Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poems For People Who Don't Like Poetry

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Did you know that April is National Poetry month, friends? It is. And as I've probably told you before, I'm not much for the sonnet or the obtuse water metaphor. Yes, I read Leaves of Grass, but it was a struggle at times. I pretty regularly burn through a novel a week, but poetry leaves me luke warm.

But! In the name of openmindedness and this thematic month, I wanted to unearth a bit of poetry that even those poetry hating grumps among us can enjoy.

A few of my favorites!

Notes For The Legend Of Salad Woman

Since my wife was born
she must have eaten
the equivalent of two-thirds
of the original garden of Eden.
Not the dripping lush fruit
or the meat in the ribs of animals
but the green salad gardens of that place.
The whole arena of green
would have been eradicated
as if the right filter had been removed
leaving only the skeleton of coarse brightness.

All green ends up eventually
churning in her left cheek.
Her mouth is a laundromat of spinning drowning herbs.
She is never in fields
but is sucking the pith out of grass.
I have noticed the very leaves from flower decorations
grow sparse in their week long performance in our house.
The garden is a dust bowl.

On our last day in Eden as we walked out
she nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch.
But there's none to touch
none to equal
the Chlorophyll Kiss

- Michael Ondaatje

I Ask You

What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.

- Billy Collins


What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

- Ted Kooser

What's your favorite poem? (I love this one, too. But it's a bit NSFW.)


  1. These are all good! But my favourite poem is and always will be Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Absolutely stunning.

  2. I focused on poetry in college. It's so hard for me to pick just one, but Pablo Neruda owns my poetry-loving heart.

    I posted one of my favorites here:

  3. My absolute favorite poem is e.e. cummings' "since feeling is first" I used to keep it pasted on the inside of my closet door. I love that poem.

    Here's a link to it:

  4. Oh oh oh! This one is absolutely precious, and relieves the hollowing sense of fear whenever an existential thought a'la "omg, i'm going to get old and die someday "hits me every once in a while:

    "Warning" by Jenny Joseph

    When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick flowers in other people's gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

  5. This is my favourite poem, I think. I have many, but I think this is awesome.

    The Invitation by Oriah

    It doesn’t interest me
    what you do for a living.
    I want to know
    what you ache for
    and if you dare to dream
    of meeting your heart’s longing.

    It doesn’t interest me
    how old you are.
    I want to know
    if you will risk
    looking like a fool
    for love
    for your dream
    for the adventure of being alive.

    It doesn’t interest me
    what planets are
    squaring your moon...
    I want to know
    if you have touched
    the centre of your own sorrow
    if you have been opened
    by life’s betrayals
    or have become shrivelled and closed
    from fear of further pain.

    I want to know
    if you can sit with pain
    mine or your own
    without moving to hide it
    or fade it
    or fix it.

    I want to know
    if you can be with joy
    mine or your own
    if you can dance with wildness
    and let the ecstasy fill you
    to the tips of your fingers and toes
    without cautioning us
    to be careful
    to be realistic
    to remember the limitations
    of being human.

    It doesn’t interest me
    if the story you are telling me
    is true.
    I want to know if you can
    disappoint another
    to be true to yourself.
    If you can bear
    the accusation of betrayal
    and not betray your own soul.
    If you can be faithless
    and therefore trustworthy.

    I want to know if you can see Beauty
    even when it is not pretty
    every day.
    And if you can source your own life
    from its presence.

    I want to know
    if you can live with failure
    yours and mine
    and still stand at the edge of the lake
    and shout to the silver of the full moon,

    It doesn’t interest me
    to know where you live
    or how much money you have.
    I want to know if you can get up
    after the night of grief and despair
    weary and bruised to the bone
    and do what needs to be done
    to feed the children.

    It doesn’t interest me
    who you know
    or how you came to be here.
    I want to know if you will stand
    in the centre of the fire
    with me
    and not shrink back.

    It doesn’t interest me
    where or what or with whom
    you have studied.
    I want to know
    what sustains you
    from the inside
    when all else falls away.

    I want to know
    if you can be alone
    with yourself
    and if you truly like
    the company you keep
    in the empty moments.

  6. Billy Collins is wonderful, and I love all his work. I'm a teacher and am currently in the middle of some poetry work with my 4th graders. They LOVE Shel Silverstein, and as an adult, I just have to laugh along with them.

  7. Where we Are by Gerald Locklin, even better read by garrison keillor:

    That is probably my absolute favorite, and I have a feeling you will like it too!

    Mary Oliver, both The Journey, The Summer Day, and others.

  8. My favorite poem is Cavafy's Ithica. You can find it here:

  9. I focused on poetry in my creative writing emphasis for my English major when I was in college and I loved it. I don't often read poetry that much anymore, though I try to read the Pulitzer & National Book Award winners every year. Love the piece at the beginning...Sylvia Plath has been my favorite author and poet since I was in high school.
    I love Ted Kooser, too. He teaches at my old college--UNL (Nebraska at Lincoln).
    Sarah M

  10. My favorite is Dean Young's "Delphiniums in a Window Box," which is the best description of being batsh*t crazy in love I've ever read:

    Every sunrise, even strangers’ eyes.

    Not necessarily swans, even crows,

    even the evening fusillade of bats.

    That place where the creek goes underground,

    how many weeks before I see you again?

    Stacks of books, every page, characters’

    rages and poets’ strange contraptions

    of syntax and song, every song

    even when there isn’t one.

    Every thistle, splinter, butterfly

    over the drainage ditches. Every stray.

    Did you see the meteor shower?

    Did it feel like something swallowed?

    Every question, conversation

    even with almost nothing, cricket, cloud,

    because of you I’m talking to crickets, clouds,

    confiding in a cat. Everyone says,

    Come to your senses, and I do, of you.

    Every touch electric, every taste you,

    every smell, even burning sugar, every

    cry and laugh. Toothpicked samples

    at the farmers’ market, every melon,

    plum, I come undone, undone.

  11. A professor of mine once read a poem from Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet" collection. I immediately bought a copy and it's been special to me ever since. So wise and so beautiful!

  12. Lovely post!

    I loved your NSFW poem!

    My favourite is Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath.. the last few lines:

    Out of the ash
    I rise with my red hair
    And I eat men like air.

  13. Lovely, all of them :)

    I've been performing Shakespeare since I was teenager (now 29), and I've been with a Repertory Theatre that performs *A Midsummer Night's Dream*, *Romeo and Juliet* and *Julius Caesar* for three seasons now, so, as you may imagine, I am slight biased toward Mr. Billy Shakes :) Although I play Titania in *Midsummer* and I adore playng her, I have to admit that my favorite lines in the play belong to Oberon. This short monologue is my favorite part of the play, and if it's not my absolute favorite poem ever, it's dang close ;)

    "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
    With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
    There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
    Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
    And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
    Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
    And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,
    And make her full of hateful fantasies"

    LOVE ;)

  14. I don't know if you've been to the youtube channel Spoken Verse. I love it. The person reads poetry in a beautiful voice. Here is a link to The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje

    As for myself, I love Charles Bukowski. He really opened me up to poetry. Well, Bukowski and Shel Silverstein.

  15. I just recently discovered this gem and I think it's very appropriate for poetry month. : )

    Emily Dickinson's To-Do List by Andrea Carlisle

    Figure out what to wear—white dress?
    Put hair in bun
    Bake gingerbread for Sue
    Peer out window at passersby
    Write poem
    Hide poem

    White dress? Off-white dress?
    Feed cats
    Chat with Lavinia
    Work in garden
    Letter to T.W.H.

    White dress or what?
    Eavesdrop on visitors from behind door
    Write poem
    Hide poem

    Try on new white dress
    Gardening—watch out for narrow fellows in grass!
    Gingerbread, cakes, treats
    Poems: Write and hide them

    Embroider sash for white dress
    Write poetry
    Water flowers on windowsill
    Hide everything

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