So, I’ve used American Poets as a prism through which to view my relationship with poetry. This here is the future. More exploration of the unknown, including pushing back from contemporary to modern. See how it goes.
I was drawn to this one by the title – it intrigued me. I read it once and was unsure, although I had a sense there was something there. I reread it and kind of liked it. By the time I’d written it out it had me.
Good Man, Woman Bad by Wallace Stevens
You say that spite avails her nothing, that
You rest intact in conscience and intact
In self, a man of longer time than days,
Of larger company than one. Therefore,
Pure scientist, you look with nice aplomb
OK, we’re going to have to agree to play nice and share here. I mean she might have been born in the US, but she lived in the UK. With Ted Hughes for goodness sake. And she died here.
Anyway. Enough about her, let’s talk about me. Plath forms part of the reunification between me and poetry; the army who convinced me to give it another try. I’d seen the odd poem here and there that I connected with, but reading a book of her selected poems was the first time I felt a connection with a poet. I flickered through the book, my jaw dropping lower with each poem. I’ve since discovered that my favourites are her poems about motherhood – Morning Song and You’re, which contains the best line ever in poetry. But this one. This one was the hooker:
Face Lift by Sylvia Plath
You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
Right, let’s start at the beginning. My beginning, with poetry in general and American poetry in particular.
When I was a brat, I collected poems. Not like I loved poems and pored over them and learned them and precociously took on their wisdom. No. I collected poems like a trainspotter collects numbers. It was all about the quantity and nothing about quality. But…
… somehow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cut through this and a couple of little excerpts from Hiawatha touched my nine-year-old soul.
I bought a beautifully illustrated copy of the poem when my son was nine and got a tingle when I read it to him. He was so impressed he was asleep before the babe was out of his swaddling. I hope you enjoy it more. As an incentive, if you get to the end of this – my favourite few lines – you get my favourite Hiawatha joke, as a reward.
[from] Hiawatha’s Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
At the door on summer evenings,
Sat the little Hiawatha,
In honour of the fourth of July, I’ve been looking at American poetry today.
OK, that’s a lie. Or at least a half-truth. What actually happened was…
I’m having a coffee before setting off for work. My laptop is browsing the Poetry Foundation website and Polish poet Anna Kamieńska (saving her for another day) grabs me hard and reminds me I have not written anything in my notebook recently. I’ve been lazy. But this Anna. She fires me up and I have the muse and I need to write. I sneeze and blow my nose and I ring in sick.
I do a little writing, but not the right sort. Notebook shmotebook. So I turn right back to Poetry Foundation and find my tabs invaded by the likes of Dickenson, WCWilliams, Stevens and I’m thinking hey, fourth of July, American poets, couldn’t have planned it better and I’m thinking hey, maybe I should share.