Watch Your Language: Visual and Literary Reflections on a Century of American Poetry

Penguin Bks. Jul. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9780143137733. pap. $20. LIT
Poet Hayes (Lighthead), winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry, collates a broad range of essays, poems, poet biopics, illustrated expressions, and musings on the poetic landscape. Hayes discusses American poets from the 19th century through the contemporary age. His experiences and reflections take readers around the world, including to the Shanghai International Poetry Festival and to a poetry seminar in Pennsylvania. Intermixed throughout are the author’s poems. Hayes can be comically insightful, noting that America’s poetry traditions are begat by a private eccentric (Emily Dickinson) and a public eccentric (Walt Whitman). The discussions include musings on modernism, jazz, race, poetic mechanics, language, and poetry history, among other topics. Hayes presents questions for the reader, making this book a good selection for group discussions. The essays range from a few pages to 10. Biopics include short sketches of Margaret Danner, Bob Kaufman, Raymond Patterson, and other poets. Readers can easily jump here and there through the book, finding discussions that are interesting and insightful.
VERDICT Hayes successfully provides a multidimensional work that serves as an outline of American poetry history, a reflection on a poet’s life, and a thoughtful discussion guide for groups or classes.
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