National Poetry Month! It’s nearly over!

That post title sounds celebratory, but actually it is urgent, because National Poetry Month is nearly over and I have still not gotten it together to write a post about poetry.  And now that I am sitting down to do it, I’m not sure what to say, because I do not really understand my tastes in poetry and do not know how to explain them.  Sometimes I will like a poem without exactly understanding it, just because of the strange and interesting ways the words have been put together; and then one day, I will be in the middle of having an experience, and I will realize that this is precisely what that poem meant.

Here is a poem that I read for my American Literature class in Britain.  It was my favorite one of the Plath poems we did, and it was one of only two we didn’t get to discuss in class (bother).   That last stanza gives me shivers every time I read it.

Black Rook in Rainy Weather
by Sylvia Plath

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then—
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

This second one is a poem that I discovered the other day by doing this thing I do where I make the Poetry Foundation website (discovered absolutely by accident and oh, how I love it) pull up random poems for me.   I like a lot of Cavafy’s poems, but “The City” might be my favorite because it is beautifully universal.  Emerson says something quite like it when he’s writing about traveling (“Your giant is with you wherever you go”), which I have never forgotten; and Greensleeves is about this too really, and then there is an Avett Brothers song that I sing in my car that says “So when you run make sure you run / To something and not away from” – and as a girl about to run to something (not away from), I feel it is important for me to bear all this in mind.

The City
by C.P. Cavafy; translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

Reading it again just now, that traveling thing may not be exactly what the poet intended.  But that’s what it means, to me, right now, and I like the poem regardless, so there you go.

Here is one last poem, a short one (I’ve linked to it before but not posted it) by June Jordan, whom I love.

July 4, 1974
by June Jordan

At least it helps me to think about my son
a Leo/born to us
(Aries and Cancer) some
sixteen years ago
in St. John’s Hospital next to the Long Island
Railroad tracks
Atlantic Avenue/Brooklyn
New York

at dawn

which facts
do not really prepare you
(do they)

for him

and running through the darkness with his own

becoming light

Okay.  I have hereby done my duty by National Poetry Month.  I will also just add that the Poetry Foundation has a massive archive of poems by poets you know and poets you have never heard of.  It’s a brilliant resource with an archive organized in about ten different ways, so you can always find what you’re after.  Visit it!

P.S. I know I said I was done, but I really like this poem by Ezra Pound.  If you are tired of poetry you can skip it.  It is funny and charms me.

The Bath Tub
by Ezra Pound

As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady.

24 thoughts on “National Poetry Month! It’s nearly over!

  1. I love the poems you included in this post. I have never been a huge poetry reader but all of the poems people have been posting this month are delightful. And I love the Poetry Foundation website, so much great content!

    • I still don’t think of myself as a huge poetry reader either. I feel like I don’t like enough of the classic canon poets to be a true Appreciator of Poetry – which is silly really!

  2. Jenny, you don’t owe the world of poetry any apology: you clearly take it very seriously and enjoy it. Poor Plath.

    May I send you an invitation to conclude Poetry Month with a visit to a new site?

  3. I don’t think I’d read any of those poems before this post! I just don’t GET poetry most of the time. So the poems that really stick out for me are poems that I’ve read in books – like, um. The one in The Outsiders? Nature’s first green is gold? Because the book gave it a context. In some other book I read, they mentioned another (another? I’m not sure anymore) Robert Frost poem about A walk in a snowy wood. I like that as well. Most recently, I read the first two books in the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker and ended up reading poetry from Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon afterwards, and Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth has stayed with me for a long time.

    • Oh, I so understand that. I often feel that way about songs – I’ll hear a song by a certain group in a film or TV show, and the context it’s in will make it stick out, but then when I get an album I don’t like anything else on it.

  4. Wow, the last two lines of “The City” are pretty hard-hitting. Good poem.

    (and for no apparent reason when I wrote “Good poem” I thought of the Firefly episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds” when Mal says “Good Bible.”)

    • It is a pretty grim poem. I thought of posting another one by this poet instead, but most of his are grim in one way or another, and this one’s my favorite. I love the line “the city will always pursue you”.

  5. awww, Our Mrs. Reynolds. *nostalgic sigh*

    Jen, I know what you mean about poetry: I consider my tastes entirely suspect, and every time I try to describe what I like I end up nowhere fast, and the same when I try to describe why I like a poem. I can’t even tell if language is beautiful, really, or if it actually is any good at all.

    That said, I just picked up a book of it I’ve really been enjoying entirely randomly. I was at a bookstore one of my professors told me about, and it caught my eye, because the author had my name (yes, narcissistic). But I opened it to a poem that was so exactly descriptive of what I do when I can’t meditate it was downright uncanny, and I’ve been really enjoying reading the others.

    I don’t know if you’d like it, cause I don’t have a good grip on your taste in books much less poetry, but I really am loving it.

    • I don’t think you’re narcissistic, Anna Banana. Everyone’s brains do that. Who’s the poet? Anna Akhmatova? Anna Barbauld? Anna Seward? Anna Swir?

      My official guess is Anna Swir. Yes? No?

      • Nope. Anna…Hempstead Branch. I don’t know how good she actually is, but she makes such perfect sense to me about thing I really like thinking about anyway, that I thoroughly enjoy it.

  6. Black Rook in Rainy Weather has always been my favorite by Plath.

    I’d never read The City before; it makes me think of Buckaroo Banzai saying “wherever you go, there you are.”

    • I like Plath’s “Tulips” as well, and this other poem I can’t remember the title of. It’s got a line in it about floating, two cork dolls, inseparable. As a trend, I prefer those of her poems with longer lines, which is a silly way to judge them, but there you go.

  7. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve mostly been ignoring National Poetry Month, not because I don’t like poetry but because I don’t feel like I have the language to discuss it properly. I’ve been reading my copy of Poet Lore, which I won during the last BBAW, and I’m already dreading reviewing it because I know I’m going to come off as a total dunce. (Not reviewing it isn’t really an option if I want to count it towards my totals for 2010 and adhere to my own personal reviewing challenge).

    That said, I enjoyed the poems you posted, particularly “The City,” and I like what you had to say about them.

    • Review it, review it! I am sure you won’t come off as a dunce at all. People’s reactions to poetry do seem to come from a visceral place rather than a cerebral one (or maybe that’s just me) – you can’t be wrong about your tastes!

    • There’s still time! And I’ve really loved seeing such a wide variety of poems all over the blogosphere. Plus, you know, April isn’t the only month in which poetry exists. You could be a nonconformist and post about it in May. 😉

  8. “Sometimes I will like a poem without exactly understanding it, just because of the strange and interesting ways the words have been put together; and then one day, I will be in the middle of having an experience, and I will realize that this is precisely what that poem meant.” I love this paragraph! I understand so much!!

    Actually, I love this whole post. Thanks for the inspiration!

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