Whenever a book of poems comes into the shop, I read a poem from it before I put it on the shelves. So, I've read hundreds of poems from hundreds of books over the last 22 years. And yet, I invariably will read the shortest poem in the book! Anything longer than a page, forget it. I guess because there are so few longer poems that I connect with. The jargon of poetry, the obscurantism, the elusive references—uggh, poets seem to sneak those things in the longer the poem goes on.
And I only buy excellent poet's books!
I exaggerate though, (which I love doing) there are lots of poets who write longer poems that I love, from Frost, Whitman, Dylan Thomas and Langston Hughes. But even with them the shorter the better—although I read Leaves of Grass in one sitting and it was one of the most magical days of my life.
But there are two poets that poke their heads above the poet soup for me—with poems long or short. Mary Oliver and Billy Collins. They don't write very many long poems, but even if they did, I would read them without my usual reservations. I think I've read every Billy Collins poem and with him I can read an entire book of his poems (and often do) in an evening. With Mary Oliver I read a poem and then drift off into a glade on the Cape at 3.00 a.m. staring at a deer and I can't go on, it's enough.
What do those two poets have in common? That I like them. To me there is nothing objective in poetry, or art for that matter. I like what I like. I even get emotional and immature about what I like. Criticize Oliver and Collins to me at your own risk, my eyebrows will be raised above my frown! Did you hear me—EYEBROWS RAISED ABOVE MY FROWN!
Just kidding, sort of.
That Mary Oliver is so thankful and grateful for the natural world is just such a relief. And her poems about dogs are the best! Dogs are poetry. I just flipped to a page “Nothing is Too Small No to Be Wondered About.” Exactly.
I discovered Billy Collins years ago in the New York Times. He was lurking there with a poem that was funny. Yes, a funny poem. How rare is that. I immediately bought some of his books and now have a collection of all but one, his first book that is obscure and costs a fortune that I once found at a library book sale but sold because I have bills to pay, but I hope to find one again. A good measure of a poet for me is whether I daydream about meeting them, and they are in my Wednesday night card game, and laugh at my jokes and invite me for a walk on a fall day. I imagine Billy Collins is going to call at any moment.