Blog, November 14 — Alice Kociemba

Notes on Contributors

Blog from Calliope
Do you ever wonder why no one complains about the cartoons in the New Yorker?
It is  because we save our negativity for their poems.  My standard advice:  turn the page.

The bloggers thus far have made cogent points about Joan Houlihan’s essay “The Tell-Tale Line” in Contemporary Poetry Review.  They have spotted her preference for I-Narrative that “pushes the boundaries of narrative.”  Her perspective is interesting, but not mine.  Some of the first lines she found “dull,” I found intriguing.  And some she found “alluring,” I found, well, confusing.  It is good for poetry that we all have such different tastes—there is something appetizing for each of us.

I am going to focus another question: Do first lines make you fall in love with a poem?  I, too, will stick with I-Narrative poems to make the point that diversity in voice is what makes poetry at this moment in time so enjoyable.

In 2009, “What’s Falmouth Reading?’ chose The Favorite Poems Project for its town-wide read and Robert Pinsky set the town afire with his enthusiasm for poetry.  I led a three session workshop that spring on Edward Hirsch’s book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry.  After it ended, one of the members asked the Falmouth Public Library to start a monthly poetry book discussion group.  We have now been meeting monthly for over two years.  It is one of the highlights of my poetry experience, hearing and appreciating poems read aloud.  More than half of the 12 members are not writers, but all are avid readers and have a discerning ear for contemporary poetry.

So I am going to cite first lines from each of the poets we have read.  In a format of a 20 question quiz,  I will list the first lines, and then separately will give the title and poet.  Test yourself to see if you would read the poem if you didn’t know who wrote it.  And if you know the poem from its first lines, was it memorable for you?

1.     Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.

2.     Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father an enemy of humanity.

3.     I woke and remembered
nothing of what I was dreaming.

4.     Nightly I choose to keep this covenant
with a wheezing broodmare who, ten days past due,

5.     Just when it seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac.

6.     When I was eight you put me
on the Sky-Line roller coaster at Riverside

7.     Go inside a stone
That would be my way.

8.     Long ago, I was wounded, I lived
to revenge myself

9.     And I started wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sisters,

10.  I wanted you to listen to the bells,
holding the phone out the one small window

11.  Don’t wish your life away
my mother said and I saw
past her words that same day

12.  My sister doesn’t write poems
and I don’t think she’ll suddenly start writing poems.

13. On the grass when I arrive
Filling the stillness with life,

14.  Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,

15. Try to remember some details.  Remember the clothing
of the one you love

16.  I was caught in a time warp there in my landlady’s
basement apartment struggling with her niece’s corset

17.  This is the hour I love:  the in-between,
neither here-nor-there hour of evening.

18.  I carry a small white city in my head,
one with its avenues of withered flowers,

19.  i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.

20.  I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets

21.  I, too, dislike it:  There are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.


Answers:

1.     TRAVELING THROUGH THE DARK, William Stafford

2.     PHONE CALL, Tony Hoagland

3.     APPLE, Jane Hirshfield

4.     SLEEPING WITH ANIMALS,  Maxine Kumin

5.     SWEETNESS, Stephen Dunn

6.     FATHER’S DAY, Ruth Stone

7.     STONE, Charles Simic

8.     FIRST MEMORY, Louise Gluck

9.     I CHOP SOME PARSLEY WHILE LISTENING TO ART BLAKEY’S VERSION OF “THREE BLIND MICE”, Billy Collins

10.  THE SWARM, Jorie Graham

11.  TO IMPATIENCE, W.S. Merwin

12.  IN PRAISE OF MY SISTER, Wistawa Szymborska

13.  THE BLACKBIRD OF GLANMORE, Seamus Heaney

14.  KINDNESS, Naomi Shihab Nye

15.  TRY TO REMEMBER SOME DETAILS, Yehuda Amichai

16.  CORSETS, Gerald Stern

17.  THE WOMEN, Eavan Boland

18.  from THE PRODIGAL, Part 2, #9, II, Derek Walcott

19.  wishes for sons, Lucille Clifton

20.  THE SIMPLE TRUTH, Philip Levine

21.  POETRY, Marianne Moore

Trackbacks

  1. […] The bloggers thus far have made cogent points about Joan Houlihan’s essay “The Tell-Tale Line” in Contemporary Poetry Review.  They have spotted her preference for I-Narrative that “pushes the boundaries of narrative.”  Her perspective is interesting, but not mine.  Some of the first lines she found “dull,” I found intriguing.  And some she found “alluring,” I found, well, confusing.  It is good for poetry that we all have such different tastes—there is something appetizing for each of us. More… […]