The other night walking with Ru, we found a poetry tree in our neighborhood. A poetry tree!! Beautifully printed poems by Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Robert Frost and many others dangle from string with a note that says: Take a poem with you. Children’s poetry and nursery rhymes are on the lowest rungs so little hands can grab them. Next to the tree is an altar-like frame with a highlighted poem that gets changed on a regular basis – the week that Tom Petty passed away it had the lyrics to his song Wildflowers:
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you
I can’t begin to tell you how happy things like this make me.
I love poetry. A few lines that remind us of our shared humanity. We are fragile little beings spinning through space on a beautiful rock all trying to get by the best we can. There is beauty and horror all around us all the time.
If you don’t know where to start and want to read more poetry, here are my 3 favorite collections of poetry:
Good Poems by Garrison Keilor. Thanks Mom – one of my favorite gifts ever!
Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Every poem is perfect.
Resistance Rebellion Life: 50 Poems Now by Amit Majmuder is slim little pink volume that came out a few months ago and would make a great Christmas gift for the resistors in your life. I keep re-reading the poems as I grapple with what is happening right now. Helps a little bit that others are as floored as I am. One of my faves in the collection is this one:
A new collection by Mary Oliver called Devotions just came out – I can’t wait to get it and read the poems over and over and over again until they become an innate part of me.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith is one of the best poems I’ve read lately. It physically hurts to read it. These lines kill me: “The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.” Here’s a little interview with her about the poem and other things.
Books I’ve recently read from best to worst…
I zipped through The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a long Victorian novel with a Dickens-like cast of odd, misshapen characters. It’s a delightful read with independent women, scientific inquires, forbidden love affairs, eccentric settings and people, and fast-paced story-telling.
In Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie the story of Antigone is re-told from the perspective of a Pakistani immigrant family living in London. Burnt Shadows is my favorite Shamsie novel and I recommend it over this one, but this is a book that is definitely of this moment in time.
Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Kong is a nice easy read about a 30 year old woman who moves back in with her parents as her Dad battles Alzheimers. It’s a comical book on memory, family, and trying to figure it all out.
I keep waiting for another History of Love by Nicole Krauss, but her latest novel Forest Dark is not it. It’s a good book, but it’s a tad too strange for me (and I like strange!). I didn’t feel like I got it, and that ticked me off. It’s about metamorphosis, Israel, escaping reality, and other things that I probably missed.
Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Rohinton Mistry has all of the elements of a book I would love – lots of characters, interlocking stories, exotic locale – and yet, I could not get into it. It’s long and I trudged through it…but I was underwhelmed and I’m not sure why.
I went to a reading and Q&A with Alice Hoffman the other day. I’ve written about my love for her many times on this blog. She exudes magic, as you would expect. Things she discussed included: male fears about female empowerment, it’s better to be a witch than a princess (duh!), she tries to write like Van Morrison sings, and librarians are true rebels. Also, she believes that what you read at 12 or 13 sticks with you the most, it influences your perception of the world. Explains a lot for me. Of course, I was already reading her early works like “At Risk” and “Property Of” when I was that age.
I can’t believe this amazing interview happened with Jason Isbell and George Saunders. Two of our most important storytellers talking about the craft of writing! I’ve watched it 2x and listened even more on my commute to work. I knew Isbell was a reader because in “The Life You Choose” he sings ” Who are you if not the one I met?/One July night before the town went wet/Jack and coke in your mama’s car/You were reading The Bell Jar” and he tweets about authors I love on a regular basis. Intelligence and respect for human beings oozes off of these 2 artists. They are true humanists, as Isbell states in the interview, “Art exists because it is needed” (for more on that sentiment check out Station Eleven).
Because we have a huge epidemic of stupidity right now, you may need to pass this list on: Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War
The Joan Didion documentary “The Center Can Not Hold” is available on Netflix. Worth watching for all Didion fans – it’s a love letter to her eccentric nature and courageous writing.