In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to post links to some of my favorite poems, including those of my almost-famous writer friends, and one of my own. Special thanks to poetryfoundation.org for providing free poetry to the masses.
Underneath each poem you will find a small story about how it has come to weave itself into my being.
I’ve talked about many of these poets already in this post and this one too. But I have gathered them all here, alive and dead, for a poetry slam. So make your coffee or tea, turn down the brightness on your tablet so it feels more like a book, and cozy up close.
-in the order I encountered them-
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
I know this is so cliche and everyone who says they love Poe loves this poem. But it was the first of his that I read. And though I didn’t really think about madness or mental illness at the time I read it (6th grade, maybe?), I’m sure my encounters with Poe have contributed to my preoccupation with insanity and/or mental instability in my own works. Also, I often read this poem aloud like a prayer when I just need to hear a good story told by someone with way more problems than I have.
Desert Places by Robert Frost
My mom always had this jacketless volume of Frost around the house from which I’d memorized a poem for the Language Arts festival in grade school. For the life of me I can’t find it, something about fall leaves (I know! Good luck trying to pick one out of the thousands he wrote about fall leaves!). But then, in one of my favorite college English classes, Professor Barton read this poem aloud. I was instantly transfixed by its spell. If poetry is about translating what is inside of ourselves to connect with other human beings in this cold, unfeeling universe, then Robert Frost has melted down and reforged my soul in this poem.
The Tyger by William Blake
One of the most feared, difficult professors I would ever have assigned this poem in the first week of Romantic English Literature. She told us to listen for the sound hiding within it. Our next class, she revealed what she’d wanted us to hear–because nobody could figure it out: a hammer on an anvil. In rereading it just now, I just discovered the hiss of the metal being submerged in a bath of brine to cool in the penultimate stanza.
Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
I remember being appalled by the gore of this poem. But after reading about Plath’s life–getting to know her, if you will–the words of this very poem haunted me and replayed again and again in my thoughts, until the next poem exorcised them temporarily away.
August Rain, After Haying by Jane Kenyon
I heard of Jane Kenyon in a dark romance indie movie. Random, I know. But the movie stayed with me, and from the first poem I read, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake in ordering the collection mentioned in the movie, Constance. There is no link for this poem because I could not find a source that had permission to link to. It is well worth checking for at your local library though.
Sleep Suite by Sharon Olds (or any poem by her)
As always, I am stunned at being given entrance to these intimate, family moments. These glimpses range in scope from personal to universal. I have had this exact thought watching my loved ones sleep, the same surprise, when brought together at a distant relative’s home, at how much my sisters have grown, how they’d claimed each their own branches of the tree from which we all came.
Poets I know
Rust Never Sleeps by Annie Neugebauer
In my opinion, this poem encapsulates the “realistic/life/quiet” side of the poet that she has categorized this poem under. It was one of the first–if not the first–poem of hers that I stumbled upon and read and fell in love with. It calls to mind William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”, but I like hers more. 🙂
Enchanted Rock in September: A Tritina by Carie Juettner
I remember reading the awe in this poem and feeling akin to my friend. It also helped that this poem brings you inside of it, so that you are standing on that enchanted rock too, looking at the same landscape and sky. This work made me think of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.
Nest by Ashley B. Davis
To read more about this poem, see this post.
As a bonus, a couple of more contemporary poems I stumbled across:
Home (Initial Findings) by Franny Choi
I’d never experienced a poem like this before. Being visual, this poem hit me hard. It took some time to navigate, but the payoff is big.
Winter Stars by Larry Levis
I love poems that feel epic in scope, that capture generations’ worth of tragedy and triumph, and I love love love the nature/space/science–i.e. stars–in this poem.
Do you share any of my favorites listed here? What are some of your favorite poems? Please feel free to share links in the comments.