ten poetry suggestions
April 25, 2014

During a recent afternoon haze, I was browsing through Buzzfeed’s never-ending stream of quizzes and listicles when I came across a surprising article on poetry (surprising in that it was 1. a collection of full sentences, and 2. a reasonably thoughtful collection of full sentences). Once you get past the initial fact that “life changing” [sic] is negligently unhyphenated in the title of the piece, it’s not bad. I was especially glad to see Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” included on their list, both of which I would highly recommend. 

And so this final week of National Poetry Month has seen me thinking about life-changing poems, trying to decide what counts as life-changing, what counts as a poem, and falling down the rabbit hole of the Poetry Foundation website. I’ve finally come up with a list of my own “life-changing” poems, and if you’re feeling particularly gluttonous, I would also suggest reading this wonderfully diverse selection recommended by various Carleton College professors.

1. “Loves” by Stephen Dunn – from Landscape at the End of the Century. When people ask me what my favorite poem is, this is usually the piece that comes to mind.

2. “She Had Some Horses” by Joy Harjo – Listen to the recording of Harjo reading this. It’s worth it.

3. “America” by Allen Ginsberg – Why should “Howl” get all the attention?

4. “i like my body” by e.e. cummings – It was incredibly hard to choose a single poem by cummings; reading 100 Selected Poems in its entirety is a worthy pursuit.

5. “Fever 103˚” by Sylvia Plath – From Ariel, another amazing poetry collection that I first read all in one sitting and instantly loved.

6. “I Don’t Miss It” by Tracy K. Smith – From Duende. I would also highly recommend Life on Mars, her Pulitzer-winning collection.

7. “Madame George” by Van Morrison – Yes, it’s a song (track 6 on Astral Weeks).

8. Antigonick by Anne Carson – This is a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, so it is perhaps a bit of a stretch to claim that the entire play is a poem. But it is one of the best things I’ve ever read, and to call it prose does not do it justice.

9. “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds – Olds’ work is fearless in its transparency. I can only hope that one day I will be brave enough to write as honestly as she does.

10. “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke – A villanelle that puts every villanelle I’ve written to shame.

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homecoming
June 30, 2013

Amazing how many different places a person can sleep in two months. I went from a small city in northern France to the banlieue of Paris to the wonderfully familiar bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co to the seemingly never-ending sprawl of LA to Autostraddle camp in the mountains of California to Minneapolis to Carleton College…it was only two weeks ago that I finally made it to Albany, where I will be spending the next year.

As you might expect, being a tumbleweed for a month at Shakespeare & Co was the highlight of my time in France (drinking champagne in front of the Paris city hall when gay marriage passed was a close second). My fellow tumbleweeds were a delight, as they always are. Nathan, last I heard, was headed to India, where I can only imagine he is eating like a king and writing the next great American novel. He and I first met three years ago during the shop’s literary festival, and through the strange machinations of the universe, we both ended up returning to the shop this spring. Tom – Scotsman, musician, and whiskey expert extraordinaire – is still at the shop and blogging up a storm. And Holly, the driving force behind the shop’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, continues to blissfully avoid returning to the US.

If I had not already paid for a transatlantic flight and a spot at Autostraddle camp, I would probably still be at the bookshop. It would seem that the only thing tempting enough to convince me to leave Paris is a campground full of queers (the fact that my French visa was about to expire mattered very little in this course of events, interestingly enough). Rather than try to recount all of camp for you – this would simply be me saying “everyone was so smart and attractive!” in as many ways as possible – I’ll just link you to the Autostraddle staff’s recaps.

After southern California, I flew to Minnesota, where I crashed on a variety of couches in the apartments of very welcoming friends. I discovered that Minneapolis is a wonderful city when it’s not buried under two feet of snow, that small Midwestern towns feel even smaller after living in Paris, and that after a year away, your alma mater will never feel like the home you remember it to be. Despite the onslaught of feelings that hit me upon seeing so many familiar haunts and faces, I made it out of Minneapolis without completely succumbing to nostalgia.

And so I’m back in Albany, my to-do list dominated by grad school applications and my ever-expanding reading list. The bane of my existence while traveling was my clashing inabilities to 1) avoid acquiring books and 2) fit more books in my luggage. Thankfully, media mailing rates exist and so all was resolved in the end.

Things I’ve read:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I somehow got through high school without being forced to read it.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami — very long, very bizarre, very memorable
Antigonick, Anne Carson — a poetic and feminist translation/interpretation of Antigone. Wow, you need to read this.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare — best if read with wine and friends
This Jealous Earth, Scott Carpenter — my critical theory professor’s latest collection of short stories
various poetry collections by Stephen Dunn — I will never not be obsessed with “Loves

Things I’m reading:

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami — runaways and talking cats. just go with it.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville — surprisingly hilarious and beautifully written
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler — Problematize all the norms!

Last but not least, I’m still writing down my feelings, adding creative enjambment and punctuation, and calling it poetry. Post to follow.

Stephen Dunn and the end of it all
May 30, 2012

from Stephen Dunn’s “Loves” in The Landscape at the End of the Century  (full text here)

…I love the rituals that bring us
together when sullenness persists,
how the dishes must be done,
the children helped toward bed.
I love how familiar bodies drift
back to each other
wordlessly, when the light go out.
Oh we will die soon enough.
Not enough can be said
for a redemptive caress.
How good it’s been to slide back
the heart’s hood awhile, how fortunate
there’s a heart and a covering for it,
and that whatever is still warm
has a chance.
I’m withholding things of course,
secrets I’ll replay, alone,
when my bones go soft.
Even you have no place for them,
my spacious one, you who have existed
to resist me as I’ve made you up.
Do I sense you getting tired now?
Listen, my truest love, I’ve tried
to clear a late-century place for us
in among the shards.  Lie down,
tell me what else you need.
Here is where loveliness can live
with failure, and nothing’s complete.
I love how we go on.