Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Poems for spring

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Spring is about surprise. Spring happens every year, and yet it’s possible to be amazed over and over at what the season brings with it: the smell of damp earth; shoots emerging from the ground; birds returning. I’ve been reading some poems that express the exuberance of spring wonderfully.

e.e. cummings was very good at exuberance, and wrote several spring poems. A bookstore in my neighborhood had one posted in the window: “in Just-/ spring     when the world is mud-/ luscious the little/ lame balloonman// whistles     far     and wee…” The line near the middle, “when the world is puddle-wonderful,” reminds me of my son, who views puddles (as I did, at his age) as things to be enjoyed, not avoided. (Full text of the poem here.)

In “Québec May” by Earle Birney you can sense both the energy of growing things and people’s revived spirits: “Now the snow is vanished clean/ Bo’jour, Pierre, ça va?/ skyward point the cedar billows/ birches pinken    poplars green/ magenta runs the sumach tine/ pouring down the hills like wine/ Yellow catkins on the willows/ yellow calico on line/ ‘Allo, Marie, ça va?

Of course, people have been writing poems about spring for centuries. One of the few bits of poetry I remember from a class in Middle English literature is the opening of this lyric: “Lenten is come with love to toune,/ With blosmen and with briddes roune,/ That all this blisse bringeth.” Unfortunately, all this bliss contrasts with the speaker’s unhappy love life, but there’s still a lot about the beauty of birds and flowers here.

And there’s the most famous of Middle English lyrics: “Sumer is icumen in,/ Lhude sing, cuccu!/ Groweth sed and bloweth med/ And springth the wude nu./ Sing, cuccu!” The rhythm skips merrily along, like the lambs and calves in the second stanza. (Hear a music video of this here.)

And finally, there is A.E. Housman’s “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…”, in which the speaker thinks about how many years he may have left to live, and concludes: “And since to look at things in bloom/ Fifty springs are little room,/ About the woodlands I will go/ To see the cherry hung with snow.”

Spring has sprung. Carpe diem.

Favorite poems

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

While poetry books may not sell a lot of copies, people do still connect with poetry. U.S. poet Robert Pinsky, during his term as poet laureate, set up the Favorite Poem Project. 18,000 people sent in submissions. Fifty of them appear in videos on the project’s web site, reading their favorite poems and talking about how those poems connect with their lives– all kinds of people, reading a wide variety of poems. One young man from Boston reads “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks and says, “It just made so much sense. It was like telling my story.” A woman reads “The Sentence” by Anna Akhmatova and tells how it precisely describes what happened to her brother in the Vietnam war. These are moving stories.

Good sounds

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Why do so few people read poetry these days? Maurice Mierau, in his Winnipeg Free Press column, has one answer. (By the way, I am pleased, not to mention impressed, that the Free Press actually has a monthly poetry column in its book section. Wonder how many other newspapers can say the same.) Poets, Maurice says, tend to read their work with a complete lack of expression, and seem to think sophisticated poetry shouldn’t have rhyme or rhythm. It’s one of those things everybody knows– “everybody except anyone who published before the 20th century, which means 80 per cent of poetry in English. Everybody except Bob Dylan, Robert Frost and any half-decent rap artist.” Audiences, he says, “will never stop yearning for poems that sound good.”

There’s a reason people will always be attracted to poetry like this. Patterns are an aid to memory; a poem with rhyme or rhythm is more likely to stick in your mind than one that has none. I think– and there’s probably theoretical writing out there to confirm this– that it has to do with poetry’s connection to music, and music’s connection to the body. Just as words arranged in patterns are easier to remember, so are words set to music. That’s why I can still recite large chunks of Dr. Seuss, even though my sons don’t read those books much any more. That’s why we all learned the alphabet with the help of a song, and why people can remember advertising jingles that they haven’t heard since the age of eight.

For some recent poetry that sounds good, I recommend Domain by Barbara Nickel, The Office Tower Tales by Alice Major, and Noble Gas, Penny Black by David O’Meara.