Now for something a little different. Here is a comment I posted in response to a question on another blog which I didn't expect to get so fired up about, but I did. A reader was asking for suggestions, in honor of National Poetry month, of poems that were somewhat intelligible and accessible. Here's what I ended up writing:
@Poems - As someone who ostensibly had an undergrad concentration in poetry, I share your impatience with inaccessible poems. Over the past few years I've started collecting poems/poets who I tend to be able to make heads or tails of and enjoy. Always eager to find a real-world application for this rather specialized knowledge, here are some of my findings:
-Where You Go When She Sleeps - T. R. Hummer
-Summer Without Summering - Teresa Cader (this was recently on Poetry Daily [poems.com] which can be fun to check although their choices trend toward the highfalutin. Occasionally easily intelligible ones do pop up.)
-Faint Music by Robert Hass. I've found most of his poetry kinda hard to read but I adore this poem in particular.
-Night by Louise Bogan
-Asking for Directions by Linda Gregg
-In a U-Haul North of Damascus by David Bottoms (the best divorce poem ever?)
-"Confessional" poets Sharon Olds, Kim Addonizzio, and and Dorianne Laux were quite popular when I was in undergrad, I think because a) their poems are often somewhat autobiographical and therefore somewhat intelligible, and b) because some of the poems had sex scenes!
-Denise Levertov and Jane Kenyon always struck me as classy ladies whose poems were both accessible and beautiful and deep. (Donald Hall was married to Jane Kenyon and his book of poems, Without, about her death from cancer, is a particularly heartbreaking one. And speaking of heartbreaking death poems, Kenyon's "Let Evening Come", written as she was dying, is right up there.)
-Charles Bukowski's poems are good if you're in the mood for some curmodgeonly, depressive musings about like, hard drinking and hard living. His poem Bluebird I think is relatively well-known and I like its kind of grudging optimism...shows his softer side.
-I remember having my mind blown by Gregory Corso's poem Marriage in my AP English class - upon revisiting him, he's still good for an anti-establishment Beat poet-y mood. The other Beat poet I don't think I saw mentioned yet was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is usually a good time.
-All my professors were nutty over Elizabeth Bishop. And if they had studied with her, it was more like an obsessive cult. I haven't read that much of her but I do remember having my mind blown (again) when studying formal poetry by her villanelle "One Art".
-Edna St. Vincent Millay I find a little harder to get into what with the forms and the rhyming and lots of dust and brows and grass and weeping and the like, but definitely check out "Sonnet XLII, What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why"and "Dirge Without Music" (neither are real pick-me-ups, if you can believe it, but still great)
-Ted Kooser is another good, down-to-earth poet laureate. His Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison is a lovely book of short, post-card length poems.
-Come to think of it, googling a list of the poet laureates of the united states is probably a good way to come across good poets to check out who are at the very least well-respected and somewhat popular (well, as popular as a contemporary poet can be said to be.)
-Linda Pastan. Many lovely poems about family and relationships.
-Wendell Berry. Lovely, nature-oriented poems, many about farming and like, the soil, but often with a kicky, damn-the-Man environmentalist bent. Definitely check out "The Peace of Wild Things", "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front", and "Do Not Be Ashamed".
-Mary Oliver. Many gorgeous poems about nature and spirituality. In particular check out the poem "Wild Geese".
Whew! I really got into writing that. Most of these poems/poets can be found by googling. Hope you enjoy!