Don’t Know Much About Poetry

I may have mentioned before how I came to love poetry relatively late in academic life (I’m too lazy to go look it up for sure). Because it took me so long to admit that I loved poetry, but had trouble understanding it, I have yet to really develop my own set of standards for what makes a poem good. All I know are poems I like. I like poems when they speak truth about an experience or a feeling, when they help me relieve those experiences and feelings, or when they talk about something very few people notice. Today’s poem does all of those for me. Johnna Benson Cornett is an LDS author who has worked on Segullah: Writings by Latter-day Saint Women. This poem is included in the anthology the mother in me: Real World Reflections on Growing into Motherhood. I think this poem is also a good example of musicality in poetry without having a sing-songy, nursery rhyme feel. I hope you enjoy it. Readers, how do you define good poetry?

we all hate to be alone
Johnna Benson Cornett

we all hate to be alone, oh my child.
i feel your heart knock against my hand,
your shrieks to my shushes; i am here,
yours, so sleep in your little bed.
you may let go of the world; it is here,
it is yours, still, sleep awhile.

we all hate to be alone, we should be trees,
our branches espaliered, in a grid,
and small birds rocking on our hands,
birds shaped by the patting of palms.
we should be twined together, earth and sky.
i am yours, connected; sleep awhile.

we all hate to be alone; so do it,
the bowl of your toothless mouth
opens in its red-pink cry:
this is how we shut one another out,
lost in a maelstrom of dissatisfaction.
i am here, outside; sleep awhile.

we all hate to be alone, and for that
you are always found on my fingers,
your pale hair, the clench of your hand,
the pleasant folds of your limbs,
the dance of caress, all day long.
i am here, let go; sleep awhile.


One thought on “Don’t Know Much About Poetry

  1. I also have no idea what makes a poem good and feel like I generally disagree with what people call good now, though I actually have no idea what is happening in poetry now or in the past. 🙂 I think it’s kind of the same way I don’t generally like modern art. I may appreciate that someone is the first to use packing tape as a medium, but I am left wondering what connections he had that made that museum quality compared to anything else out there.

    But we are talking about poetry. I like poems that give me something to visualize and that I can follow a story in even if it’s a short thing like putting a baby down for a nap. I think I like at least some of the words to make sense as a sentence of prose, not to just be random words that are supposed to make you feel something. At the same time I don’t think I like too many words. I am either in a hurry or very lazy about reading; I want to get to the point of what I’m supposed to get from what I’m reading without it being buried in dozens of unnecessary descriptive words. I guess understanding is what it comes down to for me, I don’t want to have to ponder for a long time to know what it’s about but it’s nice that pondering can bring out more meanings. I also like (what I consider) a clever turn of phrase, double meanings, something that makes me feel smart to figure out rather than dumb because I have no idea what the poet is going on about. 🙂

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