Grace Prosniewski: Stumbling upon a poem

By Grace Prosniewski, Daily Literary Columnist
Published October 15, 2014

There are few things in life I love more than poetry. Scratch that. There are few things in life I love more than well-written poetry — an important distinction. There’s something uniquely satisfying about reading a piece where every word seems to sink into your skin, flush your cheeks and sweeten on your tongue.

I highly recommend getting drunk on poetry. It’s cheaper than alcohol and you don’t have to worry about waking up the next day with a hangover and several new, and most likely troubling, Tinder matches.

While I may spend a few hours here and there explicitly trying to find new poems to quench my thirst, I find that many of my favorite poems are those I stumbled upon organically. I don’t know whether these poems are enhanced by some measure of surprise or if it’s all just coincidental, but there’s something fanciful about a perfect poem unexpectedly falling into your hands, filled with phrases that feel born of your own soul.

Usually, I discover these hidden gems through class assignments. That’s how I found and subsequently fell in love with Margaret Veley’s “A Japanese Fan.” I was in a class about early British women authors when we were given the task of finding a little-known author, analyzing one of her poems and then commenting on another’s author.

As the ever-diligent scholar, I waited until the night before the due date to comment on a classmate’s author. As I scrolled through the offerings, my only intention was to find a short poem upon which to comment. Woman plans and God laughs. “A Japanese Fan” is many things. Short is not one of them. But from its light and playful opening stanza, I was hooked.

Some eleven stanzas later, I became thoroughly convinced that part of my purpose on this earth is to get people to read this poem. I could speak about the poem’s expression of the complex interactions of consumerism, imperialism and Victorian gender roles, but to dust off an old saying, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’ll only say that I think “A Japanese Fan” inspires the reader to create a further narration, which I consider to be a mark of a great work.

Then, of course, you can stumble upon a verse in the vast wilderness known as social media. That’s how I found my current obsession, e.e. cummings, and specifically his poem “i love you much (most beautiful darling).” If you’ve ever been on the Quotes page of Pinterest, you know it is an absolute minefield of misattributed quotes (“No, Oscar Wilde did not say that.”) and weird advice for how to be a Christian wife (“Okay…”). If, however, you persevere, you can find some great stuff, like the aforementioned poem.

Cummings’ style, known for its unusual form, grammar and punctuation, give all his works a distinct flavor, and it’s no different in “I love you much (most beautiful darling).” What’s really impressive is how cummings manages to convey such a depth of feeling while keeping the tone light and airy throughout. It’s an achievement that would make even the most hardened cynic take another chance on love.

Of course, there are also somewhat embarrassing ways to find new poems. How could such a neutral activity ever be embarrassing, you ask? Oh, dear reader, don’t ever doubt my ability on that account.

I was seventeen and pining hopelessly over a friend of a friend. He had great hair and was in a band, making him, in my teenage mind, the catch of the century.

Instead of, I don’t know, talking to him, I decided a much better approach would be to read everything I could about his favorite author, in a bid to better understand his true psyche. Why yes, I am wildly fun at parties.

Now the writer I was supposed to be studying up on was Chuck Palahniuk, but in my infinite wisdom I forgot the name and could only remember it started with a “C” and had a “K” towards the end. Thus, I ended up at Charles Bukowski.

Bukowski’s intense, autobiographical style of writing demands a certain amount of attention, and thus by the time I figured out my mistake, I was too engrossed, specifically with his famous “An Almost Made Up Poem,” to continue my scheme.

The crush fizzled, but Bukowski and I are still going strong. Poetry is forever.

And with that, I leave you to blindly stumble upon your own favorite poems. In writing this column I myself happened upon some intriguing works by Charles Baudelaire, and well, suffice it to say it’s going to be a late night.