The April issue of O, the Oprah Magazine has an entire section (36 pages!) dedicated to poetry. David Orr may see this as a "sign of the coming apocalypse" (or "O-pocalypse"?), but I think it's fantastic. I've followed Oprah on and off over the years, and going into this issue there were a few poets I expected to find (Maya Angelou, of course!), but there was much in here that surprised me.
For instance, I've never been a fan of W.S. Merwin's work, but I really enjoyed Susan Casey's interview with the octogenarian poet. Merwin and his wife Paula make their current home in Maui on a stretch of land where they have single-handedly and devotedly saved a species of palm tree from extinction. Though he has no illusions of saving the earth, he continues to plant a tree a day. He recalls how, at the age of three, he protested when telephone repairmen began to cut down his favorite oak tree. I knew he was an environmentalist, but this one memory really hooked me in. And then there is this wonderful quote on how poetry moves us to action:
"People say they don't read poetry because they don't understand it...But you don't start by understanding it; you begin by physically responding to it: You're hearing something. You're moved. It's not because you just understood a calculus problem—something's got to you, you're not quite sure why and how."
There's a four-page spread of blurbs from various celebrities (actors and visual artists) on their favorite poets and poems. This section is less persuasive but there were some interesting morsels, like Demi Moore's commentary on Tennyson's "Flower in the Crannied Wall" and Rita Wilson's take on Cavafy's "Ithaka" (which frankly blew me away--I love Cavafy.) Dan Rather credits his grandmother for his love of poetry, particularly Bible verse, and quotes from Psalm 23. "I don't know that many people see this as poetry, but I think it really is." You and me and Robert Alter, Dan!
The section also includes "The O Poetry Primer," a list of twenty books "no reader's library should be without." I admit that I was pleased that most of the authors, if not the specific books listed, are already on my shelf (Deborah Digges was unfamiliar, so I have something to add to my reading list.). The selections aren't meant to be radical; they are staples of any decent poetry collection. It leans heavily toward the Anglo-American tradition (with the exception of Rumi and Szymborska), but someone new to poetry can't go wrong with these books, and that's the point.
Orr found offense with the fashion spread that concludes the section, but I loved it. You could even say that I was pea-green with envy to see these young female poets celebrating their youth and work. I've seen Sumeir Hammad on stage and she is just stunning. I love the composition of her page, the long line of her arm guiding her words into the air. On other pages, the poetic text feels tacked on, but Hammad's poetic megaphone alludes to her work as a slam poet. If you've ever seen Anna Moschovakis (poet, translator and editor at Ugly Duckling Presse) in person, you'd know that it's a no-brainer that she be included here. Her spread features an incredible Haute Hippie suede jacket and a table covered in poetry. I should add here, by way of disclaimer, that I am an UDP subscriber (you should be too!). After years of seeing actresses and female pop singers on the cover of every damn magazine in the world, it's such a pleasure to see these beautiful female poets. I was only sad that Oprah didn't dress up a few hot, young male poets, like Terrance Hayes or Kazim Ali. If Oprah ever wants to dress up petite academic translators, I volunteer!
I enjoyed this issue so much that I want to spread the love. In the spirit of Oprah, I'm giving away one copy of O to a Stingy Kids reader (to be chosen randomly). In order to qualify for this giveaway you must...:
1. Identify the Gone with the Wind (film version) reference in this post.
2. Live in the United States (I'm not mailing this overseas, sorry.).
3. And I'd love it if you would share your favorite poem and/or poet (include a link or excerpt if you can).