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Welcome to the latest version of the Guide to the Art of Poetry sticky! This guide is designed to work in tandem with the Guide to Poetry and Critiquing.

You'll notice that this guide takes a more technical look at poetry and its makeup. Rather than address the process of writing a poem, it will serve as a reference for forms, definitions, and other useful tools for learning poets of all levels.

Enjoy!
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What is the "art" of poetry?


The most common complaint I've gotten about this guide is that "poetry has no rules." How dare I post something that restricts the creativity of poets? xp Let's take a moment before diving into this guide to understand why it's here and how it can benefit you, regardless of your style, use, or preferred writing method of poetry.

Art, in any form, has a wonderful duality: the technical aspect, and the emotional aspect. Both aspects are equally important in any work of art. Some people are masters of technique and can execute amazingly difficult things; others just have a knack for communicating through art and can connect to an audience in a way that may be simple, but elegant.

It is very difficult to teach the emotional side of art. In fact, it comes naturally to everyone: we all can, and do, feel emotion on a constant basis. However, just because you have felt something deeply does not mean you can instantly write fantastic poetry. That's where the duality comes in. If you lack the tools to express yourself, you end up sounding muddled, boring, or even perhaps completely nonsensical.

On the other hand, we can teach the technical aspects of an art with some degree of success. It is possible to become a master of the technical without having any love for the emotional impact of an art, but that's between the artist and his/her work. Therefore, to produce a resource that is useful for everyone who visits this forum, I have oriented it to focus on the things that we can teach, control, and fix in a workshop setting. 3nodding The information in this sticky is meant to inspire you to explore some of the amazing things that the technique of poetry can offer.

There is also a distinction to make between "therapy" and "craft" poetry. Therapy poetry is any poem which is written to release an emotion (sometimes used in actual therapy), and craft poetry is any poem that is written with the intent of polish and refinement into a work of art. Neither form of poetry is necessarily more valuable than the other. However, please keep in mind when looking for poetry to share that therapy poetry might not have a place in a workshop forum such as this one. As a final note to this portion, I've kept Angelina Lecter's therapy poetry myths for reference, as they directly and accurately describe the view of poetry on this forum.

With that behind us... let's get on with the guide!

Angelina Lecter
On the Poetry/Lyricism Board, regulars often distinguish between poetry written as a means of catharsis, called "therapy poetry," and poetry written with artistry in mind. Many arguments have cropped up on various poets' threads because of disagreements regarding the purpose of poetry. Those in one group often find it difficult to respect the views of those in the other. As a member of the "poetry should be artful" camp myself, I have thus written these common arguments up in a way that is biased towards my own opinions. However, it's best to be aware that there is a schizm on the Poetry board along these lines, whether or not you happen to agree with me.

Therapy-poetry Myth #1: "Poetry is about feelings. If you're not trying to sell your poetry, it doesn't have to conform to artistic standards."

Response: The reason those standards exist is because they define the elements of a poem that make it effective. If a poem is missing enough of those elements, it conveys nothing and hence is useless to anyone other than the author. Or possibly the author's friends.

Therapy-poetry Myth #2: "The age and life history of a person reading a poem directly pertains to his or her capacity to comprehend that poem."

Response: The work proclaims its maker--but only if it has been well-made. Life experience and ability to criticise poetry, while they may be correlated to one another, do not have a direct cause-and-effect relationship. However, the amount of time and effort a person has put into the study of poetry does pertain to that person's ability to comment on poetry.

Therapy-poetry Myth #3: "The only reason one person would bad-mouth another's work is out of jealousy. Similarly, it is perfectly appropriate to say things such as 'I'd like to see some of your poetry as proof of your ability to judge' or 'I bet you wouldn't be able to deal with it if someone said that about your poem.'"

Response: It's very important, if you plan on making this argument, to actually go and look at the other person's posted work beforehand. I can't tell you how many times I've seen this argument used against people who regularly post excellent work that the accusing party simply never bothered to read. While it is useful to see if one person actually does have a higher level of poetic skill than another before drawing a comparison between them, it is rarely polite, especially if done in haste.

Therapy-poetry Myth #4: "A poem drawn from an author's experiences is a direct embodiment of those experiences. To criticize the poem is to criticize the experience that inspired the poem."

Response: As alterdayshift once remarked, it is our great respect for sorrowful experiences that causes us to demand high-quality poetry about those experiences. A poet who writes a bad poem about a meaningful experience and demands that others praise the undeserving poem because of the experience is committing a greater injustice than those who berate the poet for failing to be worthy of his or her subject matter.
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What are the poetic elements?


How can we best define what a poem is or isn't? Sometimes, it may be as simple as saying, "Not prose." xp

But we see many instances of poetry which skirts the line of prose. Sometimes, people will claim a work as a poem with no clear justification other than their own opinion. However, there are a few key elements we can look at to more rigorously define a work as a poem. These are often referred to as poetic devices.

This guide will explore the following elements in detail:

Words. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling in poetry; tools at the poet's disposal; wordplay.

Meter. Beats and patterns; how to describe a metrical line; strophes.

Rhyme. Strict rhyme; slant rhyme; internal rhyme; resources to assist with rhyming.

Form. Purpose of form; recognizing and describing forms; types of forms.

Metaphor and simile. Relevance of comparison; building successful imagery.
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Words: The Building Blocks of Poetry


Sounds pretty obvious, right? However, much like a painter ought to know his/her brushes, a poet must be able to appreciate and understand his/her own tools. In our case, we have words and punctuation.

The Importance of Spelling

Spelling is about the only absolute in poetry. There are some words that have flexibility based on which side of the pond you're from, but aside from cultural differences, it remains an important part of our language that cannot be disputed.

Why should this concern the poet? In the first place, good spelling shows care for your work. It shows your audience that you took the time to go through and remove any mistakes. A well-spelled poem is not necessarily a great poem, but it does present polish to the presentation as well as displays a basic respect for the language you're using.

Most importantly, there is no excuse for presenting a poem with spelling mistakes. Resources such as http://www.dictionary.com/ are available whenever you need them, and you can find dictionaries in any bookstore. They are a necessary tool for anyone, especially poets.

Does this mean you are never allowed to take creative liberties with spelling ever? Heck no! I'd be very sad if that were the case. However, you need to be able to differentiate between a liberty and a mistake.

The Yes and No of Grammar

While grammar may be the most annoying part of any poem to write, it remains an essential part of poetry. The rules of grammar are no different in poetry as they are in prose; poetry merely offers more flexibility.

Some poetry is successfully written without punctuation or lots of stretching when it comes to grammatical rules. That does not make it any less legitimate than a poem which uses perfect grammar and punctuation. However, the use of poetic license is only possible once you have mastered the rules which you plan to break. It is actually more difficult to break the rules well than to follow them. Many of the great poems you read that forsake punctuation are still using well-structured sentences.

Buy or borrow a good book on grammar, and make sure to study it well before attempting to jump into a poem without it.

Punctuation, Done Properly

Just because you're entering a more flexible world of writing doesn't mean grammar stops applying. Sorry. xp However, punctuation shouldn't be viewed as a chore. It is a useful tool for emphasizing specific parts of your poem and managing its flow. A brief rundown of the types of punctuation follows.

Quote:
We have several devices at our fingertips; for instance, there are semicolons and commas that distinctly set pauses (and parentheses, which can offset a thought). Periods signify the end of a thought. However, when used skillfully, exclamation points can really drive something home! As for ellipses... well... they're better off used sparingly than frequently. Perhaps-- and this is just a thought-- dashes would carry a stronger effect. With regards to the colon: it can make an interesting setup to the next idea. But is the question mark really valuable?

There are a couple of key things to note about punctuation. For instance, it isn't required at the end of each line. I cannot number how many times I've seen people throw commas at the end of lines without purpose. Not even the old dead guys do that. Your best bet is to lay them exactly where they should be.

Tip: If you're not sure about your grammar, write your poem out in a paragraph. Insert appropriate punctuation, then reassemble it using your already set line breaks. Voila!

Can you take liberties with punctuation? Of course. However, it will generally fit better if you stay mostly faithful to the rules of the language. Don't use commas to separate independent clauses, don't put a period after a dependent clause... you know the drill.

Vocabulary: When is it too much?

Blood? Sadness? Passion? I'll pass.
Consanguinity? Abasement? Concupiscence? I thought I was reading a poem, not a thesaurus. gonk

It's a constant struggle for poets. If your words are too simple, you might lose the interest of your reader because the vocabulary doesn't invigorate them. If they're too complex, you have them reading your poem in one hand and their dictionary in the other. I know many experienced poets feel indignant if people would prefer they "dumb down" their works simply so it's more accessible to the reader.

It never hurts to expand your vocabulary. (I just did! I didn't even know how to pronounce "concupiscence." ) Learning new words is a wonderful experience - at least, it should be, if you're interested enough to read this guide. wink I myself am the proud owner of The Superior Person's Book of Words and The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate. Does that mean I'm going to turn around and start using words like "operculum" and "jactation" in my poems?

It depends. Jactation, which means "boasting [or] bragging," has some delightful pun possibilities as well as a rather simplistic definition. I might lose the reader for a word, but with enough contextual support, I could create a use for the word as well as a way for the reader to keep moving through the poem without having to stop and look things up. Now, if I used that word along with 15 other uncommon ones, I might bring readers to unnecessary tears.

The key to vocabulary, then, is balance. If you wish to use more difficult words, be ready to build strong supports for them. Use them with purpose. Avoid overloading your reader, but live up to your abilities. You still want to be able to communicate with your audience. Do so with elegance.

Words and Wordplay

This is the fun part of using words! xd

Maybe you can't spell to save your life. Maybe the word "participle" sends you into convulsions. I won't necessarily say that's okay, but it's not the end of your life as a poet. After all, that's what peers and reviews and English textbooks are for. Another necessary aspect to the words of your poetry is the sound of your words.

One common example of this is alliteration, or a series of words all starting with the same letter/sound: "stark staples staring stagnantly," or "foaming fog fears fish." This is a beneficial tool because consonant sounds can change the feel of your piece. Consonants like t and k are harsh (known in diction as "plosives" ), where f and sh are softer (known as "fricatives" ). If you want to take a class in diction, it's tons of fun and really informative when it comes to the relationship of consonants and vowels and all that.

Why does this help? The mere sound of your words can help set the mood of your piece. You can adjust the aural sensation by placing more pleasing sounds together, or line up a string of explosive repetition that gives sharp accent to your piece.

Even if you don't often read poetry aloud or hear it spoken, sound plays a very important role. Check out the poet's glossary below for some other important words to know.

Another thing to consider is puns. Offering a bit of humor or drawing out the juice of that double meaning can make your poem that much fun to read and write.
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Meter


Meter is one of the fundamental building blocks of poetry. Even when not used structurally, it can enhance a poem's delivery. Whether it becomes a staple of your style or not, it is an absolute necessity to understand its purpose, definitions, etc.

Everybody hears the phrase "iambic pentameter" and throws it around in the hopes of looking smart. We're going to break it down so you can actually use it and be smart. wink

Let's start with syllables. Syllables are the number of distinct sounds in a word. So, the word "syllable" is three syllables long (syl-la-ble). Often, dictionaries will include a syllabic break-down of the word you're looking up. It is not important to know which letter goes on which side of the hyphen, as long as you understand how many sounds there are. (Some words are a little ambiguous, like "wild," as different dialects may conflict with regard to how the word is pronounced.)

So, how do we describe these patterns of syllables?

The first half of the phrase describes the way each foot in the line works metrically. A foot is a poetic unit in a line, characterized by the number of syllables and which syllable is stressed. There are five common types of foot: the iamb, the trochee, the anapest, the dactyl, and the spondee. They look like this:

iamb - duh DAH - foretold, avoid, forget
trochee - DAH duh - orange, balmy, total
anapest - duh duh DAH - in a while, entertain
dactyl - DAH duh duh - wonderful, spectacle
spondee - DAH DAH - well done, bread box

(see the Wikipedia article for more varieties and detail)

Therefore, lines could be iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, or spondaic. That's the first half of the description.

The second half refers to the number of feet in the line. Pentameter means there are five feet in a line, as penta- is the lovely prefix meaning "five." Similarly,

dimeter = 2 feet per line,
trimeter = 3,
tetrameter = 4,
pentameter = 5,
hexameter = 6,
heptameter = 7, and
octameter = 8.

They start to become rarer as it gets bigger. I'm not sure anyone has had the patience (or the sanity) to go any longer than octameter.
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Rhyme

Rayinte
Rhyme and Rhyme Scheme

Not all poems must rhyme. But rhyming is irrevocably associated with poetry, and so you'd better get used to it.

A rhyme is two words which end with a similar sound. An example would be "light" and "night."

Most specific structures of poems have a "rhyme scheme." It's denoted in a particular format, with a different letter representing each different rhyme-group.

For example, in an "a-b-a-b" poem, the end of the first line would rhyme with the end of the third, and the second and fourth lines would rhyme with each other.

If you're going to be using a poem with a rhyme scheme, especially something complicated like a sonnet, try to use words that have lots of easy rhymes. Examples of easily-rhymed words include "right," "sky," "ear," and "of." If you're an experienced rhymer, then go ahead and tackle challenging words!

There are different kinds of rhymes as well. Multi-syllable rhymes do what they say; several syllables are going to be rhyming; "Muttering" and "Fluttering," for example. Then there are slant rhymes, or "Eye" rhymes, which only *look* like they rhyme, but don't when spoken. The site linked above has some good definitions of other obscure rhyme variants.

There are two other aspects of rhyme that deserve noting: internal rhyme (this comes in especially handy in free verse poetry), and exact rhyme. For example,

Cartwheeling gourd munchers
A monstrous mash lay seeding on the lawn,
whistling to forget it was
chiseled to smile. (Smashing, really.)

Note "whistling" and "chiseled." First of all, they're not at the end of the line, and there is no established meter in the poem. We achieved an internal rhyme here (though one might call it assonance). When you're working free of restrictions, it's still fun to integrate some of the more classic devices.

Now, some of you might glare at me for thinking "whistle" and "chisel" rhyme. You're right - to an extent. This is not an exact rhyme, due to the s/z sounds, respectively. Instead, we have an off-rhyme. For a really good example on how to blend exact and off-rhymes, go here.

No matter what you write, though, remember that rhyme is part of the parsley of your poetry. When writing in a rhyming form, never let your rhymes dictate what you say. Otherwise, your message will sound forced, and your reader won't enjoy it as much. Work with them, not against them.
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Describing Stanzas


This works much the same as meter.

couplet - set of 2 lines
triplet/tercet - set of 3 lines
quatrain - set of 4
quintet/cinquain* - set of 5
sestet - set of 6
septet - set of 7
octet/octave - set of 8

*This actually describes a form of poetry as well, at which one of our members was quite proficient.

The Sonnet


The sonnet comes in several different forms. The most they have in common is that they have 14 lines and are almost always written in iambic pentameter.

Most English-written sonnets are written in the form of a Shakespearean, or English, sonnet. The rhyme scheme is separated into three quatrains and a couplet, which reads ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, where each letter represents a rhyming set. The other common form is that of the Petrarchan, or Italian, sonnet, which differs in its breakdown. This one is split into an octet (or two quatrains) and a sestet (or two tercets). (I'm actually not sure if there is a difference. I think it depends on which scholar you talk to. xp ) The first eight lines most commonly rhyme ABBAABBA, though same may be ABBACDDC. The tercets are more flexible and may be XYZXYZ, XYXYXY, or even XYZYXZ.

For the curious, there's also the Spenserian sonnet (ABAB BCBC CDCD EE) and several other variations. Go investigate. 3nodding

For more on the style of sonnets: http://members.aol.com/lucyhardng/pointers/form.htm#forms2

The Villanelle


One of the most famous villanelles is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." The form is 19 lines long, in the form of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA, where the same-colored lines are actually repeated.

For more info: http://www.writing-world.com/poetry/villanelle.shtml

The Pantoum


A pantoum is similar to the villanelle in that it repeats lines for effect. However, the pantoum is far looser in its restrictions. Modern pantoums need not rhyme or carry a consistent metrical pattern. The repeated lines go like this:

1234
2546
5768
7381

Pantoums can go on for as long as you want. The key thing to remember is, the second and fourth lines of a stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The poem also ends with the third line of the first quatrain as the second of the last, and the first line is also the last line.

The whole objective of the pantoum is transformation - much like the sonnet. The difficulty, though, is keeping the pantoum interesting by buliding the ideas in every stanza.


The Triolet


Conrad Geller
You have to write a triolet
If you would make your name immortal.
To get a form that's fit and set.
You have to write a triolet.
From free verse all you ever get
Is just another yawn or chortle.
You have to write a triolet
If you would make your name immortal.


http://www.writing-world.com/poetry/triolet.shtml

The Cinquain


Alan Reynolds
LIKE POPCORN

Cinquains
pop hot and fresh:
full tubs of froth and salt
in splendid form, tasty and warm
then flat.


http://www.ahapoetry.com/cinqhmpg.htm

The Limerick


Morris Bishop
The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.


http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues02/sep02/limericks.html

Blank Verse/Free Verse


Free verse seems to be the one most common among contemporary poets. Basically, it's poetry without restrictions on rhyme or rhythm. It relies solely on the whim of the writer.

Blank verse, on the other hand, is rhythm without rhyme. Billy S. did a lot of blank verse in iambic pentameter.

Japanese Forms of Poetry


I'll just direct you to the Gaian Japanese Poetry sticky for Angelic Muse's fine explanation on these forms.

Prose Poetry

Keembah found a useful link explaining the premise of prose-poetry.
http://pw2.netcom.com/~pprater/prosepoetry.html
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Metaphor, Simile, and Imagery


One of the keys to good poetry is successful imagery. Sure, you can convey emotion with something like, "I cry when you're away." But how far do you really expect that to go?

Imagery is a form of comparison. It offers poets a way to transcend simple description and draw their reader deeper into the experience. It is most easily conveyed through figurative language - especially metaphor and simile.

A simile is a comparison of two objects using "like" or "as." Examples: "Her hair is like a field." "That house is as big as a whale!"

A metaphor is a direct comparison. It differs from a simile in its lack of a connecting word. Examples: "You are my sun." "All the world's a stage." (Thanks, Billy. xd )

Imagery, then, is the blend of these comparisons that are linked through a common theme. I worked with a poet here on the concept of imagery, and I'll post the before-and-after as an example.

cyanide erection
Short and Sweet Suicide

Before

crying and pain
solved by one thing.
nothing more or less
then the salient blade
piercing my chest.

After

trampled and desiccated
my only hope for nourishment,
sinks in sanguinely.
a salient worm
to molded earth.

Rather than simply talk about sadness and stabbing things, she's now describing it through earthen imagery. The knife is the worm; the body the soil. It adds a new layer to the concept and thusly makes it more interesting for the reader.

Tip: When you next write a poem, take your idea, and make a list of ten possible images that you think correspond to the idea. Experiment with two or three of them to get a feel for the comparison.
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The Poet's Dictionary


Here's a list of basic terms that are indispensable to any poet. Learn these! scream You can find a complete list of these terms at this Glossary of Poetic Terms (thanks to DCB for the link!).

I have isolated a few of them to get you started. 3nodding These are directly quoted from the website. I take no credit for writing them.

Accent
The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others. In words of two or more syllables, one syllable is almost invariably stressed more strongly than the other syllables. In words of one syllable, the degree of stress normally depends on their grammatical function; nouns, verbs, and adjectives are usually given more stress than articles or prepositions. The words in a line of poetry are usually arranged so the accents occur at regular intervals, with the meter defined by the placement of the accents within the foot. Accent should not be construed as emphasis.

Enjambment
The continuation of the sense and therefore the grammatical construction beyond the end of a line of verse or the end of a couplet.

Hyperbole
A bold, deliberate overstatement, e.g., "I'd give my right arm for a piece of pizza." Not intended to be taken literally, it is used as a means of emphasizing the truth of a statement.

Perfect Rhyme
Also called true rhyme or exact rhyme, a rhyme which meets the following requirements: (1) an exact correspondence in the vowel sound and, in words ending in consonants, the sound of the final consonant, (2) a difference in the consonant sounds preceding the vowel, and (3) a similarity of accent on the rhyming syllable(s).

Personification
A type of metaphor in which distinctive human characteristics, e.g., honesty, emotion, volition, etc., are attributed to an animal, object, or idea, as "the haughty lion surveyed his realm" or "my car was happy to be washed" or "'Fate frowned on his endeavors." Personification is commonly used in allegory.
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* Indispensable tools
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Pi's Recommended Reading List

update provided by MajKai Nis - many thanks! heart

I've been told over and over that one of the necessary steps towards becoming a great artist is gaining exposure to great art. These poets have shaped and inspired writers everywhere, and it's worth the time to read them. Plus, if the works are so great, shouldn't they be fun to read? wink

I certainly can't guarantee that you'll love each one of them, but I hope you'll be able to draw from their styles and experiences to improve your own writing.


William Shakespeare - http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/
Recommended:

CXXX.
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


Andrew Marvell - http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/
Recommended:
To his Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


Charles Baudelaire - http://www.veinotte.com/baudelaire/
Recommended:

Crowds
It is not given to every man to take a bath of multitude; enjoying a crowd is an art; and only he can relish a debauch of vitality at the expense of the human species, on whom, in his cradle, a fairy has bestowed the love of masks and masquerading, the hate of home, and the passion for roaming.

Multitude, solitude: identical terms, and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd.

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself of someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man's personality. For him alone everything is vacant; and if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting.

The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in this universal communion. The man who loves to lose himself in a crowd enjoys feverish delights that the egoist locked up in himself as in a box, and the slothful man like a mollusk in his shell, will be eternally deprived of. He adopts as his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that chance offers.

What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing compared with this ineffable orgy, this divine prostitution of the soul giving itself entire, all it poetry and all its charity, to the unexpected as it comes along, to the stranger as he passes.

It is a good thing sometimes to teach the fortunate of this world, if only to humble for an instant their foolish pride, that there are higher joys than theirs, finer and more uncircumscribed. The founders of colonies, shepherds of peoples, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtlessly know something of this mysterious drunkenness; and in the midst of the vast family created by their genius, they must often laugh at those who pity them because of their troubled fortunes and chaste lives.


Rainer Maria Rilke - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/295
Recommended:

Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.


Translated by Stephen Mitchell


The Panther
His tired gaze--from passing endless bars--
has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
To him there seem to be a thousand bars,
and out beyond these bars exists no world.

His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides
that gently turn in ever smaller circles
perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.

But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
of past encounters enter while through his limbs
a tension strains in silence
only to cease to be, to die within his heart.


Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming


William Butler Yeats - http://www.csun.edu/~hceng029/yeats/collectedpoems.html
Recommended:

The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Edgar Lee Masters: Spoon River Anthology - http://www.bartleby.com/84/
Recommended:

Judge Somers
HOW does it happen, tell me,
That I who was most erudite of lawyers,
Who knew Blackstone and Coke
Almost by heart, who made the greatest speech
The court-house ever heard, and wrote
A brief that won the praise of Justice Breese--
How does it happen, tell me,
That I lie here unmarked, forgotten,
While Chase Henry, the town drunkard,
Has a marble block, topped by an urn,
Wherein Nature, in a mood ironical,
Has sown a flowering weed?


Wilfred Owen - http://home.tiscali.be/ericlaermans/cultural/owen.html
Recommended:

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


T. S. Eliot - http://www.bartleby.com/people/Eliot-Th.html
Recommended:
"The Wasteland"
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
"Hysteria"

Gerontion
.............Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.


HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
....................I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. "We would see a sign!"
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;

By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What's not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what's thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use them for your closer contact?
These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

....................Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.


Ezra Pound - http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/pound/
Recommended:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Sestina: Altaforte
Loquitur: En Bertrans de Born.
Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a
stirrer-up of strife.
Eccovi!
Judge ye!
Have I dug him up again?
The scene in at his castle, Altaforte. "Papiols" is his jongleur.
"The Leopard," the device of Richard (Cúur de Lion).

I

Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let's to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.

II

In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth's foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav'n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God's swords clash.

III

Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour's stour than a year's peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there's no wine like the blood's crimson!

IV

And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might 'gainst all darkness opposing.

V

The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth's won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.

VI

Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There's no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle's rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges 'gainst "The Leopard's" rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry "Peace!"

VII

And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought "Peace!"


William Carlos Williams - http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?45442B7C000C070709
Recommended:

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


Robert Frost - http://www.bartleby.com/people/Frost-Ro.html
Recommended:

The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I�
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


e e cummings - http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/eecummings/
Recommended:

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
who
a)s w(e loo)k
upnowgath
PPEGORHRASS
eringint(o-
aThe):l
eA
!p:
S.........a
(r
rIvInG .gRrEaPsPhOs)
to
rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly
,grasshopper;


Dylan Thomas - http://www.swansea.gov.uk/DT/
Recommended:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Federico Garcia Lorca - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/163
Recommended:

Gacela of the Dark Death
I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.


City That Does Not Sleep
In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
stars.

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.


Ogden Nash - http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/nash/
Recommended:
"Possessions are Nine Points of Conversation"
"The Clean Platter"
"A Watched Example Never Boils"
any of the animal poems

Reflections on an Icebreaker
Candy
is dandy.

But liquor
is quicker.

Further Reflections on Parsley
Parsley
Is gharsley.

The Ant
The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?


Gwendolyn Brooks - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/165
Recommended:

We Real Cool
We real cool. We
Left School. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.


Allen Ginsberg - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/8
Recommended:

"Howl"

Sylvia Plath - http://www.angelfire.com/tn/plath/
Recommended:

Letter to a Purist
That grandiose colossus who
Stood astride
The envious assaults of sea
(Essaying, wave by wave,
Tide by tide,
To undo him, perpetually),
Has nothing on you,
O my love,
O my great idiot, who
With one foot
Caught (as it were) in the muck-trap
Of skin and bone,
Dithers with the other way out
In preposterous provinces of the madcap
Cloud-cuckoo,
Agawp at the impeccable moon.


Ariel
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God's lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! -- The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

n****r-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks ----

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

Hauls me through air ----
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

White
Godiva, I unpeel ----
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.


James Wright - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/73
Recommended:

A Blessing
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


Beginning
The moon drops one or two feathers into the fields.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
Now.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.


James Dickey - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/363
Recommended:

The Lifeguard
In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.
The leap of a fish from its shadow
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
With my foot on the water, I feel
The moon outside

Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go our through the boats.
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,
Stepping outward from earth onto water
In quest of the miracle

This village of children believed
That I could perform as I dived
For one who had sunk from my sight.
I saw his cropped haircut go under.
I leapt, and my steep body flashed
Once, in the sun.

Dark drew all the light from my eyes.
Like a man who explores his death
By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone
Among the weeds,

And my fingertips turned into stone
From clutching immovable blackness.
Time after time I leapt upward
Exploding in breath, and fell back
From the change in the children's faces
At my defeat.

Beneath them I swam to the boathouse
With only my life in my arms
To wait for the lake to shine back
At the risen moon with such power
That my steps on the light of the ripples
Might be sustained.

Beneath me is nothing but brightness
Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.
As I move toward the center of the lake,
Which is also the center of the moon,
I am thinking of how I may be
The savior of one

Who has already died in my care.
The dark trees fade from around me.
The moon's dust hovers together.
I call softly out, and the child's
Voice answers through blinding water.
Patiently, slowly,

He rises, dilating to break
The surface of stone with his forehead.
He is one I do not remember
Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling
Upon his smile.

I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave
I kneel in the quick of the moon
At the heart of a distant forest
And hold in my arms a child
Of water, water, water.


Stanley Kunitz - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/2
Recommended:

Halley’s Comet
Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there'd be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground's edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
"Repent, ye sinners!" he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I'd share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family's asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.

Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street --
that's where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I'm the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.


James Tate - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/70
Recommended:

The Wheelchair Butterfly
O sleepy city of reeling wheelchairs
where a mouse can commit suicide if he can

concentrate long enough
on the history book of rodents
in this underground town

of electrical wheelchairs!
The girl who is always pregnant and bruised
like a pear

rides her many-stickered bicycle
backward up the staircase
of the abandoned trolleybarn.

Yesterday was warm. Today a butterfly froze
in midair; and was plucked like a grape
by a child who swore he could take care

of it. O confident city where
the seeds of poppies pass for carfare,

where the ordinary hornets in a human’s heart
may slumber and snore, where bifocals bulge

in an orange garage of daydreams,
we wait in our loose attics for a new season

as if for an ice-cream truck.
An Indian pony crosses the plains

whispering Sanskrit prayers to a crater of fleas.
Honeysuckle says: I thought I could swim.

The Mayor is urinating on the wrong side
of the street! A dandelion sends off sparks:
beware your hair is locked!

Beware the trumpet wants a glass of water!
Beware a velvet tabernacle!

Beware the Warden of Light has married
an old piece of string!


The Lost Pilot
for my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot
like the others--the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him

yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,
the poor ignorant people, stare

as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.
But your face did not rot

like the others--it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their

distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,
down from your compulsive

orbiting, I would touch you,
read your face as Dallas,
your hoodlum gunner, now,

with the blistered eyes, reads
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested

scholar touches an original page.
However frightening, I would
discover you, and I would not

turn you in; I would not make
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You

could return to your crazy
orbiting, and I would not try
to fully understand what

it means to you. All I know
is this: when I see you,
as I have seen you at least

once every year of my life,
spin across the wilds of the sky
like a tiny, African god,

I feel dead. I feel as if I were
the residue of a stranger's life,
that I should pursue you.

My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,

fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake

that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.


Russell Edson
Recommended:

Of Memory and Distance
It’s a scientific fact that anyone entering the distance will grow smaller. Eventually becoming so small he might only be found with a telescope, or, for more intimacy, with a microscope....

But there’s a vanishing point, where anyone having penetrated the distance must disappear entirely without hope of his ever returning, leaving only a memory of his ever having been.

But then there is fiction, so that one is never really sure if it was someone who vanished into the end of seeing, or someone made of paper and ink....


Stephen Dunn - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/386
Recommended:

The Routine Things Around The House
When Mother died
I thought: now I'll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable.

Yet I've since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who've been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she'd live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It's hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
If I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who've never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn't doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

Perhaps to suck them,
What would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

Who I think permits me
to love women easily
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.


The Sudden Light and the Trees
My neighbor was a biker, a pusher, a dog
and wife beater.
In bad dreams I killed him

and once, in the consequential light of day,
I called the Humane Society
about Blue, his dog. They took her away

and I readied myself, a baseball bat
inside my door.
That night I hear his wife scream

and I couldn't help it, that pathetic
relief; her again, not me.
It would be years before I'd understand

why victims cling and forgive. I plugged in
the Sleep-Sound and it crashed
like the ocean all the way to sleep.

One afternoon I found him
on the stoop,
a pistol in his hand, waiting,

he said, for me. A sparrow had gotten in
to our common basement.
Could he have permission

to shoot it? The bullets, he explained,
might go through the floor.
I said I'd catch it, wait, give me

a few minutes and, clear-eyed, brilliantly
afraid, I trapped it
with a pillow. I remember how it felt

when I got my hand, and how it burst
that hand open
when I took it outside, a strength

that must have come out of hopelessness
and the sudden light
and the trees. And I remember

the way he slapped the gun against
his open palm,
kept slapping it, and wouldn't speak.


Charles Bukowski - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/394
Recommended:

the lucky ones
stuck in the rain on the freeway, 6:15 p.m.,
these are the lucky ones, these are the
dutifully employed, most with their radios on as loud
as possible as they try not to think or remember.

this is our new civilization: as men
once lived in trees and caves now they live
in their automobiles and on freeways as

the local news is heard again and again while
we shift from first gear to second and back to first.

there's a poor fellow stalled in the fast lane ahead, hood
up, he's standing against the freeway fence
a newspaper over his head in the rain.

the other cars force their way around his car, pull out into
the next lane in front of cars determined to shut them off.

in the lane to my right a driver is being followed by a
police car with blinking red and blue lights - he surely
can't be speeding as

suddenly the rain comes down in a giant wash and all the
cars stop and

even with the windows up I can smell somebody's clutch
burning.

I just hope it's not mine as

the wall of water diminishes and we go back into first
gear; we are all still
a long way from home as I memorize
the silhouette of the car in front of me and the shape of the

driver's head or
what
I can see of it above the headrest while
his bumper sticker asks me
HAVE YOU HUGGED YOUR KID TODAY?

suddenly I have an urge to scream
as another wall of water comes down and the
man on the radio announces that there will be a 70 percent
chance of showers tomorrow night


Raymond Carver - http://www.carversite.com/
Recommended:

An Afternoon
As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels the tip of his pen begin to tremble.
The tide is going out across the shingle.
But it isn't that. No,
it's because at that moment she chooses
to walk into the room without any clothes on.
Drowsy, not even sure where she is
for a moment. She waves the hair from her forehead.
Sits on the toilet with her eyes closed,
head down. Legs sprawled. He sees her
through the doorway. Maybe
she's remembering what happened that morning.
For after a time, she opens one eye and looks at him.
And sweetly smiles.


Denis Johnson - http://www.radiofreemike.com/johnson.html
Recommended:

White, White Collars
We work in this building and we are hideous
in the fluorescent light, you know our clothes
woke up this morning and swallowed us like jewels
and ride up and down the elevators, filled with us,
turning and returning like the spray of light that goes
around dance-halls among the dancing fools.
My office smells like a theory, but here one weeps
to see the goodness of the world laid bare
and rising with the government on its lips,
the alphabet congealing in the air
around our heads. But in my belly's flames
someone is dancing, calling me by many names
that are secret and filled with light and rise
and break, and I see my previous lives.


Enough
The terminal flopped out
around us like a dirty hankie,
surrounded by the future population
of death row in their disguises--high
school truant, bewildered Korean refugee--
we complained that bus 18 will never arrive,
when it arrives complain what an injury
is this bus again today, venerable
and destined to stall. When it stalls

at 16th and McDowell most of us get out
to eat ourselves alive in a 24-hour diner
that promises not to carry us beyond
this angry dream of grease and the cries
of spoons, that swears our homes
are invisible and we never lived in them,
that a bus hasn't passed here in years.
Sometime the closest I get to loving

the others is hating all of us
for drinking coffee in this stationary sadness
where nobody's dull venereal joking breaks
into words that say it for the last time,
as if we held in the heavens of our arms
not cherishable things, but only the strength
it takes to leave home and then go back again.


Franz Wright - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/519
Recommended:

The Words
All day I slept
and woke and slept

again, the square
of winter sky lighting

the room,
which had grown

octaves
grayer . . .

What to do, if the words disappear as you write--
what to do

if they remain,
and you disappear.


Antipsychotic
The beating of her neighbor's heart
upstairs keeps her awake
all night

We don't learn
she thinks
we remember

If we're lucky

Now she is going to put on some
nice cut-your-wrists music

"Most of the poetry I read
makes me feel like I'm already dead"

And look everything is turning
into something else
(and that is true)

Risperdal whisperdoll

all alone in the dark
garden

blowing out a dandelion


Billy Collins - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/278
Recommended:

The Only Day In Existence
The early sun is so pale and shadowy,
I could be looking up at a ghost
in the shape of a window,
a tall, rectangular spirit
looking down at me in bed,
about to demand that I avenge
the murder of my father.
But the morning light is only the first line
in the play of this day--
the only day in existence--
the opening chord of its long song,
or think of what is permeating
the thin bedroom curtains

as the beginning of a lecture
I will listen to until it is dark,
a curious student in a V-neck sweater,
angled into the wooden chair of his life,
ready with notebook and a chewed-up pencil,
quiet as a goldfish in winter,
serious as a compass at sea,
eager to absorb whatever lesson
this damp, overcast Tuesday
has to teach me,
here in the spacious classroom of the world
with its long walls of glass,
its heavy, low-hung ceiling.


Louise Gluck - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/82
Recommended:

Lullaby
My mother's an expert in one thing:
sending people she loves into the other world.
The little ones, the babies--these
she rocks, whispering or singing quietly. I can't say
what she did for my father;
whatever it was, I'm sure it was right.

It's the same thing, really, preparing a person
for sleep, for death. The lullabies--they all say
don't be afraid, that's how they paraphrase
the heartbeat of the mother.
So the living grow slowly calm; it's only
the dying who can't, who refuse.

The dying are like tops, like gyroscopes--
they spin so rapidly they seem to be still.
Then they fly apart: in my mother's arms,
my sister was a cloud of atoms, of particles--that's the difference.
When a child's asleep, it's still whole.

My mother's seen death; she doesn't talk about the soul's integrity.
She's held an infant, an old man, as by comparison the dark grew
solid around them, finally changing to earth.

The soul's like all matter:
why would it stay intact, stay faithful to its one form,
when it could be free?


Nick Flynn - http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/758
Recommended:

Emptying Town
I want to erase your footprints
from my walls. Each pillow
is thick with your reasons. Omens

fill the sidewalk below my window: a woman
in a party hat, clinging
to a tin-foil balloon. Shadows

creep slowly across the tar, someone yells, "Stop!"
and I close my eyes. I can't watch

as this town slowly empties, leaving me
strung between bon-voyages, like so many clothes
on a line, the white handkerchief

stuck in my throat. You know the way Jesus

rips open his shirt
to show us his heart, all flaming and thorny,
the way he points to it. I'm afraid

the way I'll miss you will be this obvious.

I have a friend who everyone warns me
is dangerous, he hides
bloody images of Jesus
around my house, for me to find

when I come home; Jesus
behind the cupboard door, Jesus tucked

into the mirror. He wants to save me
but we disagree from what. My version of hell
is someone ripping open his shirt

and saying, Look what I did for you. . .


Other Authors:
Edgar Allen Poe
Alfred Lord Tennyson
John Keats
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Robert Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
William Wordsworth
Mark Doty
Langston Hughes
Al Maginnes
Philip Turman
John Donne

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