Pass the poetry, if you please!

If I had to pick a single great writing love, it would be poetry hands down. The earliest poem I can find in my stacks was written when I was six or seven, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been writing poetry for about as long as I’ve known my alphabet.

Countless poets from the well-known to the unknown have impacted my life, my ways of thinking, and my own writing as well. The other day I tried to create a list of poets to recommend for good reading, and I realized that my “short list” capped off around 20 artists, and I hadn’t even listed all the transcendentalists yet.

Poetry appeals to me for its precision, its complexity, its juiciness… As a woman who is usually over the word count on first cut, I like the way writing poetry forces me to pluck out a single facet of a thought, to be frugal with word and image, and to embrace the emptiness of the page.

I’m a big fan of multi-layered poetry; works whose meanings are at once singular and infinite, whose metaphors are both accessible and invisible… poems which I read again and again throughout my life and each time pick up a unique interpretation. I’ve always been of the mind that the importance of art lies more with the many unique interpretations of the viewers, than with the various intentions of the creators.

And of course, one of the universal appeals of poetry is that wonderfully delicious feeling you get when you read through one of those brilliant pieces. You know the poems I’m talking about. Such poems could be written by your unpublished next door neighbor, or Rabindranath Tagore himself, but the results are the same: some poems stop your thoughts in their tracks. They jump into your soul, twist your brains, and change your outlook entirely.

Who are your favorite poets? What are your favorite poems? If you are a poet, why do you write poetry? How does a poem written for an audience differ from one you’ve written for yourself?


10 Responses to Pass the poetry, if you please!

  1. Flood says:

    I rarely seek out poetry to read in leisure, but I always enjoy the poems in The New Yorker, so I should read more. (I also enjoyed Bhaswati’s translation of Tagore’s The Path to Walk On.)

    My question to you is: what do you recommend for people unfamiliar with poetry. Where to begin?

  2. JLB says:

    Howdy Flood! Some of the greatest things about sampling poetry from periodicals like The New Yorker are the surprises – pieces that just pop out from the rest of the text and are written by a variety of artists. I’ve seen some really amazing pieces published in Orion lately!

    If you’re of a mind to dive into poetry, my suggestion would be to follow something of the same tack: surprises. Have you ever heard a great song from an artist you didn’t know, and then went to buy the album only to find a bunch more great songs? Same deal.

    Keep your ears open for folks who mention a poet (or poem) that they like. Look for poetry from across cultures, across history, and across styles. I am constantly being introduced to new poets both dead-and-buried and writing-above-ground who I’ve either never heard of, or simply never read. Allow yourself to be directed as much by accident and happenstance as by willful intent to read. 🙂

    In the mean time, let me offer you a couple of my favorite pieces in the following post as jumping off points (like random songs on the radio). If a poem speaks to you, go pick up a book by the poet at the library or the bookstore, and read what else they have to say!

    Perhaps I should start a regular installment of poetry suggestions? Hmmm…

  3. […] In this morning’s post about poetry, Flood asked where someone might begin in the quest for good poetry.  I suggested that those interested look for poetry from across cultures, across history, and across styles.  Allow yourself to be directed as much by accident and happenstance as by willful intent to read. […]

  4. eric C K says:

    The poets that I love come from the streets, the bush, the rails and alleys.
    That’s what happens when you ship a country boy to the big city.

    I’ve been a fan of Charles Bukowski, Leonard Cohen, Jamison Mahto (the bard of Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis and I can’t find a copy of his opus :Blues For Franklin Avenue anywhere on the web. Sad), Al Purdy, etc.

    I’ve started listening to some readings by great performance poets of yesteryear: Giorno, Waldmann, Gysin, Patti Smith…
    A great site to down load some readings at


  5. JLB says:

    Mmmm… Leonard Cohen…. 🙂 Great stuff. I simply must investigate some of the others you’ve listed.

    Thank you so much for the site link, I’ll be haunting there to be sure! I know just what you mean about the poets of the streets and the bush. I have encountered some wonderful poets rapping on sidewalks and at busstops, singing on beaches and in forests; poets whose names I rarely get to know but whose words and rhythms I will never forget!

  6. Cool you mention Jamison Mahto with Leonard Cohen & Chuck Buk; Jamison was a romantic devotee of their work, sort of a living, breathing tribute. Regarding “Blues for Franklin Avenue” & it’s whereabouts. Somewhere I may have a copy but would be loathe to part with. In the late 70’s I published Mahto’s book “The Blue Apache” – 200 copies, a true collector’s item. In the early 90’s I printed 1000 copies of “Blues for Franklin Avenue” and sent them to Jamison. I also produced a couple recordings of his band AHBLEZA and sold about 3,000 copies. Occasionally, I see a copy floating around somewhere & I wonder about its journey.

  7. Kevin Lee Lopez says:

    I am trying to reach Jamison Mahto for a poetry session in Tucson. If you know other native poets/writers/filmmakers who would be willing to spend a week on the Tohono O’odham reservation conducting paid sessions with 7th and 8th graders, please contact back. If you got a lead on Jamison, please pass this information on to him.


    Kevin Lee Lopez

  8. Kathy Kunhardt says:

    I’m also trying to contact Jamie Mahto- I knew him at Macalester College-
    did you ever get in touch with him? Do you have any contact info for him?

  9. Brad Speed says:

    I was a friend and bandmate of Jamie Mahto’s, I’ve also lost track of him and would like to reconnect if anyone out there can help.

  10. John says:

    You managed to put into words, how I feel about my own personal poetry. As a senior that is moving closer to death each day (if it should be by natural causes), I found my work has many shadings of meaning. It is indeed a sight to see a grown man (an Ex-new yorker from the slums) actually cry, at the reading of their own work. Thank you for sharing this blog.

    John J. Rigo
    Author and Publisher
    Amidst Series of Poetry Books

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