Poetry has been a very important part of my life and my mental stability since I was a tween and young teenager. I really connected with my first poem when I was in seventh grade when I read a poem by Emily Dickinson as part of an English assignment. I fell in love with poetry as a form of self-expression quickly, began reading a lot more of it, and have a collection of about 600 poems I have written up until now. During my youngest adult years I went to weekly poetry readings around my city and read my work to people I was incredibly intimidated by and later grew to call my acquaintances.
My longest relationship has been with poetry, and since April is National Poetry Month, I certainly can’t think of a better occasion to share some of my favorite poems with you.
I stuck exclusively to poems written by women because for one, I just happen to have always been drawn to the writing of women, and two, writers who are women have never received even a fraction of the recognition, fame, and money that their male counterparts have received, both in their time and throughout history.
After Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath was and has since remained my godmother in poetry. Sure, it might be cliche being a woman who fell in love with the writing of a desperately mad poet, mother of two, wife of Ted, who died by her own hands, while in the throws of the beginning of what evolved to be my own lifelong struggle with clinical depression. Cliches exist for a reason, I suppose.
“Tulips” by Sylvia Plath
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free–
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
I first read the exquisitely-penned deep yearnings of Anne Sexton when one particular aforementioned acquaintance I had made while attending poetry readings made a reference to one of her poems and let me borrow a book of her poetry.
I had such a hard time choosing an Anne Sexton poem for this post, but every time I go back and read some Anne Sexton, I read this poem first, always.
“Love Letter Written in a Burning Building” by Anne Sexton
I am in a crate, the crate that was ours,
full of white shirts and salad greens,
the icebox knocking at our delectable knocks,
and I wore movies in my eyes,
and you wore eggs in your tunnel,
and we played sheets, sheets, sheets
all day, even in the bathtub like lunatics.
But today I set the bed afire
and smoke is filling the room,
it is getting hot enough for the walls to melt,
and the icebox, a gluey white tooth.
I have on a mask in order to write my last words,
and they are just for you, and I will place them
in the icebox saved for vodka and tomatoes,
and perhaps they will last.
The dog will not. Her spots will fall off.
The old letters will melt into a black bee.
The night gowns are already shredding
into paper, the yellow, the red, the purple.
The bed – well, the sheets have turned to gold –
hard, hard gold, and the mattress
is being kissed into a stone.
As for me, my dearest Foxxy,
my poems to you may or may not reach the icebox
and its hopeful eternity,
for isn’t yours enough?
The one where you name
my name right out in P.R.?
If my toes weren’t yielding to pitch
I’d tell the whole story –
not just the sheet story
but the belly-button story,
the pried-eyelid story,
the whiskey-sour-of-the-nipple story –
and shovel back our love where it belonged.
Despite my asbestos gloves,
the cough is filling me with black and a red powder seeps through my
our little crate goes down so publicly
and without meaning it, you see, meaning a solo act,
a cremation of the love,
but instead we seem to be going down right in the middle of a Russian
the flames making the sound of
the horse being beaten and beaten,
the whip is adoring its human triumph
while the flies wait, blow by blow,
straight from United Fruit, Inc.
My grandmother and I have always had a kind of morbid openness about death and dying. I guess that it has just never made sense to me that something as inevitable and unavoidable as death not be acknowledged. It seems that it should be one topic we address from time to time, at least in order to come to terms with the idea of mortality in itself. “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is one of the most beautiful, poignant poems about death you will likely ever read. If it sounds familiar, it is frequently recited during funerals.
“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on the snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Do you have a favorite poem? Share it in the comments!