I’m a man who likes poets … and poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so this one is for all ye poets out there, and all ye who read poetry.

I’ve been told that if you want to be a poet, you should support poets. And not just the old dead ones but the living breathing ones. By buying their books. Well, I have my share of poets on my book shelves. There’s a special place because I believe poets deserve better than they’ve gotten over the years. Don’t know any that make a living off of their poetry. Just talking, better known as lecturing, and teaching about poetry.

On my shelves, it starts with Old Man Gilgamesh himself. Compared to Gilgamesh, Homer was a modern. Then there’s the ultimate anti-war novel The Iliad and his partner The Odyssey. Both are by Robert Fagels. I like him. I like him a lot. Haven’t gotten his translation of The Aeneid yet. And then there’s those meds. The Divine Comedy is about a man who suddenly goes middle-aged crazy. That’s the male version of menopause. Some might blame it on Beatrice. I blame it on middle-age. You can tell that’s what the man is suffering from by those opening lines of The Inferno, Canto 1:

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,

I found myself within a shadowed forest,

for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

He couldn’t buy that new red Ferrari, so off he went on a journey, to hell and back so to speak. And right by his side is another fellow I like a lot, Jeff Chaucer. His journey begins in April and “When in April the sweet showers fall….” Elmore Leonard says don’t begin with the weather but it seems to work well for old Jeff. Of course, next door is the Poet Supreme, the House of the Bard. I’m talking Shakespeare here folks, and my version is the big fat volume of The Norton Shakespeare. A lot of Shakespeare in a lot of book. Not sure about what to say on Elmore’s advice about the weather cause here’s another writer starting off with the weather:

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York….”

Guess these guys can break the rules. Beside these fellows is Alfred Lord with his Idylls of the King. Must admit that one of my favorites of his is “Ulysses”. Ulysses is Roman for Odysseus. In the poem, Odysseus is an old man and longing for the adventures of his youth. When you get old, you too will understand his meaning.

Now I am not partial to Walt Whitman and Emily D, though I have a volume of her stuff on my shelf. Though her poems don’t fit the form, I think you can call her the American haikuist. I’m sure Basho would be honored to have her in his company. They do fit the spirit. I even have a couple of T S’s volumes but he’s not someone I would call a friend. Too brainy for me. Nor do I care much for Robert Frost. I lose something of the meaning of the poem because he depends so much on rhyme. Oh, I know how hard it is to do what he did, but it gets a bit distracting.

No, it’s Basho, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Dylan Thomas, Pueblo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Derek Walcott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shahib Nye and Garcia Lorca for me. Some dead, some living. I tend to turn to these friends when I am looking for some good companionship. They all wear well on me. And I even have a local poet, Summer Rodman’s “A train came by and slow ed”. Reminds me a bit of John Ashbery. And these are just a few of the two or three shelves of poetry I have.

There was a time that I found e e cummings interesting. But I tired of his gimmickry, although I still pull out “On Being Brand New” for a good laugh.

I’ve always read and bought poetry. I’m not sure why. I just like having them around to whisper in my ear their secrets and their beauty. It took 9/11/01 to make me value their value. Afterwards I picked up Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, Anna Akhmatova’s “Reading Hamlet”, and the one Whitman I like. Though it is awfully wordy and seems to go on way too long, it is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. In it, Whitman mourns for Abraham LIncoln. There are moments in that poem that are intensely moving. As far as Akhmatova is concerned, I keep coming across those words,

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,

beyond it the river’s dull blue.”

That seemed to measure my feeling after 9/11. Guess I am a little bit strange to feel that but I did, and sometimes still do.

I don’t know how I came by this love of poets and their poetry. It certainly does not run in my family. No poets among my kin. Nary a one. Maybe it came from reading the King James Bible and the Psalms early on. I sure do like reading Jesus’ Blesseds and Psalm 23 in the KJB. Haven’t found a better translation. Maybe those were the sections Old Will worked on. I just know that poets give me great comfort and I wish there were a hell of a lot more of them. Perhaps if there were, we’d have a bit less war and injustice.

I’ve often wondered why I have watched and studied politics so much over the years. If Boris Pasternak and his Zhivago should have taught me anything, it is don’t give a damn about politics. It never solves anything. And often makes matters worse. Then there’s Yeats’ wonderful lines:

HOW can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics?

Yet here’s a travelled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms!

Again maybe I should have embraced Zhivago as a role model. Maybe I would have been much better off. I know politics gives me a headache these days, hearing arguments about things that most of us don’t take any comfort in. A lot of this and a lot of that. Mostly tweedledee and twiddledum. Why don’t they just get on with it? As the fellow said on Saturday Night Live a while back, “Just fix it.”

One of my favorite intros to poems and poets is Molly Peacock’s “How to read a poem … and start a poetry circle”. She introduced me to Jane Kenyon’s wonderful poem “Let evening come”, one of my favs these days. In all my poemer-writing years I have never come close to something so lovely, so beautiful. It reveals to me how much beauty there is in the world if we only look and see.

So here I am late on a Saturday night. I’ve finished my weekly chores and I find myself turning to a poem or two for comfort. Not sure what has gotten into me. But I raise my glass and toast them all everyone. Thanks for the poems that have been spoken and that are to be spoken.

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