This Be The Verse

Choose your Favorite:

Last week, I was assigned a task for homework that I thought could result in the exhumation of pain, sweat, and tears. If taken seriously, this assignment had the potential to stress out its victims, cause them to break down like a downtrodden car, or perhaps cave in, like that old abandoned house tucked behind the woods. My classmates and I were given the outrageous task of finding our favorite poem and reading it aloud, for the next scheduled class period. I suppose the hard smack sound I heard in the back of the classroom was the two athletes high-fiving- they must’ve thought this week’s project was a simple and laidback one; however, I knew the truth of the matter. My favorite poem… I think I would need a lifetime to uncover an opinion.

How does one who is only twenty years of age have a favorite poem? So many poems are colorful and beautiful, meaningful, and bold. But how can I choose one that I have discerned as my favorite? Poetry can speak to you, linger with you, and perhaps even change your mood or your views on particular topics; however, how could there be just one poem that appears more powerful than the others? I love poetry; I am a fan of poetry, and yet, as I continue to add more and more poems to my repertoire everyday, there has not been that one poem that glows in the dark. After class that day, after the homework was given, I sat on my bed, and I pondered this assignment. I glanced to my right and spotted the first X on the map. This is where the adventure began.

I began this journey at my first destination, my book of Bill Knott poetry. Bill Knott has been one of my favorite poets for only a few months now, and I find his honest and somewhat dark language to be striking and attractive. He speaks of beauty and love in the most glum terms- it’s fascinating and also unique. He’s an outsider who knows of his honest place in this world; he knows where he stands in the public eye, and he is not afraid to encompass this outcast role. When I decided I wanted to be a Bill Knott fan several months ago, I did a little research and found a humorous fact. He once faked his own death, and this is not surprising if you know his poetry. Afterwards, he wrote of himself: “my poetic career is nugatory … no editor will countenance my work; I’ve been forced to self-publish my poetry in vanity volumes; I am persona non grata and universally despised or ridiculed by everyone in the poetry world.”

I admire Bill Knott’s poetry and his talent for making the most absurd and entertaining titles for hit poems; however, I did not find a poem of his that I felt comfortable calling my favorite. The next poet I decided to research was Jon Sands, and it almost felt like I was flying across the country. Sands and Knott are very different poets. They are similar in the fact that they talk about topics in an honest way; however, Sands does not have an outcast appearance or a desire to transform light topics into gloomy ones. In my humble opinion, Sands fits in with the crowd. In fact, he says everything everyone is afraid to say- he speaks his mind, he says what we are all thinking, and he does it with confidence and contention. If you’ve scrolled through this blog, you know that I have seen him perform live, and what an incredible occasion that was. Sands is beyond friendly, beyond vulgar, and beyond amusing. He is without a doubt one of my favorite modern poets, but once again… his poetry is tremendous and spot-on, and I could not choose a favorite.

As I sat at my computer staring at the poetry of Knott and Sands, I fatefully answered a phone call from my grandmother. Being a fan of poetry herself, I asked her what her favorite poem was, and she mentioned the well-known Yates. I think she likes his poetry because he is a fellow Irishmen; however, let’s keep that between us. Regardless, the phone call from my grandmother had me thinking about family, and like the rapid ignition of a candlewick, an idea was sparked in my mind. Freshman year, I took an English class where a similar homework assignment was given to us. We didn’t have to necessarily choose our favorite poem, but we had to pick a poem to memorize and recite to the class. I chose a poem about family, a poem that had a sense of Knott in it… family fucks you up. Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ was the poem I had chose freshman year, and it was going to be the poem I declared as my favorite.

The initial stanza is:

‘They fuck you up your mum and dad… They may not mean to, but they do…. They fill you with the faults they had…. And add some extra just for you.”

I love this poem because I find it to be honest. There’s a sense of comedy in it, and yet, like Sands and Knott’s style, it has truth, truth that most parents and children probably deny. I appreciate my family more than many other college students I know; however, I know I am a product of my family’s fuck-ups (excuse me), and as Larkin says, I am who I am because of their faults. It’s very difficult to call a poem my favorite; however, this one will forever be one of my top five. Perhaps I enjoy it because I get to say fuck whenever I perform it, but there’s also something so frank about the meaning that I am required to embrace it.

So… what’s your favorite poem?