Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks and poetry

With the American day of declared thanks approaching, I find myself thinking about poetry of praise and thanksgiving. Contemporary poems on such topics are increasingly rare. I've been looking and collecting, and here, in no particular order, are poets I've found to be writing on these themes fairly consistently from book to book:

Mary Oliver
From the blurb on this website:
"IN AN INTERVIEW with poet Mary Oliver published a few years ago in Giving Their Word (University of Massachusetts Press), Steven Ratiner remarked that 'poets of praise' are 'almost an endangered species' and that the 'happiness necessary to write in praise of life is almost considered a weakness in the art world's very definition of modernity' ... Oliver has never bothered to follow poetic fashion. Instead she has persisted for over 40 years in simply doing what she does well: practicing loving attention to the natural world."

Naomi Shihab Nye
She is that rarest commodity, a poet whose work merges politics with praise. It's hard to define her work as one of thanksgiving, until you consider that everyone who ever encounters this poetry uses the word "heart" in connection with it. The deepest praise, I think, is that which is fully conscious of every aspect of the praised. It requires a capacious heart like Nye's to write a poem about Kindness from an encounter with vicious bandits.

Pattiann Rogers
Unusual also is the ability to blend science and thanksgiving, but I read and reread Rogers' work for that marvelous feat of juggling and expansive comprehension of the spiritual resonances in the physical world. Rogers has a poem called "Supposition" about what might be the physical effects of an act of praise, and this is my favorite part of the poem:

Suppose the molecular changes taking place
In the mind during an act of praise
Resulted in an emanation rising into space.
Suppose that emanation went forth
In the configuration of its occasion:
For instance, the design of rain pocks
On the lake's surface of the blue depths
Of the canyon with its horizontal cedars stunted.