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.

To Build A Home

Everybody has songs that, to them, aren’t just songs. Those songs that are intertwined with memories — past experiences of friend hangouts, dates, and spontaneous adventures. Those songs that, upon hearing the opening notes, cause a sudden rush, instantly transporting you back in time.

When I hear “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons I’m back in 2011, in the passenger seat of an ugly golden Ford Taurus on Hook Road, driving back from a high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” When I listen to Lana Del Rey’s “Off to the Races,” I’m in another car — this time with three of my best friends on our way to Town Center Plaza for a night of gelato, Barnes and Noble, and “Warm Bodies.” When “I Love The Rain” by The Real Tuesday Weld is playing, I think of running around a parking lot at J.C. Penny’s with my friend, looking for our lost car in the middle of a huge rainstorm.

But “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra is the one that I hold most fondly in my heart.

Spring 2012. A time of friends — of stargazing, “The Bachelor” (Ben, who unfortunately looked like Francine from “Arthur”), homemade cheesecake, endless movie nights of “X-Men,” buying season passes for Worlds of Fun, finding a sketchy Crime Scene Cleaners truck at a nature reserve, smashing pumpkins, eating hot dogs. It was here when my dear friend Ella showed us “To Build a Home,” her favorite stargazing song, which became my personal soundtrack of the season.

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This is how people stargaze, right?

I’m often the victim of nostalgia. I spend way too much time looking back instead of forward. The future is scary and unknown. The past I know, I love, and I frequently miss.

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I’m the one on top with the awkwardly pale legs.

Early 2012 was the time I was settling into being completely comfortable with my new group of friends. About a year prior, I had lost all of the friends I had been with every day since grade school. Forgetting them and starting over from scratch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I couldn’t be happier that it happened. If I hadn’t broken ties with my previous friends, I would never have met Ella, Laura, Emily, Aubry, Nathaniel, Aaron, Kristin, Nathan, Schaafster, Mark, Zak…

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Voldemort pumpkin, pre-smashing (and by “smashing” I mean “stabbing with Asian swords in an empty lot”)

Maybe I’m being particularly nostalgic because I listened to “To Build A Home” earlier today. Or maybe it’s because a lot of these events happened over spring break, almost exactly two years ago, when Ella and I were juniors and everyone else was a senior.

This was before most of the group (which later went on to be dubbed “The Avengers”) graduated and, after spending one glorious summer together, each went to different colleges. They went to Creighton, Westminster, Missouri S&T, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Pitt State while Ella and I were left behind in Lee’s Summit. Now all of us have different spring breaks — some are home now, some will be home next week, some (like myself) won’t be home for another two weeks. We’ll always have the summers, but spending spring break together will never happen again.

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Laura and Aubs being cuties as usual.

But that’s what’s so great about those songs aren’t just songs. You can relive all of the times tied into a song or an album or a band simply by turning on Spotify or searching YouTube.

Every time I listen to the opening piano chords, I’m reminded of those months before my friends left for college. I look forward to the next stargaze, the next movie night, the next adventure.

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“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.”

The Cinematic Orchestra, “To Build A Home”