Happy National Poetry Day!

Happy National Poetry Day! What are some of your favorite poems?At the end of Elif Batuman’s memoir The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, she writes—and I promise this won’t spoil the book should you choose to read it:

“If I could start over today, I would choose literature again. If the answers exist in the world or in the universe, I still think that’s where we’re going to find them.”

This may, for me, have been the best line in a book full of great lines, and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate ending for her memoir, which weaves literary analysis with artfully crafted, incisive portraits of writers, scholars, literary landmarks, and personal experiences.

Maybe answers are possible through literature because of its ability to make us feel deeply, which in the practical world can cause pain and so we try to prevent ourselves from doing it. And literature can prompt understanding of otherness by plunging us into the other’s experience, which can also be scary and painful and thus something we may try to avoid.

Despite my deep faith in literature to prompt empathy and insight, poetry and I have never been the closest of confidantes. Lately, I’ve taken to thinking of poetry as I would an acquaintance admired from afar, that one inscrutable person who, when you speak with her or hear what he’s been doing, you’re impressed. But somehow, you can never get past the surface pleasantries when in that person’s presence.

I’m thinking about this today because it’s National Poetry Day. Out of deference to my enigmatic acquaintance and in honor of the day, I offer three personal favorites:

robert-frostNothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

This melancholy but beautiful poem renders an experience universal to all living things. How often can we say of eight lines that they speak to all living beings?

This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams

The first reason I fell in love with this poem is it made me laugh (though I probably shouldn’t!). Upon closer inspection, I marvel at its exquisite construction.

13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

For me, this evocative poem is interwoven with the experience of reading it one stanza at a time on the Wallace Stevens Walk in Hartford.

What are a few of your favorite poems for national poetry day or any day?

2 Replies to “Happy National Poetry Day!”

  1. A belated Happy National Poetry Day to you – and thanks for the recommendations. I LOVE poetry. So many poems are so dear to me, it’s hard to choose, and I feel overwhelmed these days, but I guess I’d like to give a shout out to another William Carlos Williams one, “Danse Russe”, as well as “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvel, just about anything by e.e. Cummings, but especially “anyone lived in a pretty how town”, “All in green went my love riding”, and “a clown’s smirk in the skull of a baboon”. And “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg, “The Shampoo” by Elizabeth Bishop, “Hope and Love” by Jane Hirschfield.

    In honor of my son, I’d like to also include “Green Eggs and Ham”, which is currently one of his favorite books.

    Oh – and I remember a long time ago, you did an Open Call on the bygone Open Salon site (RIP) where you asked people to list 10 poems they couldn’t live without, and through that I discovered we share a mutual favorite: Anne Bradstreet’s “The Author to Her Book”.

    1. Thank you for the recommendations, Alysa! I think we have similar taste in poetry in addition to Bradstreet: That Marvel poem is another favorite.
      Incidentally, I was thinking about that open call and the fun of discovering new poems through it (though I kept my list of poems quite short this time).

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