Friday, 22 March 2013

World Poetry Day - three favourite poems

I have Stefanie at So Many Books to thank for this.  I had no idea today was World Poetry Day, and I'm a poet!  She has a lovely post on a poet she loves, today.  I decided to write about three different poets and how I found them, and a poem from each that was one of the first by them that I loved, to celebrate World Poetry Day.

First, about poetry:
 The poet Stefanie likes,  Muriel Rukeyser, writes that people are afraid of poetry because they are afraid to feel.  I think that's true, and that's also why we instinctively reach for it in our most deepest emotional moments.  Poetry is about this moment in time, and the very best poetry takes all that goes into this moment - whatever it's about - and if it's got something true because the poet has reached deep and  touched with all he or she feels and isn't afraid to write it - then it transcends that moment, and becomes something more, something that links time and experience. It becomes timeless, always waiting for us in our moment to find it again in the poem.  This is how we relate to one another, that bridging.  Poetry is a way for us to meet one another.

Poem number one: love poem extraordinaire: 
Once upon a time, couples read poetry to each other and fell in love over the experience. Sometimes now, if we are lucky, a movie will come along and use poetry to show us that it still lives, and we are touched and off we go to find out more.  This is exactly how I found ee cummings, from a Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters:  One of the sister's husbands reads a poem to another sister (I think, it's been decades since I saw this) he wants to be his mistress:  I hated the cad, but loved the poem:


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


That last line always makes me shiver, it's so beautiful and describes how love can go into the tiniest places that we think are closed in us, but the look of our love will open.

Mostly though, poetry is a gift, that waits for the reader to stumble across it. At least, that's been my experience. A chance mention here, a friend there, an article in the paper, a quote in a movie.....so many ways to find our way to a poet.

Poem Number Two: my current poet adoration:
Last year I wrote about an interview Maria Shriver did for Oprah's magazine in 2011.  I only found the interview last year.  Here is Maria Shriver's interview with Mary Oliver.  This interview is changing my life.  For a reason I am not certain of yet, when I was young, I never asked myself, what do I want to do that would make me happy?  I think possibly I never dared to take that risk, though over time I have come to see that I will always write poetry, so now I am doing what I should have done so long ago, making room in my life to write regularly.  Mary Oliver did ask herself that question, and she knew early on writing poetry was what she was happiest doing.  She set out to make a life around writing poetry.  This is having a profound influence on me, the idea that we can do - that I can do - what makes me happy.  Here is one of the early posts on my blog, just when I was discovering Mary Oliver for the first time.  And here is another post from 2009, again on Mary Oliver, quoting some of my favourite lines.  And one more from 2010, about goldfinches (another poem I love), because apparently I've been writing every year about poetry on here, without quite realizing how much I have been!


Here is a poem from that very first collection I read and blogged about, that made me jump and recognize myself and how I am trying to live.  The poem is Yes! No! in her collection Owls and Other Fantasies:
                                                                   Yes! No!
How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.
The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.
The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.
How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out
Yes! No! The
swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

~ Mary Oliver ~

This is how I walk, when I am out for my walks, listening to the wind, and the bird songs and calls, watching the flowers, the sky, the trees, listening and absorbing and just being in the moment.  To find a poet who writes about this way of being in the world is revelation for me.  I am learning how to be in this world, still, and how to write about being here.  That's what a poet does.

Poems don't always have to be serious:
One last poem, from a poet who I adore, and who makes me laugh.  I discovered her when I lived in England in 2000. Wendy Cope is a light verse poet - ugh I hate this category name.  It deserves more respect.  Her poetry collection Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis was referred to somewhere (I think in an article), and since I have a bit of an addiction to chocolate, the title caught my eye.  I had to find that book and see what it was about!  Well, I opened it up in the bookstore, and found myself laughing out loud!  The very first poem in the collection, Engineer's Corner, is so snarky and sarcastic, that it is worth the price of the book alone:
                 
                 Engineers’ Corner
Why isn’t there an Engineers’ Corner in Westminster Abbey? In
Britain we’ve always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint
. . . How many schoolchildren dream of becoming great engineers?
Advertisement placed in The Times by the Engineering Council
We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints –
That’s why so many poets end up rich,
While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?
Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
Has got it made. It’s always been the way,
For everybody knows that we need poems
And everybody reads them every day.
Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering –
You’re sure to need another job as well;
You’ll have to plan your projects in the evenings
Instead of going out. It must be hell.
While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimlers,
You’ll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
With no hope of a statue in the Abbey,
With no hope, even, of a modest bust.
No wonder small boys dream of writing couplets
And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train.
There’s far too much encouragement for poets –
That’s why this country’s going down the drain.
– Wendy Cope
Isn't that a lovely, funny poem? And so ironic.  I love it.

Do you have a favourite poem, or poet, and how did you find them?                      

11 comments:

Bybee said...

In The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood reads "somewhere I have never traveled" aloud to Buddy Willard, and what does he do? He decides that it's time for her to see what he looks like naked. No wonder she felt depressed!

Susan said...

Bybee: LOL!! Though I wish I could remember reading the poem in the book, since I have read The Bell Jar -that was so long ago though. I guess hearing the poem spoken by Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters has a quality that reached me that the sleaze in The Bell Jar didn't have! lol I wonder why this beautiful poem is used by characters who want to seduce women, but not necessarily love them?

Stefanie said...

Loved you post Susan and what you said about poetry! The last line of the cummings poem made me shiver too. I also enjoy Mary Oliver. Did you know she has a new book out? I haven't read the poem you have here though. I love the line "I/
think serenity is not something you just find in the world." I've not read Wendy Cope but I have heard of her and that she is funny so i especially enjoyed her poem. I will have to try harder to find her books!

Susan said...

Stefanie: thank you so much! I know Mary Oliver has a new book out, i haven't had a chance to look at it yet. Pretty sure I will want it, when I do :-)

I'm glad you enjoyed my post and Wendy Cope made you laugh. She is wry and funny and I really enjoy her.

Kathleen said...

Glad you have found so much from reading poetry. My son has started writing poems. They are very good and come from a place of deep understanding. I think I love his poetry the best because I understand everything behind it. Poetry is powerful in a way that novels are not.

Susan said...

Kathleen: That is wonderful that your son has started writing poems. It is even better that he is showing them to you, that takes a lot of trust between you. He is revealing himself to you; that's what poetry does, I find. Thank you for sharing this, Kathleen. Is he going to try to get it published one day?

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