World Poetry Day: four of my favorites

I admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of poetry. I suppose I blame this on years and years of English teachers making me annotate every little word and phrase of Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney until the “one definite meaning” is discovered, which turned me off to the medium. Poetry is something I’ve always felt can be interpreted differently depending on the reader. Like any other form of art, there isn’t a definite right or wrong interpretation. But lately I’ve been trying to read more poems, and in honor of World Poetry Day, here are some of my favorites and what they mean to me:

“(love song, with two goldfish)” by Grace Chua

I complain about the poetry units I was put through in high school (if I had to read one more Seamus Heaney poem about a bog I was going to scream), but I actually have IB English to thank for this discovery. I first read “(love song, with two goldfish)” senior year in IB English class. We were given a poem we had never seen before at the beginning of class and had the whole hour to annotate and write a paper about it — practice for the big scary IB test at the end of the year.

I loved this poem immediately. Those who know me know I’m a sucker for love, and the male’s devotion to the female is just so adorable — “He would take her to the ocean, they could count the waves. There, in the submarine silence, they would share their deepest secrets. Dive for pearls like stars.”

I could say so much about this poem. The use of parentheses as a metaphor for a fishbowl. The humor in the fish references and water imagery. The whimsy (even though I personally find the ending really sad, it’s still cutesy and fun overall).

The main thing I can relate to is the idea of wanting more out of life — “a life beyond the (bowl).”

Charlie’s poem for Patrick in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky

I know I’ve written about this poem in another blog post before, but it’s just so devastating and I love it. The first time I read it I cried. The poem ends in the author’s suicide, and, to me, it’s about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up.

Each stanza is different stage in life, from childhood to around high school or college. In the first stanza everything is simple and happy — his parents kissed a lot, the girl around the corner sent him a Valentine with x’s (and, being a little kid, he had to ask his dad what the x’s meant), and his father always tucked him into bed at night.

By the end of the poem, his mother and father “never kissed/or even talked,” the girl around the corner wore too much makeup but he kissed her anyway “because that was the thing to do,” and at 3 a.m. he tucked himself into bed.

I’m still not sure how to put into words why I love this poem. I just find it, while dark and terribly depressing, truthful. To me, it captures the confusion of growing up and the world not being as simple as it was in previous years. As you grow up and learn more and become more observant about the world around you, it’s hard not to become critical and feel alone and wonder what it’s all about: “he tried another poem/And he called it “Absolutely Nothing”/Because that’s what it was really all about…”

“Elegies 2.15: Love song for Cynthia” by Propertius

Okay, so I admit I just read this poem for the first time two days ago for my Age of Augustus class, but I love it. (I also apologize for the absence of a link. I couldn’t find the same translation from my textbook online in my brief Google search).

The poem is, as you could probably guess from the title, a love song to Propertius’s elegiac puella (aka his strong/bossy/sometimes mean girlfriend, who doesn’t fit the norms expected of a typical classical Roman woman). Their love is often described as a “maddening enslavement,” and is full of turmoil and high emotions, with Cynthia almost always hurting Propertius.

However, this particular poem is one of the happier ones, of Propertius worshipping Cynthia — the opening line is “I’m the luckiest man alive! It was a night lit up with ecstasy.”

The whole poem focuses on an erotic night Cynthia. Again, I’m a sucker for love (even though Propertius and Cynthia’s affair is far from healthy), and this particular poem is filled with lines that get me right in the feels. “There is no pleasure if you close your eyes when making love, and blindly/Thrash around; did you not know, it is the eyes that lead the way to love.” “Her’s I shall be in life, in death I shall remain her love.” “My Cynthia, while yet bright are the lights of life, do not desert life’s joys/If every kiss you have you give to me, yet will it not suffice.” And my personal favorite line: “The man has lost his wits who seeks an end to love’s insanity.”

I’m really digging Propertius. He has whole books of Elegies filled with poems dedicated to his love for Cynthia. We were discussing him in class the other day and the whole idea behind his poems is that, because Mars and Venus are the gods Rome is said to be descended from, love is just as vital to Roman life as war, if not more so.

I also find it amazing that something written in the 1st century BCE can still be so relatable in the present-day.

“To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra 

Is this cheating? This is technically a song, but, really, I’ve always thought about songs as a form of poetry. I love listening to songs and reading the lyrics. To me, lyrics are the most important thing about a song, more so than the music. Some of my favorite lyrics come from Lorde, The Head and The Heart (don’t even get me started on their song “Gone,” it’s utterly perfect), and Florence + the Machine (her new song “What Kind of Man” understands everything about my life).

But, as I’ve said before, “To Build a Home” holds a special place in my heart. Largely because it was introduced to me by my then-new, now best friend during a tumultuous time in my life. I just think it’s a really beautiful song with gorgeous lyrics, and it always makes me think of my friends and I stargazing, night swimming, making s’mores, having bonfires, etc.

“I climbed the tree to see the world/When the gusts came around to blow me down/Held on as tightly as you held onto me.” Seriously, I need a tattoo of those lyrics. You can listen to the song here.

“I feel infinite.”

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because she says you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

Perks cover

I read Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was 15, the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I skimmed through it in a couple of days, thought Charlie was “weird” for crying so much, gave it a three star rating on Goodreads, and moved on. As years passed, I noticed people would mention how much they loved the book, while I was too busy with my nose stuck in Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” series and other YA supernatural romances (Team Edward or gtfo). I wondered what the big deal was about “Perks.” Sure, I had thought it was alright, but I didn’t see the book as anything too special.

Then, in 2012, it was made into a movie. I was excited to see it (after all, the perfect Emma Watson was starring as Sam) and I even volunteered to review it for my high school newspaper. I drove all the way to the giant AMC in Olathe (the only movie theater near me showing the indie flick) and saw it with my mom. By this point, I had pretty much forgotten everything about the book, so I came into the movie fairly oblivious.


I fell in love with the movie. I fell in love with Emma Watson’s Sam, with Ezra Miller’s Patrick, and, especially, with Logan Lerman’s Charlie. I was crying by the time it was over, and I saw it two more times in theaters with my friends. The story was beautiful and relatable and so damn truthful. It’s one of my favorite movies, only behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I bought the book shortly after seeing the film, but it wasn’t until this past week that I picked it back up.

Reading “Perks” as a 19-year-old college student is much different than reading it as a 15-year-old girl.

Everyone can relate to Charlie. Everyone, at one point or another, feels like a wallflower. We all think something is wrong with us but don’t know what, we all long for a place to belong, we all feel “both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

Like Charlie, I have often felt like a silent observer, standing in the corner watching everyone interact and wondering about their lives. Like Charlie, I have spent time completely without friends, and even when I was surrounded by friends I’ve felt apart from them. Different. Like an outsider.

When I read “Perks” the first time, I didn’t get it, you know? I was 15. I was still in high school, I hadn’t gone through any particularly life changing experiences. I hadn’t lost friends, I hadn’t made too many stupid decisions, I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even my first kiss. I was just a kid who spent all of her time at home reading and watching TV. I was innocent and oblivious and ignorant about the world.

At 19, I’ve lost friends. I’ve had relationships and had those relationships end. I’ve been completely out of my element. I’ve had to make all new friends and find my place to belong in college. I’ve watched my older friends leave for college before me, while I stayed behind to finish my last year of high school. I’ve had nights with my friends where I’ve felt infinite and alive and felt like I was really there. 

When I finished “Perks” today, I got it.

I have never, in all my years of devouring books, annotated. I don’t circle things, I don’t underline, I don’t write my own thoughts between the margins. But with “Perks,” there were lines I read over and over, and I just had to mark them.

When Bill warns Charlie, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”

When Charlie reminisces about past experiences, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not so sad.”

When Charlie watches some kids sledding down a hill, completely elated, “I think it would be great if sledding was always enough, but it isn’t.”

When Bill tells Charlie, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

When Charlie observes, “Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

And, of course, the beautiful untitled poem that Charlie reads to his friends at the Christmas party, all about the loss of innocence. (which I, admittedly, read through multiple times and cried).

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is honest. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and passionate. It’s a story about growing up and discovering love and sex and drugs and friendship and yourself. It’s universal and timeless and…everything. It’s about taking action and “participating” in life, and not just sitting on the sidelines. Charlie and his friends go through what we all go through as we grow up and figure out who we want to be. It’s about, as Charlie says in the novel’s closing pages, “It’s okay to feel things. And be who you are about them.” It’s about that one song, that one night, on that one drive, where you felt infinite.

Love Always,


Continue reading ““I feel infinite.””