3 mar. 2009

The thing about the twenty book meme is that it is aspirational. Those have to be the books that you want to have been the books that made you fall in love with poetry, because, face it, nobody who isn't already in love with poetry has even read twenty books of poetry! Even English majors pretty much read what is assigned in anthologies. I had people in my creative writing classes with me in college who hadn't read five books of poetry. Here is my rough chronology:

1. I discover that something called poetry exists, in a book at my Grandmother's house. It is by Edgar Allan Poe, and think there is some connection between Poe and Poet. It seems suspiciously coincidental. It also seemed suspicious that Poe would use the names of two of my aunts in his poetry, Helen and Lenore, and that both of my these aunts of mine were also writers. Of course, I knew that he wasn't referring to my own aunts, but it seemed kind of fateful to me. I was maybe 7 or 9, I'm not entirely sure.

2. We had some kind of book of poetry, probably A Child's Garden of Verses. I remember Wordsorth's daffodils too.

3. In sixth grade, we are to write poems. I decide at that moment that I will be a poet. I've never really been seriously interested in anything else, except for music. I hadn't really read any poetry except for a few Longfellow and Poe poems.

4. Cummings is a big one. I save my money to buy the Collected Poems. I am still twelve or thirteen, maybe 14 by the time I actually have the money to buy it. Meanwhile I buy the cheap paperbacks of Cummings. Later I won't like Cummings nearly as much, but I have to give credit where it belongs.

5. I read some more Longfellow. A boy's will is the wind's will and the thoughts of youth are long long thoughts. I loved that line in Junior High.

6. In French class in High School we read Baudelaire and LaFontaine. I learn the rules of classical French prosody which I still know to this day.

7. I work my way through an edition of X.J. Kennedy's textbook and the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, from ages about 13-18. Williams, Stevens, O'Hara, Koch, Berryman, and Ashbery. Some Creeley. I like James Tate and Mark Strand. I see poetry readings by poets like Stephen Spender and Richard Eberhart when they come to my local university. I occasionally ride my bike past Karl Shapiro's house. I read Howl. I have a subscription to the APR. I send poems to magazines and get rejections. By the time I start college I own about 200 books of poetry. I know Neruda and Breton in translation.

... to be continued

8 comentarios:

Matt Walker dijo...

"nobody who isn't already in love with poetry has even read twenty books of poetry!"

Exactly! I thought I was the only one who noticed this.

Judy Roitman dijo...

Indeed. Thanks for being honest. My list is pretty close to yours except W. Whitman comes in around 5th or 6th grade, maybe earlier, because in fourth grade I somehow knew that poetry didn't have to rhyme although I did love to rhyme in those days. Emily D. in junior high (I couldn't have gotten through adolescence without "After great pain..."). Denise Levertov (I blush to admit) and A. Ginsberg in college. Coleridge yes, Wordsworth no. George Herbert George Herbert George Herbert --- just one poem but what a poem! ("Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright..."), held close. Baudelaire & Rimbaud (in translation), seminal. Lyrics to Elizabethan songs (John Dowland's Lacrimae especially). I too decided to be a poet early (in fourth grade) without having read very many poems. Tangled up in language, predecessors be damned. My apprenticeship: taking the 20 spelling words each week in fourth grade and making a 20 line rhymed and metered poem, one spelling word embedded in each line. Had to do something to break the boredom. In high school I got depressed if I didn't write at least one poem a week. Well maybe I was depressed anyway and that was just my excuse.

In fifth grade we had to memorize reams of crap --- Longfellow and bad Tennyson ("Tell me not in mournful numbers...") and Emerson (perhaps the worst two lines in the English language: "By the rude bridge that arched the flood/Their flag by April's breeze unfurled..." --- impossible to say without your mouth getting all twisted up) and all kinds of platitudinous mush. But luckily this didn't distract me.

Thanks for the memories.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, but I don't think of Tennyson or Longfellow, any more than Cummings or Levertov, as crap at all. At one time i owned a half dozen books by Denise Levertov. These are just historical layers, whether in our literature or in our individual lives. None of this does any harm unless we get stuck at some particular place.

Judy Roitman dijo...

A few years ago I got my nephew a volume of Tennyson and was astonished by how good many of the poems were.

cummings. I forgot about cummings. We all read cummings back then (my back then was considerably before your back then). Not crap to be sure, but I am still embarrassed by how much I looked to cummings, I think because in my world there was not much else to look at. If I had read Stein --- why did I not read Stein? And George Oppen lived across the river -- why had I never heard of him?

Steve dijo...

Every once in awhile I stop by here, Jonathan, and the one thing that I NEVER get is this -- you're always and seemingly endlessly talking about "famous poets," rarely about anybody obscure or contemporary, and almost never about any obscure contemporary's actual verse, as in close readings.

I mean, look at this list -- Cummings, Longfellow, Baudelaire, LaFontaine, Williams, Stevens, O'Hara, Koch, Berryman, Ashbery, Creeley, Tate, Strand, Spender, Eberhart, Shapiro, Neruda, Breton.

Meanwhile, friends of yours, like Jordan Davis, are writing brilliant stuff that is profoundly more interesting than what all of these famous dead poets from half a fucking century ago have written and done with their lives which were lived by them in their bodies in entirely different times and spaces. And in your own hometown there, Jim McCrary, Judy Roitman, Ken Irby, and others are WRITING RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT. Jeepers, Bro, Ha! Come on, take a walk outside the den in fresh air and check out reality outside of... Ah, forget it, I'm just being naughty and cagey and cranky.

But you're a big guy. You know I like ya, too... :)

P.S. Yes, this is "a driveby," as it were, and I'm kind of guy from the hood out annoying folks and spreading mischief... :)

Jonathan dijo...

Did you even read the post or did you just look at the names?

I guess you didn't get the point. It was supposed to be a chronological account of what I read when I was a kid and first getting interested in poetry. Notice how I started out when I was seven and then went to my sixth grade class, etc... I can guarantee that I've spoken a lot more on this blog of Jordan Davis than of Richard Eberhart or Stephen Fucking Spender. When I was first discovering these famous poets from a half century ago Jordan Davis was in diapers. I believe he's about ten years younger than me. It would be falsifying reality to say that I knew who Ken Irby was before I was 36 years old, or that I read Spicer in college instead of grad school. This is autobiographical and roughly in chronological order. If you look at the continuations of the post you will see that I talk later about being influenced by poets younger than myself.

I don't think you can say I never do close readings, either. That's not my main activity here, because frankly that's my day job. Nor do I spend most of my time talking about local friends of mine who are also poets. It's not that I don't appreciate living in a place where such people can thrive. I appreciate that very much. What makes writing function, though, is its ability to function in the absence of the author. I write about many authors that you have not even heard of, probably, like Olivdo García Valdés, or Eugenio Montejo. In fact, I can guarantee that my 9000 books of poetry project is going to include many obscure writers along with the famous ones. On the other hand, usually the famous ones are famous for a reason, which is that they are very good.

Steve dijo...

It's cool. And you're cool.

I may be experimenting with some uncoolness. Don't mind me.


(Also, your indignation -- "I can guarantee that I've spoken a lot more on this blog of Jordan Davis than of Richard Eberhart or Stephen Fucking Spender" -- is hot damn fabulous. I admire it a great deal.)


Steve :)

John dijo...

Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, and A. A. Milne were my first loves in poetry. And I still love them.

Thanks for sticking up for Longfellow too. He wrote lots of great stuff.