It is National Poetry Month, the only poetry-based month I’m aware of. For that reason I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite poems, and also for the reason that I can’t think of anything new to say about comedy at this particular moment. Except maybe the following sentences: one of my many personal theories is that poetry and comedy are kindred forms. Both are interested in precision, in compactness, in surprise, in carving esoteric paths to unpredictable endings that feel inevitable in retrospect. (Maybe all narrative art is interested in that last one, but poetry and comedy are interested in doing it fast.) Like my favorite jokes, my favorite poems feel like tiny scale models of the person who crafted them—like no one else could have dreamt them up, because no one else filters reality in exactly that way. The poems that stick with me are the ones I can call upon again and again for whatever sustenance they provide—delight, calm, clarity, reassurance, rejuvenation, or so much else—and find that their potency never diminishes. Since I am a continent away from my books, here are a few of my favorites which I can find online.
“For Long to Hold,” Carl Phillips
I am perpetually in awe of Carl Phillips’ ability to detail the difficult particulars of an emotional experience in a totally conversational mode that is somehow also musical and imagistic. Ah! The end gets me every time. Here’s a screenshot in case you’ve used up your free NYT articles:
“Not Horses,” Natalie Shapero
I love this poem for the sobriety with which it gazes at the world’s violence—these ways are settled; you cannot fight them—while maintaining a firm conviction in the individual’s capacity for survival. (See as well: “Fake Sick.”) Also because I like poems where people talk to animals.
“Wren & Bear,” David Huddle
Also poems where animals talk to each other.
“Litany,” Rebecca Lindenberg
This is from Lindenberg’s wonderful book Love: An Index, written after the disappearance of her partner, the poet Craig Arnold, while he was hiking on a volcano in Japan. I cannot think of any poem that captures a feeling of utter desperation for meaning more viscerally or more beautifully.
“Bob the Bear,” Frank Colasacco
A perfect poem, somehow written by a three-year-old.
“Advent,” Heather Christle
For reasons I cannot divine, I am drawn to poems that list things, like this one, as well as poems animated by a longing for the world as it disappears, also like this one.
“The Fire Cycle,” Zachary Schomburg
This is one of those poems that completely blew open my conception of what a poem can be. It is from a book of prose poems called Fjords, Vol. 1, which I think is a perfect title. Other perfect titles in the book include “I Climbed A Mountain And Fucked It Into The Sea,” “The Animal Spell,” and “The Fire Is Out Of Control And We Are Almost Dead.”
“Song for the Carry-On,” Steve Scafidi
Much as I am a sucker for lists, I am also a sucker for poems whose forms are at odds with their content, such as this rhyme-y sing-song poem about people dying horribly in a plane crash. Enjoy!
“How It Is,” Mary Ruefle
Sometimes I read poetry because it calms me down. Other times I read poetry because it wakes me up. Like much of Mary Ruefle’s work, this poem somehow does both.
“Telemachus’ Detachment,” Louise Gluck
I repeat the last three lines of this poem to myself……… …… …… constantly.
“Completion,” WS Merwin
I don’t know what to say about this one other than that reading it feels like entering a trance; like it is not a poem so much as a current you step into and then get pulled out of mid-sentence, midstream. Here is some more Merwin in that vein if you like it.
“Every Riven Thing,” Christian Wiman
I am not a spiritual person but I really love the way this poem enacts a spiritual quest—a search for God, the soul, the self, whatever you want—by devotedly opening itself up and looking for new meaning in rearrangements of the same old parts. (Which, one might venture, is what POETRY IS ALL ABOUT!!)
“I Have Come to Demand the Light I’m Used To,” Meg Freitag
“Surreptitious Kissing,” Denis Johnson
“How to Like It,” Stephen Dobyns
“Cow,” Ellen Bryant Voigt
“The Findings,” Sam Sax
Okay that’s all for today! Hope you are safe and sound.