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5 Great Lines of Poetry

23 July 2010

Here is a list of 5 great lines of poetry I have read in the past month:

5. how accurately words can set down the sight // of a digging wombat hurling up brown clods / of burrowed-earth

These lines from Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s poem”It Sounds Different Today” strike me because they say exactly what they describe. He ponders if words can accurately describe a specific image, then goes and describes that image so bang-on accurately that I don’t believe any other set of words could describe that image any better than he already has. And yet he still questions the accuracy of words.

4. & X sleeps so peacefully she isn’t / disturbed by the yardwork going on // inside my head

I love how Spencer Short compares the inner workings of a busy mind to yardwork in his poem “Journal of My One Useful Year.”

3. Writing about anything is like walking on a cloud / because language is both a presence & an absence. / To do so successfully you must jump very quickly.

Spencer Short (in his poem “The New Math”) seems to understand my feelings about language. How it lures you in but if you don’t jump immediately you miss. I especially like “language is both a presence & an absence.”

And the top two…

2. listening to insects wind the night like a watch

If you’ve ever heard cicadas, you know what Spencer Short must have been referring to in his poem “This Cold Gossip Is the Wind.”

1.  Three clouds and a tree / reflect themselves on a toaster.

These opening lines to Michael Ondaatje’s poem “The Diverse Causes” represent a skill and a way of seeing things that I adore and few possess. It’s what a writing mentor I once had called “nonlinear” poetry, meaning the image or idea is written in a different order than what would be assumed. In this example, most people would say “A toaster reflects three clouds and a tree” or even the passive “Three clouds and a tree are reflected on a toaster.” Both of these are accurate descriptions, but Ondaatje’s description brings a magicality to the image that the other two don’t have. It brings us into the nonlinear frame of mind, in which we can procress the poetry free from formal constraints.

"ray of light" by ae-j on


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