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Author Topic: English poetry
Szymon
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I was never really good at understanding poetry, but lately I have loads of free time and started to read and re-read all the classics of my country's literature, mostly novels and short stories. When I got a little tired of them I tried to fight my way through some poetry- and to my great astonishment I managed. I guess I'm growing up. Never mind that I'm turning 25 next week, but still, better late than never.

Then I started reading English classical novels (to be precise, I mean English as a language, not the country of origin), read a little bit of Twain, Dickens, all of Hemingway's novels, Faulkner, Orwell, Wells, Poe and so on (to be honest, mostly one book each, except for Hemingway). And now I thought: maybe poetry?

My English is far from perfect, especially my writing skills, but my reading skills are ok, I stopped using a dictionary years ago (my first novel was "EG" [Smile] ). So could you give me an advice where to start? Who are the best poets (from US, UK, RSA, Canada, Australia, all are welcome), with relatively easy to digest literature, so I don't get discouraged quickly? I mean, like with Shakespeare, I can read it, but find no pleasure in it, so I guess probably something from 18th century onwards. Probably something from junior high syllabus.

Thank you in advance.

[ January 28, 2013, 10:46 PM: Message edited by: Szymon ]

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LargeTuna
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I really like reading Emily Dickinson. Most of her poems are pretty short, if that helps.
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Szymon
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Thanks, I don't know if short poems are simpler, though. But still thanks, I want the best ones, not the simplest [Smile]
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TomDavidson
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Dickenson and Robert Frost are good for simple syntax. A lot of the modern poets I enjoy are famous for their leveraging of connotative meaning, though, so I'm not sure how they'd carry over to a non-native speaker.
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Itsame
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If we're allowing epic poetry, I love Paradise Lost. Milton has other good stuff too, I guess. The writing shouldn't be any harder than much of the other stuff you've been reading.

This site has nice notes on key phrases http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_1/index.shtml (Though the notes actually kind of suck; on the phrase "Sing Heav'nly Muse" it says: "Is the "Heavenly Muse" invoked here the same as the "Urania," traditionally the muse of astronomy, invoked at book 7.1? More likely, contemporary readers would have first thought of the "Holy Spirit," as the inspiration of Moses." It's pretty obvious, however, given how much Milton explicitly based his work on that of Homer and Virgil that the phrase was a reference to the opening lines of both the Odyssey and Aeneid. But I digress, sorry.)

Edit: Not to mention Dante does the same thing. It's kind of a running theme with epic poems. Gah.

Edit2: You might consider reading Fagles' translation of the Odyssey and Iliad. Really wonderful stuff in its own right.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Dickenson and Robert Frost are good for simple syntax. A lot of the modern poets I enjoy are famous for their leveraging of connotative meaning, though, so I'm not sure how they'd carry over to a non-native speaker.

A defining characteristic of a person's literacy (or shall we say: disposition towards subtleties of meaning) is a strong appreciation of connotation in language, in my opinion.

Ironically though, I've found both as a learner of other languages and a teacher of my own, that it is non-native speakers who display the most obvious interest in and appreciation for connotative meaning. Native speakers, and it doesn't seem to matter where they are from, are by and large less willing or able to engage with the subtleties of their native language in a rigorous way.

That said, of course there is a knowledge gap for a non-native. But I find this gap is often filled, paradoxically, by the non-native's ability to reference the English word against a number of concrete examples in their own native language. If you only speak one language -and perhaps if you are not a particularly verbally acute person -sometimes the connotative meanings of words are hard to intellectualize and examine, for lack of a diverse set of references. I speak 3 languages with some fluency, and I find explaining the meanings of difficult words from English *easier* in other languages.

For that reason, as a learner of Spanish, I loved Pablo Neruda and F. Garcia Lorca, because the subtleties of the meanings were integral to the overall impressions of each poem. Poets that wrap you in grammatical puzzles are not interesting to non-natives (nor to me in general); I think because they don't offer this opportunity to precisely understand the proffered meaning.

Then there are these American imagist poets who I love- but that's all about the content- not about the shadows of the words themselves. William Carlos Williams, Lawrence, and Pound, (and less so, but somewhat Eliot), are some of my favorites because everything is subservient to the snapshot: they don't try to impregnate their words with deeper meanings, but instead try to portray the clearest, most precise outline of an idea, that can build itself from its basic parts in the mind. This kind of poetry is, I think, also perfectly interesting to non-natives for the same reasons.

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Destineer
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Are you asking about orginal English potry? We have a thread for that.
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rivka
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In addition to those already mentioned, I love Stevie Smith ("Pretty"), Elizabeth Bishop ("Florida"), and Eavan Boland ("Object Lessons").
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Dr Strangelove
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I'd recommend Walt Whitman personally, along with a further recommendation of Frost. I also personally love Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
they don't try to impregnate their words with deeper meanings
I don't know if that's really a fair description of Pound and Eliot, although they would claim that it is. [Smile]
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Orincoro
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Let's say that their individual word choices are not intended, in themselves, to form a subtext of primary significance to the work. They focus more heavily on word combinations, and textual references to build an image, and less on the emotional or philosophical resonance of a particular word in itself.

You would more expect Pound or Eliot to employ the word of greatest utility, over a word with sentimental or multi-shaded meanings: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws, / scuttling across the floors of silent seas," to pick a celebrated example, is an evocative image, but not dependent to a great extent on the particular words involved- they are just the best words to use. This is borne out in Eliot's drafts, many of which we have preserved, which show that a great number of his most famous lines were attempts at an image *before* the involvement of particular diction: he would render an image several different ways before settling on a particular wording, but the image was the original idea, not the wording itself.

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Belle
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Robert Frost would be my pick for a place to start. I also like some of Carl Sandburg's stuff.

Poe has some approachable poems, "Annabel Lee" is most definitely on a junior high syllabus, I teach it. [Smile]

I was never a big fan of Emily Dickinson, myself.

Try Poetry 180, it's a poem a day for high school students. There's some good stuff there.

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Szymon
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Dickenson and Robert Frost are good for simple syntax. A lot of the modern poets I enjoy are famous for their leveraging of connotative meaning, though, so I'm not sure how they'd carry over to a non-native speaker.

A defining characteristic of a person's literacy (or shall we say: disposition towards subtleties of meaning) is a strong appreciation of connotation in language, in my opinion.

Ironically though, I've found both as a learner of other languages and a teacher of my own, that it is non-native speakers who display the most obvious interest in and appreciation for connotative meaning. Native speakers, and it doesn't seem to matter where they are from, are by and large less willing or able to engage with the subtleties of their native language in a rigorous way.

That said, of course there is a knowledge gap for a non-native. But I find this gap is often filled, paradoxically, by the non-native's ability to reference the English word against a number of concrete examples in their own native language. If you only speak one language -and perhaps if you are not a particularly verbally acute person -sometimes the connotative meanings of words are hard to intellectualize and examine, for lack of a diverse set of references. I speak 3 languages with some fluency, and I find explaining the meanings of difficult words from English *easier* in other languages.

For that reason, as a learner of Spanish, I loved Pablo Neruda and F. Garcia Lorca, because the subtleties of the meanings were integral to the overall impressions of each poem. Poets that wrap you in grammatical puzzles are not interesting to non-natives (nor to me in general); I think because they don't offer this opportunity to precisely understand the proffered meaning.

Then there are these American imagist poets who I love- but that's all about the content- not about the shadows of the words themselves. William Carlos Williams, Lawrence, and Pound, (and less so, but somewhat Eliot), are some of my favorites because everything is subservient to the snapshot: they don't try to impregnate their words with deeper meanings, but instead try to portray the clearest, most precise outline of an idea, that can build itself from its basic parts in the mind. This kind of poetry is, I think, also perfectly interesting to non-natives for the same reasons.

Yeah, Ori, I know exactly what you mean. I speak Polish, English, Italian and Mandarin Chinese with different fluency, though. And I absolutely get what you mean by "the connotative meanings of words are hard to intellectualize and examine, for lack of a diverse set of references". I never learned Latin, nor Spanish for that matter, but watching a movie with Spanish subtitles, even though challenging, is not impossible for me. The same goes with latin inscriptions. My girlfriends says I have a "talent for languages" and that might be true, but I definitely don't have the stubborness to ever learn them properly. So the nuances I usually grasp- that's because the passive knowledge of any language is ten times easier to embrace. And we have the same Judeo-Christian cultural background, so we think similarily. Not so much for some older Chinese novels. Let alone poetry.

So, I love Rivka's suggestion "Pretty". I like it very much. This poem is, as far as language is concerned, not difficult at all, and yet very nice. That's were my problem is: my English is not good enough to describe why I like it [Wink] Thanks Rivka.

Same goes with the one Ori suggested: William Carlos Williams (I read "Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!"). I didn't have to check out the title meaning, although I stopped there at "Igualidad" for a minute, 'cause it's a little different from the French counterpart. I thought that maybe Williams changed the middle word for some literary reason. Still very similar, of course. But then, it's not English [Smile] I like this one very much, too. Reminds me of Szymborska, her writing style was very much alike.

And I read Frost's "A Servant To Servants"- I liked it greatly. I found it very fresh, gripping. Great. I think I liked him best so far. Thanks you guys a lot, for all your suggestions and if you still have some, please tell me. I've only read these three so far, so it's way to early to say whom I like best.

And a little off topic- in high school we were supposed to write poems in English, just for fun, as a homework. Obviously they weren't any good, but I learned that it's way easier for English writers to find rhymes... Not that easy in Polish, most of the rhymes need to be imperfect or weak. Is that right? Wiki helped me out here...

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Dogbreath
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My "gateway poet" so to speak was T.S. Eliot... as others have already mentioned, his style is mostly to present a series of evocative images that gain depth and coherency (and beauty) in the way they are framed. Preludes is an excellent example of this - it's the first real poem I memorized of my own volition (out of love, and perhaps the mistaken belief that reciting poetry is in some way sexy), and despite it's power requires almost no understanding of English or of poetry to be able to understand. The Hollow Men is another good one, though it does require some understanding of Greek mythology, Christianity, and English culture to appreciate.

There are, of course, in all his poems many hidden depth and allusions to other works, but it only becomes a problem in his more obtuse poems. (like The Wasteland) He also is a little overfond of incredibly obnoxious words (things like 'polyphiloprogenitive' taking up an entire line), but you get used to it. [Smile]

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Szymon:
I love Rivka's suggestion "Pretty". I like it very much. This poem is, as far as language is concerned, not difficult at all, and yet very nice. That's were my problem is: my English is not good enough to describe why I like it [Wink] Thanks Rivka.

Glad you liked it. You should read more of Stevie Smith's stuff. She's got a very sly sense of humor that I have long enjoyed.

quote:
Originally posted by Szymon:
Not that easy in Polish, most of the rhymes need to be imperfect or weak. Is that right? Wiki helped me out here...

Those are fine, but better would be "slant rhyme". I was never very good at writing poetry that both rhymed and didn't sound sing-songy. So I can write stuff for cards and such, but back in the days that I wrote Serious Poetry (all of which has been consumed by the mists of time, fortunately), it was modern, non-rhyming stuff.
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Szymon
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I like the term Serious Poetry. I am pretty sure yours was much better than most of the Serious Poetry that lies at the bottom of drawers throughout the world.

Sometimes, just for fun, I write rhymed stuff, to show to my family and friends, but it's mostly about very very stupid subjects. I'm not even going to tell what it's usually about. Anyway, I wanted to check out the English term for it and was surprised to find that you have a completely different division. In my country's literature, everything can be divided into three categories, called literature types: liryka (poems, ballads, sonets etc), epika (novels, short stories etc), and dramat (plays, screenplays etc). Those can be further subcategorized, I don't want to bore you, but my point is that there are a lot of books that are rhymed and are not considered to be poetry, such as Polish best known "Sir Thaddeus" by Mickiewicz. I think it's called epic poem in English, but you'd fail all the classes if you said it's a poem...

So, to sum up, rhymed stuff is not necessarily poetry in Poland [Wink] Prose has two meanings: prose equals epika, or simply non-rhymed stuff.

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Darth_Mauve
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I enjoy Howard Nemerov's poetry--but then I took a small class with him.
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RivalOfTheRose
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This is where I got my namesake.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rhodora

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King of Men
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I suggest Kipling. The language is simple without the poetry thereby becoming simplistic; an excellent introduction to what can be done in English. Start with "Cold Iron," "Edgehill Fight" or "The Bell-Buoy".
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Szymon
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Thanks, thanks and thanks again. Actually Kipling is the only one so far, maybe except for Dickinson, that I've heard of before.
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Teshi
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quote:
If we're allowing epic poetry, I love Paradise Lost. Milton has other good stuff too, I guess. The writing shouldn't be any harder than much of the other stuff you've been reading.
You don't think that Milton is more difficult than, say, Poe, given there's a (although not insurmountable) significant difference in date?
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Itsame
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Maybe I'm just weird, but I actually find that I can read Paradise Lost more fluently than, say, the Cask of Amontillado, and that's prose!
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Teshi
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I guess he is reading Hemingway and such, but I focused on the "junior high" and "18th century+" reading level requirement, into which Paradise Lost does not fall (but much Poe does)--as is the case with all your suggestions.

I thought perhaps the use of language and syntax that isn't normally in use nowadays might be a challenge for someone who, while clearly very competant in the English language, is requesting adult but entry-level poetry.

Did you read Milton, Dante and translations of the Iliad and Odyssey in middle school? because I didn't study them until university. I don't think you're "weird", JonHecht, I think you may have had some practice.

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Itsame
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I read the Homer and Dante my freshman year of high school and the Milton during senior year. Admittedly, it takes a bit of time to get used to the writing, but I found it to be a pretty quick transition. I maintain, however, that the same can easily be said for Poe.

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."

There are a lot of words here that aren't used in casual conversation.

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SenojRetep
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This has been my go-to English Poetry reference since High School. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your opinion of modern poetry) it only includes poetry published up until around 1940 or so. Wikipedia says it was a common high school reference in the 1950s and 1960s.

I like many of the poets already mentioned in this thread, especially Eliot and Milton. Some of the other poets I particularly like are W.H. Auden, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, William Wordsworth, Alexander Pope and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

A few of my favorite poems are:

Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth (Arthur Hugh Clough)
Rugby Chapel (Matthew Arnold)
A Psalm of Life (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Young and Old (Charles Kingsley)
Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (Thomas Gray)

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Szymon
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quote:
Originally posted by SenojRetep:

Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth (Arthur Hugh Clough)
Rugby Chapel (Matthew Arnold)
A Psalm of Life (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Young and Old (Charles Kingsley)
Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (Thomas Gray)

Thanks Senoj, I'll look into that in a minute.
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capaxinfiniti
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Shel Silverstein
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hef
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Read Billy Collins's poetry. Try "Marginalia," "Nostalgia," and "Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes."
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hef
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Read Billy Collins's poetry. Try "Marginalia," "Nostalgia," and "Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes."
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