I remember the tones of my father's voice reciting scraps of "The Waste Land" more immediately than anything else about that poem, like a melody stuck in my head without the lyrics. "In the mountains, there you feel free," my dad would declaim, driving on I-40 with some Appalachian foothills looming on the horizon. But every April I'm reminded of that same poem and its famous opening line of how this is the cruelest month.
And it's National Poetry Month. It's always National Poetry Month, of course, if you use poetry as a strategy for making sense of time and experience.
Poetry, like the month of April, is a medium where new things become possible. Shoots bloom on trees after ages of grey winter. New rhythms worm into your memory alongside lines from Eliot and whoever else. Birds enthuse noisily. Life goes on and life is written down.
There is so much to read in the world. I constantly want to be reading everything all at once. I picture braiding a giant rope of poems together in my head forever, or chipping away at a monumental cliff of poems with a tiny silver chisel. All these impossible images for the impossible task of making everything known.
Here are some poems and poetry-adjacent things I'm glad to have read lately:
These two poems by TC Tolbert show off paradoxes, like "I remember that there are no words in the world so I say them." And I love the sound and the sense of "Breathing in the marrow of would."
This astonishing excerpt of a prose poem by Claudia Rankine was so clear and true that I felt it speed up my pulse at the end.
Once, Travis Smith made a PowerPoint about our college's basketball rivalry for me. Some time later, he wrote this poem full of unreal Scrabble words.
A pair of essays on the Poetry Foundation's blog said some of the serious and silly things I was trying to say about poetry and work last month in even better ways. I will giggle at Patricia Lockwood's Robert Frost, always: "He had a little heifer named Segway and he rode it everywhere he went because he was too lazy to walk."
There is a new Lydia Davis book with the obstinate, wonderful title Can't and Won't. Though she calls her short texts stories rather than poems, they share the world-expanding poetic purpose in my reading life. Here's an excerpt from "The Seals," which slowed down the day as I read it over lunch in my office's breakroom.
Some future April, pieces of these poems will be ones I remember alongside that "cruelest month" bit. That's something to commemorate: a National Poetry Month of the mind.
How is your April in reading and poems? I love hearing from you.