For 2021, I collected a poem each day, writing a short commentary discussing why I chose it, why it was important to me, what the beauty or significance of the work was. At first, the choosing was easy, but the commentary hard. My early entries were things like, “I once sang this text” or “I studied this in school.” Later, the choosing was more difficult, but I was in the groove with the poesy, finding language and meaning, discussing meter and rhyme (or lack thereof), channeling my high school self. Remember when we could all parse a poem?
There were some surprises in the selection. The poet most chosen (at seven days) was … <drumroll> … Emily Dickinson. I recalled her work or stumbled on her work or was moved to include her work more times than any other poet, leading me to revisit all of her poems. Other citations inspired me to read or reread the collected work of Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings, the essential Rumi, Edgar Lee Masters’ haunting Spoon River Anthology, and collections by poets I had never encountered before, like Paige Lewis or Sheryl St Germain. I reexamined Elizabeth Browning, never a favorite and found her to be more influential (with three entries) than her husband Robert (with two). New authors were an eye-opening inspiration. I had never regarded Hilda Doolittle’s work with any great esteem before now, and I ‘discovered’ wonderful works by Cynthia Zarin, Li Po, and Denise Levertov, to name but of few. I found beautiful poetry by Queen Elizabeth I and added it to a collection that included six works by her bard Shakespeare, two by the enigmatic Kit Marlowe, three by the ever-dependable Ben Jonson, one by her near-contemporary Petrarch, and even one by her father Henry VIII.
Of no surprise was my inclusion of six poems by Yeats, always a favorite, and the same number by Dylan Thomas, whose “Fern Hill” was seminal in my literary development. Five works by cummings made the list, and a similar number by TS Eliot, whose language gave me so much commentary to work with, and Robert Frost, whose subtle kindness worked its way through his crusty Yankee-ness. Six poems came from the Bible, that magnificent anthology, and six from Longfellow of all people, not because of his skill but because of his omnipresence in how we teach American lit. I was pleased to find a way to sneak in Comden and Green, Sammy Kahn (twice!) and two of my favorite lyrics from Paul Simon but I could not bring myself to find space for the so-called rock laureate Bob Dylan or for either Lennon or McCartney.
The enterprise inspired me to write poetry of my own, and I rather arrogantly include two of them, along with one from my son that is a daily inspiration. Perhaps the best effect was the impetus to collect my entire library of poetry books in one place, from the beaten and much loved paperbound Palgreave’s Golden Treasury that I inherited from my brother to my newest treasure, The Norton Anthology. The books barely squeeze into a large shelf only if one is in circulation at all times, and if I excuse Home and Virgil, my classical and neo-classical friends, and the five-volume Heine that I mysteriously found in my father’s library.
It was a glorious year, steeped in the poetic art. I hope that I continue to find solace and inspiration in that realm.