Picking ‘Poets Picking Poets’

Many of my colleagues bicycle to work, and some more aggressively than others want to know why I don’t. I try to explain, and I’m never sure if they understand. People join their days in different ways; and thinking some, I come to mine through lyric (words with motion) and the equivalent physical elision, a covered propulsion. I don’t want to turn on news, hear points of view (including my own) or, relevant to this discussion, navigate rush-hour traffic. I’m content being nobody until I have to be somebody, nowhere until I have to be somewhere.

In short, I have no early-morning desire to hurtle or brake. So, I walk and take the subway, the city’s covered propulsion. Standing, I read.

My book for weeks this fall on the train, as you know if you follow this blog, was McSweeney’s Poets Picking Poets compilation. I blogged my favorite poems from the first two chapters, and you promptly heard no more. Not that you noticed — I barely did, a paperback buried deeper daily under a new shovelful of papers on my home desktop — or that absence can feel prompt. But I did finish the book and planned to tell you more about it. How could I not have? Each day with the book was happier, more at peace, a surprisingly decent fit that helped me better understand my mornings. You’d think I was exaggerating to say so.

Go buy Poets Picking Poets. Go assist your morning. You may not even know your morning needs help, that you’ve been living at the mercy of the modulation and macadam industries. Or not. Your morning may be perfect for you. I’m not one to interfere, and you know I’m a stooge for toaster manufacturers. Inspired by the P.F.¬†poem of the day using the gem phrase “imagined heat,” here are all my favorites from the rest of the book, linked if possible, and if not, here when you buy and return.

…Chapter 3. “Identity Poem,” Brandon Som. “Jesus was fond of knock knock jokes and not so much wine, except maybe wine made from certain flowers, lilac or dandelion. It is Christian to say what…”

…Chapter 4. “Upon Waking,” Denis Johnson. “at the far edge of earth, night / is going away. another / poem begins. slumped over / the typewriter i must get this / exactly, i want to make it / clear…”

…Chapter 5. So many that grabbed me:

“The Rise and Fall of the Domestically Violent Empire,” Mary Karr. “She fell like a shot bird from a dawn sky, head down, full weight, with a splash at the end. Fell like a plane shot down — dials twirling…”

The Anti-Leading Lady Disassociates,” Courtney Queeney. “Some days I approximate a vacant lot. Instead of fire I have a face — a solid / slow-flowing, a target’s white and heart and near unhittable…”

Ghazal-Head,” Terrance Hayes. “No count number. Indentured mumbler. /¬†Black shoe stumbler. Beer belly bumbler, that’s what.”

“The Atom Discovers String Theory DC Comics, June-July 1964, #13 ‘Weapon Watches of Chronos,’ ” A. Van Jordan. What a title! “I was merely running away to come back / To catch my villain by surprise.”

…Chapter 6, “Astral,” Tracy K. Smith. “For a moment / You become the fish — pure muscle, / Desire tethered to desire. A stone / Skipped across this same river. You tug back, sink the hook.”

…Chapter 7. “Driving with Dominick in the Southern Province We See Hints of the Circus,” Michael Ondaatje. “A tattered Hungarian tent…”

…Chapter 8. I hardly even know where to begin. My favorite is likely Kay Ryan’s “Ideal Audience” because it makes you thank God rhyme exists. Read it aloud to yourself! Even if you’re a public space. Do it.

But then we also receive: Atsuro Riley’s “Picture,” which requires more reading aloud just for the assonance; Ryan’s “Dogleg” to bring you up on rainy days; Sarah Lindsay’s “Cheese Penguin” to bring you down on nice days; Pattiann Rogers’ “In Addition to Faith, Hope and Charity,” which begins “I’m sure there’s a god / in favor of drums” and only gets better; and Jane Hirschfield’s “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World,” passionate. You should read all these poems aloud to yourself, really. Don’t let Bluetooth addicts grab all the crazy glances.

…Chapter 9. “This Couple,” C.D. Wright. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors…” and it left me speechless (on the inside) on a long subway ride. Also, “Sleeping with the Dictionary,” Harryette Mullen.

…Chapter 10. “How I Get My Ideas,” Dean Young, who’s long had me as a fan. My favorite first line here: “Sometimes you just have to wait / 15 seconds then beat the prevailing nuance / from the air.”

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