My daughter Lucy has a school project to examine, analyze and describe poems. She asked me what were my three favorite poems, she and I have a code, we always ask each other what are “three” favorites are of everything. It got me thinking that I have never developed an interest in poetry. In high school I went through an embarrassing phase where I wrote poems and they were terrible. No, they were worse than terrible. An old friend told me once he had saved them, knowing I would want to destroy these memories of my talentlessness. I ask if I could borrow them and when I got home I burned them in the fireplace. No record. They were sentimental, self-centred, marked by insecurities and faux outrage at my sense of entitlement. I was not a dramatic teen or a self-centred one but I was prone to self-pity.

I think poetry also operates in the emotional sphere and my brain has a hard time with that. I find poetry either too pious (old), too sentimental (also old), too classical (I have not read the “Great Code” books that would make them accessible to me), or too ethereal (recent), or focused so much on outrage and pain that I see no hope. I like poems like I like hymns and songs, some pain and heart-ache, the reality of human suffering and failure, some sense of our own short-comings, but also a strong sense of possibility and connection that leads to hope. The African-American spirituals contain all of these.

The three poems I sent Lucy include two that contain all of the above and one very, very silly one that only makes me laugh. Laughing at our own sense of intensity, as this dog poem does, makes for a healthy serving of humble pie.

Here they are:

Author – Mayne Ellis

But haven’t we always known?

The shimmer of trees, the shaking of flames

every cloud lined with something

clean water sings

right to the belly

scouring us with its purity

it too is awash with diamonds

“so small that trillions could rest

on the head of a pin”

It is not unwise then to say

that the air is hung close with diamonds

that we breathe diamond

our lungs hoarding, exchanging

our blood sowing them rich and thick

along every course it takes

Does this explain

why some of us are so hard

why some of us shine

why we are all precious

that we are awash in creation

spumed with diamonds

shot through with beauty

that survived the death of stars

Author: Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

And the third is from David Letterman’s late dog, Stan (see youtube link).

What are your three favorite poems and why?