If you aren’t already aware: it’s National Poetry Month! This month we’ve been tweeting recommendations of first books by astounding poets. Check out our Favorite Debut Poetry Collections for more info. We’ve seen a lot of great responses to these tweets–so we’ve decided to ramp up our game. We’ve asked our staff to think back to a time when they were unfamiliar with poetry–is there a poem or poet that spoke to them? Which collections would they recommend to new poetry readers? Their answers are below.
Posts Tagged: poetry
Chiefly British, it can mean delicious, as when Greg refers to a nice mince pie. He means the opposite of the awful pie in “Dockery and Son,” where Larkin says: life is first boredom, then fear—after changing trains in the furnace fumes of Sheffield, the city where I spent my “junior year abroad” and first met Greg, among the better men I know.
Greg used nice for the sauces, puddings, sausages, and peas hefted onto our plates at the trucker’s café three blocks from the University. It catered mainly to students who, said the women serving us, were ducks—as in: What you having, ducks?—and sometimes doves. From Greg I learned to use my knife to plow food onto the back of my fork—an English-style avidity Keats called gusto.
Visiting Keats’s Hampstead house with Greg two summers ago, apart from a twitch in my spine while staring at the lock of hair, what I remember best is how nicely London alerts you to speed bumps coming up: humps for half a mile, as well as the Yorkshire lorry driver who hoisted Greg and me out of the sooty Sheffield rain nearly three decades before, addressing each of us as luv, without embarrassment, all the way to London. Nice—
as in kind, considerate to others, like Dan and Isobel, Greg and Gill’s teenagers, playing the word game “sausages” with Charlotte and Ethan; the eight of us packed into their minivan; cows and full-grown lambs like sponged paint on the Kentish hillsides; Greg and I attempting “The General Prologue” and getting no further than from every shires ende / Of Engelond to Canterbury they wende; Hilary and Gill doing most of the driving. A day when almost every word, said or unsaid, seemed benign….
In Chaucer’s time, nice could also mean foolish. Which may be why, in our day, the tough-minded deplore it. If someone described a poem as nice, we’d think insipid, wouldn’t we?—as in: thin, like those astonishingly narrow English beds I never got used to sleeping in. This evening, though, with its summer air damp after rain; my back lawn and its bordering woods greening what’s left of the light, I’ll take nice. And I’ll take benign over malignant—because, once dying became more tedious than frightening, her hospice bed broadening as she shrank, my sister called the taste of tapioca nice, and nice the smell of the roast beef she couldn’t eat. Sometimes we ate her meals as she slept, so they wouldn’t go to waste.
Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): After my first reading of this capacious yet tightly braided prose poem, I immediately read it again. Larkin’s “life is first boredom, then fear” near the opening is reversed to devastating effect: “dying became more tedious than frightening.” By the end, through all its facets of meanings and associations, the word “nice” returns to us newly full of insatiable longing for all the benign yet essential details of life.
This poem appeared in Indiana Review 25.1, Summer 2003
Steven Cramer is the author of The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987), The World Book (1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997), Goodbye to the Orchard (2004)—winner the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club and an Honor Book in Poetry from the Massachusetts Center for the Book—and Clangings (2012). His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, The Atlantic Monthly, Field, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New England Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and two fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, he founded and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.
From February 1st to March 31st, Indiana Review is accepting submissions for the 2018 Poetry Prize. Send up to three poems with $20 to enter and recieve a year-long subscription to Indiana Review. The winner will recieve $1000 and publication in the next edition of Indiana Review.
This year, our Poetry Prize Judge is Gabrielle Calvocoressi, whose first book, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, was shortlisted for the Northern California Book Award and won the 2006 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry. Her second collection, Apocalyptic Swing, was a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her awards and honors include a Stegner Fellowship, a Jones Lectureship at Stanford University, and a Rona Jaffe Women Writers’ Award. Her poem “Circus Fire, 1944” received The Paris Review’s Bernard F. Connors Prize. She teaches at the MFA programs at California College of Arts in San Francisco and at Warren Wilson College. She also runs the sports desk for the Best American Poetry Blog.
We asked our editors to share their favorite Calvocoressi poem. This is what they said:
If, when studying road atlases
while taking, as you call it, your
morning dump, you shout down to
me names like Miami City, Franconia,
Cancún, as places for you to take
me to from here, can I help it if
after Maria Sibylla Merian
What’s your urgent charge, if not transformation?
1. Ornate lory on branch of peach tree
After my second son was born, I slipped into a severe postpartum depression. I remember nursing the baby, staring blankly out the window at a cold gray April that refused to warm.
My best friend, who was living on another continent and whose first baby had been due the same day as my son, had lost her child suddenly—a full-term stillbirth—without explanation. I felt both lucky and ungrateful, unable to appreciate what I had and unable to console my friend.
There was a peach tree outside our bedroom window that, despite the cold, spread its fragile petals over the narrow city street.
One day, I watched a small green parrot land on a branch. It must have been an escaped pet; as far as I know, there are no wild parrots in Philadelphia. But in my melancholy state, I just stared, barely registering the strangeness. I saw it as a sign. A sign of what? I can’t remember now. Surely something dark. Dislocation? Alienation? The embattled natural world and its inevitable destruction? Something like that.
Later, I saw a reproduction of a painting by the seventeenth-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian: Ornate lory on branch of peach tree. I felt an uncanny flash of recognition when I looked at it, this precise rendering of the beauty I had been unable to see when it sat in front of me.