that makes me want to strip away
the hard-back shells of major poets,
shore up the papered spines of still
emerging but minor wordsmiths,
rearrange all my bookshelves just so
enough Donald Hall can come within
a hand's reach of Jane Kenyon, not
separated by well-worn Donald Justice,
nor placed, so wrongly, after Kooser —
he's a Ted, too, like Hughes.
I mean to ask Billy Collins to leave
a little more space for the dead poets
I haven't picked up in years, for unread
Aiken to let me give him another chance,
and Elizabeth Bishop to jump back in
line near the front, after way too long
among a lot of dull, outdated school
books. Could it have been those titles,
Geography III and North and South,
that got her misplaced from the start?
Brodsky I need close to Auden (he
helped him with a job at U Michigan,
you know), and Kay Ryan I'll urge pub
one more collection so I have a couple
of those "Paired Things" to read once
I've dusted off Dickinson's riddles to make
my way over a few dark dashes. Far
from Sexton's dusky voice, I'll veer left
of center, to hear again echoes of Ginsberg
keeping his self-revealing Beat, next sweep
right to study spare William Carlos Williams
breaking long lines into many variable feet.
In the middle, I swear I'll keep my Lowell
whose Life Studies, I must confess, bear no
resemblance to my own, and work in some
Nemerov — his sister Diane became Arbus
and took pictures he didn't like and wouldn't
call art — before Pinsky who wears his "Shirt"
proudly. Frost I'll persuade to hover near; he's
reliable, the one we can count on to show us
traditional form. Of others, I will tell you this:
I want only Ruth Stone to reveal What Love
Comes To, and Darwish to translate the deep
sound of "A Canaanite Rock in the Deep Sea"
and Neruda to sing me a canto, show me his
twenty ways of being, where there is no I
nor you, when every when is always for
-ever, and never, as Merwin took just three lines
to say, like an absence running through me,
beyond color-bled words, between covers soft.
© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas
I used as a prompt for this poem Phillip Lopate's line "There is something about autumn that makes me want to rearrange my bookshelves:..." I first read the sentence here and, after writing the poem, traced its origin to an essay by Lopate in The Hopkins Review.
Titles of poets' collections are italicized; titles of individual poems are within quotation marks. The last lines of the poem are meant to recall e.e. cummings and also W.S. Merwin's extraordinary three-line poem "Separation": "Your absence has gone through me/ Like thread through a needle. / Everything I do is stitched with its color."
The poets mentioned, in order, are: Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon (she was Hall's wife until her death in 1995), Donald Justice, Ted Kooser, Ted Hughes, Billy Collins, Conrad Aiken, Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, W.H. Auden, Kay Ryan, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, Howard Nemerov, Robert Pinsky, Ruth Stone, Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda, and W.S. Merwin. All of these poets are somewhere on my shelves or reading tables.