I don’t think I’ve read a poetry anthology since college — and even then, I mostly just read the poems we were studying and ignored both the commentary and all the other poems. A Norton Anthology of Poetry can be a very intimidating book, after all.
I didn’t actually intend to read one this time, either. However, I happened to come across a poem by Eastern European poet Czesław Miłosz which I liked, and when I googled him I discovered he’d edited this anthology. I figured it might be nice to branch out and experience some new poets, so I picked it up.
When I started reading, I really appreciated what Miłosz had to say about the poems, why he’d included them, and how they related to each section of the anthology. He had some really great stuff to say about how poets over the centuries relate to nature, and why he liked and had selected each poem. The selection leaned pretty heavily on Eastern European and ancient Chinese poets, but since I really like EE poetry and don’t have a lot of experience with ancient Chinese poetry, I figured that would be a nice broadening experience.
After a while, I began to wonder if maybe Miłosz should have just done an anthology of Chinese poetry instead.
Still, I read on.
Then there came the chapter entitled “Women’s Skin” which was ostensibly about women.
Except only maybe a third of the poems were BY women. And of those that were, Miłosz was…somewhat uncomplimentary? As I read, I began to get a very distinct feeling that Miłosz was not super fond of women, or very interested in their work. His little descriptions and notes about the poems felt almost snide in their dismissiveness.
After that, while I finished the book, I no longer trusted or appreciated Miłosz’s observations.
It’s a shame because I really did enjoy some of the poems. I probably would still even enjoy Miłosz’s poems, but there are other places to find those.
I would not recommend this book — if you’re interested in Chinese poetry from the 700s, you could probably find an anthology by a Chinese author that would be better, same with the modern Eastern European poets.