It is difficult to narrow down my favorite poets but one that always remains on my list and is probably on any poetry lover's list is Robert Frost. His nature poetry is truly food for the soul. I never fail to feel happy and content after a Frost Fest.
Robert Frost, a native of San Francisco was born in 1874. He didn't stay out west though. As a child he lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Later he went to both Dartmouth College and Harvard but never earned a formal degree.
Frost spent some time doing odd jobs including shoe repair and later worked as editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. He published his first poem, entitled, "My Butterfly", in a New York newspaper, The Independent.
At this time in literary history, writers had to go to Europe to "make it". Only then could they come back to America and be considered successful. It was the popular view that there were no good American writers. Frost moved to England with his wife, Elinor White,in 1912 after Frost failed as a farmer.
In England, Frost met many influential British poets but it was Ezra Pound who really helped Frost promote his work. Three years later Frost returned to American with two complete collections of poetry, A Boy's Will and North of Boston.He reputation was established, and by the 1920s he was the most popular poet in America. I'm very sure that the same is true today.
Among my favorites is "The Tuft of Flowers"
I went to turn the grass once after one Who mowed it in the dew before the sun. The dew was gone that made his blade so keen Before I came to view the levelled scene. I looked for him behind an isle of trees; I listened for his whetstone on the breeze. But he had gone his way, the grass all mown, And I must be, as he had been -- alone, 'As all must be,' I said within my heart, 'Whether they work together or apart.' But as I said it, swift there passed me by On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly, Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night Some resting flower of yesterday's delight. And once I marked his flight go round and round, As where some flower lay withering on the ground. And then he flew as far as eye could see, And then on tremulous wing came back to me. I thought of questions that have no reply, And would have turned to toss the grass to dry; But he turned first, and led my eye to look At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook, A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared. The mower in the dew had loved them thus, By leaving them to flourish, not for us, Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him. But from sheer morning gladness at the brim. The butterfly and I had lit upon, Nevertheless, a message from the dawn, That made me hear the wakening birds around, And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground, And feel a spirit kindred to my own; So that henceforth I worked no more alone; But glad with him, I worked as with his aid, And weary, sought at noon with him the shade; And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach. 'Men work together,' I told him from the heart, 'Whether they work together or apart.'
Another poet that I am very fond of is Billy Collins, 2002's poet laureate. I recently went to a reading that he gave at Florida State University in the spring.
I’ve been to several poetry readings and was part of a writer’s group in high school. The extent of my readings experience was a dingy attic over a bookstore in Corning New York. Every Friday we gathered for the “Peaceful Gatherings Coffeehouse” It was every bit the coffeehouse I imagined was the norm in the 1960s and I was totally in love with it. A bushy-headed man named Michael Czarnecki organized the shindigs and he also organized workshops at St. Bonaventure University, which I attended and other places.
The attic was dusty, dirty and dimly lit with enormous rugs hanging from bare rafters. The rugs had the affect of making the large attic feel enclosed and intimate.This was where the last vestiges of Corning’s hippies met. There was “the organic farm lady” who played a lap harp and sang like Tiny Tim about her organic farm. There was also a group of professors from Corning Community College. One played the washboard, another played a stringed mop and bucket and another played the saw. They sounded pretty good and the younger people got a kick out of seeing their teachers go to town on farm implements. I could go on and actually this does give me an idea for a story but I really just wanted to paint a picture of my prior experience with poetry readings before moving on to the Billy Collins reading.
I was very excited when I heard about Billy Collins even though I’d never read his poetry. I just wanted to see a poet laureate in person and hear a real professional at work.
So I set out to do some research first. I went online and read “Another Reason Why I don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” I thought it was sort of funny. Then I listened to it online. Collins sounded a bit drab, but still, I was looking forward to the reading. So, I checked Amazon.com for a list of his publications and found the most recent one, Sailing Alone Around the Room, which I purchased.
I liked the imagery in the title of the first section- “The Apple that Astonished Paris” (which is also the title of one of his earlier books)and read the whole chapter. I must admit, that I wasn’t blown away. However,he did tell his stories well and I liked his knack for making the ordinary seem special.
We dressed up for it a little bit. This was going to be a little more upscale than an attic.
At the reading I was blown away. Collins is amazingly funny.His most important tools are humor and irony. He takes the everyday and blows it up until it is translucent and you see it in a new light. One of these poems is, “The Country” which I include here.
Billy Collins was an unexpected breath of fresh air. In high school, poetry was dark and dramatic, always about things depressing. In community college I learned more about imagery, but the topics were mostly about lost love- my favorite for years was “Barbara Allen”-author unknown. Funny was not a word that I associated with poetry and yet at the Collins reading, here was this funny man and everyone was laughing out loud until there were tears. I don’t know if I can write “funny” but I think I’m going to give it a shot. By the way- if you didn’t laugh out loud when you read "The Country", then you must go to a Collins reading.
I wondered about you when you told me never to leave a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches lying around the house because the mice might get into them and start a fire. But your face was absolutely straight when you twisted the lid down on the round tin where the matches, you said, are always stowed. Who could sleep that night? Who could whisk away the thought of the one unlikely mouse padding along a cold water pipe behind the floral wallpaper gripping a single wooden match between the needles of his teeth? Who could not see him rounding the corner, the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam, the sudden flare, and the creature for one bright, shining moment suddenly thrust ahead of his time- now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid illuminating some ancient night. Who could fail to notice, lit up in the blazing insulation, the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants of what once was your house in the country?
Billy Collins most recent books are:
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