Roses are red, violets are blue, oh, we like poetry, and now maybe you will too!
Poetry can be really delightful, but it can also feel really inaccessible. In this episode, we talked about our favorite poems, how to discover poems you love (and disregard everything else tbh), and then how to find poems that fit your specs. Stick around after the outro to hear our editor Lucas reading some selections.
This episode was produced by Rachel and Sally and edited by Lucas Nguyen. Our logo was designed by Amber Seger (@rocketorca). Our theme music is by Tiny Music. MJ Brodie transcribed this episode. Follow us on Twitter @OhILikeThatPod.
Things we talked about:
Rachel’s favorite poems:
Sally’s favorite poems:
Poems read by Lucas after the outro:
Rachel: Before we get started, we just have a quick bit of podcast housekeeping, which is, this one's going to be our last episode for August. So we're going to be taking a couple of weeks off, you're traveling, Sally. So our next episode after this one will be coming out on September 9th.
Rachel: Welcome to Oh I Like That, a podcast about things we like and occasionally things we don't. I'm Rachel Wilkerson Miller.
Sally: And I'm Sally Tamarkin.
Rachel: Good morning, Sally.
Sally: Good morning, Rachel, and happy birthday junior to you.
Rachel: Oh my god. [Laughs] Wow. Were you saving that so we can catch my live reaction.
Speaker 2: I had to sit on my hands because I was vibrating with excitement to text it to you. I'm really glad I got to say it on the air.
Rachel: Yeah, me too. Thank you. Thank you. But so that brings us to our vibe check, which the vibe today for me is birthday junior.
Rachel: As you know, I'm not a birthday adult, but I'm embracing it for the birthday adults in my life who want to celebrate.
Sally: I feel like every year we get you a little closer to birthday adulthood. I feel your 95th birthday is going to be a massive blow out. That's going to be a week-long party.
Rachel: I think that's right. I started testing out, on Monday I started being like "It's my birthday week" to my girlfriend.
Sally: How did that feel?
Rachel: It felt funny, because it's not my natural state and I was doing it to kind of be a brat. And I was like, "See? This isn't what you want. You don't want me to be this way."
Sally: Did she agree?
Rachel: I think she slightly regretted [laughs] having introduced the idea that I should be a little bit more excited about my birthday, but no, I'm taking today off and I'm taking Monday off, so I'm doing a four day weekend. So it definitely feels like the birthday weekend has begun. Although today I have a hair appointment all day, which is not my idea of a birthday celebration. So I'll feel a lot more excited once that's over.
Sally: Yeah. It's getting yourself in pole position for the birthday celebration.
Rachel: Exactly. It needs to happen, but it's also like, meh. You know, I wish I didn't have to do it today.
Sally: Totally. I hear you. I'm very excited that it's your birthday week, it's your birthday month. And I hope that you... I know that I ironically started calling some of my friends bro, and it's become unironic. I just, there are certain friends of mine that I just call bro now completely unironically. And I think that if you lean into the irony of being a birthday adult, you could be on a similar trajectory where it becomes just a fully integrated part of your personality.
Rachel: I feel like that's a thing that happens -- you start something as a bit and then you're like, oh no, I went too far and I can't undo this. So I've got to be careful with this.
Sally: This is my entire personality now.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly.
Rachel: What's your vibe this morning?
Sally: Okay, so I have a couple vibes.
Rachel: Oh. [Laughs]
Sally: One vibe is underslept, but leaning into it. I'm just in a phase of not sleeping very well, which happens to me every now and now and again. And I'm getting to the point of sleep deficit where I just feel sort of demented. I feel I'm just sort of in some strange alternate reality. But one thing that I've been thinking about a lot is this awesome post by our friend and friend of the show, Terri Pous, who is Managing Editor at Apartment Therapy. She wrote this really awesome just short post about an anti-sleep routine that she has embraced to help with her insomnia. And she references a book called The Sleep Book by Dr. Guy Meadows, and she kind of pulls out a few relevant points from the book in her post. And it's basically about sort of being less invested in your insomnia and less sort of obsessed with and precious about the fact that you can't sleep and you don't sleep and you might not fall asleep. And it kind of, I loved the post when I read it. And think about it a lot when I'm going through periods of insomnia, because I tend to get really wrapped up in the fact that I can't sleep and it becomes a part of my personality, and I think that makes it harder to sleep. So the vibe is all of that. So, and the other thing I want to just really quickly talk about is the bird that was on my front porch last night, which I sent you a picture of when it happened.
Sally: And I'm going to link to my tweet in the show notes, because I don't know how else to show a picture to a podcast audience, but basically I was sitting on the porch and what I thought was a bird of prey turned out to be a mockingbird, Rachel.
Rachel: Oh, wow. Well, I guess I didn't know that they were named such because they humiliate you for thinking they're so scary.
Sally: They humiliate you. They make you completely terrified. And I went inside and later Andrea my partner was like, "I'm going to go for a walk. Do you want to come?" And I was like, "I'm not going outside tonight. That bird is there." Anyway, there was a mockingbird that was like five feet away from me, really, really, really angry specifically at me, it seemed.
Rachel: I wonder why -- not to victim blame, but what did you do to--
Sally: [Laughs] I know. I provoked the ire of the mockingbird. So anyway, I've been thinking a lot about that and hey, maybe that's connected to why I didn't sleep last night. I don't know.
Sally: Anyway, so that's where I am -- sort of a kind of an all over the place and demented vibe for this morning.
Rachel: Okay. All right. Great, good start.
Sally: Good start, but let's bring it way down to a much more kind of chill, relaxed, contemplative vibe, because we're going to talk about poetry. I'm excited. Neither of us are poets or... are you an English major?
Rachel: No, journalism.
Sally: Yeah. Okay, yeah, me neither. I am also not an English major. And so I think it's fun that we've decided to be amateur experts in poetry.
Sally: And just to disclose a little bit about myself, I consider myself when it comes to poetry, something of a dilettante, which I just Googled to make sure that that was the right word to use. And it turns out that it's very... it's even better than I could have expected because the definition is a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. And I think nothing could better describe my relationship to poetry, which is that I really enjoy reading poetry, but only poetry that I like and understand, which is a very small sliver of poetry. And also, I don't really understand what I'm reading in any kind of sophisticated way. And at a certain point, I'm sort of just enjoying the sounds of the words and the rhythm and the feelings that the poem evokes. So I say that just to say, I apologize in advance and also I think it's one of the reasons we wanted to do this, is because we both enjoy poetry, but also it can be... you can be a dilettante and enjoy poetry. You don't have to really have a deep understanding of the form, which I think poetry is kind of one of those things that there's an assumption that goes along with it that you have some sort of sophisticated literary sensibility and that's the reason you enjoy poetry.
Rachel: Yeah. I think that's right. And I don't think you have to have that sensibility to like some poems or define poems that you like, but it also might mean that you don't like all poems, which is fine. No one does, but you might just have to sort through more poetry to find stuff that you do like if you are sort of put off by things that you don't understand and it makes you feel a little stressed out because you're like, I don't get what the big deal is with this. If you're feeling that way, that's fine. You can just move on to the next poem.
Sally: Yeah, exactly.
Rachel: Or at least that's my feeling, you don't have to... if you want to learn more about it, you can, but you can also just keep looking around until you find poems you like.
Sally: I think that's actually a really... this is a good time for me to introduce my full taxonomy of the kinds of poems that exist. So to me, there are four kinds of poems. There's limericks.
Rachel: Great, great form of poem.
Sally: [Laughs] Great form. They rhyme, they're short, they're almost always really funny. Although a tragic limerick would be kind of a fun thing, I wonder if that exists. Olde English, like old with an E on the end. So written in some very old timey way where it's like, instead of never it's like ne'er. Is that what, with the apostrophe, is that--
Rachel: Yeah, yeah.
Sally: ...ne'er. Yeah. That, where you kind of can understand some words, but not all of them. The fourth kind of poem is conceptually inscrutable. So just one of those poems that you aren't even really sure what it's even about. You understand the individual words and you even understand the words when they're put together, but you cannot tell what the poem is actually about. And then the fourth kind is poems that are like prose, but in shorter sentences. And those are my favorite kinds of poems because they're like prose and I can understand them, and they're short. And I think the reason I break poems into these four categories is because I'm really only... I experience all poetry as one of these four things. And the only one that I'm really interested in is the kind of short prose-y ones, which is not to say that I don't like the occasional conceptually inscrutable poem or the occasional thing that's written in a more retro English, and it's about walking in the woods or whatever. Those are cute, but they're just not really my jam. And I think one aspect of enjoying poetry is not that... you don't have to enjoy poetry. You can give poetry like the middle finger and be like, "I don't care about you." You don't need to want to enjoy poetry. But if you've wanted to, I think it helps to sort of just think broadly about, okay, what are the kinds of poems I'm likely to get into? So Rachel, not that you have to go along with my taxonomy, but are there kinds of poems that you know you like?
Rachel: I mean, I really love a rhyming poem, which I feel like may seem juvenile, but to me, a rhyming poem is like the highest form of art, because to me it's so much harder to write. No disrespect to writing a poem that doesn't rhyme and the art that goes into that. But I'm just like, yeah, but it doesn't have to rhyme at the end of the day. That makes it harder. So that makes it more special.
Sally: Right. It would be like, you could be a good baseball player if you swung the bat, you don't ever have to hit it.
Sally: [Laughs] It's like, no, you have to hit the ball, you have to rhyme to make it a good poem.
Rachel: Yeah. So, I just love to see a rhyming poem and I find them so much more satisfying to read because there is just that... the rhythm is sort of built in, so I love finding them. I feel like they're fairly rare, but I think that's what makes them more special. So beyond that, I'm with you on the 'feels like prose, but shorter', which when we talk about our favorite poems, I have two of those, but my all-time favorite poem is a rhyming poem and I stand by that.
Sally: I love that. I mean, the thing about rhymes is I feel like if you were to put someone... now, this is me being an amateur neurologist, amateur neuroscientist. If you put someone in an MRI and scanned their brains when they were listening to words rhyming, I feel like something would light up akin to what happens in your brain when you watch those oddly satisfying videos or something. It's just something clicks on a very evolutionary level when things rhyme.
Rachel: I agree. It's so satisfying. Okay. Sally, here's my possibly prying question. Have you ever written a poem?
Sally: There's no way for me to not be embarrassed by my answer to this.
Sally: And so in the way that I am leaning into my insomnia, I'm going to lean into my embarrassment around the truth. The answer is yes, Rachel, I have written poetry and I would like to deshame-ify the practice of writing poetry. Because I feel like there's a thing where, unless you're already a world-famous poet, you should never write poetry, which is just sort of like… those things don't really go together. You can't become a world-famous poet unless you've written poetry before you were famous. Whatever. Anyway, the point is I have, and I've written... again, was it poetry or was it prose with interesting line breaks?
Rachel: Right, well.
Sally: Who can say?
Rachel: You'd know the answer if it had rhymed, then it would have definitely been a poem. So that's one nice thing that separates poems that rhyme from prose is that you can be sure you're a poet now because you wrote something that rhymed.
Sally: That's a really good point. I've never written anything that rhymed, so. Oh, I have written the occasional haiku, which I think is one of the few kinds of poems that you can consider a poem even though it doesn't rhyme.
Rachel: I agree. Yeah. I think that's right.
Sally: What about you, Rachel? Have you written a poem?
Rachel: I have. It is true. The rumors are true. I've written poems before.
Rachel: I think I recall writing my first poem when I was eight years old, but it may have been earlier.
Sally: [Gasps] That's so cute.
Rachel: Thank you. Here's the reason I knew you had written a poem, without you even telling me -- it's because writing poems is canonically, spiritually, literally, figuratively gay. Writing poems is gay.
Sally: You're so right. You're so right.
Sally: Yes. You're right. No, you're right.
Rachel: There's just no way around it.
Sally: I mean, I don't even know. I was going to make a joke that this was our coming out episode, because we're coming as having written poems before, but people would already know that about us if they've been paying attention.
Rachel: I would hope so. But poetry is just extremely gay. The yearning, the writing it down, the feet, all of it. I just assume... I mean, I just assume everybody's gay, but I also definitely assume poets are gay.
Sally: Yeah. I mean, as a best practice.
Sally: Yeah, I mean, the thing is, is that like poetry is so... to me, my experience of any, again, as a dilettante is that it's about evoking feelings and sort of contemplating feelings. And to me it... yeah, I mean, it doesn't kind of get queerer than that. Even if the poems are about a rock or flying in an airplane or whatever, I mean, you're still using this form that is about being in your feelings.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, I would say, especially if a poem is about a rock
Sally: I mean, look, you're right, you're right.
Rachel: I feel like nature poems are some of the gayest poems out there.
Rachel: Because nature is also gay. So you put the two things together and it's a lot.
Sally: And here we are.
Sally: Yeah, nature poems are interesting because I consider myself an indoorsy person versus an outdoorsy person. But when I read someone's nature poetry, I'm like, oh yeah, nature is glorious. And that's very special. And I think that if I read prose about nature, I'd be like, yeah, I get it, you're describing being outside. But there is something special about a poem that sort of makes you connect with the topic in a way that kind of comes more from your heart than from your brain, I would say.
Rachel: I think that's right. And I'm with you. I think we're going to talk more about some nature poets in a bit, but I agree that reading nature poetry makes me feel very like, oh right, yes. Nature. Thank you.
Sally: Right. Yeah. Nature is glorious and majestic and it's wild that there are trees everywhere, when you think about it.
Rachel: Yeah. It's wild that we're not just talking about this more.
Rachel: Yeah. Okay. So Sally, I think one thing that you're particularly good at is finding poems. And I think for a lot of people, I would include myself in this, getting into poetry is entirely reliant on finding poems to read. And so that can be a barrier to entry -- that it's just like, there's a lot of poems out there, where do I start? And more specifically, how do I find poems that I like? So I wonder, I have a couple of tips, but I feel like you have even better ones, and I think it would be great to hear your recommendations.
Sally: Okay, great. I'm so glad you asked, because I do have some favorite ways of finding poems. One thing is that when I was first trying to get into poetry, my brother for my Bat Mitzvah wrote down a part of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, just in the card he wrote me, and I thought the words were so haunting and interesting. And I was like, poetry seems cool, let me try to get into it. And then I didn't really until I was much older, but when I did, the first thing I did was just browsing anthologies, just going into a bookstore and just sort of, whether it's anthologies of poems from a certain era or a certain school of poetry. Or it's even more accessible to do poems by women or poems by black poets or poems about war. You know what I mean? You can find these anthologies based on almost any connecting thing, whether it's an identity, whether it's the poet's identity or a subject area or whatever. And that to me, is a really nice way. It's basically like you're sort of picking up some things from the table of hors d'oeuvres and sampling what you like. And that's a good way to not just find out, I think, what you like but also the kind of stuff that you don't like. And then another thing that I've done is basically once I land on a poem that I like, I see who wrote it and of course look at all their other stuff but also check out who their contemporaries were, because a lot of times there's poets who are all kind of writing in the same era and maybe they're friends with each other and their poems reflect a particular sensibility, and so they have contemporaries and peers that are writing similar things. And then same with looking at a poet's influences and their favorites. And you don't really have to do deep research. In a book of poetry, it'll be like, "This author lived from this time to this time, and they engaged in a lengthy correspondence with this other poet," and then you can look into that poet, or you can just Google them and see and you'll learn about what their influences were and who their contemporaries were. So that's another good way. The poetry subreddit, r/poetry, people just post poems, and that's another good way to just sample the platter. I think also if you have an interest in a particular era or historical event or cultural phenomenon, you can just Google poetry about those things. So like, I have always been really interested in social and leftist movements of the '60s and '70s, and discovering poetry that was written in that time by poet activists, that's how I discovered a bunch of poets I like and a bunch of... I mean, that's how I discovered interesting ways to think about social justice and movements for social justice. And you can do that. Again, it can be a war or it can be the concept of immigration or queerness. I think basically if you just find yourself gravitating towards a particular subject, just Google poems about that thing. There's also a website called versedaily.com, which is a poem every day, which is fun to just check out. And then I really like doing secret stanzas, which is like a secret Santa, but you trade poems. I did this at the beginning of the pandemic with a group of my friends, and basically we just did... we went to a website, a secret Santa website, and it connected us all to each other, and we emailed our secret stanza recipient a poem and then we included just a sentence or two about why we chose it. We did it twice and I got beautiful poems from people with an explanation of why they thought of it in this moment, or why it made them think of me, or why it was relevant now. And that's just a really fun way to engage with other people about poetry, and also, it's very interesting to see what other people are connecting with about poetry and what they're finding in it that is going to be surprising to you. That's another great way to do it.
Rachel: That's great. I feel like you could also request poems as gifts if you are looking for poems. Not as gifts-gifts but if you are going through something and people are reaching out, you can be like, "I just need hugs and poems," or something like that. You can request them in that way, or if you've got a birthday coming up and people are like, "What do you want for your birthday?" And you could just be like, "Send me a poem that you think I should know about," or something like that. That's a cool thing to request from people that doesn't really cost money and people are usually excited to have the assignment to do, so I think just asking people for recommendations, or more specifically being like, when people are like, "What do you need right now?" If you need a poem or want some poems, just ask for them and you can find them that way.
Sally: I love that. Yeah. And I think if you feel intimidated by poetry but kind of interested in it, you can Google poems that are easy to understand. For example, if you get that assignment from a friend and you really want to participate but you're like, poetry, that's hard and complicated and inscrutable, just Google "easy poems" and you'll find so much stuff.
Rachel: Yeah, definitely. Here's my other recommendation for finding poems, and that is poetryfoundation.org, which is incredibly straightforward, maybe even a little basic. But the thing that I like is that they just have so many collections of types of poems basically for every event, for every holiday, for every season. For every type of thing you can think of, they have already put together a collection of poems for that. You can also search types of poets if you want. Again, search for black poets or queer poets or whatever the case may be, you can usually find that there, so I think that's a really good entry into... and you can just click around; it's free. If you don't like it, you can move onto the next one, which I think is a good low-stakes way to just see what you like without having to buy anything or... it doesn't cost you anything except just the time to read the poem, so I think that's a good place to start and then figure out what poets you like and just kind of go from there.
Sally: Totally, yeah. Poetry Foundation is awesome, and it also... you can often find, not annotations exactly, but articles about some of the poems, which can help you understand. It's like, what was that VH1 show? Oh, Pop-Up.
Rachel: Pop-Up Video.
Sally: Yeah, it's like Pop-Up Video for poems, which is really awesome. Yeah, I think that's a really, really great recommendation.
Rachel: There was also a newsletter I was following for a while that's now on hiatus called Pome, by Matthew Ogle. I'll share the link because it's probably worth signing up so that when it comes back, if you want to subscribe. But it's just a poem a day. I think looking for things like that. There are people in the world who you can follow who recommend poems, just like Stacy Marie recommends in her... or she just shares poems in her newsletter. It's not really a recommendation so much as they're just always there. Just finding people who you like who have a taste for poetry; that's how I've come across a lot of poems that I really like.
Sally: Yeah, and that's Stacy Marie Ishmael, by the way. And we'll link to their Twitto... Twitto? Twitter in the show notes. Twitto sounds like a really good app name, though.
Rachel: Twitto. Yeah. I don't know what it would do, but-
Sally: I think it's an app for Twitter and it... Install Twitto for your timeline. It will message you every time someone you follow sub-tweets.
Rachel: Mm. Mm-hmm.
Sally: That's Twitto.
Rachel: Now that's poetry. [Laughs]
Sally: The other thing is that, first of all, Pome, the newsletter that you're talking about, you recommended to me and it's so good. And when it was around, and hopefully it will be again, you get these mostly very short poems, which is my number one requirement is that a poem be relatively short, so that's great. And there also, I used to listen to -- The Poetry Foundation used to have, they actually have more podcasts now than they did, but I used to listen to one of their podcasts and they would talk about a poem and a poet and just sort of... yeah, again, like Pop-Up Video for poems. And I think that annotative exercises for poems can make them more accessible.
Rachel: I agree. Another good place to find poems -- this is a highly specific recommendation -- is A Practical Wedding, which is a wedding website that has a bunch of different poem curations for poems for weddings. It'll be non-religious poems for your wedding, and just basically it's a lot of love poems and poems about things that you would imagine relating to a wedding. And the thing that I like about it is that I really like the community, and so people often will recommend poems in the comments as well. And I feel like if you follow any blogs or anything like that, or people on Instagram who recommend poems and you like that person and their followers seem like-minded to you, read the comments, because that's a really good place to discover more poems, often times even more than you'll find in the post itself. But the APW ones are a really nice place to find love poems and poems about celebration. Even if you're not getting married, I think it's still worth poking around there to find some new-to-you poetry. All right Sally, should we share some poems?
Sally: I would love to. So we are not going to actually read the poems, we're just going to list them. And we'll link to them in our show notes. I would like to recommend one of my all-time favorite poems that I actually have saved in my notes app and I look at often, and it's called Why We Sing by Mario Benedetti. It was written in 1979. And it's a really good example of a protest poem or a resistance poem. And I actually sent it around when things have been politically dire, which has been all the time lately. But at moments of heightened direness, I've sent this to people when we're in conversation about feeling despondent or scared, and it's just a really beautiful poem about resistance and persistence and coming together as a collective to reject fascism, essentially. I think that it's quite accessible, and I highly recommend it. Rachel, tell me your first fave.
Rachel: Okay, my first fave is The Orange by Wendy Cope, who I love in part because her poems rhyme. And this is a very modern poem that's just about enjoying a day, and not an exceptional day but just an ordinary day. And it's about being content and satisfied, and I think it's so lovely. And I think I actually came to Wendy Cope through her poem Differences of Opinion, which I'll also link to, which is very, very good. As we've been doing this, on the side, I'm like, "Oh, I just need to get some of her books," because I like everything of hers that I've read, and I think they're great. She's British. I feel like along with being gay, poetry is also very British, and so, yeah, I think if somebody's British and writing poems, I'm like, this is probably going to be good, serious poetry. Hers are the most accessible, in my mind. They're just telling you a thing and you're going to understand the thing, and I love that about her.
Sally: And it rhymes.
Rachel: And it rhymes. But it's also, she's won a bunch of awards, so it's not like it's poetry for children and slobs. It's both accessible but also good. I love Wendy Cope.
Sally: By the way, the book Poetry for Children and Slobs is a book I would definitely read. I think we should--
Rachel: [Laughs] It's a better episode title.
Sally: Yeah. It's our episode title and also the anthology that we're going to pitch to some publisher.
Sally: That sounds awesome. I love this poem, which I've discovered via you, and I will definitely check out more of her stuff.
Rachel: Cool. What's your next one?
Sally: My next one is called Poem (The day gets slowly started) by James Schuyler. This is actually a poet that I discovered via poetryfoundation.org.
Sally: Yeah. And I learned more about the poem on one of their podcasts. I actually have the second-to-last line of this poem tattooed on me in the way that it appears on the page. James Schuyler wrote a lot of stuff that reflected this kind of... I want to call it happy sadness, which is... and maybe happy is a little bit too happy of a word, but just a lot of it is very dark and reflects a very intense despair but with just the slightest glimmer of hope and self-awareness and insight into the nature of sadness, or something. I'm making it sound way more maybe conceptually elevated or high-minded than I actually experience it, because I would put this poem, and a lot of his poetry, in the category of prose but with interesting line breaks. Yeah, so it's called Poem, and then in parentheses (The day gets slowly started), by James Schuyler. I think it's just so beautiful, and so like... kind of what you were saying about the Wendy Cope poem. It's just about a day. It's about a very basic, if sad, day, and I love it. It's beautiful. Probably my favorite poem of all time, and yeah, it'll be in the show notes with all these other poems.
Rachel: That's a great one.
Sally: What about you? What's your next one?
Rachel: Okay, my next one is called Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell. It is a poem by Marty McConnell. Some people think it's like something Frida Kahlo wrote, but it's not. It's Marty McConnell, the author, imagining what Frida Kahlo would be saying, and it is a breakup poem. I think I found it via Captain Awkward, which is where I've found many poems. Like I was saying, some people just like poems and recommend them sort of in passing, and I think that's where I came across this one. It's just a lovely sort of... not a "snap out of it" breakup poem, but just touches of that, where it's like a wise, "It's okay to be sad, but there's so much more to you, and to life." And I think it's so great. I think it's just lovely and special.
Sally: I love that. I don't know this poem, and I can't wait to read it, and what you're saying reminds me of another thing that I think poems are great for, and also, I think can lead you to find poems you like, which is if you're experiencing an emotion in an overwhelming way, finding poems about that thing can really help you process, and think about, and just feel those feelings, because I think there are some things that are so... feelings like how you feel after a breakup, how you feel when you are grieving, you know, you miss someone who's died, even when you feel exuberant, and it's just an overwhelming emotion, finding poems about those things. Poems, I think, capture the sort of ineffable qualities of various experiences and emotions, and just poems about grief, poems about breakups, poems about big feelings are just so helpful to me, or have been to me, in just processing those feelings, that can otherwise feel almost too big to really kind of wrap your mind around.
Rachel: I agree. Yeah, I think that that's the great thing about poems and poetry, is that it's like this medium that feels very old, so it connects you to emotions through time. Even if the poem is relatively modern, there's something about it being a poem that sort of reminds you that this feeling is bigger than you, and you don't have to do the work of expressing how you're feeling necessarily, if you're trying and failing to express how wonderful you feel, or how bad you feel, or whatever the case may be, somebody else has done it for you so elegantly that you can just sort of like put it in your journal, or send it to a friend, or just have it and read it. But just, it makes you feel less alone, and also, it ties you into something bigger that I think is really meaningful in those moments.
Sally: Yeah, and I'd actually just like to tag onto that. You just made me think of the thing that I have thought about when I've had my heart broken after breakups, or my heart has been broken after breakups, is that being broken up with or experiencing a breakup is this thing that so many, if not almost every person on Earth, has experienced, but every single person, it feels like no one's ever been through what you're going through. It's completely... the feelings you're feeling are unique to you in your situation, and that, to me, is one of the most difficult things about going through a breakup, is that you feel so isolated, because of just the way it feels to go through a breakup. And when you read poems about ends of relationships, or breakups, you're like, "Oh no. This is a thing that everyone goes through at some point, and everyone feels it differently." But there's just some comfort, in that you're not... even though you feel very alone in your feelings, you're not, necessarily.
Rachel: Yeah, I think a breakup is a great time to get into poetry.
Sally: Canonical great time to get into poetry.
Rachel: Yeah. [Laughs]
Sally: For my next recommendation, I'm going to recommend a genre of poem--
Rachel: Ooh, okay.
Sally: --which is the Japanese death poem. I was introduced to these by just, I was browsing a poetry section in a bookstore, and as you know, I'm pretty into death. Maybe we'll do a death episode one of these days.
Rachel: Weirdly, I was just thinking, as we were talking about this, like talking about poems, I was like, "We could probably do a grief episode," because--
Sally: We totally could.
Rachel: Yeah, so we could also do a death episode. We could do both. Anyway.
Sally: Maybe both, yeah.
Sally: Yeah, so I have this book called Japanese Death Poems, written by zen monks and haiku poets on the verge of death. Basically, this is an introduction to this tradition, which the author says is a centuries-old tradition, which is writing a poem in the very last moments in the poet's life. And a lot of these are written by zen monks, and they're haikus, and they are so beautiful and so beautifully capture the fleeting nature of life, and what it means to face the fact that... you know, there's no better grasping the concept of life being fleeting than being in the last moments of it, and they're just really, I mean, talk about happy sadness. My god. I mean, just absolutely beautiful, but short, concise, simple meditations on... you can't even... it's too big to conceptualize.
Rachel: Right, right.
Sally: Life, and death, and having been alive, and now facing death. You know, if I was writing a death poem, it would be the most fucking chaotic nightmare shit, because it would just be me spiraling. But these are written by zen monks, who have spent, in many circumstances, huge portions of their lives sitting with the concepts of non-attachment and stillness and all that stuff, so they're coming from this very, very, very different place. The place that they're coming from is not like, "Ah, death's no big deal. Let me write a poem about it." They're coming from a place of like, "This is real shit, and I'm contemplating it in a real way." So yeah, I highly recommend. This particular book is called Japanese Death Poems, and it's compiled by Yoel Hoffmann. We'll link to it in the show notes, but I'm sure there are other anthologies.
Rachel: Wow. Okay, I'm sold, even though I'm not sure if I'm going to have an existential crisis when reading these, but I'm willing to find out.
Sally: Yeah, that is sort of one of the things, but then the nice thing is like, it triggers the existential crisis, but then sort of accompanies you through it, so that's something.
Rachel: I'm into it. All right.
Sally: What's your next one, Rachel?
Rachel: Okay, my next one is called On This the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic, We Reconsider the Buoyancy of the Human Heart. This is my most recent favorite poem, which I found through Captain Awkward, who linked to this column in The Paris Review, which is called Poetry Rx, as in poetry prescription. Basically, people can write in and be like, "I need a poem about this," and then the writer will recommend one. So that's another great way to discover poems, is this column, which we'll link to, and also I guess you could just write in and ask for a recommendation. But somebody wrote in, and basically was like, "I've been dumped. My heart is broken. I need a poem," and this is the poem that's recommended. The gist is that the poet, the author, dives down to the Titanic after having their heart broken, and is like, "Please, tell me how to survive being sunk. I feel so devastated. I feel so devastated it's like I've sunk to the bottom of the ocean." The Titanic responds, and they just have a lovely conversation. But it's just so modern in its language, and it's kind of funny. It's got jokes. It's really beautiful, and I feel like it's ostensibly about a breakup, but I think any kind of loss or grief can be addressed through this poem. It's a new favorite, and I just think it's so special. I love it so much.
Sally: I am instantly obsessed. As soon as you read the title, I was like--
Sally: --done. Like, "Yeah, I'm into it."
Rachel: I was like, this is the kind of poetry. This. This right here.
Sally: Yeah. I'm really, really excited to read this. I just sort of looked at it quickly while you were talking, and it looks fucking awesome. I can't wait to dig into it later.
Rachel: Yeah. It's a really good one, so that is my last rec, I think, and Sally, I'll kick it back to you.
Sally: Okay. My last recommendation is Resolution #1,003 by June Jordan. It is just short, and declarative, and empowering. And declarative and empowering, I feel, is a thing that nowadays, is a thing that you can come by relatively easily, because there are so many things with text that you can buy on Etsy that have empowering slogans or whatever, but they mostly leave me really cold and bum me out, and make me feel kind of the opposite of empowered. But this, to me, is the original text of the declarative, empowering poem that just comes from a really deep, beautiful place. It was written in 1993. The poem is from a book called Haruko/Love Poems. I don't have the book, but I'm reading about it, and it says that the book begins with a series of poems written in 1991 and 1992 to Haruko. "Her female lover", as Publishers Weekly would describe it. But yeah, to me, that's another incentive to get the whole book, but this is a great poem, one of my faves. And you know, ten lines. ten lines long.
Rachel: Yeah. I love this poem. I read it this morning, and it's like the platonic ideal of the empowering text. It's like what everything else is trying to be. It's like oh, yeah. Poems aren't just words that anyone can write. There is something very special here, and I feel like this could be a really nice poem to frame and put in your home somewhere. It's got kind of that "In This House" energy, but without feeling trite, you know?
Rachel: You know, it's like--
Sally: Yes, it-
Rachel: ... no, this is like a moral code--
Sally: Yes, Rachel.
Rachel: I like this. Yeah.
Sally: Yes, no, you're totally right. It has "In This House" energy, but coming from a real place of authentic experience versus, this is an aspirational thing that I think would look cute.
Sally: Which, no shade to aspirational things that look cute, but you know what I'm trying to say.
Rachel: Right, right, 100%.
Sally: This also reminds me. This is totally kind of out of order, but I think it would have been great to mention when you were talking about people requesting poems as gifts, but one thing that's really cool to do, which I've done before, is there are tons of incredibly famous poets, and then there's also poets that are not famous, but have books published. I once printed out a poem that was a favorite of mine, and the favorite of someone I was dating, and I sent it to the poet, and I was like, "Would you autograph this?" He did, and he also wrote a really sweet note on it.
Sally: I framed it and gave it to them. So that's like... I'm not saying that you should go around asking your favorite poems to do things for you. I mean, your favorite poets. Definitely ask poems to do things for you. But there are occasions where you can sort of kindly ask, or you can ask them to sign a book or something like that, and that also can make a really nice gift.
Rachel: That is a nice gift. I would also add that like the first wedding anniversary gift is paper, and so a printed poem is a very nice gift for that. Because I feel like sometimes it can be hard to think of a paper gift and that's amazing.
Sally: Yeah, you're totally right. I love that. We both wanted to mention Mary Oliver.
Rachel: Yeah. I woke up in a cold sweat last night and was like, "We don't have any Mary Oliver poems for the episode." And I was like, "How could I have overlooked this?" Which then also made me realize that somehow in moving, my big Mary Oliver book of poetry was not with my other books. And I don't know where... it's still packed in a closet somewhere. It's here, it's just not easily accessible. I need to find it. The book is Devotions, which is a really, really good collection of Mary Oliver poems. It's a big, thick, white, hardcover book with a really beautiful cover. So if you like Mary Oliver, or want to get into Mary Oliver, would recommend that, but would recommend any of her books, any of her poems. She is, I would say a nature poet, a queer nature poet. So, the best of everything. And she's what I was thinking of when we were talking about, you read poems about nature and you're just like, "Oh right, nature." Reading her poems truly helped me want to be in nature and go out and experience the world the way she does. She loves birds so much in this way that is so lovely and special, but it really does encourage you to see the world through her eyes in the way she does. And to love nature and be sort of awestruck by it, correctly so. And I think she's very popular with people our age, for good reason. So if you've not had a chance to get into Mary Oliver yet, consider this your push to do so.
Sally: Yeah. I think Mary Oliver is someone who I would say, you can just buy the book. Don't worry about looking for a single poem.
Rachel: 100%. Yeah.
Sally: Just buy the book. And the way that she writes about the natural world is so accessible, because it's so grounded in being a human being that is not of the natural world. I don't know. There's something that's very relatable and graspable to me about it. But yeah, a thousand recommendations for all things Mary Oliver.
Rachel: I would also recommend reading Mary Oliver poems outside, if you can, or if you plan a little trip to the woods and the mountains, if you're on a little getaway, take a Mary Oliver book. A few years ago, I got that book Devotions right before I went to Saugatuck for the summer, and so I was reading it on the beach. And I feel like, as we mentioned in our last episode, being in nature is really helpful. And that combination, Mary Oliver and the beach, is one of the things that both helped me cope with summer, but also made me feel like, "Oh, nature is for me after all."
Sally: Yeah. That's awesome. That's a really good call. As someone who's not very outdoorsy, it would never occur to me to even read a nature poem in nature. But it's so smart. Well, I think that does it for poetry. I feel like maybe people should write in and share with us if they have any favorite poems, that would be great. And we can tweet them, or mention them in the show, or whatever.
Rachel: That'd be nice. Yeah, putting together a thread of them would be really fun.
Sally: Yeah. That would be really fun. So email us your favorite poems at email@example.com. Rachel, what is your nice thing to end on?
Rachel: Okay. My nice thing to end on is weather related. As you may have heard in our last episode, we talked about weather quite a bit, and our editor, Lucas, told us that his new thing is paying attention to the dew point every day. Basically, as he explained it, the humidity can tell you quite a bit, but dew point... look, I'm obviously not a scientist, I'm not going to give you the best explanation for it, but basically it's a good way to gauge what it actually feels like outside. And so ideally, it'll be below 60, the dew point will be below 60. And as it starts to go up, it's when it starts to feel really humid and muggy and nasty. And so since he made that recommendation, I've been checking it every day to start to learn how different dew points feel. In our Oh I Like That Slack we often talk about the dew point each day, with everyone who's working on the podcast, which is kind of funny, but I recommend getting into the dew point. I'll link to the explanation that I found on what it is, how to read it. But basically it's another way you can just figure out what the weather is going to be and how to enjoy yourself in it.
Sally: I think it's not an exaggeration to say that Lucas telling us about dew point has changed our lives completely.
Rachel: Yeah, completely. I had to make sure I had a weather app that showed the dew point. I've got to shout out Dark Sky, because they have, in my mind, the best dew point presentation, because you can see it changing throughout the day, and not all of them will do that.
Sally: Oh, that's cool.
Rachel: So it's a nice thing about Dark Sky. Yeah. This was a great recommendation from Lucas.
Sally: Yeah. Totally life-changing. And it definitely makes it so you don't have to be like, "What does 80% humidity feel like?" You can look at the dew point and know exactly. Well, it's funny you mentioned the weather, Rachel, because my nice thing to end on is, it's the concept of old weather, and specifically this article that I stumbled across. It's a Reuters article. As you know, I like to get deeply interested in a topic for a short period of time. I think you relate, too.
Rachel: [Laughs] Uh-huh.
Sally: The thing I'm currently obsessing over is 19th century ship logs and ships in the 19th century, what their expeditions were like, whether they were exploration ships or whaling ships or merchant ships. And through some Googling, I stumbled across this article on Reuters called Weather Time Machine. And first of all, it's a very cool, interactive article that has really interesting visuals and graphics and stuff like that. But what it's about is there's a whole project, you can learn more about at oldweather.org. And it's going through old ship logs and transcribing them and entering the observations of mariners and naval people, people on ships, and feeding them into this database at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And through this transcribing and entering the information, the NOAA calls it a weather time machine, because it allows them to basically figure out what the weather was like for every day all the way back to 1836, which they use to understand climate change. But it's really interesting, because they were keeping such meticulous logs of every aspect of the weather they were facing. And now it's coming in handy to us in the current era. And I just think that if we were on a ship in the 19th century with how much we talk about the weather, I feel like we would be the official weather loggers of any ship crew.
Sally: So, this article is at Reuters, and we'll link to it in the show notes, but oldweather.org is also really cool. And I think that actually you can sign up to help with the project of transcribing these old ship logs at that website. So that's very, very cool too. And it's just fun to learn a huge amount about a very, very, very niche topic.
Rachel: Wow. That is an incredible recommendation. I love this. When I was working on my book about journaling, I included something in the book that I had found in an academic book about women's journals, and it talked about how just recording the weather can tell you both about the person's mood, but also about the time and place. And I stand by that, that no thing is too mundane to be included in your journal, or things you're writing down. I don't think the weather is mundane at all, but talking about the weather gets a bad rap. And I think that writing it down probably is not something a lot of people do, but to me, this is proof that of course we should be recording these things. You just never know what value they will hold in the future, for you or for somebody else. So, that is a really cool project.
Sally: 100%. And let me just say one last thing, I don't want to get too... I could go on forever, but a really interesting thing to look at is the logs of some of these doomed Arctic explorations, which the Reuters article talks about, because there's this one expedition that became trapped in ice very quickly and just spent two years drifting in the ocean, until they finally got off the ship and tried to get rescued. And for those two years and beyond, they're still writing these meticulous weather observations, because they know it's important. And it's totally not what I would be concerned with, like if I was in the post-apocalypse, for example, but now maybe I will be. Maybe I'll make sure that if we have an apocalyptic event, I keep a really meticulous weather journal.
Rachel: Yeah. I think you would be, because that's the main thing when you're in a--
Sally: That's a good point.
Rachel: You know what I mean? That's going to kind of determine what you can do that day and just your whole life. I think you would be concerned about it.
Sally: You're right, because it's like--
Rachel: I think it's worth it. Yeah.
Sally: It's like, if not in the post-apocalypse, then when?
Rachel: I'm like, in the post-apocalypse, weather is all there is.
Sally: Weather is all there is. Yeah. And it's also like--
Rachel: It's the natural world. It's us versus the elements. The elements are weather.
Sally: No, you're totally right. And you probably don't have all kinds of fancy coats and electric theaters and stuff.
Rachel: Right, exactly.
Sally: So I'm pivoting to, the most important thing you can do in the post-apocalypse is take weather notes.
Rachel: Okay. [Laughs] What a nice thing to end on.
Sally: I know, that sort of went in a different direction than I meant it to.
Rachel: Well, we were talking poetry. So we're a little more, you know, open.
Sally: Yeah, that's true. We're more emotionally expansive this morning. All right, well, I think that does it. So thank you all for listening to this episode of Oh I Like That. Please rate us and review us wherever you listen to podcasts.
Rachel: You can also follow us on Twitter @ohilikethatpod, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow the two of us on Twitter. I'm @the_rewm and Sally is @sallyt.
Sally: Oh I Like That is produced by Rachel and Sally and edited by Lucas. Amber Seger, who is @rocketorca on social media designed our logo.
Rachel: So Sally and I both agreed that there's few things we'd rather do less than read a poem out loud for the public to hear us. We simply can't bring ourselves to do it. But Lucas, our editor, has done some voice acting and voiceover work and graciously agreed to read poems on the air for us. So you are going to be treated to some of those recordings along with this podcast.
Sally: Please enjoy Lucas' beautiful, beautiful voice.
Lucas: Por Que Cantamos, or Why We Sing, by Mario Benedetti, translated into English by D'Arcy Martin:
If each hour brings its death
if time is a den of thieves
the breezes carry a scent of evil
and life is just a moving target
you will ask why we sing
if our ﬁnest people are shunned
our homeland is dying of sorrow
and the human heart is shattered
even before shame explodes
you will ask why we sing
if the trees and the sky remain
as far off as the horizon
some absence hovers over the evening
and disappointment colors the morning
you will ask why we sing
we sing because the river is humming
and when the river hums the river hums
we sing because cruelty has no name
but we can name its destiny
we sing because the child because everything
because in the future because the people
we sing because the survivors
and our dead want us to sing
we sing because shouting is not enough
nor is sorrow or anger
we sing because we believe in people
and we shall overcome these defeats
we sing because the sun recognizes us
and the ﬁelds smell of spring
and because in this stem and that fruit
every question has its answer
we sing because it is raining on the furrow
and we are the militants of life
and because we cannot and will not
allow our song to become ashes.
Lucas: The Orange, by Wendy Cope:
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.
Lucas: Poem (The day gets slowly started), by James Schuyler:
The day gets slowly started.
A rap at the bedroom door,
bitter coffee, hot cereal, juice
the color of sun which
isn’t out this morning. A
cool shower, a shave, soothing
Noxzema for razor burn. A bed
is made. The paper doesn’t come
until twelve or one. A gray shine
out the windows. “No one
leaves the building until
those scissors are returned.”
It’s that kind of a place.
Nonetheless, I’ve seen worse.
The worried gray is melting
into sunlight. I wish I’d
brought my book of enlightening
literary essays. I wish it
were lunch time. I wish I had
an appetite. The day agrees
with me better than it did, or,
better, I agree with it. I’ll
slide down a sunslip yet, this
crass September morning.
Lucas: Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell, by Marty McConnell:
leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.
Lucas: A small selection of Jisei, or Japanese death poems:
There is no death; there is no life. Indeed, the skies are cloudless
And the river waters clear.
That was by Toshimoto, Taiheiki (Chronicle of Grand Pacification).
I wish to die
in spring, beneath
the cherry blossoms,
while the springtime moon
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight
Thus I return to the source.
Gesshu Soko (1696).
On a journey, ill;
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields.
Lucas: Resolution #1,003, by June Jordan:
I will love who loves me
I will love as much as I am loved
I will hate who hates me
I will feel nothing for everyone oblivious to me
I will stay indifferent to indifference
I will live hostile to hostility
I will make myself a passionate and eager lover
in response to passionate and eager love
I will be nobody’s fool
Lucas: Banyan, by Mary Oliver:
from the fringes of the swamp.
It was Banyan, the old merchant.
It was the hundred-legged
tree, walking again.
The cattle egret
moved out into the sunlight,
like so many pieces of white ribbon.
The watersnakes slipped down the banks
like green hooks and floated away.
A knee down in the east corner buckled,
a gray shin rose and the root,
wet and hairy,
sank back in, a little closer.
Then a voice like a howling wind deep in the leaves said:
I'll tell you a story
about a seed.
About a seed flying into a tree, and eating it
little by little.