I only own three books of poetry: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, The Poetry of Robert Frost, and Fuel: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Ah, I guess I own a few of the epic poems, too: The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and Inferno…I think that’s it.
I like T. S. Eliot, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Richard Siken, Pablo Neruda, Louise Glück, and stray poems here and there from writers whose work I haven’t explored. A couple weeks ago I went to a Philip Levine reading. “The Poem of Chalk” in particular stood out for me, out of everything he read. Specifically these excerpted lines, which I still remember:
He knew feldspar.
he knew calcium, oyster shells, he
knew what creatures had given
their spines to become the dust time
pressed into these perfect cones,
he knew the sadness of classrooms
in December when the light fails
early and the words on the blackboard
abandon their grammar and sense
and then even their shapes so that
each letter points in every direction
at once and means nothing at all.