A newly published collection of poems by beloved author Shel Silverstein and an article about the works of current US Poet Laureate Philip Levine caused me to pause in my reading of prose and think a bit about poetry.
First, Mr. Levine. I’d read that Mr. Levine’s work is heavily influenced by Michigan and its auto industry, and was therefore curious to know more about his views of my mother’s home state and of the industry that employed many of my maternal relatives. Thus, I picked up a copy of News of the World (2009) and perused it this past month. Due to a rather busy October, I didn’t absorb it all in one setting, but instead enjoyed it periodically over a span of several days. Sometimes I would start in the middle of the collection. Other times I revisited a poem from a few days before. And, for some reason, I read section three straight through. What struck me most were the well-chosen phrases, the pictures of his time spent in Spain and with native Spanish speakers, his scenes from Brooklyn and the honest portraits of lives lived on the assembly lines and in the bars of Detroit, Pontiac and other Midwestern towns. I know the PR prepped me to view his poems as gritty, real and accessible, but I found that they truly are.
I then picked up Shel Silverstein’s last volume thinking it would be more of what I remembered from my childhood and what I knew from reading his poetry outloud to my boys. I was wrong. Perhaps because Everything On It was published posthumously, I was struck by how many poems in this volume deal with death or looking back on a life. There are still the silly poems such as “Romance” about how an elephant and pelican marry merely because their names are difficult to rhyme, but many seemed tinged with sadness. Neither of my sons however noticed this melancholy tone when I shared this volume with them. They merely laughed as usual at Mr. Silverstein’s imaginative verse. As such, I recommend this for adults taking stock of their lives, but also for kids needing a laugh or two.
And finally, I re-read parts of Julia Alvarez’s (the writer in residence at Vermon’t Middlebury College) The Woman I Kept to Myself – the first book of poems that showed me the pleasure poetry can bring. For many years this volume was my favorite gift to give women turning 40. This time, it was just a delightful read for me.
High School, English assignments left me with the impression that poetry is supposed to provide insight and clarity. So what enlightenment did these three volumes bring? Hmmm. Ok, one thought: with reading, we ideally see what we need to learn, or at least what we are ready to see at that time in our life, or at a most basic level what we want to see due to our own biases. Maybe the joy of poetry is that these lessons are reflected more intensely.
On a practical level what did thinking about poetry bring me? Three volumes of poems with very different focuses, styles and themes, but all worth reading.
Enjoy and happy reading! –Lisa Christie