Poem in Your Pocket Day: I can’t make up my mind…

As Chris noted earlier this morning, today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The rules are simple enough, but I may need a bigger pocket. For one thing, I can’t make up my mind as to what my favorite poem is. And second, I have this bad tendency toward long poems.

The wall on my office at work features portraits of four great poets: TS Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Charles Wright. I love writers like Shakespeare (duh) and Blake and Donne and Arnold, to name a few, but these four are my favorites. It follows, then, that one of them is potentially responsible for my favorite poem, right?

Here are the candidates:

Eliot: “The Waste Land”: Many students have had this heavy, dark master work forced upon them, and experience tells me that most didn’t appreciate it. However, the poet in me has never shaken the influence it exerted. Even today, a good 30+ years after my first encounter with the Unreal City, it’s hard for me to write without being powerfully conscious of Eliot’s presence. Besides, it is still the cruellest month, after all.

If this is my favorite poem, that probably tells you something about me that most people don’t know, huh?

Yeats: “The Second Coming,” “Easter 1916,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “The Wild Swans at Coole”… or one of a couple dozen others…: Yeats is the greatest poet in the history of the English language. I like to say I’ve been influenced by him, but if I did I’d feel a little like Nigel Tufnel talking about Mozart and Bach.

Words bowed down and served Yeats. The most complex ideas seemed effortless to him and his gift for simply conveying knee-buckling beauty has never been matched. So take your pick.

Thomas: “Fern Hill”: When my grandfather, who raised me from the time I was three, died, I asked my friend and colleague Dr. Jim Booth to read at his funeral. One of the two pieces was Donne’s “Meditation XVII”; the other was “Fern Hill,” which opens with two of the greatest lines in all of modern poetry:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

…and ends with perhaps the most compelling closing lines I’ve ever read in a poem anywhere:

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Wright: The Other Side of the River: I almost regard this book, which features several longer poems, as a great big unified long poem. When you get to the spot where he bumps into the bear on the side of the cliff, though, you’ll have arrived at my favorite spot in all of poetry since Thomas died.

As I say, I need big pockets, and highly recommend any of these fine authors for those of you trying to decide what to carry around today. Meanwhile, if you’d like something brand new from a writer nobody has heard of (that’d be me), let me offer up one that tips its cap to one of my heroes:


A small dog
fills the sky with geese.
Climbing out,

this grey parliament
of competing agendas

breaching the morning’s peace. Each
frenzied wing bat a coalition,
a conspiracy of horns.

Then consensus mounts,
wheels away toward the river.
The dog sniffs the wind.

Was this what
Yeats feared, those cold nights
at Coole Park?

Put a poem in your pocket today and share it. As Chris explained:

…people undervalue poetry. Poetry requires us to pay attention to the world in a quieter, softer, more reflective way that we typically have time for in today’s hustle-bustle. Even poetry that’s brash and ferocious requires this of us.


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  • anyone lived in a pretty how town
    by E. E. Cummings

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain

  • I guess I need to add one more. I’ve only recently discovered Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and “Song” is simply staggering in its vision.

    by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

    Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.
    All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
    Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
    The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
    They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head
    Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
    The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
    Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys
    Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
    The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
    Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
    And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
    The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
    The head called to the body. The body to the head.
    They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
    Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
    The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
    Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
    Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
    Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
    The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped….
    The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
    The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
    The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair
    Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
    The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
    She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn
    Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
    To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
    Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
    She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
    That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
    Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,
    And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
    Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
    Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
    Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
    Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
    To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
    And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
    Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
    Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body
    By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
    At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head
    Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
    These things away so that the girl would not see them.
    They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
    They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
    Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke….
    But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
    Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
    Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
    Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
    What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already
    Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know
    Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,
    Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
    Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
    Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
    Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
    Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
    The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
    Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
    Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

  • Amazing how similar our poetic passions are, Sam. But I’m not really surprised.

  • Clearly you have good taste.

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