Thursday, April 8, 2010

This is national poetry month!

I try to read a poem or two a day. I thought I would be reading a lot more during retirement. I expected I’d devour books; it would be like a return to my adolescence when I was a voracious reader.

But to my surprise (and chagrin), retirement has not been a return to the compulsive reading of the last period in my life when I had a lot of free time. I’ve been trying to figure out why and have identified a few likely culprits.

First, I’ve always been something of a political junkie and the internet has been a real enabler. I spend far too much time reading online newspapers and blogs.

Also, my husband and I subscribe to far too many periodicals. When I was working, I usually did not have time to get through them all and would read an article or two and then throw them into the recycle bin.

Now we have these long breakfasts every day and slowly get through the stack. I may not be reading many books, but I sure am reading a lot of book reviews! There is something really wrong with this picture.

To make sure that I have some connection each day with literature, I try to dip into one of the poetry anthologies scattered around my house. No matter how packed my day, I can always find time for a poem or two .

And another tremendous advantage of poetry—-it forces me to slow down. The internet has turned so many of us into skim-readers. But you can’t skim poetry. It has to be read word for word or it’s not experienced. I find it very satisfying to spend time really reading one short poem.

And has Audre Lorde said in her 1984 essay, “Age, Race, Class: Women Redefining Difference," in Sister Outsider:

Of all the forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper. Over the last few years, writing a novel on tight finances, I came to appreciate the enormous differences in the material demands between poetry and prose. As we reclaim our literature, poetry has been the voice the major voice of poor, working class and Colored women.

I’m planning to compile my own personal anthology of poems I love. Any one have any suggestion of poems I should include?


  1. Very poignant quote from Audre Lorde. I've read a lot of her work. She is marvelous.

  2. This is one I love and found nourishing when I was doing clinical work (the online source is Mary Kay, thanks for the lovely Clifton offering.

    Parkinson’s Disease by Galway Kinnell

    While spoon-feeding him with one hand
    she holds his hand with her other hand,
    or rather lets it rest on top of his,
    which is permanently clenched shut.
    When he turns his head away, she reaches
    around and puts in the spoonful blind.
    He will not accept the next morsel
    until he has completely chewed this one.
    His bright squint tells her he finds
    the shrimp she has just put in delicious.
    Next to the voice and touch of those we love,
    food may be our last pleasure on earth—
    a man on death row takes his T-bone
    in small bites and swishes each sip
    of the jug wine around in his mouth,
    tomorrow will be too late for them to jolt
    this supper out of him. She strokes
    his head very slowly, as if to cheer up
    each separate discomfited hair sticking up
    from its root in his stricken brain.
    Standing behind him, she presses
    her check to his, kisses his jowl,
    and his eyes seem to stop seeing
    and do nothing but emit light.
    Could heaven be a time, after we are dead,
    of remembering the knowledge
    flesh had from flesh? The flesh
    of his face is hard, perhaps
    from years spent facing down others
    until they fell back, and harder
    from years of being himself faced down
    and falling back in his turn, and harder still
    from all the while frowning
    and beaming and worrying and shouting
    and probably letting go in rages.
    His face softens into a kind
    of quizzical wince, as if one
    of the other animals were working at
    getting the knack of the human smile.
    When picking up a cookie he uses
    both thumbtips to grip it
    and push it against an index finger
    to secure it so that he can lift it.
    She takes him then to the bathroom,
    where she lowers his pants and removes
    the wet diaper and holds the spout of the bottle
    to his old penis until he pisses all he can,
    then puts on the fresh diaper and pulls up his pants.
    When they come out, she is facing him,
    walking backwards in front of him
    and holding his hands, pulling him
    when he stops, reminding him to step
    when he forgets and starts to pitch forward.
    She is leading her old father into the future
    as far as they can go, and she is walking
    him back into her childhood, where she stood
    in bare feet on the toes of his shoes
    and they foxtrotted on this same rug.
    I watch them closely: she could be teaching him
    the last steps that one day she may teach me.
    At this moment, he glints and shines,
    as if it will be only a small dislocation
    for him to pass from this paradise into the next.

    Galway Kinnell, “Parkinson’s Disease” from Imperfect Thirst. Copyright © 1994 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,

    Source: Imperfect Thirst (1994)

  3. Here's one I found posted on a blog friend's site. It made me gasp with verse-envy; I wish I'd written this...and, I just noticed, it's the same poet that reginibey posted. Heading for the bookstore!

    Everyone Was in Love

    One day, when they were little, Maud and Fergus
    appeared in the doorway, naked and mirthful,
    with a dozen long garter snakes draped over
    each of them like brand-new clothes.
    Snake tails dangled down their backs,
    and snake foreparts in various lengths
    fell over their fronts, heads raised
    and swaying, alert as cobras.
    They writhed their dry skins
    upon each other, as snakes like doing
    in lovemaking, with the added novelty
    of caressing soft, smooth, moist human skin.
    Maud and Fergus were deliciously pleased with themselves.
    The snakes seemed to be tickled too.
    We were enchanted. Everyone was in love.
    Then Maud drew down off Fergus’s shoulder,
    as off a tie rack, a peculiarly
    lumpy snake and told me to look inside.
    Inside that double-hinged jaw, a frog’s green
    webbed hind feet were being drawn,
    like a diver’s, very slowly as if into deepest waters.
    Perhaps thinking I might be considering rescue,
    Maud said, “Don’t. Frog is already elsewhere.”

    (Galway Kinnell , The Atlantic, 2006)

  4. Reni and Nance,
    Thanks for sharing these poems!