Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sad Poem, Happy Poem

It's well-known in our house that I have a beef with American Life in Poetry. It's a newspaper column that appears in our paper on Sundays, and you'd think that with a national readership, Ted Kooser would choose poems that were both accessible to the average person and of a wide variety, so that everyone could discover that they do, indeed, love poetry.

Instead, our family's running joke is that I discover every week that once again, Kooser has chosen the Most Depressing Poem in the World to share with his readership. The joke goes that I read out the title, which often sounds quite happy--"Oh!" I say. "This one is entitled 'Early October Snow!' Doesn't that sound nice!" Then I begin to read the poem, which always does, indeed, start happily. "The poet is painting a lovely picture of a snowfall!" I exclaim contentedly.

But, alas, hints of a deeper darkness begin to emerge: "Hmmm, that imagery of the winter landscape laid out over the colorful autumn is a little sad..." Sometimes, Matt will actually take the paper from me at this point, if I've mentioned a pet or a child in the poem, and pre-read the rest of it. He will then inevitably shake his head in disapproval and recommend that I do not read on. I love a good poem, though, so generally I insist on having the paper back and read through to the end where, of course, I'm given a bleak piece of evidence of our own mortality. The pretty winter landscape superimposed over the autumn season is a metaphor for growing old, you see.

Everything and everyone that we love is going to die, but it doesn't matter, because we're going to die, too.

I swear, we do this every week, practically. Practically every single week!

It's the poems about children and animals, though, that I respond to with genuine upset. This poem, in particular, has become legend in our family, as I still sometimes bring it up--"The dog, Matt! They forgot the dog!!! Why is there such carelessness and cruelty in love?!? Why is everyone so horrible?!?"--but this poem about, sigh, a dead cat, had me sitting at the kitchen table and crying so much about Ballantine that Syd hugged me and promised to write me a happy poem.

And so she did:

It's not exactly a "poem" poem, but it is very happy, don't you think? I'm especially intrigued by the poet's imagery of perfect happiness residing in a place where people have never been. Evocative, yes?

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