Penelope’s Poetry Parlor: November

Our theme for the library this year is What a Wonderful World, and to that end, we’re focusing on seeing the wonder in our world. Usually, every month at the desk, we have an article available for patrons to read and discuss with Julie, our library director, but this year, we’re handing out poems instead. Our trusty library goose is also helping us pen a monthly column that focuses on some of the gems in our poetry collection.

For November, our poem is James Merrill’s “Periwinkles.” When people list popular 20th century poets, James Merrill likely doesn’t make most lists, though he was certainly well-respected during his lifetime. It’s a shame because, with his keen ear for language, Merrill has an elegant, eloquent style that is well worth visiting. It’s already evident in “Periwinkles,” which was written when Merrill was in his early 20s. His influence also extends beyond what he wrote, for Merrill, who was born into a wealthy, prominent family, used his inheritance to support fellow writers who were not as financially secure. Among other poets who benefited from his generosity is Elizabeth Bishop, whose work is better known today than Merrill’s.

Bishop herself is perhaps most famous for going against the then-current trend of confessional poetry. Unlike many of her contemporaries, like Robert Lowell, Bishop didn’t draw from highly personal moments for her poetry. That’s not to say that she didn’t write from her own experiences–certainly, most poets do. But Bishop made a point of distancing herself from the subject of her poems when she did use her life as inspiration for her poems and largely steered away from using her private life as fodder for her work.

We have a great collection of Bishop’s work at Berryville, as well as Eight American Poets, an anthology in the system that includes both Bishop and Merrill, as well as other mid-20th century poetry contemporaries, such as Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Anne Sexton.

Who is your favorite poet? What’s your favorite poem? Do you ever write poetry? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on this item or to place it on hold.

Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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