Poems are an old-fashioned pleasure, and simultaneously brand-new every time you read them.
Here are my favorites of the past year. They weren’t written in 2017. Some of them, I didn’t even read for the first time in 2017. But they were significant for 2017.
Poetry no longer plays a starring role in our cultural life, and I think that’s too bad. As JFK said, “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
The corruption of power was definitely in evidence in 2017, here are some poems that, one way or another, gave a little cleansing.
- Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy (Excerpt)Why: This is the closest expression of my own worldview I’ve encountered in literature.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
- Langston Hughes, Let America Be America AgainWhy: This poem is so absolutely relevant, and demonstrates that the problems we face now are not one bit new.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
- Marty McConnell, Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnellWhy: It’s just so good. It soothes and punches in all the right places.
Favorite lines: I love the closing lines, but also these:
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
- Marilyn Hacker, She Bitches About BoysWhy: I don’t know how I missed Marilyn Hacker until now, but I like her a lot.
Girls love a sick child or a healthy animal.
A man who’s both itches them like an incubus.
But I, for one, have had a bellyful
of giving reassurances and obvious
advice with scrambled eggs and cereal;
(I recognize 3 and 4 make it look like I’ve had man trouble this year, which I haven’t. But past-me needed those poems, and current me is sending them through time to her).
Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Why: You should approach this poem with caution, because once you start applying the questions this poem raises to your life, you may quit jobs, and leave towns, and say things you never would have before.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Did you love any poems in 2017?