Enjoying Slowly / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Taste in poetry is a bit like taste in wine. Which can be as simple as “what’s good is what you like” or as complex as the study of terroir and zymurgy. The best advice I’ve been given is to start with what intrigues you and keep going with what moves you. I’ve quit reading more poets than I’ve kept up with. For the sake of encouraging future poets and poetry lovers, here’s an update on my current reading:
Right now, bedside, I have Ted Kooser’s Delights and Shadows, collected lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a selection of W. H. Auden, and the Everyman’s pocket edition of Constantine Cavafy. My reactions to these poets are quite varied.
First off, I don’t like Auden – yet. Though my friends assure me he’s brilliant, I feel like I’m walking around and around an extraordinary mansion and can’t find the front door. Lots of beautiful words, but I’m never quite sure what he’s talking about. I want to like him. I will keep trying.
Cavafy is my current hero. He combines the personal and the historical in fascinating and unexpected ways. He makes me see and feel that he is a kind of last outpost of Ancient Greece. That he’s a secret bearer of a culture I was told had disappeared from the Earth,
Kooser is a surprise. I often don’t like “modern poetry” (which I rarely find poetic). But Kooser is a combination storyteller and wordsmith. His poems are whole novels boiled down and spiced and served perfectly. There’s often a twist or opening at the end of his poems I would like to imitate in my own writing. Hats off to Ted.
But no one is like Millay. She is mystery, elegance, sorrow, perfection. She moves from rhythmic structures to free verse so easily you almost hear rhymes where she’s left them out. Few writers move me to tears. Millay hits me emotionally and intellectually at the same time, and that’s the trigger. The beauty of her writing and the beauty of her themes intertwine and stir me deeply. Graceful is the best word. It’s what I think we need more of.
So these are the poets I’m getting to know. Since I often think about poetry in big-picture terms—of metaphysics and culture and psychology—I occasionally have to stop and just read a poem. Just have a glass of wine for no reason other than I liked the label or was in the mood for Bordeaux or took a friend’s suggestion.
When wine is enjoyed slowly, it reveals unexpected flavors and impressions. When a poem is enjoyed slowly, this is a likely sign that life is moving at a proper, poetic pace!