Two by Reynolds Price

The Use of Fire
Copyright 1990
Checked out 2 times in 20 years
Last checked out 19 years ago

Let it go. Circulation is poor and its contents are contained in the next book:

The Collected Poems
Copyright 1997
Checked out 5 times in 13 years
Last checked out 5 year ago

Reynolds Price is primarily a writer of novels and the Albertville library has many of them. I assume this volume of poetry is on the shelf on the assumption it would receive some crossover interest from people who enjoy his fiction. Well, it has received 5 visits worth. That’s better than many worthy volumes of poetry receive in the same amount of time. Price’s poetry has appeared in highly respected journals, which is to say his poetry is on the intellectual end of the scale and is free verse. Try this from “Ambrosia”:
In defense, most gods
extrude some cast of themselves as durable adequate
Receptacles of awe–seal on the air of one
Patiently suitable place from the unplumbed
Intaglio absence of their force:
chryselephantine Zeus

His poetry’s vocabulary isn’t always so densely cerebral but even the poems that are narrative in nature and are delightful stories, such as “The Annual Heron” and “House Snake,” do not entirely escape language, references, and allusions that are rarely seen or heard hear in rural Alabama. So this poetry is a little difficult even for educated folks. I’m proud five people have given large book of poetry a try and am curious what they got out of it. There are certainly good things to be gotten out of these 450+ pages of poetry but it may take some fishing and some endurance. Though I doubt this poetry will exactly tickle the palate of most poetry readers in Albertville, I recommend keeping this book on the shelf as long as it holds up since the library has so many of Price’s novels. Also, he is a Southern writer. And it never hurts people to be faced with a challenge.

However, I would caution librarians in general about purchasing a fiction writer’s poetry. In the case of Price, he’s adept at both. Yet there really isn’t much crossover in readers from fiction to poetry. If readers of fiction are interested in poetry, it’s usually in a cursory fashion, and some poetry, such as Price’s, isn’t made for cursory treatment. It’s important to become familiar with the poetry before purchasing to determine whether it’s as suitable for your patrons as the writer’s fiction. There have been cases in this library where the poetry is as suitable as the fiction and yet still doesn’t get attention. It’s a tricky judgment call for any librarian.

(Postscript: R.I.P Reynolds Price, Jan 20, 2011)

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About jppoetryreader

Poetry reviewer and poetry consultant for libraries
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