Friday, January 2, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

Whenever I explain to someone that I'm in a graduate writing program, the inevitable next question is, "What do you like to write?" And when I say "poetry," he or she will get this strange, uncomprehending look on his/her face as if just finding out for the first time what calamari actually is.

People are scared of poetry. They think that they don't or won't understand it and that makes them not like it. If I wrote fiction, that would be easier to grasp -- the logic would be something like, "Katie wants to write a novel. I like to read novels, so I understand why Katie wants to write one." The poetry logic is harder to follow-- who reads poetry these days? Awareness of poetry for many of my friends, even the exceptionally well-read ones, consists of skipping over poems in The New Yorker.

So I'm going to post one poem a week on this blog that I challenge you NOT to like. I won't post my own stuff -- that you can read by clicking on the links under the Poems sidebar. I'm going to post poems that are so undeniably awesome and accessible that you will not be able to claim you don't get them or like them. I'll only post things written in the last decade, to prove my point that poetry is not antiquated or obsolete, but very much alive and still kicking.

This week's poem is "Eggrolls," by Alan Shapiro, published in 2005. It's funny (did you know poems could be funny?) and unexpected and, in my opinion, impossible not to like.

The gregarious babble
muffled the sharp
words the couple
in the next booth
were trying all
through dinner not
to have;
an occasional
No you, you
listen for a change,
or How dare you
or I can't believe this
would rise
above the barely
staccato please
god not now
not here rhythm of
an argument they wanted
both to swallow
and spit out.
Then the pause,
the momentary
silence in which
the whole place
to be listening
to the woman say, at last,
clearly and slowly,
so everyone could hear,
"It's not
the eggrolls, Harry,
it's the last ten years."

Oh, Harry, can you
forgive them,
the young couple
in the next booth
who laughed out loud
but really did
try not to—
you heard them,
how could you not have?—
as you ran past,
hurrying after her,
your disappearing wife?
And though it's nearly
thirty years
since then,
would it console you
or amuse you now
to learn they didn't
last a year,
that couple,
and even
that night,
they strolled home
hand in hand,
a little less estranged
for all the laughter
you occasioned,
even after
making love
and meaning it and
lying back, they heard—
they couldn't help
but lie there wide
awake and hear—
the couple from the next
for all they knew
could have been you and her,
go at it longer
deeper into the night
than they themselves
had ever thought
was possible?


J.A.G. said...

On first reading, I found it sad; on second reading, I found it funny. I guess that's what good poems/art-in-general do/does.

Bryan said...

I had the opposite journey -- funny the first time, really sad the second. But I really liked it. Thanks, Katie