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War Is Over (if you want it)

While there are many fine reasons to celebrate various art forms, National Poetry Month always puts me more in mind of a PSA campaign. 


(Did you know that May is National Physical Fitness Month?  I didn't--until googling it for this post--but it doesn't surprise me at all that such a thing exists, and for much the same reason. )


You should try this!  It's good for you! 


It's perfectly okay to not care for something, and I think for lots of people, not liking poetry is a gimme, right up there with not liking liver.  Or root canal.


The problem arises for those poor souls who are stuck with a poet in the house.   Out of love and loyalty they suddenly feel compelled to explain their dislike and what used to drive me crazy was that it often seemed to boil down to them saying they were too stupid to understand it.


They most certainly weren't, but I could easily understand why someone'd be resistant to reading something that made them feel that way. 


This grouping of poems was prompted by a very specific desire.  I was telling J--who I think has even more guilt about such things because she has a lit degree--for the billion-eleventy time that the problem was not her, but quite possibly the way she was subjected to poetry in high school (1) when she said, I bet you could teach me.


Even though I called it a syllabus, I wouldn't take it as is into a classroom.  It's a decade old and, even when I put it together, I felt vaguely worried about having way too many poems from favorite poets, not to mention the legion I was leaving off altogether.   


But the point wasn't an intro survey or a dutiful attempt to fill some educational gap.  J is a voracious reader and a writer herself and she could see that, for me, poems had the capacity for magic.  Totally tantalizing.  What she wanted was a touchstone, a way in.   So I just chose poems I love that I wanted to share.  (And also by thinking about what I thought she'd might really like--turns out it's quite fun designing a syllabus meant for one.)


There are scads of poems you could swap in for every single one on my list.  But these are the tenets I'd want to cover--the template I would use-- if I was hoping for a love match between the genre and a mistrustful, disinterested, dubious world.


The re-creation of L&J's Most Lyrical Adventure begins here.  I'm going to post a section, with it's relevant poems, every few days or so.  There'll definitely been a break next week, cause I'm turning forty with friends.  Stripey, mutant, kickass friends. (Tigger.  Stitch.  KP.  And Tiana, who is currently skyrocketing past them all in the tuff one's affections.)


I'd thought I'd start with a bonus poem. I didn't originally include it in the group, because we have a print of it framed on the wall and I was going for things J didn't already know.  It captures exactly the point of this project, which in the end felt far more like a gift from J to me, the chance to share that which I find wondrous.





If you want my apartment, sleep in it

but let's have a clear understanding:

the books are still free agents.


If the rocking chair's arms surround you

they can also let you go,

they can shape the air like a body.


I don't want your rent, I want

a radiance of attention

like the candle's flame when we eat,


I mean a kind of awe

attending the spaces between us--

Not a roof but a field of stars.



--Jane Cooper


This poem can be found in The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed (W.W. Norton, 2000).     


**If you'd like a preview, you can find the syllabus in its entirety here.




1.  I don't mean to fault her teachers personally.  My complaint is really about what seems to me to be the universal curricular approach, something along the Great Books model--we've only got five minutes, so let's spend it on the stuff that's the most difficult.