An Old Dog Who Doesn’t Enjoy Poetry Learns a New Trick (Enjoying Poetry)

I’ve never been a fan of poetry. I read it in high school and was an English major in college so I read it there, too. Feeling like poetry was something I should know more about and enjoy, years ago, I bought Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. I never opened it and ended up donating it. I was exposed to poetry on a regular basis by life and by myself, but had never really found a poem that excited or spoke to me until a few weeks ago when I was looking at a blog and stumbled onto this Margaret Atwood poem from Selected Poems, 1965-1975.

We are hard


We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.


Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them


A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?


Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?

Your body is not a word,
it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only
here or not here.

If I had been reading this blog a couple of years ago, I would have already known that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry (I just knew her from her fiction). I may have also heeded Leigh Anne’s words of “…If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet…” This is my one poem. (I had been listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten at the time I first saw this poem so I was in a dark, romantic, miserable place. Had I been listening to happier music, it’s possible I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Atwood poem as much.)

Now that I’ve tentatively stepped on to the path to poetry, I checked out three other poets I’d been interested in, but resisting. Billy Collins, who I am constantly confusing with Billy Connolly and therefore constantly being amazed that a Scottish actor became Poet Laureate of the United States, is the first. Picnic, Lightning is the collection I chose from Collins. Like many other people, I read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild and was blown away. She took Adrienne Rich‘s The Dream of a Common Language on her hike through the Pacific Crest Trail so I thought I’d read her and chose, Later Poems: Selected and New, 1971-2012. The last poet is Pablo Neruda. I chose 100 Love Sonnets because a few days after discovering the Atwood poem, I read his Sonnet 27 and found another one of my poems.

MargaretAtwood PicnicLightning  AdrienneRich  100LoveSonnets

I’ve been attempting to read one poem a day from each poet. I can’t say that since reading Atwood’s poem that the flood gates have opened and I’m now a devoted poetry reader, but I’m learning. I do have favorites by each of the poets I’ve read and I’m less weary of opening a book of poetry.

What’s your one (or one of many) poem? Do you remember the poem that made you think, “YES! I understand now!” or have you always been a poetry fan?



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21 responses to “An Old Dog Who Doesn’t Enjoy Poetry Learns a New Trick (Enjoying Poetry)

  1. lizzy

    Always a fan but not as knowledgable as I’d like. Mary Oliver is a favorite–her new book is fabulous. Heard Ted Kooser at CMU when he was poet laureate. Both considered ‘accessible’. Oliver is nature-centered; Kooser makes you see every day things in a different light.

    • One of my good friends is a huge Mary Oliver fan, but I’ve never read anything by her. I’ve never heard of Ted Kooser, but I’ll look him up. I like the idea of seeing everyday things in a different light.

  2. Sheila

    My one poem is “in just spring” by e e cummings. The images conjured are spring, the sounds it makes when read aloud are spring. It makes me smile. I know most of it by heart but think I will reread today to assure that my memory is right. After this odd winter, we, I, need a real spring now, badly.

    • Beth

      My favorite poet is e e cummings. I was just thinking of him when I read your reply, Sheila. So many of his poems speak to me; they are happy, sad, in love, outraged, whimsical. “i am a beggar always” is a particular favorite.

    • His lack of capitalization freaks out my anal mind. I feel like he’s someone I could love if I could only calm down about capitalization.

  3. My aunt left one of her college poetry anthologies at grandma’s house, and I stumbled across it when I was a kid. Most of it didn’t make sense to me, but Langston Hughes’s Mother to Son hit me where I live, and made me realize there was something to all this poetry…

    Leigh Anne

  4. John Berryman’s Dream Songs did it for me.

    ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
    means you have no

    Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
    inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

  5. Letitia

    ‘Recuerdo’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay does a good job of capturing the mood of a particular moment: a combination of joy and sadness that comes from staying up all night with friends.

  6. CM

    Always a fan. Denise Levertov’s ‘Stepping Westward’ is one of my many favorites.

  7. I too resisted poetry. The poem that changed everything for me was “You Bring out the Mexican in Me” by Sandra Cisneros. It showed me that poetry could be deep and soulful without being pretentious.

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  9. Emily Dickinson:
    To fight aloud is very brave,
    But gallanter, I know,
    Who charge within the bosom
    The Cavalry of woe …

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