Monday, January 30, 2012

Favored Poets

Everyone has a favorite poet.

Even persons who claim not to care for poetry have a favorite poet.  The favorite poet for such persons often turns out to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning, citing sonnet number 43, beginning with the line everyone who doesn’t care for poetry has allowed to slip into memory:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

Another poetry beloved of those who cannot take poetry is the remarkable farmer/poet, Robert Burns, whose poem, “To a Mouse,” begins:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle.
ending with the powerful:
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Some individuals who claim not to like poetry are nevertheless as impressed by John Keats as you for his line from “The Eve of St. Agnes” with one of the most memorable descriptive lines in our splendid language, told in the context of how cold the night was (ah, bitter chill it was):  “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass.”

And what about all the times you went out to the fabled woods with W.B. Yeats, because a fire was in your head?

It was once presented to you by Peter Wigham, who’d professed modern poetry at UC, Berkeley, that in spite of his insights and technical ability, Ezra Pound could not be considered great because no one knew any of his work from memory.  Without batting an eye, you replied:

What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage

which happens to be from The Pisan Cantos.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Wigham replied, “we need a drink.”

You have gone through stages of thinking William Butler Yeats was your favorite poet,
 Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Carlos Williams, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, all of whom you are wont to call forth in various shades of near or actual drunkenness.

Try not to bring such lyricists as Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart and “Yip” Harburg into the picture.  Of course they were poets.  Even more individuals who do not like poetry remember their lyrics.

With all due respect to those mentioned and previously favored, you now have another to add to the list.  You recognized this fact subliminally a few days ago, when the latest copy of The Georgia Review arrived and you noticed the presence of some of his
recent poetry.  Then you decided you had to stop in at Chaucer’s, your independent bookstore of choice, to see if the new Penelope Lively novel had arrived.  It had and you forthwith acquired it, but at the same time, your glance happened upon Everyday People,
by Albert Goldbarth.

Were he in mortal form, Peter Wigham could chide you with the fact that you have none of Goldbarth’s lines filed away on your inner hard drive, but after it being your turn to suggest the need for drinks, you’d assure him that you likely will.

Goldbarth is a man of great with, who sees the humor of pain and the pain of humor, the quirkiness of situations in which people engage.

One of his poems begins:

She wants her husband dead: that’s  understandable,
he’s such a dick. (Small parties of the size that require
the rearranging of restaurant tables sometimes start
their evenings by a round  of fanciful avenues
toward his demise, each followed by a rousing toast thereunto.)

Goldbarth is a poet who probably puts ketchup on his eggs, loves long,
conversational lines, slips in a metaphor with the finesse of a
seasoned bartender serving up a Sazerac cocktail or a Ramos gin fizz. He is a poet of heartbreak, poker games, a swirling sentimentality for his wife, and an enviable understanding of the qualities that cause atoms to become attracted to one another or hate each other’s guts.  You see connections between him and
Burns and Pound, maybe even Marianne Moore, but there are probably none except in the crucible within you that he heats up every time you read him.

You are setting forth, a tall glass of crushed ice from your new refrigerator, spiked by grapefruit juice from Whole Foods, about to sit back and let some of Everyday People sink in and work their way with you.


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