Friday, August 3, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Book To Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon by Pablo Neruda, trans. Stephen Mitchell

Good morning, wonderful people! I've been in a bit of a blue funk the last few days, so I tried to pick something really extra glorious for this week's read. This collection of poems is as much a cure for discontent and despair as a slug of whiskey, and much, much better for your liver. I mean, even the cover is a joy to look at - designed by one David Bullen, featuring Paul Gaugin's painting Woman With Mango. I don't know about you folks, but I find mangoes to be potent bearers of joy. Eating a good mango is like eating a particularly juicy golden sun, especially on a  dreary morning. It's kind of a dreary morning, and this whole collection is my mango for the day. So...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
Pablo Neruda recording his poetry for the Library of Congress in
1966. Isn't it wonderful that we have that now?? Via Wikipedia
Pablo Neruda wrote this book - or, rather, he wrote the poems in this book. Stephen Mitchell, the translator, chose the poems that went into this volume. (Side note: I love Stephen Mitchell. In addition to Neruda, this guy has translated or adapted Rilke, the Tao Te Ching, the Iliad, parts of the Bible, the epic of Gilgamesh...I envy that kind of facility with language.) Did you know Neruda's given first name was Neftali? He must not have liked it much if he changed it later, but I've always loved that named because of Isaac Bashevis Singer's wonderful book Naftali The Storyteller and His Horse, Sus. But I digress, as usual. Pablo Neruda was a phenomenal character in the great story of writing across history and you should learn about him. I can't tell you anything I didn't learn from Wikipedia and introductions to his books, because my education did not include poetry in any meaningful way and therefore I learned about this book and others like it because my boyfriend put them in my hands.

2. What the f!#& is it about?
This is a beautifully curated collection, by which I mean that Stephen Mitchell chose this set of poems very carefully, and his reason for choosing the poems he did is the reason you're getting this collection of Neruda and not any other. Here's what Mitchell says in the Introduction:

The poetry of Neruda's I love best, that I do reread with an always-renewed pleasure, is the poetry of his ripeness, beginning with the first book of Elemental Odes, published when he was fifty years old, and ending with Full Powers, published when he was fifty-eight, eleven years before his death. These are the poems of a happy man, deeply fulfilled in his sexuality, at home in the world, in love with life and its infinit paricular forms, overflowing with the joy of language. They are largehearted, generous poems, resonant with a humor that is rare in modern poetry, in any poetry.

So that's what the poems are about. And they are. They really are. They're poems about the joy of living. Simple, unpretentious, glorious poems, poems like mangoes, every one.

Side note: the Spanish is on the left page, the English on the right. Even though I don't speak Spanish (which is embarrassing, considering where I live) I love having it there, and hopefully you will as well.

3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
This is an everywhere-anywhere sort of book. It's a delight to read aloud, and I love picking it up at open mics because it kind of freaks people out and delights them simultaneously to be read something that's not mine, just a work of total beauty; it's a great book to read to a lover, or just to a friend. It will illuminate you wherever you go with its shining language, its way of seeing ordinary things (onions! artichokes! honey!) as luminous emissaries, planets, stars, fragrances. Unlike many poetry books, I find I can read it straight through - there's so much in it but it's also so light that it can be devoured in one sitting like a novel. And many of the poems take a narrative form, which helps.

4. When the f!#& is it set? 
Setting is maybe a silly question for a book of poems, but let's just say it's set firmly and deeply in the heart of Neruda's life, in his prime, as Mitchell says - in the time of his ripeness.

5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 
You should read this book because it is full of joy. It's not carefree or trite or empty of suffering: for example, one of the most beautiful poems in the collection is about a dead bird; another is about a caged panther; another is about seagulls, how beautiful they are and also how foul. Not all the poems will knock your socks off, of course (there is, however a poem about socks that is pretty rockin') but listen to me, really, reading this book feels good. And the language! My god, the language. For exmaple, in "Ode to the Lemon":

From those flowers
by the moon's light,
from that
smell of exasperated
sunk in fragrance,
emerged from the lemon tree,
from its planetarium
lemons came down to the earth. 

It's one of those books that reminds you that the world is full of magical and beautiful and terribly simple things, a book that celebrates what is with verve and gusto. You know I think we need more of those. I feel strongly enough about this that in all likelihood, I'm naming a whole goddamn wing of my Museum after him. One of the aromatic nipples of the earth's breast, he says about the lemon, but I could say that, too, about these poems...


  1. I don't really enjoy reading poetry, although I do love listening to it. I don't know why that is, but it is what it is.
    Happy Friday. Sorry about your blue funk. I just drove 1,000 miles and I'm about to collapse, but I feel so disconnected from my blogging friends that I need to say howdy hey to a few. And that includes you. And that kind of rhymes. Maybe I'm a poet at heart:)

    1. Whoa! That's a long drive. Thanks for stopping by - you've been missed, and I'm excited to hear more from you soon!

      And yes, I think you probably are. In fact, I think most people are.


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