Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 20 books meme

The internet is swimming in memes, of late. There are the 25 things about yourself, the umpteen single words about where your cell phone is and your father, and there are the 20 books that made you love poetry. We who hate the lists make them anyway. But my mental stretching exercises before writing a list of poetry books get me to thinking about the question historically: what if the books that made you love poetry are very different from the books that sustain that love now? What if, like some poets, the reader has phases in her career as a receiver of poems? What if one's crush at age 15 on the bleary face of Wallace Stevens in a Georgetown bookshop gives way, several decades later, to another poetic and geographical landscape inhabited by the poets of Tinfish 18.5? Or if Emily Dickinson's imagined volcanoes give way to real ones? But "give way" is not the right phrase, either, because these landscapes (those of "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and Hawaiian genealogical chants, for example) exist at the same time, as palimpsest. This is perhaps why poetry as document, as collage, appeals more to me now that time has shuttled from youth to advanced middle age, because it's all in the juxtapositions, the neighborhoods, the aina. And what if, in Bloomian fashion, the reader reads back from Tinfish 18.5 to Stevens's Connecticut poems and finds something there, a 14th look, what then? (What if she actually admits to a stubborn admiration of the pre-self-parodic Prof. Bloom?) And so I refuse this list, though I could fill it several times over, because it proposes stasis rather than movement by accretion, if not development (bad word in these parts). I want my list in a cube or a hangar, books floating off a high ceiling and wheeling around in the oh so historical air. Speaking of which, the wind!

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