My “Poem-ography”

tiniest spark

Yesterday, my friend Monica Sharman had a post about Every Day Poems, the subscription at Tweetspeak Poetry that delivers a poem a day to your email box. She said it had become a kind of “poem-ography” for her – introducing her to both newer and older poets.

I wondered what my own “poem-ography” might look like. Who were the poets who shaped and guided and led my thinking, my education and my own writing? It turns out that the answer is in two parts.

The first group of poets and poetry was the group that shaped by teachers in junior high and high school – the poets we studied and the poets they encouraged us to read: Stephen Vincent Benet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sara Teasdale, Carl Sandburg, and Amy Lowell. These were the American poets of the first third to first half of the 20th century who were “modern” when my teachers were in high school and college.

Some of the British poets showed up as well, but mostly from the Romantic Period (Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge) and the Victorian Period (Tennyson). The only modern British poet I can recall studying in school was born an American – T.S. Eliot.

The poems that I studied during that period that I recall most clearly were Benet’s John Brown’s Body, Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (which I’ve read and reread many times), Four Quartets by Eliot, and several by Robert Frost – like “Mending Wall,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” and “The Death of the Hired Man.”

In college, the only significant additions to the list above were Beowulf and Shakespeare’s sonnets.

The second part of my “poem-ography” started in the early 1980s. I began to read poetry again, largely inspired by full-time corporate speechwriting. And I ranged all over the literary map: William Cullen Bryant, Emerson, Longfellow, Poe, Whitman (I discovered why he was not much emphasized in high school), Emily Dickinson, the British poets of World War I, John Masefield, and lots more T.S. Eliot (like Murder in the Cathedral). Then came Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens, Robert Penn Warren and Robert Lowell.

I continued to read poetry right up to the present. Today, it’s Thomas Merton, Billy Collins, R.S. Thomas, and a number of newer, younger poets as well.

Something has definitely changed with poetry, and American poetry in particular. Even as late as the 1960s, there was a sense of “American poetry.” It was a sense a national poetry, yes, but also a sense of the poet as a representative of the nation’s “sensibility.” That is mostly gone today. Today, poetry is almost intensely private and individual. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.

But I go back from time to time and read Whitman and Edgar Lee Masters, Dickinson and Teasdale, Frost and Benet, the poets I learned and found, the poetry that shaped and guided me.

And I am thankful.

Who – what poems – would comprise your “poem-ography?”

Photo by Norma Desmond. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of Dancing Priest: A Novel


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  1. says

    Glynn, one of the many things I enjoy and appreciate about your writing is your intelligence.

    You have an incredible ability to craft ideas into words that speak clear to my heart! — :)

    And… then you provoke my thinking. Gotta think on this one.

  2. L. L. Barkat says

    Goodness, Monica was fast yesterday! I never saw anyone so motivated by chocolate. :)

    My poem-ography rests in the readings from Best Loved Poems of the American People. My mother read to us every day before the bus came. Mix of everything from Shelley to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

    We loved the narrative poems. I think that persists for me. I look for the narrative in a poem even if it’s technically not a narrative poem.

  3. says

    My great uncle. He was a gifted wood-worker and whilst admiring his goods during a visit one afternoon, I found a small book of poems that he had written. (Back in that day I reckon it took some doing to get them printed and bound — self-publishing as it were.) He gave me the book and the inspiration.

    And I only met miss Emily Dickinson two years ago. I like her. A lot. Well, actually, mainly the ones in children’s collections.

    Same with Robert Louis Stevenson. (miss Laura Boggess gave me a child’s poetry book along with the immensely intimidating “The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms” book that I won way back when I first met Laura and Laura L.) I like the RLS children’s poetry book the best.

    All in all, I’m not very schooled in this department. I fly by the seat of my pants.

    Roses are red
    Violets are blue
    That’s really
    All I know –

    Not even a snip
    of what sir Glynn
    holds on his
    literary fingertip

  4. says

    Some favorites: Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, e.e. cummings, Ruth Stone, Donald Justice, Linda Pastan, Theodore Roethke, Muriel Rukeyser

    And one of my favorite children’s poets is Jack Prelutsky.

  5. says

    On Nancy’s comment, you all know I save poetry, right? In a scrapbook. This year’s is filling up with gems from TSPtry people.

    Glynn’s list made me think of Mary Oliver, who I learned about in college and still can’t get enough of.

  6. says

    Full-time corporate speechwriting has inspired poetry reading? That’s excellent!

    Sadly, I have no poemography from high school or college except a teeny bit (a week or two?) from 11th grade English. The only two I remember are “The Tyger” and “The Raven” (and “The Raven” has me captivated still).

    But I recently found a beautiful hardback copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People for a buck or two!! I’ll have to start reading from there daily (though I never take any bus nowadays). :)

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