Yesterday was a day of unexpected poetry for me. I studied the stuff in college and wrote a book-length honors manuscript of poetry that mostly I choose these days not to think much about. I’ve been pretty disillusioned about poetry for a while, after years of reading contemporary poetry in magazines and finding it to be unsatisfying as a reader. Every once in a while, a bit of poetry pokes back into my life, though.
Last night, it was at the market — our local food cooperative, which I suppose isn’t quite the same as your typical Bi-Lo or Kroger. It’s staffed by people who strike me as hippies and hipsters and the odd grad student, perhaps one or two libertarians. They’re generally friendly in a way that seems more genuine than the dead-eyed “how are you today” I’m accustomed to receiving from the high school kid checking me out when I use one of the bigger grocery stores. (And little wonder, since the staff at the co-op are offered health benefits, a retirement plan, holidays, and I imagine something resembling a living wage vs. getting the stink-eye as they punch in for hours approaching full-time that would require the payment of such benefits. So to be clear, it’s not my intention to generalize about people who work at chain grocery stores but more to make an observation about the apparent quality of life and attendant cheerfulness of people who work at the co-op and how, you know, being a good employee is good for the world.)
Ahem. So, I was picking up a few things from the market and heard a cashier telling a customer about a persimmon poem. The customer was buying a persimmon and didn’t really know what to do with it, and the cashier reported that the poem offered some instructions. This made me think of a neat poem by Henry Taylor that explains how to eat an artichoke. I mentioned the poem to the cashier as I walked by, and since it wasn’t a busy night, he went hunting for it while I shopped. I picked up my little basketful of things and thought also of a poem about sweetbreads by Robert Wrigley, which I misremembered as having the line “neither sweet nor breads.” It turns out that I was wrong, and it’s an Ogden Nash poem that has a similar line. The Wrigley poem is a good one (one of many good ones; although I don’t often read poetry these days, I can usually dip into Wrigley and find something I’m glad to have read). By the time I returned to the front of the store to check out, the cashier had found the Taylor poem and I mentioned the sweetbreads poem too, and we had a nice little exchange about reading.
When I got home, I discovered my wife looking for a poem for a lesson plan she’s writing. So I went to the bookshelf and reached behind all the delicious fiction to the poetry I keep stacked in a second row behind the main attraction to pull out a few volumes. We looked at some Robert Morgan, some Michael Chitwood, some Wrigley, some Andrew Hudgins, and it was nice to revisit some of the dog-eared pages. I thought also of the old Auden poem that appeared so touchingly in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and that reminded me in turn of Conrad Aiken’s lovely “Music I Heard.”
It was nice to spend a few minutes dipping back into some familiar poems.