Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whales and Waterspouts

Photograph by Tricia McKellar

I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately.  Not writing it, no, no... that wouldn't be fun for anyone involved.  But rather reading it; the sound and the flow that rattles around in my head or through my lips.  Talking to Killian recently, I realized that the majority of the poems I love are because I've heard it read... and reading it brings out the same intonation and musicality created by the person who read it, like Posner reading "Drummer Hodge" in The History Boys.

Or remembering three-year-old Samuel Chelpka when I read this:

"Walking Across the Atlantic" by Billy Collins

I wait for the  crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.
Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.

I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocky surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet disappearing, reappearing.

I'm not entirely sure I would have stopped and noticed this poem if I had just read it somewhere.  This is what makes me sad, more than anything.  Can I only be drawn to poems if I've heard it read in a movie?  I admit, my exposure to poetry has been minimal compared to other friends of mine who not only studied it consistently in school but also write it themselves, but I wish I had the ability to read a poem for the first time in such a way that made my hair stand on end... the ability in myself to recite a poem and make it unforgettable in my own mind.

I want to start doing more research and collecting poems that really make an impact on me... and not because of a voice that doesn't belong to me.  (Although, if you haven't watched little Samuel recite "Litany", you should take a few moments and enjoy that.  If you enjoy it, read about when he met Billy Collins.)

But in the meantime, I'd like to open this up to audience participation.  What is your favorite poem?  What poem(s) can't you get out of your mind?

Please share in the comments.  I need someplace to start.


  1. by Jeannine Hall Gailey (one of my personal superfavorite poets), from her website ( If you ever want to look at her book, Becoming the Villainess, let me know!

    The Taste of Rust in August

    Knoxville afternoons in summer, lightning on the air.
    The horses whinny, nervous; the chickens roost.

    Our chain-link fence is rusty. I like to taste it –
    that metallic clean I imagine to be the flavor

    of lightning. My brother was hit once, carrying
    a metal bucket to water the animals. It burned

    his arm, and left a funny taste in his mouth.
    Mother says I have always sucked on spoons,

    licked lampposts, iron grates, jewelry.
    She goes crazy about the germs.

    She says I do it because of what she calls iron-poor blood
    and it’s true – there’s no rust in my skin at all,

    dull and transparent as wax paper.
    I run around the yard for hours, chasing the lightning,

    tracing those fractal lines in the sky with my fingers
    as the smell of ozone drives the dogs crazy.

  2. Just posted mine a couple days ago!! I love Marianne Moore in general, also Frank O'Hara and William Carlos Williams.


    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.


  4. one of the only poems I've ever loved having never heard it read aloud (and the only one that's influenced me so much):

    Sonnet 02

    Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
    Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
    I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
    I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
    The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
    And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
    But last year's bitter loving must remain
    Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide

    There are a hundred places where I fear
    To go,—so with his memory they brim
    And entering with relief some quiet place
    Where never fell his foot or shone his face
    I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
    And so stand stricken, so remembering him!

    - Edna St. Vincent Millay

  5. and I think we share this as a favorite:

    All this time
    The sun never says to the earth,

    "You owe

    What happens
    With a love like that,
    It lights the

    - Hafiz

  6. There are quite a few poems that stick with me. I tried to memorize Longfellow's "The Ride of Paul Revere" when I was eight. Never got it under my mental belt -- but captured the first dozen lines or so and never forgotten them. That's the beauty of deep memory I guess. It is rhythmic and so easier to capture. Here is one of Longfellow's that I love:

    The Arrow and the Song

    I shot an arrow into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
    Could not follow it in its flight.

    I breathed a song into the air,
    It fell to earth, I knew not where;
    For who has sight so keen and strong,
    That it can follow the flight of song?

    Long, long afterward, in an oak
    I found the arrow, still unbroke;
    And the song, from beginning to end,
    I found again in the heart of a friend.


  7. My friend Kait gave me the suggestion to look up Adrienne Rich... found some incredible poems, most notably this one:

    Rural Reflections by Adrienne Rich
    This is the grass your feet are planted on.
    You paint it orange or you sing it green,
    But you have never found
    A way to make the grass mean what you mean.

    A cloud can be whatever you intend:
    Ostrich or leaning tower or staring eye.
    But you have never found
    A cloud sufficient to express the sky.

    Get out there with your splendid expertise;
    Raymond who cuts the meadow does not less.
    Inhuman nature says:
    Inhuman patience is the true success.

    Human impatience trips you as you run;
    Stand still and you must lie.
    It is the grass that cuts the mower down;
    It is the cloud that swallows up the sky.

  8. Another beauty:

    The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

    your life is your life
    don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
    be on the watch.
    there are ways out.
    there is a light somewhere.
    it may not be much light but
    it beats the darkness.
    be on the watch.
    the gods will offer you chances.
    know them.
    take them.
    you can’t beat death but
    you can beat death in life, sometimes.
    and the more often you learn to do it,
    the more light there will be.
    your life is your life.
    know it while you have it.
    you are marvelous
    the gods wait to delight
    in you.