between the two worlds

It feels like the only people who read poetry anymore belong to just one of two groups — those made to do so and those who happen also to be the type to pay $20 for the new Paris Review cup (nothing wrong with either type, mind you.)

What escapes most of us, for one reason or another, is that, even in the age of internet memes,  poetry is the quickest, most instantly gratifying medium available for the delivery of catharsis and that well-worn “I’m not alone in this, after all” reassurance we as a culture are so frantically and noticeably in search of these days (mommy blogs, anyone?).

When people hear “poetry” they think “Homer” or “Yeats” or “Plath”… associations which are impenetrable for most. “Meter”, “rhyme”, “verse”.  They don’t think “goodness, motherhood is so hard, but I can’t say that out loud” or “it’s the middle of the night and I just woke up from a nightmare and I wish there was someone in this bed to talk about it with, who would hold me and make me less scared.” Why not?

The general perception, it seems to me, is that poetry is either too esoteric or too angst-y and saccharine, as if written by a teenaged girl (something along the lines of: “my heart was mine to give and to you I gave it so long ago. My heart is your heart now, how can you be so cruel?”) There is a world in between. I promise you.

There are hundreds of books to recommend to you. Below are just a handful of those that can be found in our Poetry section if you come in today.

He marked the page with a match /and fell asleep in mid-kiss, /while I, a queen bee /in a disturbed hive, stay up and buzz: / half a kingdom for a honey drop, /half a lifetime for a tender word! / His face, half-turned. /Half past midnight. Half past one.

from If There is Something to Desire, by Vera Pavlova (Poem 92, pg. 98)

Bangles, mascara wand, a boutonniere, / cornflower blue in your seersucker lapel- / if I had told you thirty years ago / we’d make this drive, wouldn’t you have been/ surprised? Why, Ada, no. Why would I be? / I told you I would love you forever, /and I do.

from The Ada Poems, by Cynthia Zarin (excerpt from “Oblique Strategies”, pg. 51)

Child, I’m reduced to playing the amateur masseur, / quietly desperate, dropping on my knees / to tie your mother’s shoes, an obedient chauffeur, / a bag-lugging coolie eager to ease / your puffed Ma as you blow her up like a balloon/ from the inside–

from The Ship of Birth, by Greg Delanty (excerpt from “The Third Trimester”, pg.24)

Sometimes I can find what I’ve lost / By imagining where I was recently with the lost thing / I put my sunglasses up on the top of my head / Like this, in the computer section at Staples / And I already called Staples / I set them down / on the end-table at Julie’s / And I already called Julie / I didn’t have them this morning / when I went to the gym / Walking from the car, I had to squint, / The Sun was so bright

from Clean, by Kate Northrop (“Detail”, pg. 39)

It is a week after the Fourth, and I fear that some kid / will stumble in with a stump of a thumb. / He will have deserved it, but still it’s sad. / So much for that career in jazz.

from The Available World, by Ander Monson (excerpt from “Sometims the Air Surrounding Me Is Sudden with Flowers”, pgs. 13-14)

That’s the moment I always think of — when the / slick, whole body comes out of me, / when they pull it out, not pull it but steady it / as it pushes forth, not catch it but keep their / hands under it as it pulses out, / they are the first to touch it, / and it shines, it glistens with the thick liquid on it. / That’s the moment, while it’s sliding, the limbs / compressed close to the body, the arms / bent like a crab’s cloud-muscle legs, the / legs folded like the wings of a chicken– / that is the center of life, that moment when the / juiced bluish sphere of the baby is / sliding between the two worlds,…

from The Gold Cell, by Sharon Olds (excerpt from “The Moment the Two Worlds Meet”, pg. 67)


The Academy of American Poets hosts an annual Poets Forum. This year’s event will take place October 20-22 in New York (oh, to be in New York!). Here’s a very short excerpt of an interview between and Cathy Park Hong, one of the younger panelists: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?

Hong: I always believed that poetry is capable of being anything and prefer to keep that question open-ended. It’s more that my ideas have changed about what poetry should do. When I was younger, I used to be more idealistic about poetry’s function in society—that political action and intervention were possible via restructuring of language. But now, I think maybe it’s enough that poetry can nourish individual consciousness or, to put it another way, maybe it’s enough that poetry’s primary purpose is to make people feel things. [italics, mine] Then I change my mind.


Filed under Bits and Bobs, Book Recommendations

2 responses to “between the two worlds

  1. donna delacy

    I have a new appreciation for poetry, thank you.

  2. Just get to the end!

    Human Atlas
    by Marianne Boruch

    Because the body really
    is Mars, is Earth or Venus or the saddest downsized
    Pluto, can be booked, bound, mapped then.
    Or rendered like something off the bone, fat just under
    the animal skin, to lard,
    cheaper, quicker than butter, like stillness
    belies restlessness, like every yes
    was or will be not, never, no,
    none of that.
    A full section in such a book
    keeps the skeleton quiet. (So untroubled to be specific, to say
    femur, rib, half-minute of splendor,
    to stare like that
    stops time…) Or slick pages and pages given over
    to slow the blood, remake muscle, to un-secret
    that most mysterious lymph, its arsenal
    of glands under the arm, at groin, at neck, awful
    ghost lightning in it. Inscrutable.
    Complete: because
    the whole body ends, remember?
    But each ending
    goes on and on. Complete: because some
    minor genius with a pencil, with ink, with drastic color
    makes that arm you’ve known for years
    raw, inside out, near wanton run of red vessel and nerve,
    once a sin to look, weirdly now,
    what should be hidden. Oh, it’s garish
    equals austere.
    Compute. Does not compute. Tell me.
    Then tell me who that
    me is, or the
    you understood, the any of us, our precious
    everything we ever, layer upon
    bright layer.

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