poetry and other non-noveling pursuits

I had some technical difficulties (and a zany schedule) that kept me from doing much writing this weekend, but getting a break from the computer was kind of refreshing.

I learned this morning that April is National Poetry Month. So let’s talk about poetry.

My favorite poet is Elizabeth Bishop. Poetry is such a subjective thing that it’s hard to say why. I was introduced to her poetry by a high school English teacher—a teacher who had a significant impact on me, who really changed who I was as a writer—so there’s that. Bishop also wrote such brilliant imagery, and her poetry is real and visceral, though often not personal. One of my favorites is “In the Waiting Room,” the meaning of which is a little hard to latch on to, but it’s about childhood and identity and place, especially this stanza:

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
–I couldn’t look any higher–
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Some other poems I really like, of the sort I go back to and reread, by other poets include “For the Union Dead” by Robert Lowell (I thought of the poem the first time I was in Boston Common as an adult and saw the relief of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment marching towards battle) and “The Second Hour of the Night” by Frank Bidart, which I first read in an anthology I bought for an English class in college and was sort of mesmerized by (more on Frank Bidart). That’s what good poetry should do: surprise you, move you, make you think, make you remember.

It’s probably not a coincidence that all of these poets knew each other and probably drew from each other’s work; I think there’s something stylistically similar at work, though it’s difficult to articulate what that is.

I used to write a lot of poetry, but hardly ever do anymore. I like the medium, but am not motivated to write poetry most days. I did write one in February that I just posted here; it was kind of a dare (for some online friends, for myself) and I wrote a sestina. It’s a weird and difficult form. One wonderful example is (natch) by Elizabeth Bishop (and you can read it here). I posted the poem here, you can find it on the freebies page.

If you have favorite poets/poems, please post them in the comments!