In the spirit of National Poetry Month, I am featuring three of my poetry anthologies – well, the three poetry anthologies – from my bookshelf. I used to be quite adverse to poetry because I could never get past its fleeting feeling (I definitely never willingly read long poems) and it’s a lot more work to read most poetry than it is to read prose. Yeah, I said it, for all of you who disagree. But by now, in my old [mid-twenties] age, there are a few poems that I enjoy reading over and over again, and most of those few happen to be in American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Opened Ground (A collection of Seamus Heaney’s poems), and The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I know, I know, this is an extremely narrow selection (which I only acquired through a poetry class in college), but since my preference is prose and fiction, I’ve worked more on expanding my reach with the latter than the former.
American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century John Hollander
This century happens to be my literary favorite, but I cannot say I’ve read many of the poems in this particular anthology. My multiple tabs on the pages of this book fall only on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson’s pages – those were likely the primary poems we studied from this book in my college course. This isn’t to say I haven’t read any other poems inside; “Autumn Leaves” by Jones Very, “Autumn” by Alice Cary, and I suppose “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore are a few I return to every now and then.
Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. I haven’t read this entire collection, but the poems I have read, and did read for class, are heavily annotated, which was fun to review when I selected this book for this post. He wrote a lot about his upbringing in Ireland, nature, farms and cities, and wrote beautifully about things like decaying bodies and mud. “Digging” and “Death of a Naturalist” are two of his best known poems, and I highly recommend reading both. “Station Island” might actually be my favorite; its length makes this an uncharacteristic favorite of mine, because I’m still not a
big fan of long, drawn out poems. Here is a part of it:
cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket
with his stick, saying, ‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’
The Poetry Foundation has plenty of information on Seamus Heaney, his work, and his life if you want to know more. Just click here.
The Norton Anthology of Poetry
Margaret Ferguson | Mary Jo Salter | Jon Stallworthy
This 1300+ page anthology is the Shorter Fifth Edition, and I’ve annotated and marked up many of the poems (a couple of Seamus Heaney’s poems are inside, actually, and he did the translation of “Beowulf” in this edition).
Some of the specific poets I’ve tabbed with ripped up post-it notes include Anne Bradstreet, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore (“Poetry” is one of my favorite poems), Charles Bernstein (“why we ask you not to touch” is another personal favorite), and Philip Larkin. His “This Be The Verse” is a must-read, for its combination of lighthearted rhythm and cynical subject matter is quite entertaining.
I don’t ask for book recommendations in From My Bookshelf posts; because of the many unread books on my shelves I really shouldn’t add more to my personal library. However, for this post I am, because I should expand my knowledge of poetry and of poets. Therefore, if you’d like, leave the title of your favorite collection, a favorite poet, or even a favorite poetic subject matter in the comments. And as always, leave your thoughts about these books From My Bookshelf.