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Poetry 180 : A Turning Back to Poetry

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ISBN13:

9780812968873

ISBN10:
0812968875
Format:
Trade Paper
Pub. Date:
3/25/2003
Publisher(s):
Random House Trade Paperbacks
List Price: $16.00

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Summary

A dazzling new anthology of 180 contemporary poems, selected and introduced by America's Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Inspired by Billy Collins's poem-a-day program with the Library of Congress, Poetry 180 is the perfect anthology for readers who appreciate engaging, thoughtful poems that are an immediate pleasure. A 180-degree turn implies a turning backin this case, to poetry. A collection of 180 poems by the most exciting poets at work today, Poetry 180 represents the richness and diversity of the form, and is designed to beckon readers with a selection of poems that are impossible not to love at first glance. Open the anthology to any page and discover a new poem to cherish, or savor all the poems, one at a time, to feel the full measure of contemporary poetry's vibrance and abundance. With poems by Catherine Bowman, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Dana Gioia, Edward Hirsch, Galway Kinnell, Kenneth Koch, Philip Levine, Thomas Lux, William Matthews, Frances Mayes, Paul Muldoon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Charles Simic, David Wojahn, Paul Zimmer, and many more.

Table of Contents

Introduction xv
Billy Collins
Introduction to Poetry
3(1)
Billy Collins
Selecting a Reader
4(1)
Ted Kooser
Not Bad, Dad, Not Bad
5(1)
Jan Heller Levi
Singing Back the World
6(2)
Dorianne Laux
The Pink Car
8(2)
Mark Halliday
Acting
10(2)
Suzanne Cleary
The Cord
12(2)
Leanne O'Sullivan
Ode: The Capris
14(3)
Mark Halliday
Bringing My Son to the Police Station to Be Fingerprinted
17(2)
Shoshauna Shy
On the Death of a Colleague
19(2)
Stephen Dunn
The Space Heater
21(2)
Sharon Olds
Numbers
23(2)
Mary Cornish
Lines
25(1)
Martha Collins
Listen
26(1)
Miller Williams
Unholy Sonnets
27(1)
Mark Jarman
Poem for Salt
28(1)
Leroy V. Quintana
The Hand
29(1)
Mary Ruefle
Where I Was
30(2)
Dan Brown
hoop snake
32(2)
Rebecca Wee
Bestiary for the Fingers of My Right Hand
34(2)
Charles Simic
The Summer I Was Sixteen
36(1)
Geraldine Connolly
Did I Miss Anything?
37(2)
Tom Wayman
Song of Smoke
39(2)
Kevin Young
Autobiographia
41(1)
G. E. Patterson
White Towels
42(1)
Richard Jones
To You
43(1)
Kenneth Koch
It's Raining in Love
44(2)
Richard Brautigan
Moderation Kills (Excusez-Moi, Je Suis Sick as a Dog)
46(3)
David Kirby
Mrs Midas
49(4)
Carol Ann Duffy
The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.
53(1)
Larry Levis
Little Father
54(1)
Li-Young Lee
Alzheimer's
55(1)
Bob Hicok
The Book of Hand Shadows
56(1)
Marianne Boruch
Sidekicks
57(1)
Ronald Koertge
A Poetry Reading at West Point
58(2)
William Matthews
Only One of My Deaths
60(1)
Dean Young
I'm a Fool to Love You
61(2)
Cornelius Eady
Love Poem 1990
63(2)
Peter Meinke
Passer-by, these are words . . .
65(1)
Yves Bonnefoy
Wheels
66(2)
Jim Daniels
Rain
68(1)
Naomi Shihab Nye
A Myopic Child
69(1)
Yannis Ritsos
At the Other End of the Telescope
70(3)
George Bradley
praise song
73(1)
Lucille Clifton
The Man into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball
74(2)
Thomas Lux
The Farewell
76(1)
Edward Field
The Partial Explanation
77(1)
Charles Simic
Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets
78(2)
David Young
The Late Passenger
80(3)
C. S. Lewis
On a 3 1/2 Oz. Lesser Yellowlegs, Departed Boston August 28, Shot Martinique September 3
83(1)
Eamon Grennan
Tour
84(1)
Carol Snow
After Us
85(2)
Connie Wanek
Poetry
87(1)
Don Paterson
The Fathers
88(1)
Elizabeth Holmes
The High School Band
89(1)
Reed Whittemore
The Bell
90(1)
Richard Jones
Dearborn North Apartments Chicago, Illinois
91(1)
Lola Haskins
Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer
92(2)
Chris Forhan
The Bruise of This
94(1)
Mark Wunderlich
1-800-HOT-RIBS
95(2)
Catherine Bowman
The Printer's Error
97(4)
Aaron Fogel
Cartoon Physics, part 1
101(2)
Nick Flynn
Advice from the Experts
103(1)
Bill Knott
She Didn't Mean to Do It
104(1)
Daisy Fried
Snow
105(2)
David Berman
Six One-Line Film Scripts
107(1)
Tom Andrews
I Finally Managed to Speak to Her
108(1)
Hal Sirowitz
Before She Died
109(1)
Karen Chase
In the Well
110(1)
Andrew Hudgins
The Sonogram
111(1)
Paul Muldoon
Love Like Salt
112(1)
Lisel Mueller
Through the Window of the All-Night Restaurant
113(2)
Nicholas Christopher
The Assassination of John Lennon as Depicted by the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1987
115(1)
David Wojahn
Barbie's Ferrari
116(2)
Lynne McMahon
A Romance for the Wild Turkey
118(1)
Paul Zimmer
Ye White Antarctic Birds
119(1)
Lisa Jarnot
St. Francis and the Sow
120(1)
Galway Kinnell
Killing the Animals
121(1)
Wesley McNair
The Old Liberators
122(1)
Robert Hedin
Sentimental Moment or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road?
123(1)
Robert Hershon
Grammar
124(1)
Tony Hoagland
Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City
125(1)
Thomas Lux
In Tornado Weather
126(1)
Judith Kerman
The Portuguese in Mergui
127(2)
George Green
No Return
129(1)
William Matthews
The Panic Bird
130(2)
Robert Phillips
A Hunger
132(1)
Benjamin Saltman
Otherwise
133(1)
Jane Kenyon
Happy Marriage
134(2)
Taslima Nasrin
At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School
136(2)
Sherman Alexie
Hamlet Off-Stage: Laertes Cool
138(1)
D. C. Berry
Lesson
139(1)
Forrest Hamer
Football
140(1)
Louis Jenkins
Fat Is Not a Fairy Tale
141(1)
Jane Yolen
Sister Cat
142(1)
Frances Mayes
The Bagel
143(1)
David Ignatow
On Swimming
144(1)
Adam Zagajewski
Song Beside a Sippy Cup
145(1)
Jenny Factor
Watching the Mayan Women
146(2)
Luisa Villani
Queen Herod
148(4)
Carol Ann Duffy
Video Blues
152(1)
Mary Jo Salter
Smoking
153(1)
Elton Glaser
Old Men Playing Basketball
154(2)
B. H. Fairchild
Gratitude to Old Teachers
156(1)
Robert Bly
June 11
157(1)
David Lehman
Vegetarian Physics
158(1)
David Clewell
My Life
159(2)
Joe Wenderoth
Nuclear Winter
161(1)
Edward Nobles
Message: Bottle #32
162(1)
J. Allyn Rosser
Waves
163(1)
Robin Robertson
no. 6
164(2)
Charles Bukowski
Tuesday Morning, Loading Pigs
166(2)
David Lee
For Mohammed Zeid, Age 15
168(2)
Naomi Shihab Nye
Small Comfort
170(1)
Katha Pollitt
Skin
171(2)
Lucia Perillo
Telephone Repairman
173(2)
Joseph Millar
What I Would Do
175(2)
Marc Petersen
The Meadow
177(1)
Kate Knapp Johnson
Rotary
178(3)
Christina Pugh
Sax's and Selves
181(2)
Mark Halliday
Black Leather Because Bumblebees Look Like It
183(2)
Diane Wakoski
Beyond Recall
185(2)
Sharon Bryan
Alley Cat Love Song
187(1)
Dana Gioia
Goodbye to the Old Life
188(3)
Wesley McNair
For ``Fiddle-De-De''
191(3)
John Hollander
Country Fair
194(1)
Charles Simic
Part of Eve's Discussion
195(1)
Marie Howe
Birth Day
196(1)
Elise Paschen
On Not Flying to Hawaii
197(2)
Alison Luterman
The Poem of Chalk
199(3)
Philip Levine
My Father's Hats
202(1)
Mark Irwin
Of Politics & Art
203(2)
Norman Dubie
Loud Music
205(2)
Stephen Dobyns
Elevator Music
207(1)
Henry Taylor
A Wreath to the Fish
208(2)
Nancy Willard
ballplayer
210(2)
Evie Shockley
The Green One over There
212(3)
Katia Kapovich
May
215(2)
Bruce Weigl
The Quest
217(2)
Sharon Olds
In Simili Materia
219(1)
Timothy Russell
Words for Worry
220(1)
Li-Young Lee
In Praise of BIC Pens
221(2)
David Hilton
The Other World
223(2)
Robert Wrigley
The Grammar Lesson
225(1)
Steve Kowit
Fast Break
226(2)
Edward Hirsch
The Invention of Heaven
228(1)
Dean Young
Saturday at the Canal
229(1)
Gary Soto
Doing Without
230(1)
David Ray
The Death of Santa Claus
231(2)
Charles Webb
Ladies and Gentlemen in Outer Space
233(1)
Ron Padgett
Thanksgiving
234(1)
Mac Hammond
Dog's Death
235(1)
John Updike
Hound Song
236(1)
Donald Finkel
A Metaphor Crosses the Road
237(1)
Martha McFerren
The Swan at Edgewater Park
238(1)
Ruth L. Schwartz
The Blizzard
239(2)
Phillis Levin
Where Is She?
241(1)
Peter Cherches
Coffee in the Afternoon
242(1)
Alberto Rios
One Morning
243(1)
Eamon Grennan
Animals
244(1)
Miller Williams
God Says Yes to Me
245(1)
Kaylin Haught
The Perfect Heart
246(1)
Shara McCallum
The Birthday
247(1)
Elizabeth Seydel Morgan
Not Swans
248(1)
Susan Ludvigson
I Wish in the City of Your Heart
249(1)
Robley Wilson
The Accompanist
250(2)
William Matthews
The Wolf of Gubbio
252(2)
William Matthews
49th Birthday Trip (What Are You On?)
254(1)
Samuel Menashe
How Many Times
255(1)
Marie Howe
The History of Poetry
256(2)
Peter Cooley
The Dead
258(1)
Susan Mitchell
Social Security
259(2)
Terence Winch
The Student Theme
261(1)
Ronald Wallace
Smell and Envy
262(1)
Douglas Goetsch
The Yawn
263(1)
Paul Blackburn
Blue Willow
264(1)
Jody Gladding
Tuesday 9:00 AM
265(2)
Denver Butson
Ordinance on Arrival
267(1)
Naomi Lazard
96 Vandam
268(1)
Gerald Stern
What He Thought
269(4)
Heather McHugh
Notes on the Contributors 273(32)
Index of Contributors 305(4)
Index of Titles 309(4)
Permission Credits 313

Excerpts

poetry 180: AN INTRODUCTION

A FEW YEARS AGO I FOUND MYSELF ON A CIRCUIT OF readings, traveling around the Midwest from podium to podium. One stop was at an enormous high school south of Chicago. Despite its daunting size—picture a row of lockers receding into infinity—the school holds a “Poetry Day” every year featuring an exuberant range of activities, including poems set to music by students and performed by the high school chorus and a ninety-piece orchestra. As featured poet that year, I found myself caught up in the high spirits of the day, which seemed to be coming directly from the students themselves, rather than being faculty-imposed. After reading to a crowded auditorium, I was approached by a student who presented me with a copy of the school newspaper containing an article she had written about poetry. In that article, I found a memorable summary of the discomfort so many people seem to experience with poetry. “Whenever I read a modern poem,” this teenage girl wrote, “it’s like my brother has his foot on the back of my neck in the swimming pool.”

Poetry 180 was inspired by the desire to remove poetry far from such scenes of torment. The idea behind this printed collection, which is a version of the Library of Congress “180” website, was to assemble a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically “get” on first hearing—poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate. The original website, which continues to be up and running strong, www.loc.gov/poetry/180, is part of a national initiative I developed shortly after being appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2001. The program is called “Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools.” In creating it, I had hoped the program would suggest to young people the notion that poetry can be a part of everyday life as well as a subject to be studied in the classroom. On the website, I ask high school teachers and administrators to adopt the program by having a new poem read every day—one for each of the roughly 180 days of the school year—as part of the public announcements. Whether the poems are read over a PA system or at the end of a school assembly, students can hear poetry on a daily basis without feeling any pressure to respond. I wanted teachers to refrain from commenting on the poems or asking students “literary” questions about them. No discussion, no explication, no quiz, no midterm, no seven-page paper—just listen to a poem every morning and off you go to your first class.

I might not have come up with such an ambitious national plan—or any plan at all—were it not for the energetic efforts made by previous laureates to spread the word of poetry far and wide. Prior to the democratizing efforts of Joseph Brodsky, who envisioned poetry being handed out at supermarkets and planted in the bed tables of motel rooms next to the Gideon Bible, the post of poet laureate was centered at the Library of Congress in Washington, specifically in a spacious suite of rooms at the top of the magnificent Jefferson Building, complete with a balcony and, as one visi- tor put it, a “CNN view” of the Capitol. In those days, the position was called “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress”—admittedly, a mouthful with a businesslike sound. It was the habit of many Consultants to relocate to Washington, go to the office a few days a week, and—I can only imagine—wait for the phone to ring. You never knew when some senator would be curious to know who wrote “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” According to Mary Jarrell’s memoir, she and Randall took advantage of his tenure in the nation’s capital by enjoying cultural offerings such as the Budapest string quartet. Maxine Kumin invited Washington-area schoolchildren to the Poetry Room. Robert Penn Warren wisely devoted one of his terms to the writing of All the King’s Men. But by the time I took office, the laureateship had evolved into a seat from which resourceful plans for the national dissemination of poetry were being launched. And so Poetry 180 became my contribution.

High school is the focus of my program because all too often it is the place where poetry goes to die. While poetry offers us the possibility of modulating our pace, adolescence is commonly driven by the wish to accelerate, to get from zero to sixty in a heartbeat or in a speed-shop Honda. And de- spite the sometimes heroic efforts of dedicated teachers, many adolescents find poetry—to use their term of ultimate condemnation—boring. What some students experience when they are made to confront a poem might be summed up in a frustrating syllogism:

I understand English.

This poem is written in English.

I have no idea what this poem is saying.

What is “the misfit witch blocks my quantum path?” a reader might well ask. What’s up with “a waveform leaps in my belly”? What’s a reader to do in the face of such unyielding obtuseness?

But let us hear from the other side of the room. If there is no room in poetry for difficulty, where is difficulty to go? Just as poetry provides a home for ambiguity, it offers difficulty a place to be dramatized if not solved. “Even in our games,” asserts John Ciardi, “we demand difficulty.” Which explains why hockey is played on ice and why chess involves more than two warring queens chasing each other around the board. During the heyday of Pound, Eliot, Stevens, and Crane—that Mount Rushmore of modernism—difficulty became a criterion for appraising poetic value. The difficulty of composition was extended to the compass of the reader’s experience. Opacity became so closely associated with modernist poetry that readers fled in droves into the waiting arms of novelists, where they could relax in the familiar surroundings of social realism. Of course, the conceptual demands some poems make on their reader can provide an essential pleasure, but this is hardly a recommended starting place for readers interested in reclaiming their connection to poetry. Lacking the experience to distinguish between legitimate difficulty and obscurity for its own sake, some readers give up entirely. Randall Jarrell said that poetry was so difficult to write, why should it be difficult to read. Clarity is the real risk in poetry. To be clear means opening yourself up to judgment. The willfully obscure poem is a hiding place where the poet can elude the reader and thus make appraisal impossible, irrelevant—a bourgeois intrusion upon the poem. Which is why much of the commentary on obscure poetry produces the same kind of headache as the poems themselves.

Of course, the more difficult the poem, the more de- pendent students are on their teachers. Knotty poems give teachers more to explain; but the classroom emphasis on what a poem means can work effectively to kill the poetry spirit. Too often the hunt for Meaning becomes the only approach; literary devices form a field of barbed wire that students must crawl under to get to “what the poet is try- ing to say,” a regrettable phrase which implies that every poem is a failed act of communication. Explication may dominate the teaching of poetry, but there are other ways to increase a reader’s intimacy with a poem. A reader can write the poem out, just as Keats or Frost did, or learn how to say a poem out loud, or even internalize a poem by memorizing it. The problem is that none of these activities requires the presence of a teacher. Ideally, interpretation should be one of the pleasures poetry offers. Unfortu- nately, too often it overshadows the other pleasures of meter, sound, metaphor, and imaginative travel, to name a few.

POETRY 180 WAS ALSO MEANT TO EXPOSE HIGH SCHOOL students to the new voices in contemporary poetry. Even if teachers try to keep up with the poetry of the day, textbooks and anthologies typically lag behind the times. My rough count of one popular introductory text has dead authors beating out living ones at a ratio of nine to one. And oddly enough, many of the poems that are still presented as examples of “modern” poetry—Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”—were written more than seventy-five years ago. With a few exceptions, the poems selected for the Poetry 180 website and this book were chosen with the idea of catching the sounds, rhythms, and attitudes of poetry written much more recently. Some of the poems culled from literary magazines are no more than a year or two old. I ruled out any poem that had become a standard offering in textbooks and anthologies. I wanted also to include voices that were not well known. Quite a few of these poems were written by poets I had not heard of before I started scouting for the poems that would suit the purposes of Poetry 180. Assembling this anthology gave me a chance to further the cause of some of my favorite poems and also to discover poets who were new to me. The more I searched for poems, the more I became convinced that regardless of what other kinds of poems will be written in years to come, clear, reader-conscious poems are the ones that will broaden the audience of poetry beyond the precincts of its practitioners.

ADMITTEDLY, SOME OF THESE POEMS WERE SELECTED TO appeal to the interests of high school students. Mark Halliday and Jim Daniels both have poems about cars. Nick Flynn writes about the suspension of physical laws in cartoons. Edward Hirsch has a poem about basketball, and Louis Jenkins has one on football. There are poems about mothers and sons, fathers and daughters. And poems about teaching and learning. Tom Wayman’s hilarious and touching “Did I Miss Anything?” will appeal to anyone who has ever missed a class and then had the temerity to ask the teacher that impertinent question. But this anthology is meant for everyone, even if you somehow managed to avoid high school—that crucible where character is formed and where, as one student pointed out, they even make you read The Crucible.

One of the most haunting topics in literary discussion (right up there with the “Death of the Novel”) is the disappearance of the audience for poetry. Joyce Carol Oates has pointed out the lamentable fact that the number of poetry readers in this country is about the same as the number of people who write poetry. Based on my confrontations with students who want to write poetry but have no interest in reading it, I would say the poets might slightly outnumber the readers. Such a ratio should be kept in mind whenever we hear people extolling the phenomenon of a “poetry renaissance” in America. Yes, more poetry books are being published, and there are more contests, prizes, slams, open-mike nights, and MFA programs; but a large part of these activities take place within a closed circuit. In recent years, poetry has gained momentum as a cultural force, but much of its energy is expended tracing the same circle it has always moved in, appealing to the same insider audience.

Poetry need not be read by everyone—lots of intense activities have small audiences—but surely this distressing ratio can be changed so that poetry is enjoyed by people who have no professional interest in becoming poets. Poetry 180 is one of many efforts to change the ratio, to beckon people back to poetry by offering them a variety of poems that might snag their interest. I am convinced that for every nonreader of poetry there is a poem waiting to reconnect them to poetry. If a student hears a poem every day, the odds of he or she encountering the right poem increases dramatically. Ideally, Poetry 180 was aimed at creating a cognitive dissonance in students who “hate poetry” by exposing them to a poem they find themselves loving irresistibly.

THIS COLLECTION IS NOT AN EXACT TRANSCRIPTION OF the poems on the Poetry 180 website. Putting the poems into book form made it possible to include longer poems as well as poems that came to my attention after the website was put up. The website itself has movable parts; it is a kind of poetry jukebox where the songs can be changed and updated to keep the offerings fresh, especially for schools that want to continue to use the program one semester after another. This book, like all printed books, is fixed, but it includes as many different voices as possible to give a sense of the diverse chorus that is singing the songs of American poetry these days.

Unlike a book of prose fiction, which you read straight through following the rabbit of the plot, there are all sorts of ways to read a collection of poems. You can look up poets you are familiar with, you can flip through the pages looking for a title that grabs you, a shape that invites you in. Or you can read the collection cover to cover, forwards or backwards. But with Poetry 180, there is something to be said for starting at the beginning and reading just a poem or two each day. Like pills, for the head and the heart.

FOR MY OWN PART, POETRY 180 HAS BEEN A PLEASURE and a challenge. Finding the first one hundred poems was fairly easy. I just spun my mental Rolodex of contemporary poems that I liked well enough to remember. Locating the remaining eighty was harder, which might say something about the narrow bounds of my taste or the limited store of smart, clear, contemporary poems. I experienced the privilege of any anthologizer of being in control of the selections and thus being able to express through publication the kind of poetry I favor. With its original focus on high school audiences, Poetry 180 has a public service ring to it, but it is also, admittedly, a big bouquet of poems that I happen to like. To borrow Fran Liebowitz’s musical aesthetics: good poems are poems I like and bad poems are poems I don’t like. Putting that egocentric position aside, welcome to Poetry 180. Flip through the book and pick a poem, any poem. I know every one is an ace, or at least a face card, because I personally rigged the deck.

Excerpted from Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


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