I do not care if you do not like poetry.
People often ask me if I like children. The question always cracks me up. “Sure,” I say. “I like some children.” I mean, really. Would you say to someone, “Do you like people in their 40s?” I like some children just the way I like some people. I don’t really see them as a separate category.
I also like some poetry although, as a matter of shorthand, I am often apt to say simply that I like poetry. But that’s untrue as a whole.
I do not like Wordsworth.
I do not like Robert Frost or Robert Lowell or A.E. Housman or W.H. Auden very much.
I do not like Jorie Graham, though God knows I tried to for a long time.
There are a ton of poets I have never read and whose work I thus can’t comment on at all. And my like or dislike has nothing to do with whether or not the poet in question is any good. I have very little notion of what that means, and one of the beauties of giving up writing for librarianship is that I no longer have to know what it means, or get into arguments with people about it. My job is (among other things) to find books that people like, books they are in the mood for, books that work in some way for them. I’ve always loved Sam Johnson’s line that a man ought to read just as his inclination leads him, for what he reads as a duty will do him little good. I just didn’t realize until I got to library school how closely Johnson’s views mirrored the second and third laws of library science:
Every reader his or her book.
Every book its reader.
And there’s the wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis in which he talks about how if someone goes back again and again to the same book, no matter how terrible you may think it, you may be sure that for him “it contains a kind of poetry.”
I’ve been unpacking my books in my new house, but I’m not done. Yesterday I was hit by a sudden and intense desire to reread some of Diving into the Wreck, which I own but can’t currently find. A normal person, I suppose, would see this as a good reason to unpack some more boxes, but of course I am not a normal person, and I work in the library, so my first inclination was to see what all we had by Adrienne Rich (and thank you, library selectors of years past — there was The Fact of a Doorframe just sitting there waiting for me to check it out).
I regard a sudden and intense desire to read a particular bit of poetry — or to read poetry at all — as highly peculiar, but perhaps it is no more peculiar than pregnancy cravings. (I don’t have cravings, just aversions. Please, whatever you do, don’t offer me chocolate.) And as things go, there are certainly worse vices, and things that are much harder to obtain.
I read poems, but I never write them. I thus blame the following entirely on my friend Aliki, who convinced me this weekend to play something called The Poetry Game*. I should know better than to fall for such traps. Make of it what you will.
Crow, titmouse, lilac, blossom:
the hillside in spring as you ride
up the cablecar
and see the things that are there
and the things you only imagine
the canon of spring
the shoots that rise from underground
as the creek rises
the engines starting,
the speed of approaching summer
when everything will bloom
when love will run out of control
everything quicker and quicker
the green overwhelming.
It is early spring.
The worlds now hover in your throat.
You cannot speak, only wail
climb as the cablecar climbs
to reach an altitude where you may
look at the hillside below
as down at an auditorium
afraid only of what might come.
*The game, should you want to play it, involves taking turns naming a list of words. Then everyone has to write a poem (see, I didn’t realize this part before we started) using some, all, or none of the words. We had 30 words total, and I think I used 23 of them.