Well, I finally got a bit of outside reading done, though I had to try several takes from multiple spots, due to background noise. I abandoned one reading done from the balcony of a local restaurant, simply because I didn’t like the inflections of my voice. While listening in the car afterward I decided that I hadn’t read the poem right. So I’ll save May Swenson for another day.
In the end, I came back to this poem, by Charles Simic, which I had memorized last week. I frankly am no good at memorizing my own poems. Why? Possibly because they go through so many drafts and re-writes and fits of editing that I am never sure which is the version I most recently decided was the best. With the poems of others I only know one version, and so it’s easier. Therefore, I try meticulously to get each word right, out of respect for the poet, when I attempt to recite one from memory.
Charles Simic was poet Laureate of the U.S. five years ago, and as the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising.” I recently read an article called Age of Ignorance by this poet in the New York Review of Books blog, which is well worth reading. You might also be interested in his Confessions of a Poet Laureate.
So on this 15th day of National Poetry Month, I give read the work of the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States, a poem first published the year I was born. And if you think I arranged all of this on purpose, you give me way too much credit. I just thought the kismet was too much not to mention it. You can check out Simic’s own reading of this poem here (video narrated by Garrison Keillor), and judge whether the video below does his work justice. I think the tumbnail for the video looks hysterically dramatic.
Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.
Charles Simic, from What the Grass Says. (Harcourt Inc., 1967)