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Turning to Poetry

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The following is a guest post by Rob Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, from his home in Brooklyn, NY.

I write this on Oct. 31st, from Brooklyn. My wife and I live in Park Slope—I commute to DC every week. We got through the storm unscathed, unlike the millions around us. Now we live in a village of normalcy, which feels surreal—especially considering the images of devastation, from just a few blocks away, online and on TV.

Such moments are usually when people who don’t ordinarily read poems—who even might say poems have nothing to do with their lives—suddenly find themselves reading or remembering a poem that has a particular resonance. This resonance, and relevance, reminds me of what William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” I’ve always worried through that final assertion—does it give poems too much power?—and yet I know in my bones that it gets at something true. Because, after all, the Williams quote is an excerpt from his long poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.” And it does the work poems do: to “resist the intelligence almost successfully” (to quote from another famous Modernist—a quote I say to myself so often it feels like a mantra).

With the above in mind I give you links to two poems—my staffer Caitlin Rizzo reminded me of the first, by Frank O’Hara, and I thought of the second by A. R. Ammons (named after an undeveloped beachfront in Cape May, New Jersey). Both poems seem related to the events of the last few days only in a slant way, or only in terms of what they suggest, but they also seem like an imaginative and even spiritual counterbalance to the ungraspable actuality of the storm.

Please let us know what poems you are reading that seem necessary right now. Poetry should be shared, at times like this and at times when it seems nothing is happening at all—its enduring way of expanding our language, and showing us how we mean to mean, is its real power.

Comments (4)

  1. As I see the long lines of car waiting hours to get fuel for their cars, Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station” came to mind.

  2. “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

  3. Adore the reference about poetry – “to resist the intelligence most successfully.” All our education systems are so left-brained it’s not funny. You really made me laugh out loud! Thank you. I had been thinking along those lines and wondered if I were so far out of connection as to be half crazy. Now I’m know I’m perfectly sane. (I always hoped I was!)

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