Poetry and me

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Writing prompt: What is your favorite poem (And if you don’t have one, why?)

I have a funny relationship with poetry.  I like it alright. And back in my overwrought teens, I even enjoyed engaging in bad verse from time to time.  However, until very recently, poetry and I really weren’t  on speaking terms. The art of poetry just seemed too precious, too refined.  And I guess in some way I kind of resented people who considered themselves poets.  I mean, seriously, what kind of responsible adult sits around and writes poems, for fucks sake?

I wasn’t always this cynical about poetry. I remember this old paperback of poetry that I believe may have belonged to my mother. The pages were brown and brittle, and the cover was long gone.  As a youth, and into my teen years, I loved that book of poetry – maybe not all of it, but there was a poem I went back to again and again.   Yet now, I have no idea what that poem was, or who it was by, or what it was like. I just remember the aged pages and how taking that book out now and again gave me comfort.

In college I took a poetry class with a poet who wasn’t famous herself, but who brought along her famous poet friends for Show and Tell. That was the semester I was taking a light class load because I was so depressed, and I figured I would try my hand at being Sylvia Plath (writing poetry, that is – not sticking head in oven). Thinking back, I’m not even sure I completed the class, though I do recall I was praised for a self-conscious poem I wrote while on cocaine about being on cocaine.

For the next 30 years poetry simply was not a part of my life. But, it appears to making to creeping back in.  Both of my writing teachers at the The Writing Salon wrote poetry – one of them even wrote poetry I liked.  And she suggested that we all read more poetry to understand the importance of word choice. So, now, instead of skipping over the poems in The Sun, I read them, and even more surprisingly, enjoy them!

A couple of months back, after reading an online discussion forum dissecting the meaning of the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah”, I decided to go out and get a book of his poems called “Book of Longing”.  And while I wouldn’t say this was my favorite poem, I found it worth sharing with my friends, so I’ll share it with you too.

Report to R.S.B
by Leonard Cohen

Peace did not come into my life
My life escaped
and peace was there.
Often I bump into my life,
trying to catch its breath,
pay a bill,
or tolerate the news,
tripping as usual
over the cables
of someone’s beauty —
My little life;
so loyal,
so devoted to its obscure purposes —
And, I hasten to report,
doing fine without me.

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4 responses »

  1. I’m one who doesn’t really like poetry. Maybe because it makes me feel uncomfortable and dumb that I don’t understand what the poet is saying.

    Although I do have one poem that I absolutely love and is undoubtedly a favorite of all time.

    It’s by W.S. Merwin
    For the anniversary of my death
    Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
    When the last fires will wave to me
    And the silence will set out
    Tireless traveler
    Like the beam of a lightless star

    Then I will no longer
    Find myself in life as in a strange garment
    Surprised at the earth
    And the love of one woman
    And the shamelessness of men
    As today writing after three days of rain
    Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
    And bowing not knowing to what

  2. Oh Leonard, that’s lovely.

    LB, do try to pick up some Phillip Larkin. I think there’s a poet you may enjoy. Leonard Cohen the poet has definite echoes of Larkin.

  3. Elegy on Toy Piano: by Dean Young

    You don’t need a pony
    to connect you to the unseeable
    or an airplane to connect you to the sky.

    Necessary it is to die
    if you are a living thing
    which you have no choice about.

    Necessary it is to love to live
    and there are many manuals
    but in all important ways
    one is on one’s own.

    You need not cut off your hand.
    No need to eat a bouquet.
    Your head becomes a peach pit
    Your tongue a honeycomb.

    Necessary it is to live to love,
    to charge into the burning tower
    then charge back out
    and necessary it is to die.
    Even for the grass, even for the pony
    connecting you to what can’t be grasped.

    The injured gazelle falls behind the
    herd. One last wild enjambment.

    Because of the sores in his mouth,
    the great poet struggles with a dumpling.
    His work has enlarged the world
    but the world is about to stop including him.
    He is the tower the world runs out of.

    When something becomes ash,
    there’s nothing you can do to turn it back.
    About this, even diamonds do not lie.

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