Recommend me some quality Poetry

Most years I scoff at people making New Years Resolutions, but this year I decided to try one. I resolved to memorize one poem a month for 2017. Only problem is that I don’t really know much about poetry or have much of an idea about which ones I want to memorize. So I turn to you, fellow denizens of Qt3. Help a brother out. What poems should I read an consider memorizing?

So far I’ve picked Ozymandias, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Song Of The Master And Boatswain. Casey at the Bat is also a strong contender for probably obvious reasons.

The Man From Ironbark and The Geebung Polo Club are great Banjo Patterson classics that are fun to crack out for a lark.

I had them memorized in my youth, but they have fallen away for arguably more inane things, like THACOs and such.

Hard to go too far wrong with Robert Frost, that’s for sure.

I mean…how seriously into the weeds do you want to go here? Because there are some serious howlers out there that are still taught as part of high school and even (shudder) collegiate curricula that are just facepalmingly bad. Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edwin Arlington Robinson, I’m looking right at you.

But there are some crowd-pleasers that are crowd-pleasers for a reason. Say what you will about Edgar Allan Poe’s occasionally stumbling prose, and the ponderousness of “The Raven”, but with “Annabel Lee” there’s a surprisingly direct emotional feel. It’s obviously written by a guy at the end of his rope, and it’s influenced popular poetry and prose for more than 150 years now, including Nabokov’s “Lolita”.

If and when you’re feeling ambitious, Whitman is always fantastic, especially when you’re looking for self-affirmations.

If you’re goal is not just to read poetry but also memorize it, it would be hard to go wrong with the Poems by Heart on iOS, published by Penguin Group. It has been awhile since it’s been updated, so get it while it still works. It’s designed specifically for memorizing the poems it presents, with multiple stages of memorization and a male or female reader according to your preference. And FYI one of those poems is Ozymandias.

The Poetry Foundation also has a nice app that “spins” a random poem, most of which you’ve probably never read, that you can adjust according to two criteria (one an emotion, one a state or situation).

If for some reason you want to memorize a Shakespearean sonnet or the Waste Land, there are excellent apps for those as well by TouchPress. The Waste Land app contains multiple readings and perspectives (including a video performance by Fiona Shaw and a reading by Alec Guiness); the Shakespeare’s sonnets app has recordings from more than two dozen actors and actresses including Patrick Stewart, David Tennant, and Ruth Negga.

The Hávamál contains practical (well…) knowledge as well, so that could be useful to memorize. For hard mode, learn the original Icelandic as well.

Well, the only poem I can rattle off at the drop of a meter has an uncertain provenance. Maybe it’s from Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, or Albert Einstein. I think I first read it from Joe Straczynski who quoted it while discussing a TV show he was making.

Love will fly if held too lightly
Love will die if held too tightly
Lightly, tightly, how do I know
If I’m crushing love or letting go?

I learned “There will come soft rains” in school. Well, I read Ray Bradbury’s short story “There WIll Come Soft Rains”, the one about a postwar house, in school. And it’s based on this poem. The video game Fallout 3 used both the poem and the story in which it was re-mounted to great effect.

“There will come soft rains”
by Sara Teasdale (no relation to Jean Teasdale, columnist for the Onion)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

In college I learned John Donne’s “The Flea”, which I think is hilarious in a “hey bby U up? Wanna smash?” kind of way. Or like U2’s “One”. Or like Pepe LePew trying to mack on a cat.

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,   
How little that which thou deniest me is;   
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;   
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
    And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.   
This flea is you and I, and this
Our mariage bed, and marriage temple is;   
Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,   
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that, self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?   
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?   
Yet thou triumph’st, and say'st that thou   
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
    ’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:
    Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

Finally, I recently read the emotionally devastating “Home” by Warsan Shire. No one puts their kid in a crappy boat unless the water is safer…but she tells it much better. Good luck memorizing that one!

Them’s fightin’ words.

My favorite poet is Gerard Manley Hopkins. He was a Jesuit priest in victorian England who got in trouble with his fellow priests for how exultant his use of English was. His poems are particularly fun to read aloud because of his “sprung rhythm”, as he called it, and use of heavy consonance. He was in love with language, and used it in such playful ways that he invented new modes of form.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

I like a lot of her poems. Signing up for her “poem a day” list entails committing to buy one of her books, which is not a very heavy burden as she’s an excellent writer, latest SFWA grandmaster, too.

Do you want a copy of the chapbook I made in college?

You can never go wrong with Robert Service. The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew is the one everyone knows, but I prefer The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill


I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die–
Whether he die in the light o’ day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead–
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.

For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn’t matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone “epigram”.
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: “Here lies poor Bill MacKie”,
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.

Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I’d made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he’d picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and “hooch”, and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.

You know what it’s like in the Yukon wild when it’s sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill–
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.

Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.

River and plain and mighty peak–and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes,
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill,
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.

Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall;
Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all;
Sparkling ice on the dead man’s chest, glittering ice in his hair,
Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare;
Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread.
I gazed at the coffin I’d brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead,
And at last I spoke: “Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes,
A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies.”

Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole,
With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can’t control?
Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin,
And that seems to say: “You may try all day, but you’ll never jam me in”?
I’m not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue
As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I’d do.
Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about,
And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.

Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn’t seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: “It ain’t no use–he’s froze too hard to thaw;
He’s obstinate, and he won’t lie straight, so I guess I got to–saw.”
So I sawed off poor Bill’s arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.

So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he’s waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill–and how hard he was to saw. [/quote]

I challenge you to memorize Howl. Or I’d settle for Kadish.

Another favorite poet, although not very prolific, is Julius Marx:

[quote]Did you ever sit and ponder as you walk along the strand,
That life’s a bitter battle at the best;
And if you only knew it and would lend a helping hand,
Then every man can meet the final test.

The world is but a stage my friend,
And life is but a game;
And how you play is all that matters in the end.
For whether a man is right or wrong,
A woman gets the blame;
And your mother is your dog’s best friend.

Then up came mighty Casey and strode up to the bat,
And Sheridan was fifty miles away.
For it takes a heap of loving to make a home like that,
On the road where the flying fishes play.[/quote]

I don’t really know poetry, enjoying reading through the thread, but there’s one I read recently by Henry Lawson I really liked, called “I’m an older man than you”

Keats - Ode On Melancholy
Yeats - An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
Wilfred Owen - Dulce et Decorum Est
Dickinson - From Blank to Blank
Robert Burns - To A Mouse
Gwendolyn Brooks - We Real Cool
Wordsworth - Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
Wordsworth - Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Shakespeare - Hey Ho The Wind and the Rain (from Twelfth Night)
Whitman - When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Well, I was scooped by baren. Was going to suggest Hopkins as well. If you don’t care for the religious content, then try Spring and Fall.

Since I was scooped, I’ll propose E.E. Cummings. You can’t very easily memorize his typographical experiments, but he wrote a lot of sonnets and other traditional forms, but always with a touch of playfulness.

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

@Enidigm, I’ve installed that Poetry Foundation app, I’ll give it a spin once soon.

@Brad_Grenz, I don’t know. Do I?

@BennyProfane, Maybe next year? Either is too much for me to bite off in a month at my current pace.

A friend used to give a wonderful party-piece performance of this one (with gestures and funny voices). Depending on where you work, it might be NSFW.

[details=Leah Sublime by Aleister Crowley]

Leah Sublime,
Goddess above me
Snake of the slime
Alostrael, love me
Our master, the devil
Prospers the revel.

Tread with your foot
My heart til it hurt
Tread on it, put
The smear of your dirt
On my love, on my shame
Scribble your name

Straddle your Beast
My masterful Bitch
With the thighs of you greased
With the Sweat of your Itch
Spit on me, scarlet
Mouth of my harlot.

Now from your wide
Raw cunt, the abyss
Send spouting the tide
Of your sizzling piss
In my mouth, oh my Whore
Let it pour, let it pour.

You stale like a mare
And fart as you stale
Through straggled wet hair
You spout like a whale.
Splash the manure
And piss from the sewer.

Down to me quick
With your teeth on my lip
And your hand on my prick
With feverish grip
My life as it drinks—
How your breath stinks

Your hand, oh unclean
Your hand that has wasted
Your love, in obscene
Black masses, that tasted
Your soul, it’s your hand
Feel my prick stand

Your life times from lewd
Little girl, to mature
Worn whore that has chewed
Your own pile of manure.
Your hand was the key to. . .
And now you frig me too!

Rub all the muck
Of your cunt on me Leah
Cunt, let me suck
All your glued gonorrhea!
Cunt! without end
Amen! till you spend!

Cunt! you have harboured
All dirt and disease
In your slimy unbarbered
Loose hole, with its cheese
And its monthlies, and pox
You chewer of cocks

Cunt, you have sucked
Up pricks, you squirted
Out foetuses, fucked
Till bastards you blurted
Out into space—
Spend on my face.

Rub all your gleet away!
Envenom the arrow!
May your pox eat away
Me to the marrow.
Cunt you have got me
I love you to rot me

Spend again, lash me
Leah one spasm
Screaming to splash me
Slime of your chasm
Choke me with spilth
Of your sow-belly’s filth.

Stab your demonical
Smile to my brain
Soak me in cognac
Cunt and cocaine
Sprawl on me! Sit
On my mouth. Leah, shit!

Shit on me, slut
Creamy the curds
That drip from your gut!
Greasy the turds
Dribble your dung
On the tip of my tongue

Churn on me Leah
Twist on your thighs
Smear diarrhoea
Into my eyes.
Splutter out shit
From the bottomless pit.

Turn to me, chew it
With me, Leah whore!
Vomit it, spew it
And lick it once more.
We can make lust
Drunk on Disgust.

Splay out your gut
Your ass hole my lover.
You buggering slut
I know where to shove her
There she goes, plumb
Up the foul Bitch’s bum!

Sackful of skin
And bone, as I speak
I’ll bugger your grin
Into a shriek
Bugger you slut
Bugger your gut!

Wriggle you hog
Wrench at the pin
Wrench at it, drag
It half out, suck it in
Scream you hog dirt, you!
I want it to hurt you

Beast-Lioness, squirt from your
Cocksucker’s hole!
Belch out the dirt from your
Syphilis soul
Splutter foul words
Through your supper of turds

May the Devil our Lord, your
Soul scribble over
With sayings of ordure
Call me your lover
Slave of the gut
Of the arse of a slut

Call me your sewer
Of spilth and snot,
Your fart-sniffer, chewer
Of the shit in your slot.
Call me that as you rave
In the rape of your slave.

Fuck! Shit! Let me come
Alostrael! Fuck!
I’ve spent in your bum.
Shit! Give me the muck
From my whore’s arse, slick
Dirt of my prick

Eat it you sow!
I’m your dog, fuck, shit!
Swallow it now!
Rest for a bit
Satan, you gave
A crown to a slave.

I am your fate, on
Your belly, above you
I swear it by Satan
Leah I love you.
I’m going insane
Do it again![/details]

The great African-American vadevillian Bert Williams had a hit in 1919 with a recording of “Somebody”. I don’t know who wrote it, it might have been Williams himself.

[quote]Great moments come to every man
Some situation where he can
achieve such fame that folks acclaim
the very mention of his name.

A circus played our town one day
and three Bengal tigers got away.
The manager looked right at me,
said “Here’s your opportunity”.

Somebody has got to get those cats.
Somebody has got to go.
Our tiger man is sick in bed.
So grab your coat - that’s what he said.
The man who brings t hem back alive
a hero is gong to be.
It’s a wonderful chance for somebody-
somebody else, not me.

Two ivory bones with ebony dots
'oft lead to cemetery plots.
A game last night brought on
a fight that ended up with
pistol shots.

I was the furthest from the door,
the others all got out before.
On the floor a man lay dead, and
through the transom someone said…

Somebody has got to stay behind.
Someone must remain, and when
the officers arrive explain why our
brother isn’t alive.
The man who stays and sees it through
will gain notoriety.
It’s a wonderful chance for somebody -
somebody else, not me,[/quote]

If you want to memorize a poem, I take it you might want to recite it in front of someone else, at least once in awhile. If that’s the case you want something that’s entertaining, which rules out about 95% of published poetry, even the sublime, really great stuff. As someone who has deeply embraced poetry, I can’t deny that most of it is a slog to get through.

So if you want to memorize lyric poetry, go for the short stuff. Long lyric poems are difficult to follow. Two good short ones off the top of my head: So We’ll Go No More A-Roving by Byron and When You Are Old by Yeats. Also, for a romantic toast, A Drinking Song by Yeats. A fun pairing of short lyric poems is Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Nymph and Raleigh’s answering poem The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd. I may have the titles not quite right but that’s them.

You might want to work on a soliloquy or two by Shakespeare. You don’t have to recite the whole thing but it’s always fun to drop a line or two into a conversation to show off your erudition. Someone complains about dreading something at work tomorrow, thunder in with Macbeth’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy. Sure to get a loud laugh. Or maybe not.

Mostly, though, I’d suggest narrative poems. You recite something that tells a story and people can follow it. Better yet, make it funny. The long vs. short still matters though. Shorter is usually better if you hope someone actually wants to listen.

Just for fun contemporary poetry, check out Billy Collins. Here’s a great youtube of him reading an entertaining poem: