When I was in my twenties and thirties, I split my reading time between poetry and novels. Cookbooks were right behind those, and Roman history a close forth.
Now Roman history is first, cookbooks second, the occasional novel third, and almost no poetry at all.
I find it odd how those proportions have changed over time.
I don’t know why that has happened. Since I was busier after my thirties, it would seem that I wanted maximum reading pleasure by investing a minimal amount of time. Compared to a novel, a good poem would do that.
But over the years, there are several poems that often come to mind.
There is Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milkwood” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. They have a rolling musical cadence and powerful imagery that appeals to those times when the mind is overcast and restlessly roaming.
Walter De Lamar’s “The Listeners” is another. The ambiguous metaphor and the urgent caller, wrapped in a moonlit forest, are good companions when pondering things to come or what should not be forgotten.
When I am longing for the city of my childhood, I open C.K. William’s “”Flesh and Blood” and read the first three poems about reading. Then I remember what it was like to live and work among the tall buildings and rushing subways – to be in the ceaseless crowds, coming and going with their moments big and small.
Each one of those poems is my literary lake house. My porch in the woods by the sea. The top of the tall, grassy hill where I lay down and watch the summer clouds drift by, or that long walk down to the old town bar to meet a friend.
A poem you connect with, expansive or compact in what it evokes, has the remarkable quality of place utility. It is at hand, when you want it and where you want it. It is the landscape, the person or the situation that comes to visit you when you want to visit them.