A Poem that Stays with You
I have heard several poetry competition judges say of a winning poem, “This one just stayed with me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.” Really good poems – particularly good short poems – haunt you. You know that the first reading is the beginning of something, not the end.
Obviously, in a poetry competition, a small number of poems have to fight themselves from the pile. One way they can do this is to leave the judge with a sense that NOT TO HAVE THE CHANCE TO READ THEM AGAIN would be a grief. They have to capacity to convey that, however careful the first reading, something important and intriguing and valuable will be missed if, after that first reading, they are set aside. In the wings of the imagination, at the borders of the heart, the glimpse of something more. The more often the judge reserves a poem for another reading, the closer it is coming to the top of the competition pile.
Here is a poem which it would pain me not read again ….it is by WILLIAM STAFFORD (American 1914-1993) and I think it came to me from one of the Pass on a Poem emails which delight my week.
AN AFTERNOON IN THE STACKS
Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me. From in here the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open. When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library. But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move