I don’t remember the first poem I ever read—more than likely it was by Dr. Seuss—but I know the first one I loved. It was “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” by William Butler Yeats. Perhaps I loved it because, even as early as my late teens, I knew I wanted more than anything else to be a writer, and I had an instant connection to the writer’s sadness at no longer being able to summon artistic inspiration. Or perhaps the language, Yeats’s lyrical, precise language, carried me along:
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
Whatever the reason—there were probably many—I fell so deeply in love with this poem that I not only read all of Yeats’s work but also began a lifelong affection for poetry. I’m hardly a scholar of the discipline, but I feel as if my life has been enriched by the variety and richness of the poems I’ve read. They’ve also taught me more than any other genre the importance of precision, which along with brevity are the hallmarks of good writing.
But thanks to work and parenting and other responsibilities, I haven’t always read as much poetry as I would like. Every six months or so, I’ll buy a volume of Octavio Paz or Adonis or Seamus Heaney, but the hours I have spent reading poetry these past few years, at least since my son was born, are far fewer than I’d prefer.
Recently, however, I’ve reread many of my favorite poems and discovered new gems thanks to the #todayspoem hashtag that Twitter friends have created. The goal of this hashtag is to encourage people to share a poem each day and broaden the audience for good poetry. Vicki Ziegler and Jeanne Duperreault, two of my accomplices in this poetry-spreading scheme, have already blogged about this. Thanks to them and to many other eager participants, the Twitterverse has become one of the Internet’s more vibrant meeting places for discussions of good poetry. I begin each morning by clicking on this hashtag to check out the day’s offerings. There I find William Carlos Williams and Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich and Donald Hall, Rita Dove and Stephen Dunn, Tomas Tranströmer and Anna Akhmatova. I’ve been introduced to the works of Robert VanderMolen and Michelle Boisseau and Stewart Conn and Vera Pavlova. Except perhaps for within the pages of a journal, I’ve never come across such a rich and diverse collection of poetry.
And that was just in January.
I hope the enthusiasm for #todayspoem continues, and I hope you click on the hashtag someday and check out some amazing poetry. And if you do, I suspect you find at least one passage that inspires you as much as Yeats has inspired me.
Update: 4:03 PM ET: I just learned that Wisława Szymborska, one of my favorite poets, passed away today at the age of 88. I encourage you to read her work, especially the collection, View with a Grain of Sand. If you want a free sample of her works first, check out “Theatre Impressions“, the poem that made me fall in love with her work.
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