*

Maggie A's Meanderings

 
 

 

 

 Mar 15, 2015

The First Ten Poets


I was reading a collection of essays from The New Yorker magazine. I got to a piece about how to distinguish a major poet from a minor poet. It said to "Take the first ten poets that come into your head."

And I came to a grinding halt. I sat there thinking, "I'm not sure I could think of ten poets. 10 poets? That sounds like such a small number, but I don't think I could do it."

Back in school when we had to do an assignment where we given free choice of poet and had to analyze two poems from him/her, I picked J.R.R. Tolkien because his poems (okay, technically they were song lyrics but the teacher didn't distinguish) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were the only books I had with poetry. 

Reading poetry never my thing. The only entire book of poetry I've read this century.......no, make that in my adult life (which predates this century) was I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats a book of funny poems written from cats' point of views I got a couple of years ago. Now that's a poetry collection I read from cover to cover more than once. (It even inspired me to write my own cat poem, You!! The Song of the Domesticated Cat.) As much as I enjoyed I Could Pee on This, I don't remember who wrote it. Some cartoonist. 

Besides I Could Pee on This, out of the thousands of books I have, my poetry section consists of exactly three books. I know, they're stacked together.

So the First Ten Poets that came into my head, as & how I thought of them...............

1. Shakespeare. Of course.
William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare wrote poetry. I recall from lit class that even his plays are poetry (which must have made them about 10,000 times harder to write than if he'd done prose) and I even (once) forced myself to read all his sonnets. Can't say I enjoyed it. And when I read "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the son" I was surprised the next line wasn't "My hunger for her explains everything I've done" -------- apparently that was only in the Sting song. (I was given a book of Sting lyrics, but I still don't think that makes him count as a "poet" not for this list) Though I have to say once I got past the blunt descriptions in Shakespeare's "My mistress' eyes" I grew to enjoy it. Instead of being filled with flowery nonsense where he describes his mistress' looks as perfection and goddess-like, he's realistic: black wires grow on her head, she's got bad breath. But the poem closes with how much he loves her. And I can get with that ---- See me for who I really am and love me for that. That's the way I like my love. I like it that better than "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Because if someone ever said that to me, I'd reply, "Why? Because I make you miserable?" (I live in Florida. Summer's here are not temperate; they're hot, humid and you need sunscreen if you don't want cancer. I also might think anyone who asks me that was delusional from heatstroke.)

So Ten Poets...............
1. Shakespeare
Okay, Shakespeare's an easy one. Well, there were other poets from back then........
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
Except the only Chaucer I can remember reading was from English lit. It was the chapter from The Canterbury Tales where that woman farted in that guy's face. Plus I don't recall whether it was poetry. Because that whole farting thing not poetry to me though I'm sure the creators of "South Park" would have enjoyed it.

And I've never read anything by Bacon (not that I can remember), so I'm not positive he's a poet either. I keep thinking of him as general writer (not specifically a poet) and some kind of politician. Since this is about ten poets --- meaning people I'm certain are poets, not just famous writers I pull out of my head --- my list now looks like this.
1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon

Well, I've got three books of poetry (besides I Could Pee on This), so start there
1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
2. Edgar Lee Masters
I liked Masters dead people's poems so much in American lit back in high school that I went out as an adult and bought his Spoon River Anthology. Never did manage to read the whole thing. 

From Masters I go to Edward Arlington Robinson, mainly because it took me forever to remember he didn't write that poem from Spoon River that really hit me hard the first time I read it.

And Edgar Lee Masters and Edward Arlington Robinson bring me to Edgar Allan Poe, another three-name American poet with the first name beginning with "Ed". In school we were taught he was the greatest American poet, but "The Raven" only bored me, not awed me with its scary perfection. Poe's idea of scary just didn't cut it for me. I came of age in the era of slasher films.
1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
2. Edgar Lee Masters
3. Edward Arlington Robinson
4. Edgar Allan Poe

Okay, woman, there are female poets. I must know some. I know we read some in school. Sadly, the only female poet I can come up with is
5. Emily Dickinson.

I'm halfway there. I've got two more books of poems. One is by Auden. I got it after I saw the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" where a character read what turned out to be one of Auden's poems at the funeral. I sympathized with that poem. There you are having your world destroyed, never to be the same, but the rest of the world just goes on -- it's beyond rough; it's hell on earth. If you've never lived it, I hope you never do. The third book of poetry ------ you know I don't remember what that third book of poetry is. Writing this I now have it sitting beside me ---- it's The Rhinehart Book of Verse. I could cheat and easily get ten poets' names, but this is about that list I originally came up with which now looks like this.......

1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
2. Edgar Lee Masters
3. Edward Arlington Robinson
4. Edgar Allan Poe
5. Emily Dickinson
6. W.H. Auden

Next I start thinking about lines from poems. If I can't remember the poet, if I can remember a line of the poem, I can try to work backward to the poet. There's that one about the forest and the road. Who wrote that? Oh, yeah, Robert Frost. "She walks in beauty like the night" Do I know who wrote that? Nope. Drawing a blank. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." That was Dylan something. Or maybe Dylan was the last name.
Not Bob Dylan, he wrote songs. Or maybe I'm thinking of Bob Dylan and there was no Dylan poet. (Not until I sat here typing this did I remember the name was Dylan Thomas whose poetry was featured in that Michelle Pfeiffer movie where she played a teacher to inner-city students.) There was a poem about an albatross; was that the one with "Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink"? No clue.

You know who keeps coming into my head as I try to think of lines from poems? Dr. Seuss. Now he wrote great lines, "I do not like them Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham" and "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." And I can even remember his real name, Theodor Geisel. If children's books counted, then I have lot more poetry books, but
1. I'm sure children's authors don't count for this list
2. Besides Dr. Seuss, I don't remember the names of who wrote those books because rhyming books were generally for when you're very young, like the Mother Goose poems.

All right, think back to high school lit which is where I got most of my exposure to poetry. Come on........remember, a famous American poet..............come on, I can do this.........oh, yeah, Longfellow. Definitely a poet. He did "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." 

After trolling my memory for lines from poems, my list is up to:
1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
2. Edgar Lee Masters
3. Edward Arlington Robinson
4. Edgar Allan Poe
5. Emily Dickinson
6. W.H. Auden

7. Robert Frost
8. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Only two more to go. Who was that gay poet they showed on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"? You know, it was the same one that sweet, dorky guy on "Breaking Bad" liked and gave a book to Walt that was the reason Hank figured out that Walt was Heisenberg. It had the poem about the astronomer. And he did that "I Sing the Body Electric" poem that was used for the title for a sci-fi book I've always meant to read. Who was he? Walt Whitman!!! Great that brings me up to nine.

And at number nine I get stuck. Finally, I come up with that guy who hated capital letters. e b white? No, that's Charlotte's Web.* The "e b" part is close though. And remember.........

e e cummings. Number Ten.

I finally have my list for the "First Ten Poets":
1. Shakespeare
2. Chaucer
3. Bacon
2. Edgar Lee Masters
3. Edward Arlington Robinson
4. Edgar Allan Poe
5. Emily Dickinson
6. W.H. Auden

7. Robert Frost
8.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
9. Walt Whitman
10. e e cummings

Whew. Made it.

Now with further thinking, of course, I dredge up names of writers who I'm sure are poets: Yeats, Keats, Byron, Shelley (not the one that wrote Frankenstein, her husband). Sadly, I still can't remember any other female poets because the only thing I know Mary Shelley for is Frankenstein so if she did write poetry ---- and she probably did as it was the thing to do back then ---- I don't know of any of it. (I'm going to have to do a Google search on famous female poets and I'm sure I'll feel stupid as I recognize the names.)

The point is, this was an effort. If you asked me to come up with ten writers of books, no problem. I could say that off the top of my head. Even if you narrowed the category to like "Ten American Novelists" or "Ten British Novelists" or  "Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Writers" it would take slightly longer, but it would still be easy, especially because some of the Sci-fi/Fantasy names would end up on the other lists. Sadly, I think I could even come up with "Ten TV Producers" with not that much effort.

But the "First Ten Poets" was a task I wasn't even sure I could do.



* Coincidentally, E. B. White is also the author of The New Yorker piece "How to Tell a Major Poet from a Minor Poet" (1930) which inspired this piece of stream of consciousness.


thinking of poets


For more literature pieces, read "The Usual Characters," "The Beginner's Intro to the Essential Agatha Christie," "My First Fantasy Book?," "Dune, Evil and the Bene Gesserit."

Please take a moment to check-out
the Archive.

advertisments

 

Home                     Archive                    Email Me