My big toe curled around a chunk of carpet. Hands behind my back. I probably rocked a bit. Up on the balls of my feet, back on my heels.
“They borrowed a bed to lay His head when Christ the Lord came down.”
Dad stopped me right there.
I was practicing a poem I’d memorized to recite at church. Aaannnd… in that sing-song way kids do, I recited it like a schoolyard jump rope ditty. Dad wasn’t having any of that.
How did he solve it? He made me memorize “The Face on the Barroom Floor” in order to teach me proper poetic inflection. Because that’s how you learn it for another poem, right?
I learned to love poetry recitation. And, to both of our surprises, I turned out to be pretty good at it.
Hint: I would have learned it just as well if he’d just said, “Recite it as if you were telling someone the story instead of regurgitating what you’d read.”
But hey, I did memorize a cool poem that I love to this day, so that counts, right?
A year or so later, Mom did her book drop thing and this time, she dropped Emerson’s Essays on my bed. “There’s some good stuff in there—some nonsense, of course, but good stuff, too.” This time she issued a challenge. “Let me know when you run across one you think is messed up. I’m curious if we agree.”
Mom knew how to make you want to do something. If she’d said, “I want to make sure you know which ones are unBiblical,” I might not have been nearly as eager to figure it out.
So, while my friends were reading “choose your own adventure” books and Judy Blume, I was memorizing poetry and reading Emerson. #becausefamily.
I can almost hear you thinking, “So what’s the point? That’s a nice story, Chautona, but why are you telling me this?”
Well, it’s why I was interested in a book of collected poems and essays called The Famine of the Human Dream.
The opportunity to review it came up and I thought, “Hmm… sounds like something Mom would have liked.” I got a review copy. And this week I read it.
Note: Links may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you. Additionally, I requested a review copy of this book and chose to review it.
Is The Famine of the Human Dream Worth Reading?
Okay, so maybe that’s a weird title. When someone puts their heart into a work, it’s worth reading. Why it’s worth reading is always up in the air, but that’s a bit simplistic—the “is” it part.
I had really high hopes for this book. Poetry and essays—two of my favorite things. Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to its potential in my estimation.
Because it’s such a deeply personal thing to the author, I’m going to be brief with my explanation of why it didn’t grab me, and then I’ll get onto its merits. Okay?
It took three or four chapters to get to an essay I actually enjoyed. Most of them were a bit disjointed and held tenuous threads to each other. His actual discussion of the human dream and what causes a rift and all that–I don’t think I’m sufficiently intelligent to get what he said. After several rereads, a friend trying to explain what she thought he meant, and more rereads, I’m still lost.
The poetry, too, I found vaguely related to the topics sometimes. He quoted several from Rumi interspersed with the rest of the essays.
Some of his personal poetry was too personal to him and his love for his wife for me to be comfortable with. This isn’t his problem. It’s mine. I’ve never been comfortable with “love poems” of any kind. A few I tolerate better than others, but mostly because I know the parties are dead, so it feels less of an intrusion to their privacy to me.
I know. It’s just me—got issues, I tell ya.
My biggest objection and frustration was the last third or so of the book where he collects public domain poems that he asserts aren’t usually included in most poetry collections. These included poems by Rumi, Sara Teasdale, Whittier, Longfellow, Frost, and Shelley.
“Ozymandias” was one of the ones included. A friend and I were eating together while I was reading. She’s not a big poetry aficionado. Friends stopped by the table. One was—the other wasn’t. All four of us had heard of and/or familiar with 80% of the poems.
My objection there isn’t the poetry but that there is an assumption that he’s done something few others have. Seriously, I can pull out most of my poetry collections and find several of the ones in this in each of those. And for reasons I can’t quite explain, that bugged me.
Overall, my biggest objection was the deeply personal topics for some of his essays and poems on a book that isn’t presented as such and that the organization is a bit disjointed in the beginning. It was tough to follow.
So, did I like anything?
I actually did. The author is a passionate poet and essayist. I could feel his connection with his work, and if he has a blog, I’d be likely to skip over there from time to time to see what he’d shared.
His thoughts on heaven intrigued me. He brought out thoughts and images I hadn’t considered before, and I’ll be digging into the Word to see what it has to say because of that essay.
Who do I recommend it for?
People who enjoy having a book to pick up, peruse, set down, and return to at some other date will likely enjoy this book most. If you are drawn to essays and poetry, you may find this book a nice addition to your collection.
Although it wasn’t a favorite of mine, I am glad I received a review copy. It did give me a few minutes with a few old friends (poems) and got me thinking a few times.