In honour of National Poetry Day (which is swiftly drawing to a close), I decided to restart the blog with poetry. As you do. Seeing as how it’s nearly 11.00pm, you can tell exactly how long it took for me to whittle down my favourites to just five. These are in no particular order and totally subject to change. But, for now, here are my five of my favourite poems.
1. XLVIII by e.e cummings
come a little further – why be afraid –
here’s the earliest star(have you a wish?)
before we perish
(believe that not anything which has ever been
invented can spoil this or this instant)
kiss me a little:
darkens and is alive –
o live with me in the fewness of
alone who slightly
always are beyond the reach of death
and the English
I’ve always loved e. e. cummings and always have trouble picking a favourite. ‘LXVIII’ is one of many poems that I love for its concise expression, the way it is distilled into the bare bones of what he’s trying to say.
B by Sarah Kay
[this is actually spoken word though it has since been printed and illustrated; favourite section transcribed below]
“Baby,” I’ll tell her
“Remember your mama is a worrier but your papa is a warrior,
And you? are the girl with small hands and big eyes
who never stops asking for more
Remember that good things, come in threes and so do bad things
And always apologise when you’ve done something wrong,
but don’t you ever apologise for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining
your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing.
And when they finally hand you heartbreak,
when they slip war and hatredunder your doorstep,
and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat,
you tell them that they?
Really ought to meet your mother.”
I really wanted a piece of spoken word on this list as it’s how I found my way back into poetry after a lengthy rejection mid-degree. I nearly went for something by Andrea Gibson because again she has a certain clarity of expression, of politics that I find both arresting and beautiful. In the end though, I went with this piece by Sarah Kay because there’s something lovely about the lessons of optimism she wants to give her daughter.
Scheherazade by Richard Siken
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.
Apologies for not getting the line breaks but the editor would not agree with me. I found Silent through a friend who discovered Crush at an impressionable age. Whilst I think deep down I love ‘Snow and Dirty Rain’ most out of that collection, ‘Scherezade’ was the very first I encountered and belongs on this list for that reason alone.
Crossing The Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson
SUNSET and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness or farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
The poetry I grew up with was predominantly older and no earlier than late Victorian. This is down to a slightly battered old copy of an anthology called Learn By Heart which my dad and I used to take turns reciting from before I went to bed. This was always my favourite (though Scott’s ‘Lochinvar’ was a close second.) Though we’ve since lost the anthology, this has always stuck.
The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel
In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.
When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant,
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.
Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.
When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.
Because what is a poetry post without a good love poem?
Honourable mentions go to H.D’s ‘Wine Bowl’ and ‘The Mysteries Remain’, Edward Thomas’s ‘The Other’, Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, Sylvia Plath’s ‘To Eva Descending The Stair’ and John Keats’s ‘Bright Star’.