My next semester of school starts soon, and I haven’t been thinking about poetry much over the past month or two. It’s always there in my mind in the form of little ideas and scraps of language, but I haven’t read any poetry in a while, I’ve only written fragments, and I haven’t thought critically. I haven’t exercised my poetic mind.
So today I stopped by a used book store and parked myself next to the poetry section. I ended up buying five volumes of poetry, and I tried to select ones that I thought I would actually read.
I’m writing this blog post so that I can think about and maybe figure out what attracted me to each of these books. So I’m looking back through them right now and trying to find the poem in each of them that made me decide that the book was worth buying. The titles all made me take these books off the shelf in the first place, of course, so they’re worth thinking about, too. But I’ll stick to the contents for now.
Extensive quoting to follow:
In no particular order (just how the books happen to be stacked on my desk):
1. Like Memory, Caverns by Elizabeth Dodd: from “Thrift.” I like the scene created by this poem, and there’s something pleasing about putting the punctuation in the middle of the line all the time like the poem does. Plus today was a hot day, and I’d just been walking out in it and people watching, so I could relate.
“a man is slapping the air with the thick/ flat of his hand, stepping forward/ and back, almost/ dancing. He is trying to carve/ a shape somehow different/ from this place, the hot close air/ above the street, the vacant/ lot beyond. His belt buckle tilts/ and glints in the sun; he’s sweating/ in his flannel shirt.”
2. A Grain of Mustard Seed, by May Sarton: from “The Invocation to Kali.” I picked up this book because S has been reading some May Sarton recently and really likes her work. But this poem really sold it to me. It has a feeling of something that needs to be said. I also have been feeling like I need to study more long poems. From section one:
“I am the cage where poetry/ paces and roars. The beast/ is the god. How murder the god?/ How live with the terrible god?”
3. Old Man Rubbing His Eyes, by Robert Bly: from “Digging Worms.” This book has attractive little sketchy illustrations that make it fun to flip through. A picture of the title character graces the cover. This particular poem was impressive to me in how it manages to travel huge thematic distances in just four stanzas.
“Dreams press us on all sides, we stagger/ along a wire, our children balance us/ on their shoulders, we balance their graves/ on ours.// Their graves are light. And we unwind/ from some kind of cocoon made by lovers…/ the old tires we used to swing on,/ going faster, around and around, until// with one lurch we grow still and look down at our shoes.”
4. A Day This Lit, by Howard Levy: from “Early Morning Song.” Hmm. Looking back at this poem, I realize that it talks about hot weather, too. How influenced I am by my daily experiences! I like this particular stanza because I thought it was cute how it told me what the lesson of the story was, and also because that lesson wasn’t what I expected it to be.
“Each day here has grown hotter./ Yesterday afternoon, charred/ by both heat and absence,/ I sat still on the porch and tried/ to write you a letter. Just too hot,/ and someone came along who knew/ a waterfall. The lesson is:/ how often we get rescued.”
5. The Amorous Cannibal, by Chris Wallace-Crabbe: from “The Shadow Minister.” The title of this book made me smile. Sort of whimsical and unexpected. And this poem continued that feeling for me.
“What are the black holes?/ They seem the incomprehensible/ wool of happiness/ knitted into a balaclava/ with staggered stitches.”
Maybe it was the knitting metaphor, too…