Now I know what you are thinking, because if I was reading this review I'd be thinking it, too... "Don't bother telling me about a poetry book. I like what I like and when it comes to poetry, I like it in small doses." Well, that is what I thought until I read this book, and the two that I gobbled up right after it. Roger Housden has unlocked the poetry code for me. He selected ten poems, which he identifies as life changing poems and spends a few pages explaining each one. I realized as I read his descriptions that I never really knew how to read poetry before, so the only poems I ever really liked were the ones that I could figure out without too much fuss. For example, if I ran into a word I didn't understand I seldom, if ever, even looked it up. When reading prose, of course, we look for contextual meaning but often that isn't possible in poems. In addition, Housden asks the reader to "feel" the poem and check for the larger themes of soul-searching and death.
Of the ten poems he selected for this volume at least five of them profoundly touched me. I don't think I'm prepared to say that they have changed my life but maybe they have, just a bit. One of the poems, "Last Gods" by Kinnell, my husband and I read to each other repeatedly during our little vacation to Victoria. So that is new. We've never been a poetry-reading couple before, so perhaps I am changed. Here is the list of the ten life-changing poems and my favorite line from each:
"The Journey" by Mary Oliver
-One day you finally knew"Last Night as I was Sleeping" by Antonio Machado
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice---
And the golden bees"Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
I believe in you my soul..."Zero Circle" by Rumi
Be helpless, dumbfounded,"The Time Before Death" by Kabir
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
Jump into experience while you are alive!"Ode to My Socks" by Pablo Neruda
No one line catches my eye but the idea that we must open our eyes to all around us and even a pair of socks can become "luminous."
"Last Gods" by Galway Kinnell
...Now in the lake two faces float, looking up"For the Anniversary of My Death" by WS Merwin
at a great maternal pine whose branches
open out in all directions
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day"Love after Love" by Derek Walcott
When the last fires will wave to me
You will love again the stranger who was your self."The Dark Night" by St. John of the Cross
My worldliness was gone, forgottenI appreciate these poems and what they had to offer to my soul and the explanations that Roger Housden provided. I hope that you, too, can find a poem or two this April, during National Poetry Month, that speaks to you. Who knows, maybe it will even change your life.
Among the white lilies.