The Collected Poetry and Selected Prose of John Milton
Modern Library; 1942
TLDR: Teenaged Milton wrote a poem about his dead niece, but in true teenager/Milton fashion it’s heavy on mythology, light on actual grief, and somehow even scoldy. What a cock. It’ll mess your kid up and bore her at the same time. Five screams.

Note: I’m trying out something new this time—a rating system. As you see above, Henry gave this book five out of five screamfaces. What does that mean? It’s compiled using a complex algorithm based on the projected cost of future therapy attributable to this book, immediate discomfort with the sound of the prose, and whether my kid had gas while I read it to him. Precision science, this. Basically, more screams means this book is more likely to do your own child irreparable harm in the near and long term. 

Henry hates the poetry of John Milton. No, not the sweet space battles with kick-ass angel cannons. Not the righteous railing against God. Not the demon names. That stuff rules and even Henry, at two months, is attuned enough to his inner Metal to recognize it. He doesn’t have much in the way of hand control yet but I swear I’ve seen him try to throw up those horns.
No, we never even made it to Paradise Lost. 
That’s because the first poem in this collection—I don’t know if this is true of the 2007 re-edit from Modern Library—is about the death of Milton’s two-year-old niece. GRAB THAT TORN BLACK ONESIE SHROUD AND BUCKLE ON UP HANK, IT’S TIME FOR SOME LITERARY BABY MOURNIN’
Milton most likely wrote the poem “On the death of a fair infant dying of a cough” when he was nineteen though it was only published two years before his death, and at that time (and likewise in my edition) he marked it as being written when he was seventeen. Reading the poem, you want, for the sake of Milton’s legacy, for it to have been composed as early as possible. It’s terrible, is my point. It’s a poem by a teenager. It’s a poem by a kid trying to mourn, but getting caught up in his own lyric. He’s a sad young literary man failing at even the ‘sad’ part of the thing. James Hanford wrote “Milton is seeking elevation rather than forcefulness of expression, and he as yet knows no way to attain it save by abounding in the aureate rhetoric of the age.”
The opening line is wonderful, I’ll admit: 

"O fairest flower no sooner blown but blasted"

Then Milton talks about Apollo, then he compares this dead baby to an angel sent with a purpose, which is a bit Hallmark-ey, but a comfort perhaps. And then, in the last stanza, he goes Full Gross:

Then thou the mother of so sweet a child
Her false imagin’d loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb her sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render him with patience what he lent;
This if thou do he will an offspring give,
That till the world’s last end shall make thy name to live.

I think at that point Hank and I were both screaming in rage. 
Imagine your baby dies (NOT YOU HENRY DON’T WORRY YOU’LL LIVE FOREVER WHAT IS DEATH HA HA I DON’T KNOW GO BACK TO SLEEP) and what does your old-enough-to-know-better brother do? He sends you a poem telling you to shut up and maybe god will give you a better kid. Fuck you John. Fuck you.
Anyhow, Henry hated this, but Milton is Milton, so if you want to have a go you can grab the newer edition here. The Collected Poetry and Selected Prose of John Milton
Modern Library; 1942
TLDR: Teenaged Milton wrote a poem about his dead niece, but in true teenager/Milton fashion it’s heavy on mythology, light on actual grief, and somehow even scoldy. What a cock. It’ll mess your kid up and bore her at the same time. Five screams.

Note: I’m trying out something new this time—a rating system. As you see above, Henry gave this book five out of five screamfaces. What does that mean? It’s compiled using a complex algorithm based on the projected cost of future therapy attributable to this book, immediate discomfort with the sound of the prose, and whether my kid had gas while I read it to him. Precision science, this. Basically, more screams means this book is more likely to do your own child irreparable harm in the near and long term. 

Henry hates the poetry of John Milton. No, not the sweet space battles with kick-ass angel cannons. Not the righteous railing against God. Not the demon names. That stuff rules and even Henry, at two months, is attuned enough to his inner Metal to recognize it. He doesn’t have much in the way of hand control yet but I swear I’ve seen him try to throw up those horns.
No, we never even made it to Paradise Lost. 
That’s because the first poem in this collection—I don’t know if this is true of the 2007 re-edit from Modern Library—is about the death of Milton’s two-year-old niece. GRAB THAT TORN BLACK ONESIE SHROUD AND BUCKLE ON UP HANK, IT’S TIME FOR SOME LITERARY BABY MOURNIN’
Milton most likely wrote the poem “On the death of a fair infant dying of a cough” when he was nineteen though it was only published two years before his death, and at that time (and likewise in my edition) he marked it as being written when he was seventeen. Reading the poem, you want, for the sake of Milton’s legacy, for it to have been composed as early as possible. It’s terrible, is my point. It’s a poem by a teenager. It’s a poem by a kid trying to mourn, but getting caught up in his own lyric. He’s a sad young literary man failing at even the ‘sad’ part of the thing. James Hanford wrote “Milton is seeking elevation rather than forcefulness of expression, and he as yet knows no way to attain it save by abounding in the aureate rhetoric of the age.”
The opening line is wonderful, I’ll admit: 

"O fairest flower no sooner blown but blasted"

Then Milton talks about Apollo, then he compares this dead baby to an angel sent with a purpose, which is a bit Hallmark-ey, but a comfort perhaps. And then, in the last stanza, he goes Full Gross:

Then thou the mother of so sweet a child
Her false imagin’d loss cease to lament,
And wisely learn to curb her sorrows wild;
Think what a present thou to God hast sent,
And render him with patience what he lent;
This if thou do he will an offspring give,
That till the world’s last end shall make thy name to live.

I think at that point Hank and I were both screaming in rage. 
Imagine your baby dies (NOT YOU HENRY DON’T WORRY YOU’LL LIVE FOREVER WHAT IS DEATH HA HA I DON’T KNOW GO BACK TO SLEEP) and what does your old-enough-to-know-better brother do? He sends you a poem telling you to shut up and maybe god will give you a better kid. Fuck you John. Fuck you.
Anyhow, Henry hated this, but Milton is Milton, so if you want to have a go you can grab the newer edition here.

The Collected Poetry and Selected Prose of John Milton

Modern Library; 1942

TLDR: Teenaged Milton wrote a poem about his dead niece, but in true teenager/Milton fashion it’s heavy on mythology, light on actual grief, and somehow even scoldy. What a cock. It’ll mess your kid up and bore her at the same time. Five screams.

Note: I’m trying out something new this time—a rating system. As you see above, Henry gave this book five out of five screamfaces. What does that mean? It’s compiled using a complex algorithm based on the projected cost of future therapy attributable to this book, immediate discomfort with the sound of the prose, and whether my kid had gas while I read it to him. Precision science, this. Basically, more screams means this book is more likely to do your own child irreparable harm in the near and long term. 

Henry hates the poetry of John Milton. No, not the sweet space battles with kick-ass angel cannons. Not the righteous railing against God. Not the demon names. That stuff rules and even Henry, at two months, is attuned enough to his inner Metal to recognize it. He doesn’t have much in the way of hand control yet but I swear I’ve seen him try to throw up those horns.

No, we never even made it to Paradise Lost

That’s because the first poem in this collection—I don’t know if this is true of the 2007 re-edit from Modern Library—is about the death of Milton’s two-year-old niece. GRAB THAT TORN BLACK ONESIE SHROUD AND BUCKLE ON UP HANK, IT’S TIME FOR SOME LITERARY BABY MOURNIN’

Milton most likely wrote the poem “On the death of a fair infant dying of a cough” when he was nineteen though it was only published two years before his death, and at that time (and likewise in my edition) he marked it as being written when he was seventeen. Reading the poem, you want, for the sake of Milton’s legacy, for it to have been composed as early as possible. It’s terrible, is my point. It’s a poem by a teenager. It’s a poem by a kid trying to mourn, but getting caught up in his own lyric. He’s a sad young literary man failing at even the ‘sad’ part of the thing. James Hanford wroteMilton is seeking elevation rather than forcefulness of expression, and he as yet knows no way to attain it save by abounding in the aureate rhetoric of the age.”

The opening line is wonderful, I’ll admit:

"O fairest flower no sooner blown but blasted"

Then Milton talks about Apollo, then he compares this dead baby to an angel sent with a purpose, which is a bit Hallmark-ey, but a comfort perhaps. And then, in the last stanza, he goes Full Gross:

Then thou the mother of so sweet a child

Her false imagin’d loss cease to lament,

And wisely learn to curb her sorrows wild;

Think what a present thou to God hast sent,

And render him with patience what he lent;

This if thou do he will an offspring give,

That till the world’s last end shall make thy name to live.

I think at that point Hank and I were both screaming in rage.

Imagine your baby dies (NOT YOU HENRY DON’T WORRY YOU’LL LIVE FOREVER WHAT IS DEATH HA HA I DON’T KNOW GO BACK TO SLEEP) and what does your old-enough-to-know-better brother do? He sends you a poem telling you to shut up and maybe god will give you a better kid. Fuck you John. Fuck you.

Anyhow, Henry hated this, but Milton is Milton, so if you want to have a go you can grab the newer edition here.

Henry Hates:
Man’s Hope
by André Malraux
Translated by Stuart Gilbert and Alastair Macdonald
Bantam: 1968

Henry hates this mid-century classic. It’s often considered, alongside Hemingway and Orwell, an essential retelling of the Spanish Civil War. Malraux himself played a famous, and famously inflated, role fighting for the Republic in that war, both in seeking international support and in a sometimes amorphous leadership position commanding and flying sorties with a fleet of obsolete French aircraft. Hemingway knew and loathed him. All of this was after he had already won the 1933 Prix Goncourt for his novel Man’s Fate. That’s like Houellebecq heading South to command a tank battalion in Syria, but spending much of the time talking in a local bar.

Malraux’s exploits—continuing into the occupation of France—and his obsession with his own myth are equally famous, but I know essentially nothing about the man. This is the first Malraux either Henry or I have read. I picked it up at a stoop sale down the street on a whim; I think I’d just read an essay on him in the NYRB Classics collection of Simon Leys essays, though I might be mistaken. I’m driven to dip into on of his many biographies next. I know, this lack makes me a terrible leftist. In my defense I’ve read a lot of Serge?

I’m surprised Henry didn’t like this more. It’s repetitive but exciting: the book opens with page after page of a guy at a train station in Madrid calling other stations to see if they’ve been taken by the fascists. It gave me a chance to do my Mean Ol’ Fascist voice when I read it aloud. Mostly that just involves rasping a little more, I guess? Thin line between fascist and pirate and cattle rustler in my vocal repertoire. Maybe Henry objected to the way I butchered the names of every single Spanish city. Kid is such a snob, particularly for someone who’s never even been there or, you know, heard the word ‘Spain’ until I read him some of this book. Get over yourself, Henry, you can’t say ‘Mallorca’ either, hombre. Also I wiped cheese out of your armpit yesterday Mr. Too-Cool-for-Dad’s-Books-by-Fraudulent-Leftist-Heroes, so just climb down off of that high horse, horses being another thing you don’t know about yet, also they’re dangerous, please be careful.

Anyhow the book seems interesting enough, though I’ve had this other book about the Spanish Civil War weighing my shelf down for a while, and perhaps Hank and I should move onto that instead, since he’s such a damned stickler.

If you want to grab Man’s Hope you’ll have to find it used—the public seems to agree with Henry, so much so that it’s out of stock everywhere, if not out of print.

Henry hates:

Goest

by Cole Swensen

Alice James: 2004

9781882295432

Surprisingly, Henry didn’t hate this collection by one of my favorite poets all that much. I mean, he let me read something like five whole poems. From him that’s pretty high praise.

I’m not saying he didn’t hate it. Of course he did. The kid is a flailing furnace of unthought bile. Dude hates everything. I’m just saying that it took him longer than expected to realize that he hated this. 

Goest is very much a Swensen book. That means that Henry heard poems about the invention of the hydrometer, the lightbulb and, most thrillingly, the mirror and gaslights in cities. It’s Swensen in the mould that defined her ten years ago, and when I first read her about eight years back. Her groove, which she’s since broadened and deepened to form a sort of river delta of poesy, is to take a dry topic—scientific, landscape architectural—and work alchemy on it.

Here, from “The Invention of the Mirror”, though Swensen is too good to be easily excerpted:

Though if the sun itself is a mirror/ just think:/ it’s a single step—/ slip/and the glass comes back/

inhabited/ Empedocles sad/ which Eusebius compares/

to a reflection on water/ Who was it/

thought the sun transparent/ and all te earth a lens? said/ the body of the brittle/ stares back,

swears/ 

the image can’t be shaken/

She’s great, with few false notes even at book length, and lovely enough when read aloud that I think even Henry caught some hint of it. He caught a hint and so let me continue, counting down two extra cycles of grunting and arm flailing before his waveform of peace collapsed again into a chaotic foam of discomfort and wailing.

If you, like Henry, can tolerate five whole poems at a stretch, maybe you want to pick up Goest over here.

Henry hates:

The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo

Edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman

University of California: 2006

9780520245525

Henry hates César Vallejo. Or rather, he hates a few passages from the middle of Valejo’s Poemas humanos: the poem listing people who’ve died, and the part recounting a stay in a hospital.

Two things: hating Vallejo is like saying you don’t care for the debt of knowledge Adam incurred in the garden. Vallejo’s poetry is this horizon beyond which we can no longer see to point out anything like aesthetic disapproval. I mean, I say that I love Vallejo’s work, but it hardly matters. The 20th was his century.

Insofar as every son should hate the gods of his father, I approve wholly, but I think Hank is tilting at windmills the breadth of the sky and the depth of the grave with this one. Weird windmills, those. Hard to picture.

Second, yes, I read Henry passages about the ill and dying. Eshlemann’s translation is good enough that I thought the cadence might soothe him. And it did, for a time. He fell asleep dangling from one arm while I read from the book in the other, but too soon he was subject to one of those full-body spasms we all suffer, that falling-out-of-a-tree thing. After which it was all wails and no tolerance for Vallejo’s mourning.

"But it’s about a hospital," I said. "The only Institution of which you have any experience."

"grgllllnhuchhhUUAAAAGH," he smartly replied.

Maybe Celan is next?

Anyhow, the Vallejo is here is you need it, and you do. Don’t listen to Henry. He’s a baby. And he has terrible taste besides.

Henry hates:

Near to the Wild Heart

by Clarice Lispector

Translated by Giovanni Pontiero

New Directions: 1990 (Original Brazilian edition 1944)

9780811211406

Henry hates this first, brilliant, novel by the incredible Clarice Lispector. He only heard pages 32-34, beginning with Joanna and her maid aboard a train to her aunt’s house. As with every page in this precocious book—indeed as with all of Lispector’s novels—these passages are miraculous not chiefly for the dark interiority of the protagonist, but rather the pacing of the language. Lispector was a genius of meting out poetic description morsel by morsel.

More often we—certainly this is true for Henry, and he’s only heard like ten pages of the damned things—are used to novels in a Flaubertian vein: a thick jungle of description though which a reader must hack to follow the bright flash of flitting Character in the canopy. Lispector—here but much more so in The Hour of the Star—does the opposite. Brooding misanthropic internal monologue is our swamp, and we’re left to jump between half-submerged logs of description, trusting in her that each will be sound, will let us press further along. Of course, that’s the other secret to the brilliance of Lispector. Sometimes she’ll simply let you sink. 

I like to think Henry caught some of my respect for this book in my voice, in the quaver or intensity. Even so he began squirming on page 33, flailing his head from side to side on page 34, refusing with arm and leg and bared gums this book and these sound and this burden of life along with it. 

It’s what I get for reading my son the passage where Joanna finds out she’s orphaned. Later, in the Disney years, parental death’ll be his bread and butter. That terror and freedom, the urge to anarchism inscribed on the most immediate political circle possible. Now, even if he understood none of it, I regret introducing him to the word.

If you, like my son, are left inconsolable by descriptions of sand and trains, you should probably buy this one here.

Henry hates:

The Twelve Chairs

by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov

Translated by Anne O. Fisher

Northwestern: 2011 (Original Russian pub. 1928)

9780810127722

Henry hates this classic of early Soviet satire. He hates it so much, in fact, that he only made it through the first three pages before doing that thing where he opens up his toothless mouth and scrunches up his fat little face and you think “Oh, this is a cute yawn” and then he shreds your eardrums just to show you his mighty elemental displeasure.

Those pages hold a smart, gently absurdist and beautifully translated class humor. They read like Leskov or Heller or Gerhardie. That latter might be most apt because here and early in the pages of Gerhardie’s The Polyglots we’re introduced to overwrought aristocratic matriarchs with distinct mustaches. In both books these women are objects of mockery for the pompous narrative voice—”Claudia Ivanovna was stupid,” write Ilf and Petrov “and her advanced age left no room to hope that she might ever become smarter.” More importantly, though they are ridiculous, these mustached women, in both books, serve to highlight the terrible venality of the male narrators that disparage them. It’s rather remarkable and a joy to read.

Or at least, I thought so. Henry, I don’t know. I never know. Probably he was hungry. Certainly it didn’t help that I tried to do the characters’ voices for him. Maybe he’s just a humorless shit. 

I’m going to try this one again, see if maybe he’s just impatient for the plot to get to Leningrad and Moscow.

If you are not, like my son, a humorless shit, you can grab the book here.

Henry hates:

Pee on Water

by Rachel Glaser

Publishing Genius: 2010

9780982081389

Henry hates this book of self-consciously ‘experimental fiction’ stories. Or rather, he didn’t seem to hate the first story, “The Magic Umbrella,” up until the part where Louisa May Alcott shoots The Sheriff. After that he began crying unconsolably.

I laid him down and opened up his sodden diaper. Under that too-bright bulb at five am it looked and smelled like a cupped hand full of saffron cottage cheese.

It’s strange, because I, too, really liked that story until about the last page. Pee on Water is very much a Publishing Genius book, which is to say, Glaser is writing in that instantly recognizable, lately unavoidable style that flags the ‘experimental fiction’ genre.

This isn’t really the place to discuss it—Henry himself hasn’t read widely enough in the genre to be willing to pass judgement, the disapproval inherent in curdled cheese shits aside—but when I say ‘experimental fiction’ I don’t of course, mean that the fiction is in any way experimental. Usually the very opposite. That phrase now denotes, first, a publishing ecosystem, of which Publishing Genius is very much a part. It denotes a willingness to subjugate mimetic fidelity to affect. And most importantly it denotes a style of writing characterized by short declarative phrasing, with the result that the overwhelming tone of this story and of the entire genre is that of alienation.

Alienation, it turns out—and this is something Baudelaire and his ilk taught us in their own way—is forever accurate, is easily related to, and most importantly it works as a sort of scrim. When writing in this manner, a capable author like Glaser can inhabit an overly explicit storybook voice. She can use flatly explicit sentences about emotions—love, sorrow, etc.—they are made more complex, more doubtful more adult, when seen through the filigree of this alienation. The scrim takes totemic objects and obscures them, gives them mysterious importance, lends them the weight of allegory. Thus, calling your protagonist Louisa May Alcott feels like it means something. This alienation functions rather like a sister to Benjaminian Trauerspiel, creating a semblance of un-transcendental allegory from a rough and obvious bricolage. Or at least, Henry would think so if he were capable of ‘thought.’ Masters of the style—Tao Lin is an obvious example—can then inject more doubt and complication by being so powerfully sincere that the alienation itself, that ironic remove, is called into question, that the humor of non sequitur is subverted.

It’s an effective tactic and though it’s hugely overused now, Glaser deploys it well. Not so well that it kept Henry from shitting himself at the sound of her prose, but I dunno, perhaps he takes issue with the whole genre. Such a snob, this kid.

If you, too, would like to crap you pants while reading a book with ‘Pee’ in the title, grab a copy here.

Henry hates:

The Folding Cliffs: A narrative of 19th century Hawaii

by W. S. Merwin

Knopf: 2004

9780375701511

Henry hates Merwin’s gorgeous, gripping verse epic. This book is like a mouthful of shadow and earth and damp night air and leather and sorrow. It is a magnificent book, one that propels you while it keeps you close to its breast, a book that gives context and shockingly personal insight on the same page, sometimes in the same careful line. This book outdoes Matthiessen at his own game. This book is—I write with all confidence—a masterpiece.

At least, I thought so. Henry, not so much. He fell asleep after eight pages. Maybe unconsciousness was preferable to hearing me butcher the Hawaiian names. Maybe the rhythm of the thing lulled him, or maybe he simply got bored. Either way he conked out just as things were starting to get good, by which I mean our protagonist was about to reach the top of a mountain she’d been climbing for that entire eight pages. Henry has no tolerance for stage setting, I guess? The kid is a boor.

I tried picking up where we’d left off later that night/morning/time is meaningless with babies, but he immediately screamed and spat out his pacifier, which I’ve come to recognize means the equivalent of, I think, ‘Fuck you and your motherfucking books give me milk you horrible shit.” So let’s just agree that he hated it.

If you want to get a copy to shame my pronunciation in front of my screaming infant, you can grab it here.

Henry hates:

The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology

by Simon Critchley

Verso: 2012

9781844677375

Henry hates Simon Critchley’s examination of the resurgence of eschatological religious rhetoric in contemporary critical theory, with particular attention paid to Badiou, Zizek, etc. 

Specifically, Henry hated pages 21 and 22—the first pages following the book’s introduction—in which Critchley begins by recounting a correspondence between Rousseau and Voltaire. Rousseau writes to his at-that-point friend wishing that “in every State there were a moral code or a kind of civic profession of faith.” Critchley uses this to begin discussing the religious within the political, and the deep antimonies that run throughout Rousseau’s thought—he borrows Althusser’s term to call them decalages. 

Henry seemed to find this engaging, though it was being read to him at three in the morning as I sat, bouncing him in my lap on a large inflatable gym ball. Indeed, it’s a testament to Critchley’s consistent career-spanning dedication to clarity that Henry was able to appreciate some of what a decalage might be, despite not having read Althusser or, you know, grown the parts of his brain that make use of language.

Sadly, Henry seemed less impressed by Critchley’s brief litany of other a-Christian appropriations of the word ‘catechism’—Bakunin, Nechayev. He began whimpering, then outright crying, and finally as I opened his diaper, he pissed on me, on the floor and even, in what I can only read as his surest sign of disdain, on himself. 

It’s fine. So long as it wasn’t—please god no—an early defense of Badiou, it’s fine. 

I think it’s safe to say that Henry hated this one, at least at this point. The mud-slinging starts soon after in the book, so maybe we’ll go back to it, see if that holds his attention.

Get the book here if you want to read up and argue with my infant son.