Thursday, March 7, 2019

Some poetry

I'm trying to read more poetry and in fact one of my goals this year is to find a new (to me) poem that I love every month. It turns out that maybe "love" is too strong of a word, but my criteria is basically a poem that I want to come back to and read again and again. It also turns out that I have to read a whole lot of poetry to find a poem like that, so this may be more of a two-month experiment than a year-long project. Mostly I've been sampling poems here and there, but here are three collections that I read in their entirety.

Memory of the Future by Elizabeth Spires (2018)

I saw a review of this one which said it's supposed to be sort of Zen, or inspired by Zen thought, and the snippets I read in the review intrigued me. The first poem in it is my first "new favorite" of the year. It's called "Pome" and compares poems to fruit.

O I remember days....
Climbing the branches of a tree
ripe and heavy with pomes. 

As with any collection, there were some I didn't feel like I really got, some which I liked but didn't stand out, and few favorites. In addition to "Pome," there were a couple others that I read several times. One was called "House of String" and another "Snow, the Novel" which I very appropriately happened to read during a winter storm.

When I think about the collection as a whole the descriptors that come to mind are easy, quiet contemplation. Easy in that it feels unforced and the words flow well. Spires tends to focus on little things rather than grandiose proclamations about universal themes. The poems feel immediate, like she is talking about what is right in front of her, but those little things are very important.

100 Best Poems of All Time edited by Leslie Pockell (2001)

I would argue that these are not, in fact, the best 100 poems of all time. In fact, I'd argue that they aren't even all poems, since some of them are actually songs. I didn't read every word of every poem. If one was especially long and I wasn't enjoying it, I didn't make myself finish. If it was a song that I know by heart, I didn't bother reading it at all. (Which I shouldn't have to because although songs are similar to poems, they are not poems.) But I read most of them so I think it counts.

The editor didn't include more than one poem by any poet, so on the one hand I can't see how it's a definitive "100 best" list unless it just happens that the 100 best are all by different poets. On the other hand, I appreciate the breadth and variety that resulted.

The poems I liked most from the collection and which were new to me (as far as I can remember) are "Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson and "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg. The collection also contains "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath and "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou which I was already familiar with and still like a lot.

Dark Woods by Richard Sanger (2018)

I think the review I read of this one mentioned nature and vivid imagery and those sounded appealing. It turned out to probably be my favorite of the three. I really like poetry with vivid, surprising descriptions, so when one of the first poems in this book describes an artichoke as "tight-lipped and celibate, nodding your bald pate wisely at the rumor of pleasures you shall never taste" I was pretty sure I was going to like this book.

My favorite might be "Merrily Down the Stream," which compares lives to traveling by water, with occasional interjections like "just look at that cliff, will you" but then progresses on to "our bright vessel banged up against the rock you never saw, dimwit" and accusing "you always do this" before ending with "all our needs and secrets spilling forth, for Christ's sake, in the rapids, and the wreck, the wreck of our lives."

Others I liked a lot include "Herons on Ice," "Different Pears," "Adulterous Mannequins," and "Cornstalks." There's definitely a pattern: most of the poems I liked the most tended to be about everyday things (artichokes, herons, pears, etc) but looked at from a new perspective. I'm kind of simple when it comes to poetry, because often when it tackles larger, more abstract subjects, I just don't always get it. There were some in this collection, too, that I think I'd maybe need to read a few times to understand more fully. But mostly, I liked it the first time through, though I re-read the ones I liked most anyhow just for the enjoyment of it.

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