Today (April 30) is the last day of National Poetry Month. No chortling in my joy about Poetry Month ending but I will give a hearty “Calloo!” for an entire month devoted to the poem.
As a last hurrah, in honor of the month, I asked my fellow Missdemeanors –What’s your favorite poem(s)? As a bonus round, I asked: Who is your favorite poet?
My favorite poems are “Jabberwocky” and “The Raven.” “Jabberwocky” because it has some of the most fun words, ever. I think portmanteau words are brilliant, melding two concepts into one, all-new word, thereby making a whole new thing that still retains the characteristics of the original things. And other words are just fun to say. I have chortled. I have also used calloo, callay, and frabjous in a sentence.
I like “The Raven” because it was one of the first poems I read where I could actually picture the action. I could see the melancholy man being tormented by the mysterious bird as I read. (I can see “Jabberwocky”’s story, too, come to think of it. The young man with his vorpal blade tracking down the Jabberwock.) It helped me appreciate poetry more. I analyzed the way Poe painted a picture with rhythm and meter and then applied those concepts to other poems, which helped me understand them.
Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar are my favorite poets. They use beautiful language to make powerful statements.
I like poetry very much, and I agree that Jaberwocky and The Raven are stellar poems. My first two years of school were in Russia, where we were taught to read by having to memorize poems. I remember having to memorize and recite many pages at a time, and if I were to guess, it was probably Pushkin. I don’t know how his poems sound in English, but in Russian they’re very accessible. They rhyme, they tell cool stories, and they evoke wonderful imagery and emotions. The poem we were all familiar with was Ruslan and Lyudmilla, which is an epic fantasy with a knight, a damsel, a sorcerer and a magical land. (https://www.poetryloverspage.com/yevgeny/pushkin/ruslan_and_lyudmila.html). There was even a movie made of it I used to watch as a child. When I travelled to Italy for the second time as an adult, the movie was on Italian television! Dubbed!
The only poem I can currently recite by heart is Tyger, Tyger by William Blake, and it’s because almost every sentence in the poem is so evocative.
Last, but not least, I think song lyrics can be added to this list, and then it’s just about anything by Tom Waits (“Innocent When You Dream”) or Nick Cave (“Do You Love Me”). And then of course there’s “Astro Zombies” by the Misfits (Prime Directive — Exterminate the Whole Human Race!).
Emilya, Song lyrics definitely count. I recall an embarrassing moment in a high school English class when someone read a poem from our poetry-unit textbook. I asked (unfortunately, out loud), “isn’t there a song like that?” Turns out the poem was the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song. Songs are poems set to music.
My favorite contemporary poets are Mary Oliver, whose The Journey may have saved my life or at least inspired me to live a life worth living, and David Whyte.
I have heard Whyte read his poetry in person, which is like listening to beautiful music. I love many of his poems, but his Tiananmen Square will always be one of my favorites. I watched how it moved a young man who had been personally affected by the tragedy and witnessed how poetry is more than art and is integral to life.
And I could write forever about Irish poets…
I’ve not read enough poetry to have a favorite, and envy Emilya’s ‘forced’ memorization at an early age (I would not have envied her when I was at an actual early age). For lyrics as poetry, I’ll throw out The Decembrists’ Hazards of Love album. An epic poem!
Oh, I love the Decembrists and that’s a really great album!
What a fun question, Alexia! Since my academic life centered on English literature and history, it’s not strange that my favorites are taken from there.
My very favorite poem is Kubla Khan; or a Vision in a Dream by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published in 1816. It’s the only poem I can quote (it’s only 54 lines long).
It begins like this:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
And the final lines:
Weave a circle around him thrice.
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Coleridge fed on a little “honey-dew” himself from time to time. In fact, he said he composed the poem under the influence of laudanum (opium). It came to him in a dream—hundreds of lines—but in the morning, he was able to remember only a fragment. Why do I love the poem? Simply for the exquisite beauty and cadence of the language—the kind of beauty that evokes an almost physical reaction.
My favorite poet, though, is William Blake (1757 – 1827)—remember “Tyger, tyger, burning bright…?” If I were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book to read other than the Bible, I would choose Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. This collection of forty-six poems is so rich in imagery, allegory, and symbolism and so complex in structure—not just individual poems but the placement of poems and their juxtaposition—that reading it and meditating on it would keep me busy for a very long time.
I love Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”:
Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as a northern star
And I said, “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”
Also, Seamus Heaney. Everything he wrote.
Alexia, I love Langston Hughes and have found myself reciting “Harlem” quite a lot lately. What happens to a dream deferred? Michele, I agree with you about Mary Oliver. I feel like she’s a life saver. I also love Jane Kenyon, especially “Otherwise.”
My father loved Ogden Nash, and those are probably the only poems I can recite on demand: “Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros, I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.”
Prepocerous is another amazing word. Right up there with frabjous.
What are some of your favorite poems and who are some of your favorite poets? And if poetry isn’t your thing, a) you should give it a chance (Check out poets.org. They’ve collected many poems in one place to make it easier to find one (or several) that speak to you.), b) what would you dedicate an entire month to, if not poetry?
I love this conversation! I have spent the month reading poetry and didn’t even realize my appropriate timing. My primary focus has been Hughes, Whitman, and Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and I’m so happy to see the references here. I recommend Marge Piercy’s latest collection too.
Excellent choices, Matilda. Poetry offers so much to choose from. Wonderful how your reading synched up with National Poetry Month