March 27, 2006

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

Sunday mornings after breakfast are my favorite time with the radio, because that's when CBC's "The Sunday Edition" with Michael Enright is on, followed by lunchtime with Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe. I'd listen to Michael Enright read the phone book, though I'd rather listen to him talk about it, because I know he always has something interesting to say.

The other weekend, "Sunday Edition" treats included an interview with bestselling author Sarah Dunant who always sounds so wonderfully enthusiastic, and a feature on the history of the saxophone. But my attention belonged to the last part of the six-part series, "Poetry Is Life and Vice Versa" with Bruce Meyer. I've found over the years that anything with Dr. Meyer on CBC is worth catching. Not only is he a very companionable radio friend, he knows what he's talking about. He's a poet himself, as well as a scholar of literature and poetry with, among other things, several books of poetry, some short stories, two books of interviews with Canadian writers, and two textbooks to his credit.

I missed the first four installations of "Poetry Is Life" because of our trip, so I was delighted to find that all of them are available for free online as audio files; each segment is about half an hour long, and the segments are: How Poems Sound (Jan 22/06); How Poems See (Jan 29/06); How Poems Think (Feb 5/06); How Poems Dance (Feb 19/06); How Poems Feel (Feb 26/06); and How Poems Read (Mar 12/06). And because the series has been so popular, it will be available for sale on CD in mid-April, just in time for National Poetry Month, tra la.

From what I heard the other weekend and today, this series seems to be as good as Meyer's two previous ones for CBC Radio, The Great Books and A Novel Idea: An Exploration into the Evolution of Story Telling. The Great Books series was also made available on audio, in three parts, and if you dig around you can find the cassettes, or, preferably, the cds. Or you can get Meyer's book, The Golden Thread: A Reader's Journey Through the Great Books, which covers Homer, Virgil, the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, up through A Room of One's Own and The Wizard of Oz; the book is out of print in the US but still available in Canada. The audio version of the Novel Idea series, too, is apparently still available on audiocassette.

I know, covering the Great Books isn't a particularly original idea, having been covered already and in great depth by everyone from Harold Bloom (How to Read and Why) and Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren (How to Read a Book) -- which has even spawned a study guide, How to Read 'How to Read a Book' by Maryalice Newborn -- to WTM guru Susan Wise Bauer (The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had), but Meyer does it well. One of the nice features of Dr. Meyer's book is that it's very conversational and accessible, considerably less pedantic than some of the other works on the subject, and yet more learned and less how to-ish than others. It's definitely, as the subtitle says, a reader's journey rather than an expert's lesson, with a particularly learned friend along for the ride.

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