December 20, 2006

Everybody Knows, Everybody Cares

Just back from a long road trip to Kingsport, Tennessee, where I went to the wedding of a friend in college. Lovely and exhausting. One advantage to writing poems about sex, drinking, and family tension: no one ever asks you to write a poem for their wedding.

Thanks, Jessica, for tagging me—-and sorry for the delay!

The first poem I remember reading first collection of poetry was an anthology called Piping Down the Valleys Wild, edited by Nancy Larrick. God bless the Scholastic Book Fair; the $10 bill my mother gave me seemed like a fortune. I loved poems by Sara Teasdale, Vachel Lindsay, and one by Karla Kuskin that declared “I’m a lean dog, a mean dog, / a wild dog, and lone…”

I was forced to memorize numerous poems in school and...I voluntarily learned Emily Dickinson’s “[My life closed twice before its close]” while wandering up and down my grandparents’ house. I was a moody little third grader.

I was never forced to memorize poems for school. I kind of regret that, because it develops a skill that is lost otherwise. When I was translating the poems of Miklos Radnoti, I worked with a Hungarian woman who noted that in her childhood, they recited Radnoti’s poems every morning the same way that American kids recite the pledge of allegiance.

Oh, I also learned Dorothy Parker’s “If [I don’t drive around the park]” in college. I was a moody little third-year at UVA.

I read poetry because...This is a cheesy thing to admit, but rereading a poetry collection I love is like a conversation with an old friend. Literally: I’ll talk aloud to the poet when turning to certain pages. I also read poetry for selfish gain, because reading makes me want to write.

A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem...”When you are old [and grey and full of sleep…]” by W.B. Yeats. There’s a tonality in that one that just sticks with me. But I find it odd that no one ever notes that this is Yeats responding to a French poem by Ronsard (from Sonnets for Helen), and not a fully original work. Great poets openly steal. I envy them.

I write poetry, but...I worry at the end of every poem that it will be the last one. The happier I am in whatever romance holds me at the time, the more I worry.

My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature...I never regret having spent time with a book of poetry—even if it turns out I don’t care for the style. Weak fiction, on the other hand, is like a bad date with a guy who still makes you pay for dinner at the end of the night. I will reread poetry, but never prose.

I find The New Yorker to be dry as hell. I only know this because my boss keeps showing me poems from each issue and asking “what do you think?” It bothers me deeply that there is a substantial portion of smart, accomplished intellectuals (the same ones who give a lot of money to the arts, ahem) who judge trends in contemporary poetry entirely based on The New Yorker.

The last time I heard poetry...Carolyn Forche at the Folger last week, and it knocked my socks off.

I think poetry is like…a spoonful of peanut butter chased with a mouthful of scotch. The association may be based purely on the fact that both typically occur for me after midnight.

I tag Deborah, Paul, Steve, Carly and Angela.


Paul said...

Kingsport's about 3.5 hours from here.

I'll tackle that meme later today!

Jessica Smith said...

that yeats poem is one of my favorites too! it's probably good we didn't go to the same elementary school. we would've been into plath by 4th grade or something.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Kingsport's about 20 minutes from my keyboard where I'm typing this sentence. Just outside Bristol.

I agree with you about the New Yorker. Radnoti is a favorite of mine.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

I should be responding to the tag tomorrow or thereabouts. :-)

dan said...

Wow. I really loved your answers. Especially your feeling that each poem might be your last. I feel that as well at time. What is it about the act of creation that makes it seem so final?

Sandra said...

Wow, I had no idea so many poets lived close to Kingsport (well, closer to Kingsport than here). Sadly, I don't think the three groomsmen I rode with would have been up for the side trips. The only side trip they went for involved the Waffle House and an ungodly quantity of hash browns.

Jessica, thanks again for suggesting this meme--it was a fun one.