On the bookshelf in my home office there is a handmade book from my angsty teenaged poem writing days, when I was apparently not a fan of rhyming. Many of them were Really Bad Poems. Some of them though, were rather sweet, with thoughts of life and love directed at long-forgotten (or more likely fictional) recipients. Often, they were written using the image from a greeting card for inspiration and painstakingly typed on an old manual typewriter. Talk about angst.
During my graduate writing program years later at UC Berkeley, we had one session which was a “poem-intensive.” The guest speaker was a Poet, with a capital “P” for published. We got a crash course in poetic-do’s-and don’ts and then had to write something of our own, which we then had to read aloud to the class and get the speaker’s critique. Shudder!
It was an iterative process that I’m pretty sure could be used as an official form of torture. While it was a learning experience, seeing my poem evolve from it’s initial state to its revised state …if truth be told, I was much fonder of the initial attempt than the end result which was far too dark and oppressive for my taste.
That was pretty much the end of my poetry writing days (if you don’t count scandalous limericks) and frankly I’m not really a big fan of poetry in general. Possibly because it often makes no sense to me and leaves me feeling clueless.
Periodically I think “maybe I should give it another try.” As a result, I have a fairly well populated poetry shelf in my home library; purchases of those books triggered by a variety of things, like Jennifer Crusie’s Crazy for You, where the car-mechanic hero with the English degree quoted poetry to the heroine. At another time, for some unknown reason I felt the need to slog my way through Beowulf, though I’ll have to admit I found the Shrinklits version more palatable than the translated original:
“Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.”
I’ve got a number of Best Loved Poems compilations, one of which contains this fun entry:
“A Fence or an Ambulance” by Joseph Marlins
T’was a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
As I check the shelf, it appears I do at least have a fondness for love poems, though frankly, who doesn’t? I’m pretty sure liking love poems is a requirement to get your official Romance Writer card.
“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe
“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove. . . “
“Paradise Lost (Eve speaks to Adam)” by John Milton
“. . .With thee conversing I forget all time;
All seasons, and their change, all please alike. . .”
“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“. . . And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”
I hadn’t thought much about poetry at all for a long time though, until I started reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series a short while back. Penny is a big fan of poetry and has incorporated bits and pieces in her stories. Margaret Atwood, Mike Freeman, and Ralph Hodgson are among the poets she’s mentioned in her author notes and I decided maybe it was time for me give poetry another try. I’m sure both it and I have changed over the passing years – perhaps we’re now a better fit.
As I was at the bookstore picking up Atwood’s, Morning in the Burned House, I also picked up Mary Oliver’s, American Primitive, and Raymond Carver’s, Ultra-Marine.
We’ll see what catches my fancy. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll find I’m a fan of poetry after all.
So, how about you? Do you have any favorite poets or poems I should add to my “poetic” reading list?