These weird days, the Poetry Board has been reading some poems (as one must hope it is wont to do), and we’re writing to share some of these with you. Each willing member has recommended one poem. Some are new discoveries for their recommenders, others are old friends, and still others have quickly become mainstays of their recommenders’ respective isolations. You can find each one for free online (click on any title for a link), so if you are reading this post—to quote Madi Howard’s rec below—you really have no excuse not to give them a try. These poems have deepened, clarified, eased and enlivened our respective quarantines. May they do for you whatever you need done.
Owen Torrey recommends “Postscript” by Seamus Heaney:
Deep into my second week of self-isolation, I found myself googling the same thing every day: postscript seamus heaney. It’s hard to say why the poem was such a tonic for me. Maybe it was its openness—the ocean on one side, the lake on the other, the horizon full and around. Or, how the poem pulls you tight into its movement, steering down through its sixteen lines. Mostly, though, I think I returned to “Postscript” for its sense of connection, its breathless awe at the togetherness of things. Everything named in the poem is, as Heaney says, “working off each other”—the wind and the light, the white and the white, the known and the strange. I still read the poem most days. It brings me some light to work off of. It might for you, too.
Madi Howard recommends “Revision” by Jane Huffman:
Jane Huffman is an incredibly talented young poet and, best of all, a doppelganger for beloved blog editor Polina Whitehouse! Huffman’s signature style pays very close attention to soundplay, word choice, and repetition. Because of this, “Revision,” like the rest of Huffman’s body of work, feels whimsical, creative, and imaginative while still asking provocative, thoughtful questions of the language involved. Almost all of her poems are short and easy reads, so you really have no excuse not to give her writing a try. Happy reading!
Marie Ungar recommends “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe:
I am forever delighted to share a name with Marie Howe. Reading and re-reading “What the Living Do” has always been a kind of ritual for me. Last summer, living in the chaos of Manhattan for the first time, I found myself turning to this poem more and more in waiting moments, in which I suddenly wasn’t sure what to be doing. On the train, during my lunch break, lying on the ground after a run. It got to the point where I only had to type “wha” into my search bar for Google to fill in the entire link. During quarantine, which seems like one long waiting moment, I’ve found myself returning to this poem more than ever. Read it aloud to yourself. Let each line feel like re-discovering something familiar.
Ezra Lebovitz recommends “The End of Poetry” by Ada Limón:
I really love this poem. It's what I think is at the heart of poetry (and maybe literature? maybe everything??): an attempt to communicate. She strips down the flowers and the tropes, revealing this desperate, manic plea for connection and understanding and touch. I read this out loud and by the end I was crying!
Tadhg Larabee recommends “Domestic Mysticism” by Lucie Brock-Broido:
This March, we all experienced an unexpected homecoming. And two months later, it’s easy to see this homecoming only in the negative—as something which took away real life, jamming us back into childhood homes and selves. In “Domestic Mysticism,” Brock-Broido imagines homecoming as a miraculous event. The speaker returns to a magical domestic space, full of “Wizards, the Forlorn, / The Awkward, the Blinkers, (...) / Stutterers of Prayer.” It’s a space akin to a deeper domestic: the home inside the mind where Brock-Broido writes her poems, “dropping words like little pink fish eggs, unawares, slightly / Illiterate, often on the mark.” If you need a reminder that the quarantine experience can be creative, this poem might help. In its transformation of the domestic and its strange craft, it shows how beauty can grow within small spaces.
Polina Whitehouse recommends “It Was the Animals” by Natalie Diaz:
If you’re caught in tight quarters with people you love but the word love looms too large for the quarters and the word caught seems apt, read this poem. I first encountered it during the flesh-and-blood part of this semester, when Diaz came to campus to give a reading whose force blew through the room, leaving a windfall of meanings. As I look back at the written text now, a few of its meanings stand out. This piece is about being close to someone, too close for comfort—sharing friction’s heat and much else. It’s about accepting someone else’s mythology and trusting someone enough to admit your own. It’s about the dangerous creatures filling the distances remaining between close ones pushed closer. And it tells its story through the language we now speak only to those we are living with—it talks in texture, temperature, and pressure, grounding myth and relationship in the touch of it all.