There are, in this world, five books that I dearly love. Five poetry books that have shaped me, changed me and helped me become a better, more visually observant writer. These are the writers I’ve admired for many years … all different in their own right, most from the 50’s, and all with a particular flair with words in some unusual way.
Meet my five favorite poets.
Elizabeth Bishops “North & South” : This one is first because I’ve had it the longest. Elizabeth Bishop sends her readers on a Mr. Toads Wild Ride of vivid imagery and whimsical tales! My Aunt Lila introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop when I was a teenager and it was her poem “The Fish” that hooked me (pardon the pun). “The Fish” reminded me immediately of a child’s reenactment of “Moby Dick” and it was impossible not to continue this incredible collection of simple and colorful poems! And there are so many that I adore: “Roosters”, “The Gentleman of Shalott” and “Man Moth” … and the list would go on and on! It makes me wish I were related to her! She seems like one of those people you feel like you’d call Aunt Lisabeth.
“Selected Poems” by Stanley Kunitz: So this was my Dads book and he really admired Kunitz. I had picked it up when my Dad was living and wondered how much Mr. Kunitz was paying my Dad to keep that ridiculous book in the house. After my Dad passed away, I just happened to flip through it and a particular poem demanded my full attention. It was his poem “The Portrait” … a poignant memory about a slap his mother gave him as a child. In his 64th year, he could still feel it in his cheek. But there were other less sad under-tales and they are goodies! He writes of romance and simple memories so beautifully, you almost feel as if you’re intruding on his moment. LOVE this book!
“Complete Poems” by Carl Sandburg: If you loved eating more than anything, imagine, if you will sitting down to a table piled so high with food you couldn’t see what was on top or on the bottom! This is how this book is … six hundred and seventy-six pages of pure beautiful Carl Sandburg poetry that is enough to satisfy your craving for poetry for months! If you’re a bit like me and you love a history lesson scattered around in your poetry, Sandburg will never disappoint. At times you think he’s writing an inaugural address in verse, and other time you think perhaps he’s just in the mood to tell you a thing or two about Abraham Lincoln you didn’t know, and then he just surprises you with a fog walking in on cat feet! The man is a genius whether he’s writing for kids or grownups, it’s all absolutely unforgettable!
“The Collected Poems” by Wallace Stevens: He’s the wild card in my list, but on my list of favorite poets. He is the most aristocratic and high-falluting of most of the poets … he’s hard to read … you find yourself having to re-read lines before you can elevate yourself to his high-thinking and finally get the meat of what the devil he’s talking about, but once you get it, you just want to cry. Yeah, he’s that amazing. He uses multi-syllable words I’ve scarcely heard of like I toss around pronouns. In my favorite piece, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (yeah, don’t try to guess where he’s going with that title), he invites you into a corner of his imagination and have a look at his thoughts on God. HIGHLY moving, captivating and a spark of romantic verbiage, Wallace Stevens brings my imagination to life, and that’s what I love most about poetry. If a poet can do that, then they’re accomplished in my eyes.
“Living Above the Frost Line” by Nancy Simpson: Saving the best for last. This is a book by my Mountain Mother and I’ve loved all her books equally, but this book is my favorite. With gentle echos of Elizabeth Bishop (a poet who’s style she greatly admired), her writing is a timeless as the Blue Ridge mountains and the poems roll out of her pen like a free-flowing fountain. I’ve sat in front of her and watched her compose … how she would look out her window, then down on paper, tap her pen a few times in the margin, and then start writing so quickly it was as if she were chasing the thought and catching it on paper. She was a word genius, who had a flair for describing the things she observed so vividly you could envision a pink pantsuit walking out the door, or leaves on the ground turning into a flock or wrens. I carry this book with me everywhere and no matter how many times I read it, I always find some new little discovery that I missed the first hundred times I read it.
“Finally … I’ve had enough of your cold ornery ways!
I’m tired of your lying, cheating and backstabbing!
I’ve had enough of your leaving …
making my heart soar as I happily packed up your clothes
and stuffed them out of sight (out of mind)!
And then, three days later …
you’d show your ugly face again … back at my door
expecting me to be happy to see you!
So once again
I pulled all of your heavy moth-ball infused clothes out
and hung them all back in the closet …
angrily, I might add.
Never again will I trust your tawdry”signs”!
Your “I’m leaving this time for good” song and dance
no longer enchants me because
you ALWAYS come back!
Well, you cold, bitter,
what-ever-you-want-to-call-yourself today nuisance ….
I’ll have you know that I’ve put your clothes away
once and for all.
I have in my possession a box of ten-penny nails
and I intend to use every last ONE of them this time.
That’s right … I’ll be nailing the door shut this time
with your heavy as lead clothes inside.
You heard me right … you no longer have access
to what everyone from Washington to Delaware
refers to as “your clothing”!
I’ve found another and will no longer
have room for you in my life!
So let this be our final “goodbye” ….
Spring is upon me and I simply don’t have
room in my life OR my closet for you.
Goodbye Winter …
Don’t let the door hit you in the icicle on the way out.”
You cannot catch the tooth fairy in a mouse-trap. Only your Daddy.
You cannot hide your uneaten peas, broccoli, liver, etc on the shelf under the table-top forever. Eventually the cat will out you.
Switching the Castoria with Hersheys Syrup only works if you fake gag and don’t offer to lick the spoon.
You can change an “F” to a “B” but you can’t change a “D” to anything, so it’s better to make an “F”.
Just feed all the Baby Asprin you don’t like to your cousin or hide them in your mothers potted plants.
When faking “taking a bath”, don’t forget to wet the soap and re-wet the tub after drying it with the towel (so the towel is wet). Be sure to moisten your skin and rub some soap on yourself so you smell clean. Dampen the bottom edges of your hair.
Use caution when using a light bulb to raise the temperature on the thermometer. It’s very difficult to explain a 109 degree fever to a hysterical parent.
A fake cough will always turn into a real cough if you over play the cough-card.
Never hide your report card in a library book and then return it. There is a level greater than “lost” that only a kid understands.
None of the exercises will make your titties bigger before you’re eight.
I was notorious for cleaning up my room and sticking stuff under my parents bed just because they had a dust ruffle.
It is absolutely possible to dig to China if it weren’t for childhood curfews.
If you need to do an oral book report and just plan on casually asking your Dad last minute what it’s about, don’t count on him giving you a straight answer. For instance, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” is not a true story about an island that football players went to in hopes of becoming a championship team and the quest of a little native boy on the island who wanted to become a Dolphin. However, an awful lot of boys in my class asked to read that book next though! (And thank heavens I got an “F”!)
PULLING THE SCOTTY
I am tossed from side to side
between my Mother and Daddy
as the little green GMC pickup truck
slowly makes it way up Old Cherry Mountain Road.
Every so often Mother would yell “Stop, Cecil!”
Daddy would explain for the dozenth time that
he’d have to get to the curve first.
Once we were at the level place in the road,
the three of us would climb out and trot
back down the road to retrieve the rock Mother
wanted for her rock garden.
Daddy would place it in just the right place
in the back of the truck and we’d all climb back in.
Occasionally I’d lollygag and end up sitting by the window
where I stretched out my hand to snap off
long fronds of Queen Annes Lace that happily
grew at the edges of the old road.
Daddy would go through the gears on the steering column,
first, clutch, second, clutch … and the truck would balk
at the idea of switching up to third gear, so we’d settle
into second as the rock in the back lurched backwards.
Mother laughed and Daddy would shake his head …
Mary Alice and her rock obsession! He adored her for it.
Merrily rolling behind us was our turquoise and white
Scotty Camper, rocking side to side like a happy drunkard,
the yellow ping-pong ball smiley face hanging in the window
seemed to echo its elation. It had followed us from
South Georgia along the slick concrete freeways that
ker-thunk ker-thunked beneath the wheels, and later
along sharply curving mountain roads where Mother was
certain it would tip over at every switchback.
We finally rolled into Bill and Nancy’s campsite
on Cherry Mountain and Daddy set the emergency brake.
My cousins, Tim and Jeff climbed out of the creek
shaking off water as they ran up the hill. Mother opened up
the Scotty and began bringing out lawn chairs.
Daddy used the rocks in the back of the truck to
keep the Scotty from rolling down Cherry Mountain.
That night I slept in the overhead bunk in the Scotty
gazing past the Smiley Faced ping-pong ball at the same
moon I would come to adore over the next fifty years
with the cousin I would someday learn to call “Mom”.