Five Poems I Love

So, it’s National Poetry Month, and as such, I thought I’d pick out a few of my favorite poems to write about this week. It was ridiculously hard to limit myself to five, but it was necessary, too. If I hadn’t, I’d probably go on all night. I’ve written before about how my top two all-time favorite poems are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Howl” respectively, but I’ve chosen to leave those off the list in favor of others that I haven’t given as much airtime. So, in no particular order, here they are:

1. A Supermarket in California – Allen Ginsberg
This is one of the other poems that appears in the book Howl and Other Poems, and it has long been one of my favorites. Yes, I love “Howl” for its unbridled power, but for my money it’s this poem, about following a vision of Walt Whitman through the grocery store, that I love to return to most. It’s probably as lighthearted as Ginsberg gets, and it truly is a pleasure to read. What peaches and what penumbras! (Text)

2. The Burning of Paper Instead of Children – Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich has been one of my favorite poets since I first encountered her work in a college English class. I’ve written about her numerous times (most recently in this post), and I almost feel that if I get into the reasons why I love her work I’ll be repeating myself. But it is her poetry about language — what it means, how it fails us — that has been most influential for me, as a writer, as a person. I have a collection of her poems and it is probably one of the most battered, well-loved, often-read books in my library. I probably turn to it for one reason or another at least once a week. I had a hard time limiting myself to one of her poems, but I ended up picking this one. “A language is a map of our failures,” she writes, and this idea continues to resonate with me, not only as someone who reads and appreciates poetry, but as a woman negotiating the world. (Text)

3. The Pennycandystore Beyond the El – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
This is another one of those poems that is a pure delight to read. Outside, there is gloom and summer is blown away with the autumn wind that ushers in winter, but inside the candy store with the jelly beans is a nice place to be. (Text)

4. Poem About My Rights – June Jordan
Sometimes we need poems that make us pound our fists on the table and say “Fuck yeah!” This is one such poem for me. I remember the first time I read it, in a tiny study carrel in a stuffy library, and how Jordan’s words made me feel like holding my head up a little higher. It’s a wonderful, powerful piece of writing that is political and angry and forceful. It plants its feet and says its piece and it’s not taking any crap from anybody. I love it. (Text)

5. somewhere i have never travelled – e.e. cummings
Maybe underneath it all I’m a sentimental sap, but don’t tell anyone because I have a reputation to uphold. I don’t even know how long I’ve loved this poem because it’s one of those pieces that seemed to sink into me and at this point, it feels like it’s always been there. It’s a comfortable poem, and one I can always return to and know that I’ll enjoy. Even so, it is still deliciously fragile, so painfully beautiful that I have to hold my breath when I read it. (Text)

24 Responses

  1. Nice AssortmentI like these
    Nice Assortment

    I like these selections and how some seem to play off of each other. I’m too lazy to write out a great synopsis for each one, but here are my top 5… at this moment anyway:

    1) The City in which I Love You by Li-Young Lee
    2) Insomnia by Elizabeth Bishop
    3) Para Que Tu Me Oigas by Pablo Neruda
    4) The Secret by Denise Levertov
    5) anyone lived in a pretty how town by ee cummings

    Honorable mention: “Cormac McCarthy is a Smelly Poser” by Longfellow

  2. Man! I can’t believe I
    Man! I can’t believe I forgot about that Cormac McCarthy poem. It’s one of my favorites.

    All-around good list.

  3. Followed by the store
    Followed by the store detective…

    The Ginsberg poem is top notch! Lifted me out of the mundane box.

    I think I read it years ago with less appreciation.

  4. oh, I also meant to say,
    oh, I also meant to say, Jamelah, that the imagery in the e.e. cummings poem reminds me of your photography.

  5. lyric wordsGenerally I prefer
    lyric words

    Generally I prefer the lyric poetry of Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay, Percy Shelley and John Keats. But there is something catching about the thoughtful reflective poem, the serious introspective of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Denise Levertov; or the brooding political statement. I also like Richard Eberhart ’cause I met him once, and he seemed like a nice guy.

    To Althea From Prison – Richard Lovelace
    Easter 1916 – Yeats
    She Walks in Beauty – Poe
    Fern Hill – Dylan Thomas
    Directive – Robert Frost

  6. My Favorite Fehrlinghetti
    My Favorite Fehrlinghetti & Olds

    I don’t know this poem’s name but it’s my favorite by Fehrlinghetti and I know it by heart:

    “Cast up the heart flops over
    gasping love
    foolish fish which tries to draw its breath from flesh of air
    and no one there to hear its death among the sad bushes
    where the world rushes by in a blather of asphalt and delay.
    I don’t know Sharon Olds’ Sex Without Love by heart but it is my second favorite:
    How do they do it, the ones who make love
    without love? Beautiful as dancers,
    gliding over each other like ice-skaters
    over the ice, fingers hooked
    inside each other’s bodies, faces
    red as steak, wine, wet as the
    children at birth whose mothers are going to
    give them away. How do they come to the
    come to the come to the God come to the
    still waters, and not love
    the one who came there with them, light
    rising slowly as steam off their joined
    skin? These are the true religious,
    the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
    accept a false Messiah, love the
    priest instead of the God. They do not
    mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
    they are like great runners: they know they are alone
    with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
    the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
    vascular health–just factors, like the partner
    in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
    single body alone in the universe
    against its own best time.”

  7. Okay …Hazardous assignment
    Okay …

    Hazardous assignment but …

    1. Prufrock by T. S. Eliot (it just really is the most amazing poem I’ve ever read).

    2. Kaddish by Ginsberg (no disrespect to Howl, but this one deserves credit too).

    3. Point Lobos: Animism by Michael McClure (just a personal favorite of mine)

    4. Something whose title I can’t remember from Donald Hall

    5. Something whose title I can’t remember from Jorie Graham

  8. for something completely
    for something completely different

    Salutation the Third by Ezra Pound.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never found another poem whose primary themes are resentment, revenge and hatred. It’s so utterly, unrepentantly vile that you can’t take your eyes off of it. It contains one line that, for most people, makes it impossible to ever read another Pound poem without squirming a little (and I count myself among them). The typeface changes from word to word, lest you miss the particular terms Pound considered key (like hate, die, tomb, guffaw), and which also gives you the uncomfortable feeling that Pound is leaning over you with clenched teeth while you read, swaying drunkenly and occasionally spraying you with spittle.

    But there’s something so honest about it, so present. There are no pleasant thoughts recollected in tranquility, it’s just unrestrained rage, exploding in clipped syllables, threats and unreasonable demands. And it might be the most immediate poem in the English language — everything is going on NOW, and it seems to follow its own eruptive logic, with little paranoid digressions that can only begin to branch out before the central fury guiding the poem snaps them back in line. I really can’t think of anything else like it.

    (I should mention that I’m also big on Elizabeth Bishop and Auden. I like the nice stuff too.)

  9. Oh Christ, here goes…A few
    Oh Christ, here goes…

    A few others have attempted this, so I might as well give it a shot as well. Reducing such a list to a Top Five is rather punishing, so I’ve tried concentrating on those which were probably my biggest and earliest influences…

    1. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ‘The World Is A Beautiful Place’

    2. Sylvia Plath, ‘Daddy’ or ‘Lady Lazarus’

    3. Jim Morrison, Untitled poem beginning “The beautiful monster…”

    4. Artie Gold, ‘private eye’

    5. Raymond Roseliep, Haiku: ‘campfire extinguished, / woman washing dishes / in a pan of stars’

    I love Ferlinghetti for his hipness of language and those dark little Hitchcockian twists and puns toward the ends of his better pieces (“…we were the only ones there”, “…his Victorious answer to everything”, “…comes the smiling mortician”, etc.)…Sylvia Plath doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere in the American (or North American) context of her era; call me a nutjob, but I think she’s as close as one can get to a female Jim Morrison–not bad for a lady who has never been formally viewed as part of the Beat poetry scene…Speaking of The Lizard King, Jim Morrison is still the best of the ‘musical’ or ‘folk/rock’ poets, as far as I’m concerned–both on vinyl and on the page; I love his surreal visions within (make that ‘w/in’) those apocalyptical parallel universes he created…Artie Gold may be a contender for ‘most comically disturbed and paranoid of all Canadian poets’; this is the man from whom I got my twisted dark humour (well, along with Harvey Kurtzman’s takes on classic poems in 1950s MAD); Artie died just a few weeks ago at age 60…Father Raymond Roseliep may be the greatest and most innovative of all the English-language haijins; ‘campfire extinguished’ is probably his best and most famous work….

    If I were required to expand this list to a Top 10, I guess I would also have to cite poems by Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Tom Dawe and Agha Shahid Ali….

  10. Death of the ball turret
    Death of the ball turret gunner

    1) Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

    From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my
    wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

    –Randall Jarrell

    2) Fern Hill

    Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
    About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
    The night above the dingle starry,
    Time let me hail and climb
    Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
    And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
    And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
    Trail with daisies and barley
    Down the rivers of the windfall light.

    And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
    About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
    In the sun that is young once only,
    Time let me play and be
    Golden in the mercy of his means,
    And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
    Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
    And the sabbath rang slowly
    In the pebbles of the holy streams.

    All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
    Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
    And playing, lovely and watery
    And fire green as grass.
    And nightly under the simple stars
    As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
    All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
    Flying with the ricks, and the horses
    Flashing into the dark.

    And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
    With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
    Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
    The sky gathered again
    And the sun grew round that very day.
    So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
    In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
    Out of the whinnying green stable
    On to the fields of praise.

    And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
    Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
    In the sun born over and over,
    I ran my heedless ways,
    My wishes raced through the house high hay
    And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
    In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
    Before the children green and golden
    Follow him out of grace.

    Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
    Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
    In the moon that is always rising,
    Nor that riding to sleep
    I should hear him fly with the high fields
    And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
    Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
    Time held me green and dying
    Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

    –Dylan Thomas


    3) To a Louse

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
    An ev’n devotion!

    –Robert Burns


    4) Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain

    –e.e. cummings


    5) The Red Wheel Barrow

    so much depends
    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

    –William Carlos Williams

    and…some other fool

    I Sold My Summer

    Short as the wind
    in the end the sheets
    of businessmen caked
    and taped above my grave
    time, a fortune given away
    hours into minutes
    three months to a day
    where went June? it ticked off
    waving away like July
    summer burning earth and rain
    that never came but was
    halfway gone already
    and me, again
    grim in the duties
    of my office
    the tick of the clock
    the walls, cloaked and grey
    the hall lights off
    no light comes in there now
    I was the last to leave

    I sold my summer
    short as it were
    traded away all the
    kid things, bikes and
    baseball gloves
    easy daylong games
    monopoly and risk
    every summer day
    is Saturday
    I sold my summer
    short, blowing out
    July a candle
    burning bliss
    blessed like
    August just as
    brief and gone again
    like cartoon cats
    chased by cartoon dogs

    I sold my summer days
    running the other way

    I remember yesterday
    a dutiful daddy coming home
    it’s Friday night
    the neighborhood kids
    running in their shouting
    one bumped into me
    standing by my car
    my suitcoat heavy trenched
    the briefcase in my hand
    my old man July face
    drenched and drooping like
    the bottle brush trees
    shrugging in the heat-filled wind
    some kid bumped into me
    he screaming and laughing
    lets out a “zipppppeeee”
    and tears away in freckled shrieks
    doo dah disappearing
    like the bending light
    turning summer into night
    i watched him run away
    that kid was me
    no, he was not me, no
    i am someone else now
    summer, you shorted me

    –some idiot fool

  11. Seeing as how you have two
    Seeing as how you have two pieces by two different poets called “Something whose title I can’t remember” I have to ask if it’s because of the title that you perhaps like these poems so much?


  12. It contains one line that,
    It contains one line that, for most people, makes it impossible to ever read another Pound poem without squirming a little (and I count myself among them).

    What’s the line?

  13. The Ferlinghetti poem is
    The Ferlinghetti poem is number 25 in A Coney Island of the Mind. I think this poem, along with most poems that do not have definite names, are ususally referred to by the first line of the poem.

  14. Poetry BooksI didn’t realize
    Poetry Books

    I didn’t realize until I started writing this that no one put Song of Myself. man oh man. I couldn’t think of just one poem so i put down some of my favorite books.

    1. Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman: What can I say about a guy who has a service plaza named after him along the new jersey turnpike?

    2. A Coney Island of the Mind – Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Also check out the poems populist manifesto and bichford buddha, which are great poems.

    3. A Happy Birthday to Death – Gregory Corso: Hell, Corso is just a fun rollercoaster.

    4. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams Volume I: Along with Whitman, he made American poetry American.

    5. Odyssey – Homer: I read this merely to understand all the allusions in modern writing, but it turned out to be a great story.

    6. Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 2 Yeah, there is a lot of stuff old crap, but then there is such jewels as “Kubla Khan,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth.”

    7. The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry: This book is a rabid dog.

    8. Love is a Dog from Hell – Charles Bukowski: Buk’s estate didn’t allow his work to be put in the Outlaw Bible, but this book is all Buk. For a dead man, he puts out more work than Tupac.

    9. Selected works of Allen Ginsberg: The poem “America” (and not “Howl”) got me into Ginsberg and it blew me away. From Ginsberg, I’ve turned to Blake, Whitman, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Williams, etc. Ginsberg is the only American poet that Europeans know.

    I feel like some poetry PR guy now.

  15. Ha … yes, and
    Ha … yes, and Levon.

    Jamelah, a few years ago I was knocked out by a Jorie Graham poem in the New Yorker. Haven’t located it since. As for Donald Hall, it’s in his new book, I’ll go look it up …

  16. I think they’re both called
    I think they’re both called “Scoring PC Brownie Points”, but that’s just my guess… ahem…

  17. Ginsberg isn’t the ONLY
    Ginsberg isn’t the ONLY American poet that the Europeans know–remember, in 1990 alone, Bukowski sold over a million copies in Germany alone! Can you imagine ANY poet here in Canada or the U.S. selling that well while they’re still alive?!! Selling 5000 copies of a solo volume of poetry was considered the standard for a bestseller in Canada in the ’80s and ’90s. In the ’00s, I would reduce this figure to about 2500 copies for a title published by a ‘professional house’ (whatever the qualifiers are for this status nowadays), and somewhere between 350 and 500 copies for a self-published volume….

  18. “I Sold My Summer” is one of
    “I Sold My Summer” is one of my favorite poems, too, jota. It was good to read it again, you did a good job on that one.

  19. i guess i should be careful
    i guess i should be careful about making such generalizations. i guess by europeans i meant the english, which would be a generalization as well. every time i talk with the english they don’t know any american poets except ginsberg.

    i wonder about buk’s appeal internationally. i think that he’s so popular in germany because he’s part german. it’s almost like the t.s. eliot factor. americans and the british both claim t.s. eliot as their own writer.

  20. Nat’l Poetry Month Bad for
    Nat’l Poetry Month Bad for Poetry?

    There is a link below for a really good (and amusing) article against National Poetry Month by Charles Bernstein. Charles is my thesis advisor for my masters, and besides being a great teacher and poet, and a very encouraging mentor for myself as a poet, he’s also one hell of a funny guy.

    However, in this essay, he makes an interesting point about how National Poetry Month, in some sense, dilutes our appreciation of poetry, since, ultimately, its major corporate sponsors are large chain bookstores who use April as a time to sell poetry books, instead of actually appreciate poetry. Giving away “free” book of poetry is a form of advertisement, since only the most marketable and potentially “popular” (i.e., the safest, most palatable poets’ books are given away). As Charles notes:

    “National Poetry Month is about making poetry safe for readers by promoting examples of the art form at its most bland and its most morally “positive.” The message is: Poetry is good for you. But, unfortunately, promoting poetry as if it were an “easy listening” station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. “Accessibility” has become a kind of Moral Imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but Safe Poetry. As if poetry will turn people off to poetry.”

    Full text here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!