I had two books of poetry from the library this week, The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, and Continuum, a selection of poems by Nina Cassian. Clampitt’s collected poems was 471 dense pages, and even though I have read a number of poems of hers I like, the sheer weight of it all was overwhelming. Any poet’s collected works is bound to have hundreds of uninteresting poems. It’s so much easier to get to know a poet through their selected works. But in the case of Cassian, either I don’t like her, or I don’t like the selection. It’s so difficult to get to know a new poet, to find the right poems, to get a sense of whether their voice really interests you!
So in hopes of saving you a little time, here is a poem by a poet you may not have heard of whom I like very much:
What can be discussed in words
I beg to state in brief.
a man has only one death:
it may be as light as goose down
or as heavy as a fatted hog.
Gingerly the flowers open
and are crushed in the vat.
What’s in your new perfume?
The hills of Africa are in it,
and the cormorants with their mouths full of fish,
a bed of carnations, a swannery in Switzerland,
the citrine sun baking Nappa
and a rhino whining at the moon.
An after-dinner argument is in it
and the ever-stronger doses of claptrap
we are forced to take while still alive.
A whole aeroplane, wings and all,
and the lush spaghetti siphoned into lips
poised for a kiss.
Finish it, finish it.
I first found this poem in Tony Hoagland’s book, real sofistikashun, which I’ve mentioned before. A must read for poets.