Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poems ‘Bus routes of childhood’ and ‘Swing Quartet’ appeared in The Poetry Review, Vol 111, No 1, Spring 2021
What are the ten poems that simply knock me out cold, with their sheer power, intensity and beauty?
Like Borges, I did wonder if all the poems are one poem. They are not. These are different poets, but they all share the elemental magic of poetry. Most of them aren’t around in person anymore, but their words continue to glitter.
1. Naomi Shihab Nye – ‘Kindness’
Even among these greats, this is a standout poem. ‘Kindness’ is so utterly beautiful in an act of immanent grace, the kind that comes only from loss and a spirit of sharing.
2. Wisława Szymborska – ‘Under one small star’
I have always admired Szymborska’s wry self-assurance that is never afraid to stand up for the moment and for oneself, as well as the demands of living – with grace, humour and dignity.
3. Olav H. Hauge – ‘Everyday’
With spare words, Hauge lights up entire worlds in brief passages. Here he hoes with the everyday, understands what gives delight in life, reads ancient Chinese poetry and discovers pleasures of the ordinary.
4. Arun Kolatkar – ‘Yeshwant Rao’
Ever so irreverent, Kolatkar’s Yeshwant Rao is a dissenter among the gods, his place outside the temple. What Yeshwant Rao lacks in physique, he makes up with empathy.
5. Paula Meehan – ‘Child Burial’
The domestic and the wild go together in Meehan’s gut-wrenching poem of grief, which gets more powerful with every rereading. There is really no let up and time too cannot heal.
1. Matthew Sweeney – ‘Horse Music’
Allegorical and surreal, Sweeney’s horses speak Irish and do not trust humans, which is not unexpected, and coming from Sweeney, quite believable. (Matthew’s reading is from 2:27 to 3:47 in the video.)
2. Carlos Drummond de Andrade – ‘Souvenir of the Ancient World’
In this idyll of a poem, de Andrade takes history out of poetry and makes it live in the moment. A mother strolls in the garden with her children. She worries about bugs and viruses and finds time at her footsteps.
3. Derek Mahon – ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’
In this well-known poem, Mahon’s disused shed reminds us there are other worlds out there, listening to us, forgotten and bewildered.
4. Li-Young Lee – ‘The Gift’
A father makes the act of removing a metal splinter a time-honoured gesture of superhuman grace and beauty. This is a real gift, the act of renewal bequeathed across generations. You will find a silver tear in the palm of this poem. A tiny flame too.
5. Constantine Cavafy – ‘Ithaka’
An old favourite, Cavafy reminds me that poetry too is a journey and the rewards of poetry come along the way. Better not hurry this marvelous journey at all. Experience reveals the rewards of poetry – the poems themselves.