Skip to main content

Aprille, with hise shoures soote

Yesterday I decided that nothing less than chocolate chip cookies and W.H. Auden's Collected Poems (to be enjoyed separately) would do.

It's funny to think how few people, Americans at least, read alternative literary forms like poetry or plays or even short stories. I suppose there is something about the generosity of a novel which grabs the attention, invites involvement and requires time and commitment. The time and commitment required by poetry is less popular, and I'll admit to a certain toe-dragging reluctance when it comes to chewing on a book of poetry.

I end up using a book of poetry as a Sortes Virgilianae, the classical lottery practiced by flipping through Virgil's Aeneid at random and reading your future in whichever random paragraph you land on. A bad habit, I will flip through the poems until something catches my eye or seems to fit the moment.

However, I think reading good, sharp poetry and plays can only do good for one's writing. The articulacy required by drama combined with the poetic focus on the sensuous, or at least the artistic. It is a joining of aesthetics with characterization and exaction, and this combination can only make one think very carefully about language and its specifics.

But poetry is more than an intellectual pay-off, more than a food to be mashed up, recycled and put immediately to use. It is - I think - chiefly about pleasure. The pleasure of a well-tuned phrase, a cleverly articulated idea or form, or pure aural languor. It is, says the doomed poet John Keats in Jane Campion's recent film Bright Star, like diving into a lake. The point of diving into a lake is not to swim to the other side, but to be in the water.

So, since April is poetry month (breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ memory and desire...) it is my goal to read as much poetry as I can during the month. I have so much sitting on my shelves - beautiful WASP-y Anne Sexton and sensual, fruity Pablo Neruda and crisp, autumnal Philip Larkin and bubbling, sibilant e. e. cummings and perhaps even Paradise Lost - to read.

I will also make an effort to memorize poetry. So far I've tried Yeats' Leda and the Swan and Donne's holy sonnet, At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners, and stray lines crop up in brain while I'm walking to the grocery store - A sudden blow: the great wings beating still...and Arise/ From death, you numberless infinities...

As I sat on the 71 bus to 65th and 25th, I clutched Auden in my hands and set the plate of napkin covered cookies on my lap. As I stood to disembark and walked to the doors, I noticed the warm, familiar smell of childhood and chocolate-chips spreading out around me. The words followed.


Ian Wolcott said…
Had you seen my recent post on the Virgilian Lots? If not, I'm going to be amazed, since this makes the third mention of it I've come across in the past week.

I admit to being one of those who don't read poetry as often as I should. Presently, however, I'm enjoying William Cowper's 'The Task'. His languid descriptions of the English countryside are seasonally appropriate - though geophrically inappropriate (for me, at least).

Popular posts from this blog

The Private Life of the Diary

I’ve kept a diary since I was twelve. While I composed nearly illegible autobiographical scratchings in my first years of primary school at my teachers’ request, it wasn’t until I was on the brink of becoming a teenager that I felt I needed a more permanent arrangement. I suspect it had to do with reading The Diary of Anne Frank. My diary’s function has changed over the years – it once had a name (having discovered that Zoe was the Greek word for life, I thought my choice extremely clever), and I used to like my diaries in a variety of shapes and sizes, spangled with glitter, ruled with wide lines, shackled with locks and keys. For at least eight years my diary was the space in which to vent my feelings, and offered some form of therapeutic comfort. This meant it was largely about boys and is, as a result, very tedious to reread. But while the function of my journal has changed, each volume has been a solution to the manic desire to scribble. As I discovered reading Anne Frank, each e…

Cassandra at the Wedding - Dorothy Baker

The perfect airplane read for a person en route to a wedding, this tautly written 1962 novel about a woman falling apart, coming home to her family’s ranch to derail her twin sister’s wedding. That’s the summary – but obviously it’s about so much more: about the nature of love and obsession, about identity and the self.

Cassandra Edwards, named for the doomed wailer at the gates of Troy, is a student at Berkley, an “Existentialist-Zen-Marxist, Freudian branch. Deviation, rather.” The reader is fully aware from the beginning that Cassandra feels antagonistically about the wedding – she anticipates duties of “tak[ing] over the bouquet while [Judith] received the ring, through the nose or on the finger, wherever she chose to receive it…” She purposefully gets the groom’s name wrong. She plans to stage a “last-minute rescue.”

The isolated family ranch the Edwards family as a self-sufficient unit – emotionally and intellectually. Her alcoholic father, a retired skeptical philosopher who act…

Blast-beruffled plumes

I’ve returned to Minnesota to find it transformed into a Brueghel painting.

Our hunters are gone north or even south, wherever there are more deer. This has been a bad year for deer, threatened by the cold of last year’s polar vortex and the high population of coyotes, which now carry a bounty on their heads.

So, while it’s still autumn in England (I’ve been assured), winter has come. The nights are long, the wreaths are out. I’ve been reading restlessly – Robert Walser and GB Shaw. But some nights, Thomas Hardy feels just right for November melancholia. Here’s ‘A Darkling Thrush’:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,