Almost all lovers of poetry can tell you the very first poem that sparked their love of verse. For me it was a poem by e.e. cummings. I was in an artsy gift shop somewhere on Cape Cod where they were selling these hand-painted wooden jewelry boxes. Beneath the lid of one such box were scrawled the following lines: "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea--e.e. cummings." I had never read anything by cummings, nor had I read much other poetry apart from what I was being given in school; but on that day his lines moved me in such a way that when I got home I immediately went to the library to hunt down one of his books. I was 13.
Selected Poems by e.e. cummings was the first poetry book I read in its entirety. It was also the first book of poems I bought for myself, but it was certainly not the last. Today, a good portion of the books I own and love are volumes of poetry. Every time I stand before my bookshelf I am comforted by the names of poets like Czeslaw Milosz, Mary Oliver, Anna Akhmatova, Pablo Neruda, and Wislawa Szymborska, to name a few. Each name conjures a different feeling and memory, but none so strong as those associated with e.e. cummings. Even now, seven years later, I can fully recall what it felt like to flip through Selected Poems for the first time. It was as if I was entering into a whole other world.
As a close friend--who is a poet himself--once said to me, "A really good poem changes you." I like this statement because it captures the simple but important fact that poets tend to view the world from an angle, so their poems have the ability to not only open our eyes to the possibilities of language but the various and infinite ways there are to exist in the world. Perhaps the Irish poet Louis MacNiece says it best in his poem "Snow" when he writes: "World is crazier and more of it than we think, / Incorrigibly plural."
Each month when I'm deciding what poetry books to review for KLIATT, I always look for collections or anthologies that embody this notion. However, I have to ask myself if what I consider a worthy book of poems will have the same appeal to the variety of people perusing the shelves in a library. It is a dilemma that is essentially impossible to resolve, for like any other art form poetry is more or less subjective. Therefore, it is imperative that there be diversity among the books I select.
This month, for instance, I was given an especially hefty stack of...