Exploring Poetry: Milk and Honey; Love Her Wild; Delights and Shadows; Mary Oliver

I've long said that I struggle with reading poetry; it's like my brain can't figure out how to look at the words on the page and make them make sense in my head. I've found recently, however, that this is less of an inherent inability than it has been a refusal to slow. down. and read more meaningfully, purposefully. And so I've made a more conscious effort to explore poetry of late. A few stand-outs, in no particular order:

Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur: Kaur's collection is stunning and beautiful, sparse and important. Her poems are brief but weighty, touching on heartbreak and trauma and abuse and feminism and carrying the weight of the world on our backs. Simple line drawings are scattered throughout the text, and even the "about the book section" is written in verse. Highly, highly recommend. (And as an added bonus, Kaur has a new collection coming out this October.) Two favorites:

i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty
before i've called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you're born with
is the most you have to be proud of when your
spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary 
not because i don't think you're pretty
but because you are so much more than that

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
- women of color

Love Her Wild, by Atticus: Atticus is an anonymous poet who is known to have grown up on the West Coast of the United States and whose poetry more closely resembles quotes or sayings at times. As with Kaur's collection, the poems in Love Her Wild are accompanied by imagery, though Atticus' imagery is photographic and far more dense than the elegant and simplistic line drawings of Kaur's work. There were so many pieces in Love Her Wild that leapt out at me, and perhaps this was a result of finding the right collection at the right time. Some pieces overemphasized the role of a woman as an object for men to gaze upon, or idolize, or worship in some way; while these felt like they came from a place of respect and even awe, they were slightly uncomfortable. Overall, though, this collection really spoke to me, and I'm sure I'll revisit many of these pages in the weeks to come:

The hardest step
we all must take
is to blindly trust
in who we are.

Go forth and conquer
for the world is small
and you are a giant
and every step
you take
will make the ground shake
as it rises
to meet you.

Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser: Kooser, the US Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, offers his poems in a more traditional presentation; no line drawings or photography accompanies his words. But though he might not be making shapes on the pages with his words and his art and his line breaks, his poems are art in their own right. He brings meaning to everyday, mundane things, shedding light on the oft-forgotten or rushed-through details of every day life. There were a few in this collection that didn't click for me, but many did. With a strong theme of aging and the cycle of life, such as it is, here's an example that represents Kooser's overall style:

Today you would be ninety-seven
if you had lived, and we would all be
miserable, you and your children,
driving from clinic to clinic,
an ancient fearful hypochondriac
and his fretful son and daughter,
asking directions, trying to read
the complicated, fading map of cures.
But with your dignity intact
you have been gone for twenty years,
and I am glad for all of us, although
I miss you every day—the heartbeat
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
On this day each year you loved to relate
that the moment of your birth
your mother glanced out the window
and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today
lilacs are blooming in side yards
all over Iowa, still welcoming you.

New and Selected Poems, Volume One, by Mary Oliver: How could I write about my foray into poetry without including Mary Oliver on this list? After reading (and absolutely adoring) Upstream, a selection of her essays published earlier this year, I fell head over heels for Oliver's way with words; her keen eye for natural detail; her love of the the wild, the untamed, the free; her respect for the world we live in and its powers over us. Her poems encourage us to stop and take notice of what surrounds us, and though I'm only just starting this collection, I'm already in love. I'm reading this one in conjunction Oliver's A Poetry Handbook, which, though geared more towards those who want to write poetry, has plenty of insights for those, like me, who may want to learn to read it more closely.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
   to break my heart
        as the sun rises,
            as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open--
    pools of lace,
        white and pink--
            and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
    into the curls,
        craving the sweet sap,
            taking it away

to their dark, underground cities--
    and all day
        under the shifty wind,
            as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
    and tip their fragrance to the air,
        and rise,
            their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
    gladly and lightly,
        and there it is again--
            beauty the brave, the exemplary

blazing open.
    Do you love this world?
        Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
            Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
    and softly,
        and exclaiming of their dearness,
            fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
    their eagerness,
        to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
            nothing, forever?


What are your favorite poetry collections? Whose work should I be seeking out? 

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