Why Don't We Say What We Mean?
Why Don't We Say What We Mean?

Why Don’t We Say What We Mean?: Essays Mostly About Poetry

by Lawrence Raab

$16.95

“Raab brings a darker timbre to poetry’s comfortable middle register; his eminently approachable, low-key lines are never quite as affable as they seem, and the book is all the better for that.”— David Orr, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, “The Best Poetry Books of 2015”

Format: paperback

ISBN: 978-1-936797-76-9 Categories: , , ,

Lawrence Raab has been revered as a quietly magnificent poet. As friends and students have long known, for decades he’s also been a virtuosic teacher. In this first collection of his contemplative essays, Raab ponders works that keep mattering to him as a working writer, with fresh considerations of Edwin Arlington Robinson and Thomas Hardy, Wislawa Szymborska, Ben Jonson, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, the artist René Magritte, and Robert Frost. Reading with his touchtone of “truthfulness,” a literary maestro meditates on authenticity, ambiguity, and endings, and with “In a Different Hour: Collaboration, Revision, and Friendship,” he offers a fascinating chronicle of prolonged, generative exchange with poet Stephen Dunn.

“It’s no surprise that one of the best poets of my generation, and one of the wisest, has now presented us with a true gift, his collected essays. In subjects of consideration, they range from ‘Jabberwocky’ to Frost to Stein to Magritte, but Larry Raab is quick to remind us to beware ‘mistaking the subject for the poem itself,’ and of course that applies to the essays here, which have, beyond immediate subjects, a singular plainspoken (but richly allusive) contemplative  voice and an unerring mission to dig deep into the human condition (a venture that itself implies how a true reading of poems will necessarily expand their reach beyond the limits of a one-subject-per-poem understanding). Despite my first words above, I wish this book’s appearance had been a surprise, so I could now declare it a thoroughly delightful one.” — Albert Goldbarth

Additional Information

Weight.4 lbs
Dimensions6 x .5 x 9 in

Excerpt:

“We cannot choose a wrong subject. If the primary danger is mistaking the subject for the poem itself, the practical risk is remaining too attached to any subject, and so frustrating the unfolding of the as yet unimagined poem. A poem triggered by a death may become a poem about that death. Or its true and most resonant subject may be discovered elsewhere –– a quarrel with ourselves, with what we want to believe, or what we think we need to believe in order to be ourselves. In life, any particular death may be crushing. In art, it can serve as an occasion for wonderfully unpredictable realizations. The sense that a poem relates the true and immediate feelings of its author is one of poetry’s most persuasive and most useful illusions.”

laurence raab

Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and received a BA from Middlebury College and an MA from Syracuse University. He is author of eight collections of poems, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other and Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts, both finalists for the National Book Award. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and Guggenheim Foundation as well as numerous residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.

“It’s no surprise that one of the best poets of my generation, and one of the wisest, has now presented us with a true gift, his collected essays. In subjects of consideration, they range from ‘Jabberwocky’ to Frost to Stein to Magritte, but Larry Raab is quick to remind us to beware ‘mistaking the subject for the poem itself,’ and of course that applies to the essays here, which have, beyond immediate subjects, a singular plainspoken (but richly allusive) contemplative  voice and an unerring mission to dig deep into the human condition (a venture that itself implies how a true reading of poems will necessarily expand their reach beyond the limits of a one-subject-per-poem understanding). Despite my first words above, I wish this book’s appearance had been a surprise, so I could now declare it a thoroughly delightful one.” — Albert Goldbarth

“More than merely a collection essays, Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? is a cohesive assaying. Its cumulative advocacy for the centrality of unknowing, and emotional ambiguity to poetic and artistic invention adds up to something greater than the sum of its precise and glistening parts.  Here Lawrence Raab makes his urgent and accessible case by way of genuinely seminal texts—from Shakespeare to Szymborska, from Robert Frost and Ben Johnson to Gertrude Stein and René Magritte—for what the poet Claudia Emerson called  ‘courting the right kind of trouble.’ In a time when we are tempted, as we always are, by the superficial consolations of simple answers and monolithic feelings, Lawrence Raab’s careful reading and astute insight instead compel us to renew our humanity by grappling with that true mystery that resides ‘in the divide between the unexplained and the inexplicable, a space that vibrates with … what might be beyond our comprehension.’  These essays, which advance an essential wisdom about our creative lives, will be invaluable both in the classroom and far beyond.” — Kathleen Graber

“Accomplished poet Raab (Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts) makes a persuasive argument for the value of ambiguity in poetry, celebrating an uncertainty or mystery that defies the easy application of meaning and lures the reader into ‘the divide between the unexplained and the inexplicable, a space that vibrates with the enigmatic, with what might be beyond our comprehension.’ Fluent in a canonical poetic tradition reaching from Shakespeare to Dickinson to Frost, Raab sees poetry as a process of transformation in which structure provides a way of thinking and ‘how [a poem] moves might be what it means.’ Serious and playful by turns, Raab examines the traditional tools of metaphor, starting with Aristotle, as well as the use of nonsense (exemplified here by Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’), absurdity, obscurity, and surprise. He also contemplates dreams and ghosts in terms of Freud’s ideas about the uncanny, viewing them as conveyors of the ‘mysterious and significant.’ As in the best teaching, Raab’s considerations sound personal, straightforward, and enormously precise. They prompt the reader to take ‘imaginative risks’ and be ‘seduced into the process of thinking.'”Publishers Weekly

Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? is a pleasure: lucid, smart, eloquent, useful, and heartening. I’m not sure how much more can be asked of a book of essays.” — Jim Shepard


Praise for Raab’s Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts:

“Raab brings a darker timbre to poetry’s comfortable middle register; his eminently approachable, low-key lines are never quite as affable as they seem, and the book is all the better for that.”— David Orr, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, “The Best Poetry Books of 2015”

“In his eighth full-length collection, Raab (The History of Forgetting), a teacher of literature and writing at Williams College, exhibits tight lyricism and a characteristically American wit in meditations on mortality and intimacy. ‘All that I am keeps me silent,’ he opens the book’s meditative opener, before moving in the next poem to thoughts of murdering a coworker: ‘Let’s say you feel someone is better off/ dead, but you don’t do anything about it.’ Such wild swings in tone and subject matter are common throughout, as are Raab’s occasional, but piercing, socio-political insights (‘sometimes the rich appear// to ask for my trust. Believe us, they whisper./ What you can’t have you don’t need./ What you were never given you can never lose’), his scientific revelations (‘Maybe nothing’s only itself when we’re looking’), and aphorisms (‘Too much thinking is worse// than too much action, except for Proust./ And many other equally persuasive exceptions’). What binds this collection is neither the formal qualities of the poems, nor Raab’s unmistakable voice, but his ability to move across registers with consistency and well-tempered feeling: ‘Swallows dash through the twilight/ and I don’t think about/ what they might mean,’ he writes, ‘Or I didn’t// just then. They swooped in and were gone.”— Publishers Weekly

“Raab, a regularly anthologized poet with more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including What We Don’t Know about Each Other(1993), a finalist for the National Book Award, continues to present his colloquial brand of prose poems with precise lyrical conversation in his latest book. These poems offer powerful evocations of the most human of themes: loneliness, the haunting resolution of doubt, love’s many shades, and a deeply intelligent form of comfort amid the messiness of emotions. Always, reason balances high sentiment and dramatic outbursts. Raab’s is a wholly American voice that reveals itself in sardonic humor and reflection as the poet addresses universal, philosophical quandaries; heaven and hell; and everything in between: ‘Is there anything you want to know ? / my father once asked me. / I can’t picture the scene. Were we out on the lawn? / Was a baseball involved? No, I said, / taken by surprise. And he turned away, / embarrassed and relieved.’ A wonderful, mature, sweeping collection”— Mark Eleveld, Booklist

“The poems in this collection are a beautiful demonstration of Raab’s masterful ability to reach his unseen hand, his ghostpoetry hand and stroke,   or even grab us, whichever he needs to do at any given moment. He blends the past, present , and future into one, and makes us realize how dependent they all are upon one another.  This is a wonderful combination of philosophy, insight, poetic language and technique that will satisfy not only in autumn but any season, any year, anytime.” — Francine Witt, South Florida Poetry Journal