Lately, reading poems feels like a lot of blah blah blah. I'm tired of the flip, the cute, the acrobatics of clever.
Do you feel this, too?
There are too many words, trying too hard. My mind wanders and I think, In this communication saturation, what can poetry really do?
In this state, I mope around and flip through an easy read. But I always head back to poetry, a bit shy, a bit resistant. If I'm lucky, I'm stopped short, jolted by a powerful poem, and suddenly I'm energized again.
Here, two recent finds that spun me around:
Warden, Murder Me is a poem by Allyson Whipple created entirely from the words of inmates facing the death penalty. The piece from which she extracted, Last Words of the Condemned, appeared in The New York Times.
It's a challenge to create a found poem that is both refreshing and resonate, and this one works by delivering a mix of restrained observation and intimate detail.
Here's the first stanza:
I wish I could die more than once
to tell you how sorry I am.
I am the sinner of all sinners.
I deserve this.
I said goodbye.
Let’s roll. Lord Jesus
receive my spirit.
I love all those on Death row.
I will always hold them
in my hands.
Read the full poem at The New Verse News.
Lillie was a goddess, Lillie was a whore, a poetry collection by Penelope Scambly Schott, is a piercing look at prostitution. These are bold and fearless poems, covering historical, political and emotional ground. In this unique work, the poet serves as hostess, historian, reporter, and voyeur. Schott's skill and control (she's published more than a dozen books) give the collection significant power, perspective, and, at times, humor.
The book's running theme is cause and effect, and the correlation is examined with microscopic care:
Why Lillie Became a Prostitute — version six
He stood next to my bed
I'm your father
he slid under the covers
I was wearing my pj's with pandas.
I would never hurt you
he hurt me with his thing
I don't remember any thing
I don't remember anything
I don't like pandas anymore
While Schott looks to the past, she snaps us back to now. Prostitution may be an old routine, but so are the agreements of modern marriage:
In which this wife tells her husband the truth about sex in marriage
I am tired of cooking dinner. Instead
I'd rather lick caterpillars just for the feel
of fur on each of my tongues.
I have one hundred slippery tongues
and each speaks a different dialect.
Is any one of them yours?
Often my breasts are annoyed
by the tedious fact that every penis
is an antenna.
. . .
Sometimes, though rarely, my body
is struck by lightning.
Other times I'm the best liar in Portland,
Oregon. Strangers have paid me
to lie. For you, my beloved,
I'll do it for free.
Rattle, one of my favorite journals, applauds Lillie, noting ". . . the historical sections of Schott’s book are smart, interesting, compassionate, and worth reading, but the contemporary poems are truly urgent and compelling."
That's not overstatement. It's a careful hand that can craft such power. With Lillie, Schott informs, illuminates, shakes and stirs — and that, I'm now certain, is what poetry can do.