The Very First Poem-a-Day Friday

The Very First Poem-a-Day Friday January 20, 2012

Remember how I made a New Year’s Resolution that I would be reading, really reading and thinking about, one poem a day for the year of 2012?

I love poetry, I write poetry, I studied poetry, but it’s amazing how difficult it can be to make poetry a priority in my reading life. I have a pile of books that I’ve been meaning to get to for years and my commitment to one poem a day is how I’m going to get to it.

Here’s where you come in. I know my posts about poetry are never the most popular. And, actually, if I’m honest, I’d say my idea of us memorizing poems together has kind of crashed and burned. It was mostly my fault. At the beginning, I was doing my best to get a new poem up every month. Then every two. And now, how long has Dickinson’s poem been in the sidebar? Forever–. That’s how long. I know you’re not reading this blog in hopes that you and I will discuss how much we loved memorizing Dickinson. But I do care a lot about poetry and I care about offering people a chance to experience what I think is great poetry.

I’ve been rereading Mary Karr’s amazing memoir Lit. (Which you should buy right now if you haven’t ever read it. It’s the very best. The very best.) Anyway, she includes a quote by Wallace Stevens from a letter, in which he says: “People should like poetry the way a child likes snow, and they would if poets wrote it.” Translation? If you don’t like poetry, maybe the world has failed you and never shown you how good it can be. Or, maybe all the poets have failed you. I’d like to think that it’s a little of both. And if you don’t mind, every Friday for a while, I’d like to show you my favorite poem from the seven I read that week, in hopes that one might help you like poetry “the way a child likes snow.”

Since the new year began, I’ve been reading from Robert Hass’ book Time and Materials every night before bed. I also took a break from Hass one day to read one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems, “After great pain” which made me sigh, as per usual. And yesterday, instead of Hass, I read Mary Karr’s new poem in N+1 Magazine: “Elegy for Christopher Hitchens, Whom I Only Met Twice“.

But for our first ever “Poem-a-Day Friday,” I’m going to post a poem from Robert Hass, my favorite from his book so far. I’m not planning to give any sort of explanation for the poem each Friday. I’ll just post it and we can discuss it in the comments if you want to.

So, here’s a poem I like. If you don’t agree, tell me why. Or don’t tell me, and that’s okay too. (And, by the way, I’m taking down the “Memorize with me?” section of the sidebar. It’s time.)

A Swarm of Dawns,
A Flock of Restless Noons

by Robert Hass

There’s a lot to be written in the Book of Errors.
The elderly redactor is blind, for all practical purposes.

He has no imagination, and field mice have gnawed away
His source text for their nesting. I loved you first, I think,

When you stood in the kitchen sunlight and the lazy motes
Of summer dust while I sliced a nectarine for Moroccan salad

And the seven league of boots of your private grief. Maybe
The syntax is a little haywire there. Left to itself,

Wire must act like Paul Klee with a pencil. Hay
Is the Old English word for strike. You strike down

Grass, I guess, when it is moan. Mown. The field mice
Devastated the monastery garden. Maybe because it was summer

And the dusks were full of marsh hawks and the nights were soft
With owls, they couldn’t leave the herbs alone: gnawing the roots

Of rosemary, nibbling at sage and oregano and lemon thyme.
It’s too bad eglantine isn’t an herb, because it’s a word

I’d like to use here. Her coloring was a hybrid
Of rubbed amber and the little flare of dawn rose in the kernel

Of an almond. It’s a wonder to me that I have fingertips.
The knife was very sharp. The scented rose-orange moons,

Quarter moons, of fruit fell to the cutting board
So neatly it was as if two people lived in separate cities

And walked to their respective bakeries in the rain. Her bakery
Smelled better than his. The sour cloud of yeast from sourdough

Hung in the air like the odor of creation. They both bought
Sliced loaves, they both walked home, they both tripped

In the entry to their separate kitchens, and the spilled slices
Made the exact same pattern on the floor. The nectarines

Smelled like the Book of Luck. There was a little fog
Off the bay at sundown in which the waning moon swam laps.

The Miwoks called it Moon of the Only Credit Card.
I would have given my fingertips to touch your cheekbone,

And I did. That night the old monk knocked off early. He was making it
All up anyway, and he’d had a bit of raisin wine at vespers.

(From Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005, Harper Collins, 2007)

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