Thursday, May 14, 2009

Featured Book Friday: Two Good Poems

I've been a lousy blogger this week. I've been busy with work and home tasks, and I haven't, sadly, read as much of Good Poems as I'd like (though this "Featured Book Friday" post is showing up a few hours early, so that should count for something).

When I have read though, I've been glad I did. Good Poems is, I think, a true literary gem. Sure, there are probably much better collections of poetry in the world, and there are certainly smarter, more complex, more layered poems out there than the ones that appear in this book. In fact, if Good Poems has a flaw, it's that a lot of the poems in it are dangerously simple. Some of the poems are even downright coherent (gasp!).

But there's immense value in this simplicity. Too often, English professors and academics like me tend to value complexity and depth and even difficulty more than we value clarity and beauty. This is one reason, I think, I hear so many people complain about poetry and literature and English classes from their past.

You'd probably be surprised, incidentally, just how comfortable people are, after they find out I'm an English professor, throwing all of their literary angst in my direction -- "I hate poetry!", "You're not one of those professors who makes people agree with your interpretation, are you?", "You're an English professor? I'll be careful what I say around you" (conversation ends) .

Maybe there'd be less angst over literature in the world today if we taught more poems like the ones Garrison Keillor puts in this collection. Take this poem, for example, by Wendy Cope. It's so simple and easy to understand that I wouldn't hesitate teaching it to a class of children. It's got a playful, sing-songy meter and easy-to-listen-to, end-stopped rhymes. And yet, it's not mundane. It's important and captures the beauty that comes from simple pleasures.

Or consider this poem by Sheenagh Pugh. It's just a simple expression of well-wishing for the reader. People get this poetry. And yet, I could read this poem ten times, back-to-back, without getting bored. I could sit down to memorize it without growing tired of it.

These are the poems I most admire -- poems that are simple, but still beautiful; accessible, but still meaningful. Good Poems contains a host of these, and stumbling on one is like finding a twenty-dollar bill you'd forgotten about in your pants pocket.

"Oh," you think when you find it. "There's that wonderful little thing. I knew it had to be somewhere."


Liz-a-nator said...

Garrison Keillor's collection "Good Poems" is my favorite book of poetry that I've ever come across ever. I've had my copy for only 3 or 4 years, and half of the pages are falling out, dog-earred, stained, etc. It's the best thing to pick up when you think "Hm. I think I'm in the mood to read some poetry, instead of a novel or short-story or some kind of academia." At the risk of making a blanket statment, the poetry in it is deep enough to be moving and thought-provoking, and simple enough to be pleasant and escapist. Phillip Booth's "First Lesson" is one of my favorites. (Not just of the collection, like of ever.) I hope that when I teach English someday, I can get students excited or at least no longer afraid of them that it doesn't have to rhyme and it doesn't have to be boring and it doesn't have to be inaccessible. Three cheers for Mr. Keillor's collection.

Robert Brown said...

Thanks. These were nice.

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