I’ve been dipping into Language for a New Century: Contemporary from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond all week. It’s a massive anthology of poetry from more than 400 poets, from sixty different countries, translated from fifty languages. One of the goals of the book is to introduce readers to poets they would never hear about otherwise. The book has been receiving criticism because it can only give you one poem per poet. I say the book is an introduction. If you want to read more from a poet then go and find their books and help support translated works.
The foreword by Carolyn Forsche gave me goosebumps and made me read it aloud:
We know, from the mellifluous litany of poets’ names, who wrote these poems, but we might also consider what wrote them: the urge to sing, pray, cry, announce, and whisper; to write cultures into visibility; to write not after events but in their aftermath, through collisions in time and space, exile within and without; to walk around in the ruins of wars, awake. What wrote them was a determination to revolt against silence with a bit of speaking. What wrote was an upwelling of poetic apprehension of world.
Forsche calls the book “a field guide to the human condition”. I think it’s a perfect description for all poetry.
Reading this book made me think of my relationship with poetry. As a teenager it was all I read. I checked out the Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson hundreds of times in eighth grade. “Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me. . .”
After Dickinson I read and reread the haikus of Richard Wright before moving on to Alice Walker’s Her Blue Body Everything we Know. “Good night, Willie Lee, I’ll see you in the morning” is a favorite poem from that collection. From there I arrived at Chitra Divakaruni’s Black Candle. It stayed next to my bed for months as I read and reread it, raking up library fines.
I wonder what happened, what made me neglect poetry for years? Now Language for a New Century is leading me back to the collections I’ve loved. Right now Black Candle and the Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson are sitting at my nightstand once again, while Her Blue Body is on its way to me. This week poetry has become the first and last things of my day.
What do you think of poetry? Do you read it? If so, what are your favorite poems? Who are your favorite poets? If not, why?