I would pay someone $20 to scribble this in a restroom stall at some red-carpet event. It's here not only because I think it's appropriate to our celebrity gossip-soaked times, but because the Cantos really should be read in print.
The poetry of the early 20th century has always interested me more than anything that came later. I think it's because the really great poets evoke time and place with extreme poignancy and specificity: you can read the turmoil that came from increasing awareness of a shrinking world, the encroachment of technology, the fomenting currents of social change.
You all know I love Wilfred Owens and T.S. Eliot. Here's a piece by a compadre of theirs that's a most angry and eloquent query. I think it'd make a fine political protest piece.
I understood this poem so much better after living in a city.
When I was working in San Francisco and watching knots of drunks and junkies weave around the China Basin parking lots that would be filled in with stadiums and condos, when I became familiar with the funk of homeless guys standing in line behind you at McDonald's, when I got pulled over on Sixth and Market and watched a crack deal go down as I was written up for running a red light ... this poem made more sense than it had when I was reading it in a bucolic, rural college town.
This is my favorite type of poem: it beautifully illustrates the tension between what we see and what we know to be true in the dark corners of our minds. This is the type of poem you shouldn't read after 10 p.m. at night, not unless you'd like to stay up until 2 a.m. brooding.
This is another poem that manages to evoke the spirit of the 20th century -- not the Disney-bright, can-do march of progress, but the tangled and more complex developments that accompanied all our seismic societal shifts. It also pre-dates "Howl," but lays the bones for the urban shock and awe described in that poem.
I like to imagine Jenny Sparks reading this, then drinking herself blind. (On second thought, maybe Jack Hawksmoor would join her.)
How a reader receives a poem says more about the reader's character than the poem's. This would be why, upon re-visiting this poem, my first thought is now no longer, "Ah, that 19th-century romanticism!" but rather, "Yeats wouldn't have written this if he had lived in a fixer-upper."
The poem everyone's likely to remember after reading that anthology is Anne Sexton's "Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)," and they should, because it's that kind of poem. I am also somewhat fond of "The Iron Shoes" by Johnny Clewell, for this stanza:
I know iron. I know its weight. Its taste. The rise and fall of black, black hills. Seven long years I looked for you. Now I'm lost in this gentle green land.
And I realized recently that's because the poem seems like the flip side to the poem below. I love the last stanza of the poem you're about to read for its raging rally against time. By the time I get to "Come, my friends." I have to read silently, or risk getting choked up.
This is one of those poems where, if you read it right, it sounds like one of the most salacious things ever put to print. And that's why I like it -- it's the kind of R-rated woolgathering that can, in some contexts, pass for courtship.