well worth investigating as the author explores questions of otherness, virginity and marriage, the role of women, life in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the grace that is required to age well. Indeed, some of the author’s most poignant poems are those that reflect on her aging and on her realization of the inevitability of death and the hope for its delay. This book, as a selection of poems from the course of a long career, does a good job to whet the appetite of the reader for more of her poems, and that is always something to be appreciated.
The book itself is about two-hundred pages and is organized more or less chronologically by the works which are selected. The book is divided into two parts: Wild Fortune consists of selected poems from 1960 to 2005, and Life Sciences consists of poetry from 2005-2010. The first part of the book is then subdivided further by chronology, containing six poems from Wild Angels (an anthology from 1960-1975), four from Hard words written from 1975-1980, seven from Dancing at Tillai, one from Wild Oats and Fireweed (1980-1987), six from a book of poetry that she wrote about the Mt. Helens area in October 1981, one from Buffalo Gals and other Animal Prescences, eight from Going Out With Peacocks written from 1988-1994, two from No Boats (a 1991 chapbook), one from Blue Moon over Thurman Street, fourteen from Sixty Odd (1994-1999), four from Incredible Good Fortune (2000-2006), two from A Book Of Songs, and fifteen from Notes From a Cruise. The second part of the book is subdivided not by when the poems were written (or which work they were a part of) but according to various sciences. The poet begins with poems about Socioesthetics, then moves on to botany and zoology, meteorology and geography, developmental ontology, and philosophy and theology. And overall the book stands coherent in its complexity and in its observational detail.
To be sure, this is a book that is perhaps a bit too complicated for its own good. Yet the complexity of the author’s design does not in any way detract from an enjoyment of the poems either together or separate. Like many writers, Le Guin has a few concerns that she refers to over and over again. She has a very strong sense of herself as a woman and of both the relationships that women have with other women on the grounds of friendship as well as the issues of sex and virginity when it comes to dealing with men. She has a strong sense of the difficulty of aging well and her struggle to learn Latin. She peppers her poetry with citations to other noted poets to demonstrate her sound knowledge of poetry through reading and then relies on her densely allusive poems to demonstrate her own worth as a poet. And if Le Guin is far better known as a fantasy writer than she is as a poet, that is no fault of these poems, for she has chosen very good ones here. There are likely many other worthwhile poems that were not chosen from this collection that would be well worth reading and appreciating as well.