I went to a poetry reading at the incomparable University Press Books bookstore (support it!) this weekend, and the subject of accessibility came up. One reader, Rebecca Foust, mentioned that her mother, who never went further than high school, memorized and loved Robert Frost’s poems. Though his poems, to a poet, are layered and complex, Rebecca said her mother went to them for simple comfort.
This is very hard to achieve today, when we have largely shed form, and the adjective “accessible” often denigrates a poem. But here’s a great example of a layered, accessible contemporary poem by A.E. Stallings that includes rhyme, poetic and prosaic allusions, and humor:
Musicfor a new parent
The music that your son will listen to
To drive you mad
Has yet to be invented. Be assured
However, it is approaching from afar
Like the light of some Chaldean star.
On what new instruments of torture, through
Waves, lasers, wires, telepathy
The same banalities will play
Systolic and diastolic as before,
It’s hard to say—
As for the lyrics, or the lack thereof,
About love or the lack of love,
Despite the heart’s reputed amputation,
They will be as repetitive as sex
Without the imagination.
The singers will appall you, yes,
With their outlandish dress or lack of dress
Or excess hair or lack of hair, tattoos,
All aspects of their hygiene, because they remind you that he spends
Too many hours with hooligans called friends,
And while you knit another ugly sweater,
The pulsars of the brave new tunes will boom
From the hormonal miasma of his room.
Or maybe they’ll just beam into his brain—
Unheard melodies are better.
Thus it has always been. Maybe that’s why
The sappy retro soundtrack of your youth
Ambushes you sometimes in a café
At this almost-safe distance, and you weep, or nearly weep
For all you know of beauty, or of truth.
A. E. Stallings
This poem is from her book, Olives. If any of you turned to Keats after my recommendation last week, you, too, will get those allusions.