As Chris noted earlier this morning, today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The rules are simple enough, but I may need a bigger pocket. For one thing, I can’t make up my mind as to what my favorite poem is. And second, I have this bad tendency toward long poems.
The wall on my office at work features portraits of four great poets: TS Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Charles Wright. I love writers like Shakespeare (duh) and Blake and Donne and Arnold, to name a few, but these four are my favorites. It follows, then, that one of them is potentially responsible for my favorite poem, right?
Here are the candidates:
Eliot: “The Waste Land”: Many students have had this heavy, dark master work forced upon them, and experience tells me that most didn’t appreciate it. However, the poet in me has never shaken the influence it exerted. Even today, a good 30+ years after my first encounter with the Unreal City, it’s hard for me to write without being powerfully conscious of Eliot’s presence. Besides, it is still the cruellest month, after all.
If this is my favorite poem, that probably tells you something about me that most people don’t know, huh?
Yeats: “The Second Coming,” “Easter 1916,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “The Wild Swans at Coole”… or one of a couple dozen others…: Yeats is the greatest poet in the history of the English language. I like to say I’ve been influenced by him, but if I did I’d feel a little like Nigel Tufnel talking about Mozart and Bach.
Words bowed down and served Yeats. The most complex ideas seemed effortless to him and his gift for simply conveying knee-buckling beauty has never been matched. So take your pick.
Thomas: “Fern Hill”: When my grandfather, who raised me from the time I was three, died, I asked my friend and colleague Dr. Jim Booth to read at his funeral. One of the two pieces was Donne’s “Meditation XVII”; the other was “Fern Hill,” which opens with two of the greatest lines in all of modern poetry:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
…and ends with perhaps the most compelling closing lines I’ve ever read in a poem anywhere:
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Wright: The Other Side of the River: I almost regard this book, which features several longer poems, as a great big unified long poem. When you get to the spot where he bumps into the bear on the side of the cliff, though, you’ll have arrived at my favorite spot in all of poetry since Thomas died.
As I say, I need big pockets, and highly recommend any of these fine authors for those of you trying to decide what to carry around today. Meanwhile, if you’d like something brand new from a writer nobody has heard of (that’d be me), let me offer up one that tips its cap to one of my heroes:
A small dog
fills the sky with geese.
this grey parliament
of competing agendas
breaching the morning’s peace. Each
frenzied wing bat a coalition,
a conspiracy of horns.
Then consensus mounts,
wheels away toward the river.
The dog sniffs the wind.
Was this what
Yeats feared, those cold nights
at Coole Park?
Put a poem in your pocket today and share it. As Chris explained:
…people undervalue poetry. Poetry requires us to pay attention to the world in a quieter, softer, more reflective way that we typically have time for in today’s hustle-bustle. Even poetry that’s brash and ferocious requires this of us.