The Last Poem That Changed You

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in claiming that poetry has a unique ability to startle us into new realizations, new ways of seeing.  I would guess that it does this by activating an intuitive sort of knowledge in the reader.  By not filling in all of the gaps, poetry trains the reader of poetry to do so–or at least attempt to do so.  Thus, the reader discovers what has always been known but perhaps never recognized or articulated.  The last poem that changed me in this way would probably have to be Robert Hass’s “A Story About the Body.”  The straightforward nature of the prose and the choice of the prose poem format bolster the notion of embodiment.  The infatuation develops much as we would expect, and the story of vulnerability offered and rejected is familiar to each of us, although the stakes of the particular vulnerability in this poem seem unique.  What throws me is not the painter’s revelation or the composer’s response, but rather the ineffable image of the bowl filled with bees and petals.  As with the dialogue between these two would-be lovers, I want to unpack this final image, to make it make sense in its context (the layers of bees and petals corresponding to mortality and desire?  Fierceness and relinquishment? ), but in the end, the bowl and its contents resist the straightforward reading of an objective correlative.  It is an image that moves us, but not necessarily—or primarily—on aesthetic terms.  Most importantly for me, the irreducible power of that image confounds the patent readability of the preceding narrative.  I want to read deeply and understand; this poem’s resistance to being drawn out forces me to make peace with uncertainty.  That’s how it changed me.  What’s the last poem that changed you?  Take a look at this article in The Rumpus for more ideas, and I invite you to post your own responses below.

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3 thoughts on “The Last Poem That Changed You

  1. This year was my first foray into teaching poetry to a room full of teenagers-alone. I was only scheduled to be with them for two Tuesdays, one hour each week. On my first week, I had a good twenty kids, ages 14-18 from Ecorse, Michigan. All of my students were African American. I taught them about alliteration, metaphor, wordplay, gave them a few literary devices that would help them write their own poems, which was the assignment for the following week. To my delight, many of them were undercover writers, already. On what was supposed to be my last day with the students, I noticed my class was larger with a small spattering of Caucasian and Hispanic students. Those who had heard about the assignment brought work to share even though they weren’t in attendance the first week. The entire course of that day hearing the kids share changed me, but most notably for me was a poem by a student named John. He was tall, heavy, and White, a major minority in this school full of kids of color. He read a poem about being bullied. What hit me, though, was that he told us that bullies are hurting the same way they hurt their victims…that we all are victims in one way or another. He told us that he had the strength to persevere, to rise about the bullies, to be himself. I’m sure I’ve said in a poem or two that “hurt people hurt people,” but somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that all the bullying I suffered in school was at the hands of other hurt children and teens. I was amazed by his understanding of the situation and his command for expressing his thoughts. I’ve always said that poetry is therapy, but on that day, I got the full experience of it as such. He actually healed a part of me that had long been hurting, gave me an understanding I didn’t have before. Working with the kids as a whole showed me how much we can learn about our youth just by having them write poetry/lyrics and sharing. I’ve heard all my life that the children are the future, but on that day, I realized that the future is now. RIGHT now.

  2. The last poem that changed me, continued to change me. A poem titled “Never Stop Asking for Poems” by, Michael Czarnecki. By the end of the poem, I felt the title was a command. So often I feel the poet has no post in society. This poem reminded me to simply ask for poetry. This poem also left me with a wistful yearning to be asked to deliver poetry. I have shared this poem with other poets, hoping that the imagery provided by this piece (it is a poem with in a poem) would cause them the same compulsion to feverishly create just in case someone asks for a poem. I am not sure if anyone else feels as moved by this piece as I do. I will just believe that it was written for me, to change me.

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