So I'm getting ready for my annual pretense toward being a teacher, and I'm reminded of the one basic question asked by a student last year that I was embarrassingly and completely unprepared for: "What's your favorite poem?". It's an obvious question, and I couldn't think of one good response. I had made bookmarks with a short Robert Bly effort as a giveaway, and I made a lame effort along the lines of "there are so many great poems, I can't name just one, but here's a good one", but even as I said it, I knew the Bly piece wasn't my in my Letterman list.
There are poems that were important to me in the formative (pre-college) years of my interest in poetry; "Jabberwocky" and "Kubla Khan" come to mind (clearly, music was most important to me here). Through college, which included my first serious classes in poetry, I collected some favorites which were more emotionally impactful, but no less musical ("Richard Cory", "Birches", "A High Toned Old Christian Woman"). Only after college did I really get to know the work of anyone writing after 1960. Harder to capture a short list of contemporary writers because the list is frustratingly eclectic and I always feel like some part of me (not to mention some poet I love) is underrepresented. Today I could easily include B. J. Ward's "Upon Learning That Hearts Can Become Stones" , Meg Kearney's "Creed", Lucille Clifton's "Adam Thinking" and "Eve Thinking" (which have to be taken together), Mark Doty's "Messiah (Christmas Portions)"... Tomorrow the list might be very different. I've got Pax Atomica, American Smooth, and Breath on my nightstand right now; who knows what I'll find there? And now I look back over this paragraph and I don't see Coleman Barks or Kim Addonizio or Maria Gillan... you see? I can't do it. But I can tell the kids the common things about all these poems that make them peers in my affection.
As soon as I figure out what those things are. I'm going to have to think about this some more.