There is a wonderful poem by Amy Lowell on lilacs–only, it’s not about lilacs at all. As with much poetry, the subject matter is evocative, coincidental, suggestive rather than mimetic. I was reminded of this while walking Tilly along the northernmost edge of Sheep’s Meadow the other day, down a dirt path lined with fragrant lilacs. I stopped to take a photograph — how could I not? — and I found myself thinking about the Lowell poem, about its languid elegance and its oddly poignant personification:
I love this personal anthem, this Whitman-esque song-of-myself. The mapping of the natural world onto the complex inner workings of the speaker’s soul call to mind the book we’re reading for Magpie book club, a different medium and different tone altogether, but one that carefully interrogates this relationship between man and nature in many of its constituent short stories.
As I hopscotched from the lilacs in Central Park to the Lowell poem to the Sachdeva book and then paused to glance back over my shoulder, something inside me swelled. Was it gratitude? Was it that hazy romanticism I often feel when an author manages to evoke something precise, something I have felt but maybe forgotten, with just the right turn of phrase? (I have felt that way many times while reading Sachdeva, and many times, too, while re-reading the Lowell poem. Why do I feel tears prick my eyes when I read: “You are the smell of all Summers, / The love of wives and children, / The recollection of gardens of little children, / You are State Houses and Charters / And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.” There is something deeply intimate and familiar about Lowell’s writing here. I nod; I know what she means by feel rather than intellect.)
But there was a doubling that afternoon, a mirroring, as if the books and poems I was reading and the natural world I was traipsing through were connected to one another like a paper garland that has just been unfolded, the delicate edges accordioning into something far more elaborate than anticipated.
I should read more poetry, I thought. But poetry is a tough genre. It’s out of vogue, out of favor. It seems to mandate a quiet room and a level of attention out of sync with the pace of modern life. There are also the problems of format and discovery: I don’t want to sit down and read a string of poems — one or two here and there are just enough — but poems are so often sold in collections meant to be consumed together, or daunting, academic-looking volumes that have nary a place in a home library. Stand-alone poems are singularly difficult to ferret out, come to think of it — they’re more like buried treasure, presenting themselves in excerpt form in an epigraph in a book I’m reading, or in a flash of memory (as happened above), or in an oddball blogpost (ahem, hello!)
But I should read more poetry. Poetry is a distillation of emotion; its format invites a focus and frugality wholly absent in ramblings like mine here.* It can open me up, serve as a gateway to some as-yet-unaccessed memory or feeling or connection. And it can send me deep into the lilac-laden heart of a May afternoon in Central Park, where nothing in particular happened, and yet I crossed some invisible intellectual threshold I can’t quite manage to explain.
So, I will read more poetry.
Who is with me? Who reads poetry, and how do you come by it?
(*My academic training foists the following caveat: much of it is anyway. Also, ICYMI and in case you were wondering what the hell poetics means…)
Post-Script: What to Read Next.
Looking for your next book?
First, please consider reading the our first book club book. It is EXCELLENT. Weird, smart, wildly imaginative, pregnant with subtext. I cannot wait to discuss.
If that’s not your cup of tea, here are three books I’ve been saying “I’ll read next” for the last few weeks: a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, a classic that was apparently written about the jetset Jackie O. palled around with (you know I’m obsessed with all things Jackie), and a parenting book my sister-in-law recommended.
I’m also planning to read this Reese Witherspoon pick when I need a break from heavier things.
For my book club with two of my dearest girlfriends, I’m reading this. Don’t scoff — it’s supposed to be EXCELLENT. (And Roxane Gay approved!)
For heartier fare — these books changed my life.
And, finally, this book has major buzz right now because a show has just been released based on it! Heads up — it’s pretty dark for best-seller status.
I have also been adding books on my radar to the books section of Le Shop.
P.S. Does anyone know anything about area rug cleaning? Tilly has been housebroken for years and then she peed on our carpet TWICE in the last week. TWICE?! What the hell. I’m having a service come out to clean it on site because I’m terrified of having an apartment with a dog pee smell (sick), but I’m also contemplating buying one of these, which gets good reviews, for future spot cleans. Any thoughts/recs? I’m mainly concerned about the odor…
P.P.S. Cute as a button.