But it is most definitely the tenth hour for Kate's April poetry challenge. However, seeing as I warned everybody I’d be posting at the last minute, I figure I’m actually early. Also, I have another excuse: it is not easy instituting an ecojustice challenge. How do all those of you out there who create all these wonderful book challenges ever have anytime to do anything like, oh I don’t know, read, for instance? Anyway, during the month of April, I read:
Sandburg, Carl. Berman, Paul, ed. Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems.
One thing I’ve discovered I love about reading poetry collections is that they’re like listening to albums. That leads me to wonder why I’m so resistant to reading them, since I love and have always loved listening to albums. Poetry collections are similar to albums because you don’t have to love every poem to enjoy them. In fact, there are some you might just plain not like or not get. You read them quickly and see what the next one has to offer. Others, you read and think, “Oh man! That’s just incredible!” And you re-read them. And then, maybe, you even re-re-read them. You wander around the house in search of someone with whom to share their profundity.
Funny, though. That other person just may not happen to think this particular poem is so profound. He or she might pick up the collection where you’ve left it, wondering why you’re making such a big fuss, and be mesmerized by something completely different. I’ve always found this to be the same with albums. Meet someone who says “
Before I pulled this collection from the shelf, I knew I was partial to Carl Sandburg, having enjoyed “Fog” when I was a teenager. (I’ve just realized that I keep claiming that I didn’t like poetry as a teenager, had it ruined for me by teachers, and yet almost every time I post on it, I seem to be recalling something from my teenaged years. Maybe I need to re-think the whole “hated poetry as a teenager” spiel.) However, I can’t really tell you if it was “Fog” I so enjoyed or the parody of it my sister Lindsay composed, which was “Frog.” For those of you who may not be familiar with it, here it is:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
And then moves on. (p. 22)
Lindsay’s “frog” came on “flat feet” and went on from there.
At that age, I thought of Sandburg as a “modern poet,” and “modern poetry” was the only type of poetry I thought I could stand as a teenager. I defined it as mysterious and obscure and something that did not subject itself to over-the-top flowery language. Modern poetry presented hard facts of life without purposely trying to pull at your heartstrings. (Maybe I’m not so off-the-mark with my hated-poetry-as-a-teenager spiel after all, because it’s quite obvious I hadn’t read much of it if this is what I thought.) You know, modern poetry as a tequila shot, say, and all those romantics and their sonnets as 50-year-old bottles of sherry hidden in your grandfather’s cellar. When I was a teenager, I was doing everything I possibly could to rebel against my genetically romantic and sentimental soul.
I guess I haven’t completely squashed that teenaged notion of “modern poetry,” even though I’ve read enough now to have proven it wrong. Not having read much Sandburg, I automatically assumed he'd be profound, but I didn’t expect him to break my heart. How about a poem that's both profound and heartbreaking? Here’s one that was for me:
If you have a heart like mine (irreparably leaky these days from having been broken and fixed innumerable times reading such things), you read that poem at least thrice and want to meet that man just so you can say, “I know. I know. I know.” But how can you possibly know? You’ve never met Mag. You didn’t fall in love with her. You don’t have this man’s children. You've got plenty of money for the rent. The grocery man isn’t calling you for cash. You hate prunes. But still, you know.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you go get married in the day we ran off to a
And told him we would love each other and take care of
Always and always long as the sun and rain lasts
Yes, I’m wishing now you lived somewhere away from
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away
I wish the kids had never come
And rent and coal and clothes to pay for
And a grocery man calling for cash,
Every day cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish to God the kids had never come. (pp. 8-9)
Or maybe that one didn’t do it for you. Maybe your heart would break for “The Junk Man,” which didn’t do much for me. Or possibly “Francois Villon Forgotten” would send you searching through the house for the nearest pair of ears to listen to you read aloud. I don’t know. You’ve got to pick up the collection and see for yourself. I do dare you, however, to read “They All Want to Play Hamlet” without finding it the least bit profound.
So, how about you? What profound and heartbreaking poetry have you been reading? I'd love to know.