The second installment of “Poetry in America” aired tonight on WHYY Philadelphia; if you missed it you can catch it here: http://www.poetryinamerica.org/episode/fast-break/
(but I don’t know for how long).
I didn’t have high hopes for this one since it had Shaq and Pau Gasol and Shane Battier (all professional basketball players, if you don’t follow the sport) reading a poem with a basketball theme (don’t beat me up for my snooty bias- I was feeling quite chastened by the end of the episode). But I was pleasantly surprised. Shaq turned out to be a very good reader of the poem and an excellent commentator on its themes and form. My surprise didn’t stem from the fact that Shaq is an athlete, but rather from the fact that I had seen him on tv several times and he was always the joker, the guy who engaged in goofy antics; he had a well-earned reputation for being a prankster. I had trouble picturing him as capable of a serious discussion, let alone about a poem. The episode is worth watching just for his part in it.
I was enlightened by the author’s conversation with the host as well. Bottom line: What looked to me like a minor, throwaway poem turned out to have depth and nuance. I learned something about reading a poem closely and not tossing it aside so quickly. This episode is well worth watching for those reasons.
“All poems are journeys…the best poems take long journeys.”
excerpted from Robert Bly- Selected Poems
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry” and is reprinted with permission of the author and Counterpoint Press.
Browsing through my shelves I came across “Selected Poems of May Sarton”. I can’t remember the last time I read her, but it was probably after the announcement of her death in 1995. Her work is well worth revisiting. Here’s a short poem describing an ecstatic encounter with a fig:
Under the green leaf hangs a little pouch
Shaped like a gourd, purple and leathery.
It fits the palm, it magnetizes touch.
What flesh designed as fruit can this fruit be?
The plump skin gives a little at the seam.
Now bite it deep for better or worse!
Oh multitude of stars, pale green and crimson-
And you have dared to eat a universe!
Good news: The Emily Dickinson bio-pic, A Quiet Passion, is available at the Vineland Public Library. Check it out and discuss at next meeting in September.