Thou hast been served

Jane Galt’s open thread on her favorite poems got me thinking about how my taste has changed over the years. When I was young, poetry was something that really moved me, but I don’t get it the way I used to — is it something a person can outgrow? Maybe I’m just too crusty to appreciate its charms in the same way.

And yet, the final lines of Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill still touch me. While I’m generally an optimist about the future and do my best to avoid wallowing in nostalgia, the way he portrayed the essence of dumb/blessed childhood before snapping shut the tomb door still gets me:

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

John Donne remains my favorite poet, even though I can’t choose a single one of his poems to elevate above all others here. Like I’m not going to love an unrepentant smart-ass…

And even someone whose work is as familiar as air can surprise us with his lesser-known works. Robert Frost’s Acquainted With the Night fits the bill:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain –and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

I guess I don’t read poetry so much anymore because a lot of it seems precious and irrelevant, but reading Clive James is like a biting into a lemon wedge: He’s brrrrracing! So for its relevance to my petty life (and because it’s about as juicy as a Page 6 item), The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered is my entry for favorite poem:

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book —
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyart with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots–
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
“My boobs will give everyone hours of fun”.

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error–
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.