Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

In one of my first grad school poetry courses, I came across a Muriel Rukeyser poem that struck me as rather perfect -- simple, elegant, and effortless-seeming -- the kind of poem you instantly understand and enjoy reading the 1st time and the 1,000th time. I've continued to read her and the more I read, the more it seems downright criminal that she's not more well-known. At the AWP conference last week, I picked up a nonfiction book by her called The Life of Poetry. It was published in 1949, was out of print for a while, and then reissued by the Paris Press in the mid-90s. I started reading it on the plane home and it's mind-blowing. Everything she says about poetry is so relevant, so topical for today even though it was written over 60 years ago. She makes a case for why poetry is a cultural necessity, something all human beings need, and might in fact be the very thing that saves us from ourselves. 

So I'll share two of her poems with you here-- the one I discovered back in grad school, "Yes," and one I read for the first time last week, "Coney Island," which is awesome because I LOVE Coney Island (I've written a poem about it as well, though it's not as good as this one).


It’s like a tap-dance
Or a new pink dress,
A shit-naive feeling
Saying Yes

Some say Good morning
Say say God bless–
Some say Possibly
Some say Yes.

Some say Never
Some say Unless
It’s stupid and lovely
To rush into Yes.

What can it mean?
It’s just like life,
One thing to you
One to your wife.

Some go local
Some go express
Some can’t wait
To answer Yes.

Some complain
Of strain and stress
Their answer may be
No for Yes.

Some like failure
Some like success
Some like Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes.

Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes.

Coney Island

Coney Island, Coney island,
No need to let me know,
No need to tell me so
I need you now to show me…

Show me what’s under the counter,
Show me what’s under your skin,
Show me the way to get out
And I’ll show you the way to get in.

Show me life, show me lives, people in dives,
Show me yells, show me smells, and grimy hotels,
Clams, yams, lobster and shrimps,
Sand, candy, panders and pimps,
Show me bim, show me bam, bamboozle me,
Booze me and use me and foozle me,
Show me rides, show me slides, people in tides,
Show me money, show me funny, show me the sea,
                                                             You, show, me.