Important poetry
November 20, 2004 10:01 AM   Subscribe

it's all about bukowski, man.
posted by dorian at 10:27 AM on November 20, 2004

The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills - Charles Bukowski.

However, the poem that I return to more than any other is a spoken word one by John Giorno: Eating the Sky [large mp3]. It absolutely thrills me and I've listened to it as often as I have some of my favorite songs.
posted by dobbs at 10:30 AM on November 20, 2004

First, the single poem that has meant the most to me, personally, that was published in the past 25 years:

Aubade -- Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
--The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused--nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear--no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:38 AM on November 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

it's too hard to name just one, but i think i can keep myself to two. lorna dee cervantes' "emplumada" means the world to me. it was published in 1981; a much newer book of poetry that i regard as a vital part of my collection is katie ford's "deposition."
thanks for the link rushmc.
posted by katie at 10:41 AM on November 20, 2004

Now, the books of poetry that have meant the most to me that were published in the last 25 years: View With a Grain of Sand, Wislawa Symborska; Provinces, Czeslaw Milosz; The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai; New and Collected Poems, Geoffrey Hill; Selected Poems, 1978-1994, Medbh McGuckian.

The new volumes--not collections--that have meant the most to me published in the last 25 years are Leaving Saturn, Major Jackson; The Book of Orgasms, Nin Andrews; Homegirls and Handgrenades, Sonia Sanchez; Grimalkin and Other Poems, Thomas Lynch.

posted by Sidhedevil at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2004

sorry about the italics irruption.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2004

The book of poetry I read again and again is Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, first published in 1988 but obviously the source is much older. I think Bob Dylan's Lyrics 1962-1985 deserves an honorable mention.

If I had to name one great recent poem it would be:

Indian Boy Love Song #1

by Sherman Alexie

Everyone I have lost
in the closing of a door
the click of the lock

is not forgotten, they
do not die but remain
within the soft edges
of the earth, the ash

of house fires and cancer
in sin and forgiveness
huddled under old blankets

dreaming their way into
my hands, my heart
closing tight like fists.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 10:55 AM on November 20, 2004 [2 favorites]

Alda Merini, "Fiore di poesia", 1998

and for English-language books, definitely Charles Wright, A Short History of the Shadow, 2003
posted by matteo at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2004

War All the Time - by Bukowski. It's poems.

Almost no one ever talks about it but it's far and away the one that talks to me the most. Less of the trademark screwing and drinking. A little more mature. Incredibly unbitter. It's been sustaining for me through the years.
posted by scarabic at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2004

On Ballycastle Beach by Medbh McGuckian. I have no idea who she is; I think i picked up the book cheap, remaindered; I understand little, directly. Minus 18 Street is one of the clearer poems.
I never loved you more
Than when I let you sleep another hour,
As if you intended to make such a gate of time
Your home. Speechless as night animals,
The breeze and I breakfasted
With the pure desire of speech; but let
Each petal of your dream have its chance,
The many little shawls that covered you:

I never envied your child's face
Its motherless cheekbones, or sensed in them
The approach of illness - how you were being
Half-killed on a sea-shore, or falling
From a ladder where you knelt to watch
The quartering of the moon. (You would never
Swim to the topof the rain that bathed
The mute world of her body.)

Sleep for you is a trick
Of the frost, a light green room in a French house,
Giving no trouble til spring.
The wedding-boots of the wind
Blow footsteps behind me,
I count each season for the sign
Of wasted children.

Sky of blue water, blue-water sky,
I sleep with the dubious kiss
Of mf my sky-blue portfolio.

Under or over the wind,
In soft and independent clothes,
I begin each dawn-coloured picture
Deep in your snow.
It's something about love, loss, colours (always colours).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:09 AM on November 20, 2004

an extra line break crept into the last verse. forgive the typos.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:10 AM on November 20, 2004

Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize, edited by John Hollander.

Pretty much an anthology of Top-40-like poetry, but nonetheless a book I return to again and again.
posted by icontemplate at 11:11 AM on November 20, 2004

It feels like cheating to use a collection here, but Elizabeth Bishop's The Complete Poems continues to astound me. This year marks the 25th anniversary of her death.
posted by DaShiv at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2004

My favorite is an anthology edited by Charles Smic and Mark Strand, "Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers". I believe it is out of print, but should be relatively easy to find. I also recommend Strand's "Reasons for Moving" and Galway Kinnell's "Book of Nightmares".
posted by grateful at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2004

Salmon by Jorie Graham, would be the most resonant single poem.

But for a book, I would say War Music (excerpt)
by Christopher Logue - and the two sequels - a retelling of the central books of the Iliad. Essential reading during the new Mesopotamian war.
posted by Rumple at 11:44 AM on November 20, 2004

The poetry of Larry Eigner has always been important to me, both for their content and also the circumstances of the life surrounding them (Eigner was afflicted with cerebral palsy, and spend much of his adult life confined to his home, where he was known to spend long hours simply observing life from his glassed-in porch).


For a while a year is a long time
as things increase in their number
and walls break
familiarity comes

familiarity of life, which sinks
to a level of sorts, space

(empty except for
the rabbits-hat of things

Before crumbling, the walls streak
with some tangent of minutes

and life takes on a size
posted by Chrischris at 11:47 AM on November 20, 2004

I'll second Mark Strand's "Reasons for Moving". Also, "The Portable Beat Reader" editted by Ann Charters.
posted by inky at 11:50 AM on November 20, 2004

Anything by Simon Armitage at all really - but "Kid" is excellent and can be read over and over and still have great meaning
posted by cantthinkofone at 11:57 AM on November 20, 2004

More than 25 years, but I need to acknowledge Robert Service...

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow, and red, the North Lights swept in bars?--
Then you've a hunch what the music meant...hunger and might and the stars.

posted by redneck_zionist at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2004

The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry has usually come through in my times of need.
posted by drezdn at 1:09 PM on November 20, 2004

Contemporary Finnish Poetry. Seriously!
posted by misteraitch at 1:14 PM on November 20, 2004

absolutely tony hoagland, what narcissism means to me and donkey gospel. Sort of in the vein of Billy Collins, but far more emotionally interesting to me. i also second (or fifth) the bukowski love.
posted by pikachulolita at 1:14 PM on November 20, 2004

Hey, other Strand lovers! Mark Strand is my favorite living poet. I recommend the title poem from his 1990 book of the same name. The city of New York has inscribed it into a park bench in Hudson River Park.

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost -- a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

Sidhedevil, that Larkin poem is lovely.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:31 PM on November 20, 2004

Christopher Logue, Czeslaw Milosz, Hayden Carruth; also Joseph Brodsky but only in Russian, so that doesn't really help.
posted by languagehat at 1:33 PM on November 20, 2004

Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair.

William Carlos Williams, Spring and All.

Philip Larkin, High Windows.

Others mentioned here: Milosz, Auden. Some not: Elizabeth Bishop, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee.

Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems, 1934--1952. I found it in my mother's library as a child, and I will never forget that feeling of wonder, as if I had learned the most precious secret. Fern Hill is the poem, above all others, that taught me to love language and what poems can do. I return to it often.
posted by melissa may at 2:46 PM on November 20, 2004

David Young's brilliant translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus.
posted by the_bone at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2004

I have been reading James Wright as long as I've been reading poetry. He taught at the University of Minnesota, where I earned my BA, drank at some of the bars that I learned to drink in, and wrote poems about being a bum in some of the neighborhoods I lived in.

His "A Blessing" is one of the greatest poems ever written in the Engligh language.

Robert Hass is also a genius.
posted by felix betachat at 3:14 PM on November 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

Michael Ondaatje: The Cinnamon Peeler

Also, I second everything melissa may mentioned that I know.
posted by louigi at 3:39 PM on November 20, 2004

I once saw Mark Strand picking up, looking intently at, and passing judgement on packages of arborio rice in a supermarket.
posted by kenko at 4:36 PM on November 20, 2004

Strand gossip:

He recently gave the annual Nuveen Lecture at the University of Chicago. After the lecture, it's customary for the faculty to take the speaker out to dinner with the guests of his choice. Apparently, Strand seated himself with a beautiful woman half his age at either side.

So much for starving in a garret and scribbling by candlelight.
posted by felix betachat at 5:11 PM on November 20, 2004

I second Wislawa Szymborska's View with a Grain of Sand. The Onion is a fave from that book.
posted by stray at 5:20 PM on November 20, 2004

Well, as long as we're stretching the 25 years rule, I'd say Praise by Robert Hass (1974).
Ultramarine by Raymond Carver is very important to me. Speaking of whom, All of Us, the Collected Poems of Raymond Carver is a really top-flight collection.
Also, I second Katie Ford's Deposition. Strong stuff.
posted by willpie at 7:27 PM on November 20, 2004

I gotta chime in as a fan of Mark Strand and "Reasons for Moving." I went to a poetry reading of his, back when I was a down-and-out student. The reading was terrific. Afterwards, somebody there asked me if I was going to buy a copy of his new book ("Blizzard of One" at the time) and get it signed. I said honestly, and unapologetically, that it'd be great but I did not have the money. Somehow in the next five minutes a copy was mysteriously procured as a gift for me, and he made sure to sign it.

Stephen Mitchell's translation of Rilke (Selected Poems) is a winner.

Sad poems: Jane Kenyon's "Otherwise."
posted by oldtimey at 7:51 PM on November 20, 2004

Milosz is my absolute favorite, all of his books are really wonderful. In addition, he edited a lot of different anthologies, which is a really good way to find other poets, like James Tate, Seamus Heaney, Anna Swir, Robinson Jeffers, Zbigniew Herbert, on and on.
posted by lilboo at 7:55 PM on November 20, 2004

no love for george oppen? so ruthlessly smart and razor sharp.
stretching the constraint by a few years, my pick goes for his collected poems.

One excerpt:

Tell the beads of the chromosomes like a rosary,
Love in the genes, if it fails

We will produce no sane man again

I have seen too many young people become adults, young
friends become old people, all that is not ours,

The sources
And the crude bone

--we say

Took place

Like the mass of the hills.

posted by juv3nal at 8:27 PM on November 20, 2004

It's got to be a three-way tie between Absences by James Tate, I Apologize For The Eyes in My Head by Yusef Komunyakaa, and Leaving Another Kingdom by Gerald Stern.

As far as toplist entries for the MyOwnPrivateContemporaryCanon category (not one book so much as an entire body of work and a new way of thinking), my favorites are Elaine Equi, Larissa Szporluk, Alice Notley, Lucille Clifton, Dennis Nurkse, and Wislawa Szymborska.
posted by ifjuly at 8:41 PM on November 20, 2004

had you said 37 years, I would have mentioned Rod McKuen's "Listen to the Warm" my all-time favorite.
posted by kamylyon at 8:43 PM on November 20, 2004

I agree in spirit with the bone...

Since you said "published" as opposed to "written" I'll go with Rilkie's Duino Elegies as translated by David Young.
posted by ?! at 10:02 PM on November 20, 2004

Machi Tawara's Salad Anniversary

Which, foolishly, I loaned to someone in college, and now I never have the hope of finding it again. But the tanka still stick with me.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:47 AM on November 21, 2004

Adam Zagajewski's Without End (pub/tr. 2002) is my favorite. I also like Milosz, Simic and Herbert. For non-Eastern Europeans, Michael Hofmann is pretty nice.
posted by sophie at 2:25 AM on November 21, 2004

... in the last 25 years (that makes it tougher)

The Dream Songs - John Berryman
(published in '69 - that's the closest I could think of, besides if people are going to say Rilke, then all bets are off)

oh, wait ... Nicole Blackman - Blood Sugar
posted by milovoo at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2004

Among others, I like Donald Hall's Without, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly's Song.
posted by box at 1:33 PM on November 21, 2004

My reference to Young's translation of Rilke was in response to the phrasing of the question as volumes "published" as opposed to "written" as well. ;) With the latter qualification I'd go with Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, Velocities by Stephen Dobyns (both of those volumes are collections) The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds.

I've not yet read Young's translation of the Duino Elegies. I think Powell's is going to get some money from me tonight.
posted by the_bone at 8:09 PM on November 21, 2004

Anne Carson, Plainwater. It is an uneven book, but it has "Canicula di Anna" and "The Life of Towns". I would do a lot for "Canicula di Anna" and "The Life of Towns".

If we're talking published only, my love to The Dream Songs and The Changing Light at Sandover.

Lately I have been reading and re-reading Forché's The Angel of History. An excerpt:

This is Izieu during the war, Izieu and the neighboring village of Bregnier-Cordon.
This is a farmhouse in Izieu.
Itself a quiet place of stone houses over the Rhône, where between Aprils, forty-four children were
hidden successfully for a year in view of the mountains.
Until the fields were black and snow fell all night over the little plaque which does not mention
that they were Jewish children hidden April to April in Izieu near Bregnier-Cordon.

Comment me vint l'écriture? Comme un duvet d'oiseau sur ma vitre, en hiver.
In every window a blank photograph of their internment.

Within the house, the silence of God. Forty-four bedrolls, forty-four metal cups.
And the silence of God is God.

In Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, in Les Milles, Les Tourelles, Moussac and Aubagne, the silence of God is God.

The children were taken to Poland.
The children were taken to Auschwitz in Poland.
Singing Vous n'aurez pas L'Alsace et la Lorraine.
In a farmhouse still standing in Izieu, le silence de Dieu est Dieu.
posted by amery at 9:59 PM on November 21, 2004

My own book of poetry says : bulldozer your archeology of being lest it rear up in memories, piles of paper, talent half formed and so monstrous.....

Me me me.

( Of course, I crave you you you. )

: Best to stay away.
posted by troutfishing at 10:15 PM on November 21, 2004

amery - as a poet I would go to that place....but will not amplify, even more, that energy.
posted by troutfishing at 10:21 PM on November 21, 2004

An Atlas of the Difficult World, Adrienne Rich's early 1990s collection. The scope of these poems is stunning.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:14 AM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: You people have cost me some money this day...

Many thanks for all the responses!
posted by rushmc at 1:20 AM on November 22, 2004

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