Top Stuff-Week 3
Top Five Poets-
I really don’t read much poetry anymore. I wish I did. When I was attending University, I took several class on reading and writing poetry. This gave me plenty of opportunity to read a wide variety of writers from published famous poets to not so famous and student poets. I often disagreed with my poetry professors, as they tended to be a bit to strict in their interpretations of texts. One time in particular I was discussing an alternative meaning to Yeats poem, The Second Coming with a humanities professor. I thought the discussion was moving along quite well, each of us offering point and counter point, seeming to be moving towards some agreement on an interpretation when the conversation was cut short with a “no, you’re wrong” from the professor. I was stunned for a second but was able to eek out an “excuse me, did you say I was wrong?” To which the professor responded, “yes. Now moving on…”
Now I believe there are better or stronger ways to read poetry and that not all readings or ideas about a poem carry equal weight or allow for better understanding of a work, but I refuse to believe any personal interpretation, supported by the text, can ever be wrong. Perhaps this is why I loved the poetry writing classes better. The focus was on tightening prose, strengthening metaphor and avoiding phrases, line breaks and rhymes that seemed cliche, pointless and obvious (rhyming fire with fire for instance or with higher. Seriously, Jim…do better). One instructor in particular was unrestrained in his criticism or his praise. When he looked at a piece of writing, he could completely remove any personal connection to the writer and clearly see the text. He came closest to a truly objective voice as I have ever heard. It also helped that he was nearly always spot on in his critique. Every poem that he helped me with always ended up better, tighter, more powerful. He taught me that form was a means to and end, not the end itself. A valuable lesson that I will never forget. Sadly, he was killed in a hiking accident a few years back.
We start the list with him-
Craig Arnold-With only two collections, there are few poems to appreciate and enjoy but the language, the imagery and the subject manner of Arnold’s poetry is immense. Unconventional line breaks and unexpected phrases make reading slower, forcing the reader to pay attention. Not easy to do, harder to do well. I recommend “Shells” and in particular the poem titled Hot
W.S Merwin-With Merwin, I tend to stay with his earlier work. As he has matured as a poet, his work is much more dense, but also much longer. I really enjoy his work from the collection “The Second Four Books of Poems. In these poems he uses punctuation sparingly, or not at all. The line breaks become pauses. This is one of my favorite, though there are several fantastic poems in this collection.
Jorie Graham-I had the privilege of listening to Jorie read. Hearing a poet read her own work can have a startling effect. The way her voice would rise and fall, pause, offering some strange and distinct life to the verse. It can also be dangerous as it can affect the way you individually relate to a text. Regardless, hearing Jorie read made me a fan for life. Her work is very complex and often hard to crack. Still, give some effort and read her. Here you can read AND listen to her. lucky you!
Phillip Larkin-One of the few poets I read for a class that I fell in love with. Larkin has a rare gift of making simple rhyme poignant. He can sing song you through some dark places, which can be a wonderful thing when having to travel dark places. Read this poem.
Seamus Heaney-Nobel prize winning poet and translator of the only version of Beowulf I can read, Heaney writes very stunning poetry. Plus, he is Irish, which makes him all the more special. The bog poems are fantastic and enthralling. Read any of the bog poems but also try this.
I am going to throw in an honorable mention and add Margaret Atwood to the list. She will most likely move ahead of Larkin or Heaney once I read more of her work. This poem is pretty swell. (though I cannot vouch for the additional information provided by the blogger). I love her story telling and her poems read almost as flash fiction.
Well there you have it…more top crap.