I’ve been gorging myself on poetry ever since posting Lucky, by the amazing poet Tony Hoagland, last week. I had forgotten how wonderfully different poetry is from prose. A poem is so much more than just a concentrated dose of words!
Conventional wisdom has it that poetry, by its very nature, is “hard,” like physics or math. You’re not reading it correctly unless you’re squinching up your eyes and racking your brain in an effort to “understand” the poem. I think this is wrong and it’s what makes so many people hate and fear poetry.
Poetry professors may not agree, but I think going to poetry readings is the best way to experience poetry, especially as a beginner. When you’re listening to a poem, there’s no time to dwell on every word in a vain attempt to divine the poet’s hidden meaning. You have no option other than to sit back and relax and let the poem’s images, feelings, and sensations wash over you in a delicious flood. It’s like listening to music. You taste briefly, then let it go in order to savor the next bit.
I’ve found a lovely blog by the Poetry Foundation, which posts a new poem daily. There are so many wonderful poets out there! It’s like discovering a gold mine. Here are two more luminous (and considerably more light-hearted than last week) poems by my current favorite, Tony Hoagland. Read them aloud to someone!
By Tony Hoagland
Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,
between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”
Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend
and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,
and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,
that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder
or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue
but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,
—to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.
By Tony Hoagland
Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she’s a conjugated verb.
She’s been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We’re all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,
we’ve all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,