Weeping Genius: Poems I Love

I’m in perpetual awe of poetry. It’s a form of writing I’ve always been pretty dreadful at. I tend to prefer long, meandering confessional-type writing, with lots of run-ons and subordination, and poetry usually doesn’t have the patience for that sort of thing. It’s economical. It’s distilled. It catches thin, corner-of-the-eye moments you might otherwise overlook if you’re in a hurry on a busy day. But if you slow down a moment, look up and see what’s around you… you see them everywhere.

The trick is getting them down the way you see them.

Here are a few poems, poets, or books of poems I re-read regularly… especially during frigid-wet weather like we’re experiencing now in San Francisco.

Robert Hass, Sun Under Wood
The verse in Sun Under Wood is both crisp and lilting. My pick: “Shame: An Aria”

I had the immense pleasure of taking Professor Hass’ American Poetry class when I was at Berkeley. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate back in the 90’s, and has since won a Pulitzer for his 2008 book, Time and Materials. A gentle, vividly-smart man, he was the only professor that signed autographs before class. He’s also the man who encouraged me to write a book about Poe.

Speaking of Poe…

I’m far more interested in the literary historicism of Poe’s life and the lives of those surrounding his, but truth told, Poe was a fine poet. “A Dream Within a Dream” was first published in 1849, the year of his death, and asks the question of what is real in this life. I suspect for Poe, the confusion between lush dream states and arid realities was real, and he manages to capture his query in the prettiest of ways.

A Dream Within a Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Speaking of dreams… (obvious and bad segue way… sorry)

Pablo Neruda destroys me. He destroys anyone in his path. He’s the undisputed master of love poems. I was sent this poem back in 2004 by a man I was dating. I ended up marrying him. The marriage didn’t work out, but like this poem, the most romantic moments in life are often shorter than we expect.

The Queen

I have named you queen.
There are taller than you, taller.
There are purer than you, purer.
There are lovelier than you, lovelier.
But you are the queen.

When you go through the streets
No one recognizes you.
No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks
At the carpet of red gold
That you tread as you pass,
The nonexistent carpet.

And when you appear
All the rivers sound
In my body, bells
Shake the sky,
And a hymn fills the world.

Only you and I,
Only you and I, my love,
Listen to me.

There are so many more, but I’ll save them for another time. Read a poem you love today.

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