I’ve been invited to talk about poetry in a group setting in a few days, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my history with poems. Daddy used to tease me by saying, “You’re a poet and don’t know it. You get it from your feet: they’re Longfellars.” But, joking aside, both he and Mama read to me every time I asked them to, which was often, until I learned to read myself.
My earliest memories include the The Golden Book Encyclopedia that Mama got as a promotional from the Kwik Chek (before it became Winn Dixie) when I was little, and 101 Famous Poems, which had belonged to an aunt. Apparently it had not been her favorite high school graduation gift, so she left it at my grandparents’ house where it became mine.
The Golden Book Encyclopedia was where I first read Eugene Field’s “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” and “The Duel,” the story of the gingham dog and the calico cat. As I progressed to 101 Famous Poems, I started learning my favorite works “by heart”: Poe’s “The Raven” and Dickinson’s “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking.”
I was lucky to have a second grade teacher who required us to memorize a poem almost every week. For her I committed to memory Wordworth’s “The Daffodils” by Helen Hunt Jackson’s “September,” and Joyce Kilmer’s “The House With Nobody In It.” To this day, I sometimes repeat them aloud while driving or cleaning house.
In high school, I wrote this “definition” of poetry in the front of my literature book: “emotion recollected in tranquility. If memory serves, that was Wordsworth’s definition.” Years later, I copied Mark Jarman’s words into another notebook: “Poetry attempts to make the final unity between matter and spirit.”
Later in life, I realized that the poems I love most fall into two categories: those that are so beautiful they make tears in my eyes – Yeats and Hart Crane come to mind – and those that are so perfectly composed that they make my brain rejoice, such as Thomas Hardy’s “Neutral Tones.” Robert Frost’s “Design,” and John Crowe Ransom’s “Dead Boy.”
I’m not sure how many of these details I’ll include in the public discussion later in the week, but I sure enjoyed sharing them here. Read a poem to somebody you care about today!
Marian Carcache welcomes
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.