I have been reading a poem-a-day and posting it online (first on a livejournal account, then cross-posting on tumblr) for five years now (so basically since Februrary 24th, 2010, sitting in my frigid air-conditioned office in Bucaramanga, Colombia…!). That is roughly 1,825 poems, give or take the odd leap year. After doing this every day I now think I am going to take a little break from it for a while. Or only post when I find a poem that I really, really like. Or who knows. Maybe posting a poem a day for the past 5 years will have proven so addictive that I won’t be able to stop. It certainly led to me reading LOTS of poetry and discovering lots of poets that I’d never have otherwise. But either way 5 years feels like a good time to be self-reflective.
It is pretty much impossible for me to choose “favorite poems” or whatever, but here are some poems/poets I discovered via this daily practice that I am very, very grateful to have found:
Frank O’Hara – A classic. Love his readable, humorous style, though I always find myself wishing I could be reading him in New York City in the summertime while eating a giant pastrami sandwich.
When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Emily Dickinson – Still one of the most experimental and gnarliest poets I have ever read, despite the whole 19th-century thing. I love thinking about how her poetry still teaches us lessons about estrangement, train-of-thought and defamiliarization that are still highly relevant today. Her poems are just so strange. How could something written so long ago still be so inaccessible and mysterious? And those master letters! The just plain weirdness of it all! The Kafkaesque eccentricity, the unique and singular view of the world embodied in that one little dash! Dickinson is someone I would want to have in the gladiator arena with me, I think. Or on my team of survivors hiding out in the shopping mall after the apocalypse. In general, I feel like her writing provides us with Important Tools for Fighting the Good Fight of Life.
Beauty—be not caused—It Is—
Beauty—be not caused—It Is—
Chase it, and it ceases—
Chase it not, and it abides—
Overtake the Creases
In the Meadow—when the Wind
Runs his fingers thro’ it—
Deity will see to it
That You never do it—
Mary Ruefle – my favorite!
In the fifth grade
I made a horse of papier-mache
and painted it white
and named it Aurora
We were all going to the hospital
each one with his little animal
to give to the girl who was
lying on her deathbed there
whose name I can’t recall
A classmate with freckles perhaps
or such small feet her footsteps
never mattered much
I did not want to give her anything
It seemed unfair she got to ride Aurora
whom I made with my own two hands
and took aside at birth and said go
while I had to walk
perhaps for a very long time
I thought perhaps the animals
would all come back
together and on one day
but they never did
And so I have had to deal with wild
intractable people all my days
and have been led astray in a world
of shattered moonlight and beasts and trees
where no one ever even curtsies anymore
or has an understudy
So I have gone up to the little room
in my face, I am making something
out of a jar of freckles
and a jar of glue
I hate childhood
I hate adulthood
And I love being alive
James Tate – Love him! Would definitely read a whole book by him. I love the whole prose-poetry style, poems that work doubly as surreal little anecdotes, and the way animals keep popping up in strange unexpected ways. “The Camel” is a classic that has already appeared once on this blog, and the poem posted below is the one I always use in classrooms as a “poetry introduction”:
It Happens Like This
I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.
The Badger is the thirteenth astrological sign.
My sign. The one the other signs evicted: unanimously.
So what?! Think I want to read about my future
in the newspaper next to the comics?
My third grade teacher told me I had no future.
I run through snow and turn around
just to make sure I’ve got a past.
My life’s a chandelier dropped from an airplane.
I graduated first in my class from alibi school.
There ought to be a healthy family cage at the zoo,
or an open field, where I can lose my mother
as many times as I need.
When I get bored, I call the cops, tell them
there’s a pervert peeking in my window!
then I slip on a flimsy nightgown, go outside,
press my face against the glass and wait…
This makes me proud to be an American
where drunk drivers ought to wear necklaces
made from the spines of children they’ve run over.
I remember my face being invented
through a windshield.
All the wounds stitched with horsehair
So the scars galloped across my forehead.
I remember the hymns cherubs sang
in my bloodstream. The way even my shadow ached
when the chubby infants stopped.
I remember wishing I could be boiled like water
and made pure again. Desire
so real it could be outlined in chalk.
My eyes were the color of palm trees
in a hurricane. I’d wake up
and my id would start the day without me.
Somewhere a junkie fixes the hole in his arm
and a racing car zips around my halo.
A good God is hard to find.
Each morning I look in the mirror
and say promise me something
don’t do the things I’ve done.
Zachary Schomburg – Another surreal prose-poet in the style of Tate and McDaniel (at least in my eyes…). If I could write poetry I would want to write like this. Apparently he lives in Portland (!!). Definitely regret not buying his book at Powell’s. I really like all the ones I’ve read, but I think my favorite (if only for the title alone) is this one:
Your Limbs Will Be Torn off in a Farm Accident
will be torn off
in a farm accident.
in those places.
You’ll cry at night
as your limbs curl a little around your still soft face face
As your skin toughens
A hummingbird will begin
to hover near your ear.
Soon you’ll be
You’ll go camping
in the woods
and never come back.
That was the summer my best friend
called me a faggot on the telephone,
hung up, and vanished from the earth,
a normal occurance in this country
where we change our lives
with the swiftness of hysterical finality
of dividing cells. That month
the rain refused to fall,
and fire engines streaked back and forth crosstown
towards smoke-filled residential zones
where people stood around outside, drank beer
and watched their neighbors houses burn.
It was a bad time to be affected
by nearly anything,
especially anything as dangerous
as loving a man, if you happened to be
a man yourself, ashamed and unable to explain
how your feelings could be torn apart
by something ritual and understated
as friendship between males.
Probably I talked too loud that year
and thought an extra minute
before I crossed my legs; probably
I chose a girl I didn’t care about
and took her everywhere,
knowing I would dump her in the fall
as part of evening the score,
part of practicing the scorn
it was clear I was going to need
to get across this planet
of violent emotional addition
and subtraction. Looking back, I can see
that I came through
in the spastic, furtive, half-alive manner
of accident survivors. Fuck anyone
who says I could have done it
differently. Though now I find myself
returning to the scene
as if the pain I fled
were the only place that I had left to go;
as if my love, whatever kind it was, or is,
were still trapped beneath the wreckage
of that year,
and I was one of those angry firemen
having to go back into the burning house;
climbing a ladder
through the heavy smoke and acrid smell
of my own feelings,
as if they were the only
goddamn thing worth living for.
Emily Kendal Frey – Another (apparently) local Portland poet I’ve been reading a lot of lately and really enjoying despite a lot of her poems being super weird. I really love this one even though it feels slightly too long to post in its entirety here–I especially love the phrase “sassy tomatoes.”
Emily Berry – An alumna from the same graduate school as me, I think her writing is just fantastic. I read her collection Dear Boy last year and just loved it–a perfect balance between the surreal, the personal and wry, demented humor. Highly, highly recommended. Another poet who teaches at the school I attend is Sophie Robinson, who I also find ridonkulously good and deliciously contemporary.
I am missing SO MANY (this list is noticeably white dude-heavy) but that feels like enough for now. Yay for five years of discovering poetry!