Nine questions about poetry

I stole this from Jane Dark. How could I possibly resist a poetry survey?

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was…

I don’t remember what poem it was, but I have a vague early memory of trying to rearrange the words in a nursery rhyme, and being perplexed when it didn’t sound as good with the words in a different order. I have much clearer early memories of Eugene Field’s "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," which was in a picture book I had (I can still picture the illustration), and of Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky."

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and……..

I didn’t have to memorize any poems in school until the year my mother (then in grad school) was in a semester-abroad program, and we spent half of my third-grade year in Florence. Going to a school where nobody spoke English was in some ways traumatic, but one of the things I liked about it was they had us memorize poems. The one I can still recite is a short poem about snow:

Sai tu cosa sia, bambino,
Quel candido dono che trovi
Sui campi, sui tetti, sui rovi,
Svegliandoti un certo mattino?
Battendo le mani, tu dici,
"Che bella!" (quando in casa c’è il fuoco),
E subito pensi ad un gioco,
Un gioco con tutti gli amici.

[Do you know what it is, child, this white gift you find on the fields, on the roofs, on the brambles, waking you up on a certain morning? Clapping your hands, you say "How beautiful!" (as long as there’s a fire in the fireplace). And immediately you think of a game to play, a game with all of your friends.]

I don’t know who wrote it. I’ve Googled for it many times and never found it.

3. I read/don’t read poetry because….

Because I want to be surprised; because I like the frisson along the spine that poetry seems to produce much more than prose does; because I like having my thought patterns pushed in unexpected directions; because I enjoy both the process of figuring out how a poem works and the not-yet-articulate understanding that sometimes runs far ahead of that process.

4. A poem I’m likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is …….

I change favorites constantly, but off the top of my head, I’d say John Ashbery’s "Just Walking Around," or Wallace Stevens’ "The Candle a Saint," or any of Andrew Marvell’s Mower poems but especially "The Mower to the Glo-Worms" and "The Mower’s Song." Or Susan Stewart’s "The Forest." Or George Herbert’s "The Flower." Or Elizabeth Bishop’s "Insomnia" or "Sestina." The list could go on indefinitely.

4.5: There are some poets/poems that I don’t like or don’t understand…

Sharon Olds, in general, and poets like her. I’m not really into confessionality. Billy Collins I occasionally like, but more often his poems leave me with no inclination to reread them.

5. I write poetry, but…

I’m slow to write, because I seem to need one good (or at least halfway-decent) line to start with, and that doesn’t always happen. I sometimes have the frustrating experience of a good idea for a poem that never turns into a poem because it won’t precipitate into words.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature…..

Poetry seems a lot closer to music than any other genre. Which is part of why it interests me so much, I suspect.

7. I find poetry…

… indispensable, and everywhere.

8. The last time I heard poetry…

A friend and I were reciting bits of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" to each other: "Now no matter, child, the name, / Sorrow’s springs are the same; / It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for."

9. I think poetry is…

… about as close as we can get to reading someone else’s mind short of actual ESP-type ability.

3 Responses to “Nine questions about poetry”

  1. Jane Dark says:

    That Italian poem is lovely; thank you for sharing it!

  2. brd says:

    Wonderful! I love your comments. Somehow, when you spoke of First Poems, I heard the voice of Bullwinkle the Moose!
    And, I just wrote a whole entry on why I do not write poetry, but that is a sad story.
    My favorite of your answers, after the beautiful Italian poem of course, is #3. “I like the frisson along the spine” is like a line from a poem

  3. Amanda says:

    I’ve had that Italian poem stored in my head for twenty-plus years, so I’m glad you guys like it!