22 January 2011

Filling in the blanks

Lately I've been trying to read books that I feel like I should have read by now, the books I've bought over the years that I never got around to reading, the books recommended by friends that I never found the time to find.

In recent weeks, I've read Some Ether by Nick Flynn, Shake by Joshua Beckman, and Nervous Systems by William Stobb. In the next few weeks, I'm planning to read Paper Anniversary by Bobby C. Rogers, Underlife by January Gill O’Neil, Phantom Noise by Brian Turner, Prairie Fever by Mary Biddinger, and After the Ark by Luke Johnson. And that doesn't even cut the pile on my desk in half—a pile which includes For the Sake of the Light by Tom Sexton, Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok, The Cloud Corporation by Tim Donnelly, and a bunch of journals.

Great list, you might say, so get to work.

Here's the problem: instead of moving on to the next title on the pile, I keep going back to a book I read in December. In the last few years, several people recommended that I read Jon Anderson, especially his out-of-print selected poems The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982. When I finally found a used copy, I snatched it up and started reading. At first, I couldn't quite grasp what was happening in these seemingly straightforward, almost casual-sounding poems. However, as I worked my way though the poems chronologically book by book, I started to get a dim sense of wholeness forming, of the inevitability of the later poems. I also had the not-so-dim sense that these are poems I wish I'd known much earlier, that there's something here that I've been missing all along. So far, in a little under a month, I've read the book four times. Going forward, I'm not sure exactly how these poems will change my own, but I'm pretty sure that they will.

The final lines of "The Secret of Poetry":
I'd like, please, to leave on your sill
Just one cold flower, whose beauty

Would leave you inconsolable all day.
The secret of poetry is cruelty.

And some of my favorite lines, from "Rosebud" (a poem in which the speaker visits the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn):
                                       The place might stand for death,
Every loss rejoined in a wide place;
Or it is rest, as it was after the long drive,
Nothing for miles but grass, a long valley to the south
& living in history. Or it is just a way of living
Gone, like our own, every moment.
Because what I have to do daily & what is done to me
Are a number of small indignities, I have to trust that
Many things we all say to each other are not intentional,
That every indirect word will accumulate
Over the earth, & now, when we may be approaching
Something final, it seems important not to hurt the land.

Music at the moment: Gillian Welch, Soul Journey