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19 January 2010

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The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

~ Wendell Berry ~

This poem is not complicated. I find the opening line so true, but I really like the image of the baffled mind as something to be considered a positive thing. I think of it often when I feel down about being baffled.

Oh, Wendell. Thank you, CR Fan. I've never known what to do. Does that mean I've been doing my real work?

I'm a fan of uncomplicated. I like me a little Robert Frost too. "Nothing gold can stay" isn't all that complicated.

What I like about poetry is how it really does hit at truth with an economy of words. "The mind that is not baffled is not employed" isn't long but it packs a punch, doesn't it? Add Wendell to the list of poets to look at this year.

I have a lot of problems with poetry myself. I tend to need a class to focus myself enough to really understand it. I do, however, love Walt Whitman. I can read him repeatedly.

Poetry wise, off the top of my head, I'll recommend The Good Thief and What the Living Do by Marie Howe (and probably her most recent book, though I haven't read it yet). And if you can get your hands on a copy of Antarctic Traveler by Katha Pollitt, it's also got some gems. I also love CK Williams and. . . well, enough for now.

Thomas,
I like Walt too. I used to have one of his poems taped on my dorm wall. Which one was it? I think "One Brief Hour of Madness and Joy" or something like that. I will have to investigate him again, and see if I'm remembering that right.

Laura,
Thanks for the suggestions! Poetry Project 2010 should be off to a great start.

Always good to pick up some poetry. I find it baffling most of the time, but in a very good way. Try Robert Pinsky's anthology Essential Pleasures, a collection of poems to read aloud. I learned a lot about poetry from it (and yeah, I read a lot of them aloud, which was fun). The Washington Post used to publish a poem (some newer, some classics) every week in the book section (well, they did when I was in college in the 90s) and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Especially this one (though I can't say why), by Susan Stewart:

We needed fire to make
the tongs and tongs to hold
us from the flame; we needed
ash to clean the cloth
and cloth to clean the ash’s
stain; we needed stars
to find our way, to make
the light that blurred the stars;
we needed death to mark
an end, an end that time
in time would mend.
Born in love, the consequence–
born of love, the need.
Tell me, ravaged singer,
how the cinder bears the seed.

I posted a list of contemporary poetry books recommended to me by author Jeff Gordinier on my blog, which got quite a bit of attention. I needed it due to my complete ignorance of contemporary verse. If interested: http://booksurvival.blogspot.com/2009/12/contemporary-poetry-starter-kits.html

The Washington Post column that Rachael refers to, above, was edited by Robert Hass and was called "Poet's Choice." Hass collected his columns in a volume called Now and Then: The Poet's Choice Columns, 1997-2000. It is well worth picking up - he does a great job mixing up the well known with the obscure and his critical comments strike a good balance between educating you and helping you think independently about what you read. I always have a hard time identifying the reasons I like or dislike a particular poem. Hass helps you articulate the reasons one speaks to you more than another might. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my mother introduced me to this one. She'd never know that I stole the credit, but I would. Thanks Mom.

Rachael,
Now that's a poem where I'm not sure what it means, but it certainly flows, doesn't it? Add Susan Stewart to the list.

Brian,
Thank you for the link! I'll be referring to it often.

Steve,
We are suckers for people who appreciate their moms here at CR. And thank you for the Wash Post and Robert Hass info; I rather liked Garrison Keillor's collection titled "Good Poems," too, so I'm always up for that kind of read. I look forward to this poetry education!

p.s. Rachael, I was remiss in not thanking you for taking the time to post the poem. I very much appreciate it.

Copy/paste. But you are very welcome!

Steve--thanks for the info on the book. I'm going to have to pick up a copy. There were a few in there that I would absolutely never have found elsewhere.

You might like prose poetry. I, for one, love it. Miracles and Mortifications is one of my favorite collections http://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Mortifications-Peter-Johnson/dp/1893996182/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

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