Grumpy about poetry

Jesse and Anthony love to read short form poetry. Anthony and I ponder sometimes whether this is partly a function of their dyslexia. As Anthony points out, he can actually enjoy poetry because he can finish it in a reasonable amount of time, unlike a long-winded novel. Too many words. I’m more of a novel-reader, but I learned from sharing poetry with Anthony that there’s a richness in few, carefully selected words, especially when read slowly and deliberately.

Many years ago, I passed through a museum shop and picked up a beautiful book of poetry and art containing a lot of short classics. We used to read from it to the kids when they were babies. Jesse especially took to it in her infancy. She would lie next to me on her back for a good half hour, quietly perusing small prints of famous art with her immense, unblinking eyes while I read to her – Neruda, Whitman, Frost, Shakespeare, Hughes, Yeats and so on. Nick would wiggle and get bored quickly, but I fancied he still got something out of the rhythm and lilt of the poems.

A few nights ago Anthony and I walked into the local Barnes and Noble. We were on a quest for a small anthology of imagist poetry for Jesse. She has a children’s book about William Carlos Williams that she really loves. Anthony’s a fan too. I think they love the imagist work because it doesn’t generally contrive some emotional discussion. Jesse and Anthony prefer to savor the sensory beauty of life, not talk about feelings.

We managed to find the three half-empty shelves labeled “poetry”, crumbling into oblivion between row upon row of sci-fi and manga paperbacks. We rummaged through the 14 books of poetry in stock. No news flash here: there was no imagist collection at Barnes and Noble. But we did find a collection of WC Williams.

Jesse literally jumped and laughed with pleasure when we gave the volume to her over breakfast. She looked over the cover photo of Williams. “He looks old.”


He looks happy, I countered. Why don’t you read a poem to us?

She flipped through the first few pages and stopped. “This is not poetry,” she said dryly. She held the book up to show me. She was in the introduction.

Anthony stepped in. “Just go somewhere in the middle of the book and find a short poem.”

We waited as she thumbed around. What would she find to tickle our fancies? Wheelbarrows and chickens, plums and fire trucks, birds and water?

She chose a random page and read the title of the poem.

“DEATH. This poem is called death? It’s about death??”

Anthony and I exchanged a glance. Leave it to Jesse to flip through a WC Williams collection and happen on the poem called DEATH.

She started to read the poem in her clear, high, sweet little girl’s voice:

He’s dead
the dog won’t have to
sleep on his potatoes
any more to keep them
from freezing

he’s dead
the old bastard–
He’s a bastard because ——

Okay whoa whoa whoa. A mighty rustling started about the kitchen table as Anthony and I tried to change the subject and poem.

We continued downhill on this botched journey into imagist poetry. Jesse handed me the book and I found a more copacetic poem. But by now Nick was tired of it and wanted some attention. He hollered and groped me as first Jesse and then I tried to read aloud. 5 minutes in, we set the book aside and cleaned up breakfast dishes.

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