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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Poets approaching their winter years have two choices. Like Walt Whitman, they can cast their eye to how scholars remember them after they die. Try reading later editions of Leaves of Grass, and note how opaque his work has become compared to earlier editions. Or they can keep the living audience in view, trusting that knowing readers will keep good writing alive. Ursula LeGuin has done the latter, and I love her for it.

Best known for her award-winning science fiction and fantasy, LeGuin has also kept many irons in the fire: she's also an esteemed translator, critic, and essayist. Her poetry also proves a remarkable reward, offering glimpses into one of our time's greatest minds. And considering the range of time covered in this collection, from 1960 to 2012, we get to see her evolution over the course of a productive, unconventional career.

The first half of this collection selects highlights from LeGuin's prior collections. The table of contents cites thirteen collections, a remarkable number number for someone not known as a poet. Many respected poets have not been so prolific, perhaps because she writes full-time, and does not teach. Perhaps more important, because she writes for a paying audience and not for the tenure committee, her poetry is remarkably lucid:

So still so sunny and so Sunday
is this early day,
what's done needs to be quiet:
a white butterfly
by the red fuses of the fuchsias.

("Morning Service")

Some of LeGuin's earliest poetry utilizes the same fantastic imagery that informs her famed speculative fiction. Minstrels and maenads, nymphs and sun gods. But she does not linger on these tropes, and largely writes them out remarkably early. LeGuin writes poetry separately from her fiction. However, in some important ways, her writing spheres do overlap, particularly in her refusal to stand still and act predictably.

I particularly like her willingness to craft formal verse, which academic poetry decries, without resting on her forms. I can say, as I said about Aaron Poochigian, that LeGuin takes conventional forms and makes them her own. She writes sonnets, quatrains, and terza rima, but in ways that serve her, not in ways that conform. Some of her forms are surprising, like villanelles with four-syllable lines, or innovative ad hoc forms:

The mind is still. The gallant books of lies
are never quite enough.
Ideas are a whirl of mazy flies
over the pigs' trough.

Words are my matter. I have chipped one stone
for thirty years and still it is not done,
that image of the thing I cannot see.
I cannot finish it or set it free,
transformed to energy.

("The Mind Is Still")

The second half of this collection pulls together previously uncollected poems, most of them quite short, like snapshots of a moment in the mind's eye. She continues experimenting with tradition, taking the familiar and pushing its parameters to make it new, at once somehow comforting and unsettling. Italian octavos and ghazals and rare Indian forms jump out like old friends who have somehow reinvented themselves:

I never thought of a cold dragon
till I saw one dragging its slow body
down the wide wadi it had gouged
out of a mountain, saw the bluish spatter
of icy water from its mouth.

("Mendenhall Glacier")

This one uses Anglo-Saxon lacunae, emphasizing the line structure, pushing the rhyme from the line break into the middle in a way that seems accidental before you realize it's there. She also pushes oblique rhyme about as far as I've ever seen anybody do so ("gouged/mountain"), forcing us to reconsider what makes words rhyme, and why we should consider such contrivances desirable.

Some of LeGuin's new verses address the kind of topics we expect from poets at her age, particularly the difficulties of venerability: fleeting memory, flagging strength, the loss of friends. But she offers far less than we've grown accustomed to in a time when poetry increasingly resembles diary entries. The tenor of LeGuin's new poetry is not one of loss, ending, and death; even in her age, her poetry still bespeaks continuation.

Good artists know the baker does not bake the bread he wants to eat. That's why, say, Bruce Springsteen remains vital and innovative into his sixties. No one would blame Ursula LeGuin if she collected the musings of a great mind winding down; but no one would have felt much else, either. LeGuin cares enough to keep crafting at the peak of her skill, and that makes this collection great.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Most of us know Ursala Le Guin from her science fiction, such as the classic The Left Hand of Darkness. She's always had a deft twist of worldview and an admirable ability to communicate it, but it's her command of language, I think that explains why she's usually considered among the "literary" SF writers. Even people who like "serious fiction" (whatever that is) seem to like Le Guin, though my own history with her books has been spotty.

Still, I admire her greatly for many things, not the least of which is a writing style full of bring-me-up-short imagery. That's why I was happy to choose her book of collected poems from my Amazon Vine selection, with 30 of her older poems and 90 new ones. I hadn't read any of her poetry before, so it was all new to me. I don't read poetry a LOT, anymore, but my first published work was a poem (when I was all of 13 years old) and I took poetry-writing in college with Frank Bidart as my teacher, so I'm not a poetry heathen.

And... I like Le Guin's poetry. By the nature of any collection (from short stories to poetry) some work better than others, and poetry is so much a matter of "what speaks to me right this second" that it's fairly impossible to proclaim "goodness" for anyone else. Some poems made me shrug and turn the page, where others stopped me in my tracks. Several of the poems are on topics that become more meaningful as I get older: about aging, and living alone, and appreciating nature. Some are long; others, like "Sleeping with Cats," only a few lines long.

I don't think any of these are particularly SFish, which you might be wondering about; rather some of the thoughts she expresses are the backstory behind what might turn into an SFish what-if. For example, from a poem called "The Merchant of Words:"
What can I tell of what occurred
before my birth, that foreign, sunrise land?
I cannot know it, though my isle
was once a part of it. I used to watch
the long, bright caravans creep down the road
from fabled mountain, out to the promontory
of the morning where my city stood.

It's like a story with poetic writing; or a poem with a story. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, and I've no problem with that.

So: Should you buy this? If you like Le Guin's fiction, and the reason you like it is her ability to draw a picture with words, then Yes: You'll like this. I'm less certain on "Who'd like this?" for other criteria, such as avid poetry-readers. I like Finding My Elegy, in a quiet, "read a few at a time" way. Maybe you will, too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 25, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The first half of FINDING MY ELEGY should be read outside in a field of daisies and sunflowers, while sparrows chirp overhead, and the late afternoon sun radiates its golden light across the dancing pages.

Many of these poems are magical - often childlike and simplistic, occasionally referring to a private world which you, the reader, may not always be able to enter. What matters here, however, is being able to experience the state of wondrous innocence and illumination that Le Guin has also been able to invoke in many of her fantasy novels.

For forty years, I've regarded Ursula Le Guin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA as my favorite novel, its message of owning one's shadow having deeply impacted my life ever since. But I had never read her poetry, and was delighted to be able to review her latest book of poems. I was not disappointed, although I found this collection to be inconsistent - inferior poems scattered like dime store glitter among polished jewels.

Also diverse is her subject matter - invocations and prayers, the experience of children, and of fantasy characters and mythical figures. Poems celebrating nature in all of its seasons, California and Oregon, pets and wild animals. Reflections on the artifice of Las Vegas and the enslavement of owning. Poems about silence, language, writers, singers, historical persons. Marriage poems, and poems about daughters and granddaughters. Powerfully moving poems on the evils of war. A multiplicity of poems about aging and approaching death.

FINDING MY ELEGY is indeed a cornucopia of styles (rhymed and unrhymed) and subjects, expressing a full range of voices, from the childlike, magical and celebratory to the maternal, grief-stricken and poignantly reflective.

"Through the mockingbird morning
I make my way bewildered
in the city of ruined men,"

Le Guin writes. In another stanza, she tells us:

"Above all beware of honoring women artists.
For the housewife will fill the house with lions
and in with the grandmother
come bears, wild horses, great horned owls, coyotes."

SONG FOR A DAUGHTER ends with:
"Granddaughter of my mothers,
listen to my song:
Nothing you do will ever be right,
nothing you do is wrong."

Undoubtedly I ask less of Ursula Le Guin than may writers in terms of consistency in quality because I've carried her writing in my heart for so many decades. Indeed, I would have been content if only half a dozen of her poems moved me. But I noted several dozen which speak to me deeply and attest to the true value of this collection.

Le Guin's simplicity is often deceptive, her message more profound than initially it may appear. Consider for example, a few lines from her poem, EVERY LAND, which follows a poem about Israel and Palestine:

Willow by the water bending in the wind
Bent till it's broken and it cannot stand
Listen to the word the messengers send
Life from the living rock, death in the sand
Every land is the holy land.

As a poet, Ursula Le Guin speaks from shining soul to shining soul.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 31, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was not familiar with Ms. Le Guin before picking up this book, and opened it with guarded anticipation. I am particular about the poems and poets I am drawn to, and dislike the standard of "he who uses the longest, most confusing words has the best poems." I had to read too many like that in school, and because of that, swore off poetry for many years. I am glad I overcame it, and even happier to have been given this collection.
I tend to do some quick flipping to random pages at first, and my first selection was "Song for a Daughter." It began:

Mother of my granddaughter,
Listen to my song:
A mother can't be right,
A daughter can't be wrong.

How very true! As a mother and grandmother, I had to read on, and the poem immediately became a favorite. I turned back to the beginning of the book, and began to read it slowly, page by page, like one always does with books one never wants to end. I found many other poems that spoke to me and my life experiences. "Uncaged," about a search for spirituality; "Pretty Things" about the little things we collect that have great value, but only to ourselves.

I read this book, placing bits of paper at my favorite spots, and then placed the book, bulging with its bookmarks, on my nightstand. I will read it again, and again. And who knows, even though my English Lit teacher tried to drive the desire from me, I might even memorize some of these gems.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For those unfamiliar with this impressive poet, `Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (born October 21, 1929) is an American author of novels, children's books, and short stories, mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. She has also written poetry and essays. First published in the 1960s, her work explores alternative imaginings of sexuality, religion, politics, anarchism, ethnography, and gender. She is influenced by central figures of Western literature, including feminist writers like Virginia Woolf, and also by modern fantasy and science fiction writers, Norse mythology, and books from the Eastern tradition such as the Tao Te Ching. In turn, she has influenced Booker prize winners and other writers, such as Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell-- and notable futurism and fantasy writers like Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She has won various awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award multiple times.'
This book of poems spans from 1960 to the present and reveals the artist as a seer, observer, reformer, pacifist, naturalist, and humorist - each descriptor meant in the highest of compliments. A read cannot step away form Le Guin's poetry without be at once dazzled and moved. Some examples of her pacifist poems follow:

HERE, THERE, AT THE MARSH

The papers are full of war and
my head is full of the anguish of battles
and ruin of ancient cities.

In the rainy light a great blue heron
lifts and flies above the brown cattails
heavy, tender, and pitiless.

THE NEXT WAR

It will take place,
it will take time,
it will take life,
and waste them.

But Le Guin can sing songs more gently, recalling hues of the past as in:

SEVEN LINES TO ELISABETH

Come back my daughter and make me another
mild posole, two anchos but no jalapeños.
Play Bach on the cello. Make me a mother
again as you did many years ago now.
Reawaken the old house with music and tears.
Whatever you do, always do it wholly.
O child come back, make me another posole.

The poetry of Ursula K Le Guin is in toto an elegy for one of the more sensitive, outspoken, and important poets of our time. This is a rich book of works that must be read. Grady Harp, August 11
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 4, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the finest writers in the Science Ficion and Fantasy genres. Her EARTHSEA novels have earned comparisons to the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in their imagination and scope. I have always admired Le Guin for her lyrical writing and vivid imagination. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that she is a natural poet. Her new collection, FINDING MY ELEGY, traces her evolution as a poet from 1960 to the present, with seventy selected and seventy seven new poems. Le Guin is a lover of nature and the book has many poems describing the natural world. There are also poems describing the creative writing process, which should interest aspiring writers. Le Guin was influenced by such Eastern philosophers as Lao Tzu (she has written a translation of his TAO TE CHING) and this is refleted in her work. My favorite poem in the book, THE CONFERENCE, describes a meeting between the great religous figures of the world. FINDING MY ELEGY is an excellent introduction to Le Guin's poetry that will no doubt please her many fans.
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VINE VOICEon April 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't mind reading poetry, but I can't say that it is something I have a significant interest in.

I chose this book because I enjoy Le Guin's fiction. I knew she is also a highly regarded poet and assumed this anthology would be a great introduction to her poetry. It is.

The poems were selected by the poet and are organized chronologically, although there are also thematic clusters within the chronological presentation. She is obviously a gifted poet, but even her skills were not enough to entice me to truly immerse myself or go beyond this collection.

I found the life science poems of greater interest, reflecting my appreciation of her incorporation of scientific themes in her fiction.

This book may be of interest to fans of Le Guin's fiction, but will be of most interest to fans of poetry, be they familiar with Le Guin or just discovering her.
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I grew up reading Ursula Le Guin's books, so full of creativity and depth of character. I was excited to get what I was sure would be some real spit-fire poetry. For me, this selection fizzled and sputtered out. Maybe it is fitting of an Elegy. I was disappointed.
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on November 5, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This collection, slim as it seems, contains an astonishing range of style, form, character and subject matter. Poetry written in character, whether it's a character that made it onto the printed page or one who simply lives in LeGuin's mind, is especially lovely and successful in this collection. Freed of confessional elements, form moves to the forefront, and the results are haunting. But the range here is so wide that you will want to take your time moving through poetry in character, biographical poetry, meta poems about the creative arts, a few plaintive clinkers, and so many heartbreaking poems about aging, such as "Jewel and Gravel." Very highly recommended.
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Ursula K. Le Guin is mostly known for her execellent and well-regarded science fiction books like The Left Hand of Darkness. Since 1960 she has also written several poetry books, and the first half of this volume is select poetry from these earlier books.

These earlier poems have as common themes a sense of loss, nature, femininity, and American landscapes. These poems are filled with frequent use of words like wind,darkness, winter and silence. They are clear and visual poems.

The last half of the book is called "Life Sciences:New Poems 2006-2011". The poems are mostly on nature and linking nature with the meaning of a life just about over. (The author is in her 80's.) I actually enjoyed these latter poems better - probably because I'm not so young myself anymore. She chose to entitle this collection "Finding My Elegy" after a poem in the last part of the book because that is what this collection feels like - an elegy to her life.

I would call this poetry good by not great. It was good enough that I enjoyed reading it and re-read an occasional poem when I see it on the shelf. There is always the question of just exactly what is a great poem. The best answer I can give is that a great poem is a poem 1) I want to memorize, 2) I want to share with others and 3) Makes sense and means something to me. And sad to say, I didn't find one like that.

4 stars overall.
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