Sunday, January 04, 2015

Best Poems of 2014

Ingeborg Bachmann ….. Every Day
Ellen Bass ….. Ode to Repetition
Ellen Bass ….. Poem to My Sex at Fifty-One
Ellen Bass ….. Worry
John Elsberg ….. The Stone
John Engels ….. Hummingbird on a Telephone Wire
Kerry Hardie ….. The Avatar
Penny Harter ….. one haiku from Lunar New Year: a Kasen Renku
Jane Hirshfield ….. The Envoy
Jane Hirshfield ….. Evolution & Glass from Seventeen Pebbles
Ted Hughes ….. November
Jusammi Chikako ….. “On this summer night”
Jack Kerouac ….. sixteen haiku
Elizabeth Searle Lamb ….. three haiku
Mirabai ….. The Coffer with the Poisonous Snake
H. D. Moe ….. “Between no dust”
Gregory Orr ….. Domestic Life
Pedro Serrano ….. Inventory
Edward Thomas ….. One Sail at Sea
Manuel Ulacia ….. Arabian Knight

In the new year I like to read aloud all the poems I’ve gathered in the preceding year. Last night I sat on the couch and read to the cats. They showed neither delight nor distress at the words, but I think they liked the company.

I was a little surprised how many times the moon made an appearance. In Ellen Bass’ “Ode to Repetition” the narrator “look[s] out at … the moon rinsing the parked cars.” In the tanka by Jusammi Chikako (tr. E. Cranston), the moon is a visitor who won’t come in: “[I]n the doorway … open after dark, / Stands the moon …” Jack Kerouac sets his evening schedule by the moon (this is the whole poem): “When the moon sinks / down to the power line, / I’ll go in.” Kerouac also spots the “moon in the bird bath.” In Robert Bly’s version of Mirabai’s “The Coffer with the Poisonous Snake” the moon is even more invasive: “[A]round my neck … a string of lovely pearls, each with a moon inside. / My room then was full of moonlight, as if the full moon / Had found its way in through the open window.” H. D. Moe’s moon is more distant: “mirrors become water / swimming as each other until the plow is our lunation.” (A “lunation” is also known as a “lunar month.”) For that matter Penny Harter’s haiku is excerpted from a renku for the “Lunar New Year.” In Edward Thomas’ prose poem night comes in like the tide and “[i]n the moonlight one strange flower glistens, white as a campanula …” (A “campanula” is also known as a “bellflower.”)

It didn’t take long to read what isn’t a large batch of poems. 63 of the titles I read in 2014 contained poetry. Sometimes it happens that way. I read a lot of poetry — and enjoy it — but none of it strikes me in just the right way, that is, in just that way that makes me want to devote my crampy hand to copying it out. Then again when I read the poems in the notebook, the ones I have copied out, I sometimes find myself wondering why that particular poem got in there. I always figure it out somewhere in the reading. Oh yes, that’s why I kept it. Good thing.

This is the second time the Ted Hughes poem (“November”) got marked for possible saving. As I read it over I gradually remembered considering it years back. What stopped me that time? I have to admit it was the gruesome quality of the “keeper’s gibbet,” the bodies of predators (“owls and hawks … weasels … cats, crows”) that the keeper has killed displayed on it. “Some, stiff, weightless, twirled like dry bark bits // In the drilling rain. Some still had their shape, / … hung, chins on chests.” I didn’t like it. Though I fell into the poem’s sensuousness, the rain, the cold, all of it intense and strange, I didn’t want to be confronted by that gibbet and its human vindictiveness. In a later year I copied out a poem in which a human corpse hangs in a gibbet outside the walls of a town. So when I came upon the Hughes poem in 2014 in another book I didn’t feel so skittish about the awful scene. Instead I let Hughes seduce me with the supposed “pride” of the dead, “Patient to outwait these worst days that beat / Their crowns bare and dripped from their feet.”

No comments: