October 25th, 2012
Los Angeles will soon have its first city laureate. It’s a great honor for a city to have a poet laureate, and in the process of choosing someone, what we on the committee found out was that L.A. is crowded with poets. There are poets on the streets, poets in the classrooms, poets who don’t leave their houses much, poets who like to write on beaches. There are poets who try for quantity, who seem to have simply reams of work stacked about them taking up the house and shelf space and even sitting in the kitchen where the little pots and pans ought to be and poets who limit themselves to one or two good poems a year. There are different kinds of poets and there are different kinds of poems. Just like you listen to certain music when you’re sad and some when you’re happy.
There are poems which like to stand up and sing out loud. (Like I do in the shower! I’m amazing! You should hear me.) Or poems that sit quietly in a corner and weep. The kind of poetry I am drawn to the most is the smart poetry, the poetry you can’t stop thinking about, the poems that come back to you in the middle of the night.
When I go to readings of my favorite poets, I hope they will read certain poems. When Jim Tilley reads there is this poem he has about the big questions. I like it very much because I always end up spinning off thinking about what the big questions are and how when you’re in love, it’s tedious when you only have time for bills and dinner and the kids and not time for the big questions.
When Eloise Klein Healy reads, I want to hear the one about softball and the one about the bears and the one about the swales of rain. And when Doug reads I want that peppy poem about the Middle Passage. Charles Harper Webb has a poem on duct tape that I wait for, and this coming Monday, Brendan Constantine reads at the Gerding Theatre, I hope he will read the poem below which is one of my favorites.
Last Night I Went to the Map of the World and I Have Messages For You
America says it has
misplaced your number.
I wasn’t comfortable giving it out. I said
I’d let you know.
Africa’s birthday is this weekend.
There’s a party. No gifts.
planning to go, Greece
to know if it can get a lift. Awkwardly
so does Turkey.
Russia wanted me to say The
the cabbage but the worm dies first.
I have no idea what that means. Do you?
Japan looked really uncomfortable all night
but never spoke. Is something going on?
Ireland asked to be remembered.
I sang to it for you.
I didn’t get to
connect with Europe
but, as the French say, Isn’t that just
everyone? Oh yes, the oceans.
They asked what they always ask
and I promised I’d repeat it,
Why do you never call?
When are you coming home?
Here is why I love this poem:
- It makes me think.
- It makes me enter this big head space about us and them.
- I love thinking about nation vs. human
- Brendan’s Greek and I know that Greek/Turkey line is a kick for him.
- It’s about the big ideas of life.
- Singing to Ireland.
- Mostly because I like very much to think about home. In its largest sense and smallest sense, its wildest and its safest. Everything about what it means to be home, to feel at home, to build a home, to make a home, to nest.
Come to the Gerding Theatre at 8 pm on October 29th, 2012—this coming Monday! And hear Brendan read with Tanya Chernov, Tess Gallagher and Caleb Barber. It’s at 128 NW Eleventh Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209