Doug Bruns

Of poets.

In Books, Creativity, Writers, Writing on April 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

I have one poem memorized, W.B. Yeats’s The Second Coming. I thank Joan Didion for this singular accomplishment. Her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) brought the poem directly to my attention. It is a famous poem and I suspect I read it in high school and perhaps college, but am not sure. For a guy who has lived with books center to existence, poetry has been ill represented.

Yeats ends his great poem with this line:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I wanted to memorize the poem because I loved it. (David Orr, in his book, Beautiful and Pointless, a Guide to Modern Poetry, writes “…people who read poetry have a tendency not simply to say that they ‘like’ it or ‘enjoy’ the art form, but rather that they ‘love’ it.”) It was to be the first of many poems I planned to discover and commit to memory. Imagine the magic of carrying all that around in your head. In a wonderful piece, Got Poetry? (2009), New York Times essayist Jim Holt argues convincingly the benefits of memorizing poetry. He says he has hundreds of poems memorized. “I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands — just another guy on an invisible cellphone.” He ends his essay on a light note: “Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.”

My project never got past Yeats, sadly.


Last summer poetry introduced itself properly. It snuck up and rattled me by the shoulders. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, and still don’t. I can’t explain things like that but accept them as they happen. It seems to happen to me a lot.

I took a workshop for poets. I’m not a poet. That’s a title one has to earn, in my opinion. My friend Gibson Fay-LeBlanc told me that he does not subscribe to the school of the born poet; that becoming a poet is the result of “putting in the work.” Gibson has put in the work. His new book of poetry Death of the Ventriloquist was released last month.

I’ve been working with Robert Frost Award-winner, Megan Grumbling. Megan is a wonderful teacher and has been encouraging my effort to put poetry pen to poetry paper. I’ve published a little bit of everything over the years, except poetry. And as a life-long reader, I’ve read a little bit of everything over the years, except poetry. Discovering poetry has been like finding a secret door in a house I’ve lived in all my life.

Another poet-friend, Ken Rosen, told me to write a poem every day for a month, “Pluck it out of nothing,” he said. “Create somewhere out of nowhere, mercilessly. Force yourself to do it for 30 days and see if that changes your brain chemistry.” I don’t know about the resulting chemistry, but it was excellent discipline. Ken’s lastest book is The Origins of Tragedy and other poems.

I’ll leave you with a few lines from another poem I love, “Bars,” by Jim Harrison:

Once in the driveway

a female wolf stood in my headlights and nodded,

obviously the reincarnation of a girl I knew

who drowned in Key West where I first discovered

that one drink can break the gray egg that sometimes

encloses you, two drinks help you see this world.

Three drinks and you’re back inside the gray egg.

  1. For tonight’s mood, I think I prefer Dorothy Parker: “I like to have a martini. One or two at the most. Three and I’m under the table. Four and I’m under the host.”

  2. Poetry does that…sneaks up on you. I took some papers when I did my uni degree and ended up completely hooked. I had a great poetry tutor, and funny story…my travel writing tutor is a well known New Zealand poet (Tim Upperton) who was so inspiring I took a few of his workshops later…I find that poetry helps me a lot when I get stuck. I find a new type of poetry and the
    discipline seems to free up the creative juices. One of my favourite pieces of poetry (other than Banjo’s stuff…which is always number 1 with me) is this one…

    Dust – by Rupert Brooke

    When the white flame in us is gone,
    And we that lost the world’s delight
    Stiffen in darkness, left alone
    To crumble in our separate night;

    When your swift hair is quiet in death,
    And through the lips corruption thrust
    Has stilled the labour of my breath –
    When we are dust, when we are dust! –

    Not dead, not undesirous yet,
    Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
    We’ll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
    Around the places where we died,

    And dance as dust before the sun,
    And light of foot, and unconfined,
    Hurry from road to road, and run
    About the errands of the wind.

    And every mote, on earth or air,
    Will speed and gleam, down later days,
    And like a secret pilgrim fare
    By eager and invisible ways,

    Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
    Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
    One mote of all the dust that’s I
    Shall meet one atom that was you.

    Then in some garden hushed from wind,
    Warm in a sunset’s afterglow,
    The lovers in the flowers will find
    A sweet and strange unquiet grow

    Upon the peace; and, past desiring,
    So high a beauty in the air,
    And such a light, and such a quiring,
    And such a radiant ecstasy there,

    They’ll know not if it’s fire, or dew,
    Or out of earth, or in the height,
    Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
    Or two that pass, in light, to light,

    Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
    But in that instant they shall learn
    The shattering ecstasy of our fire,
    And the weak passionless hearts will burn

    And faint in that amazing glow,
    Until the darkness close above;
    And they will know — poor fools, they’ll know! –
    One moment, what it is to love.

    • What a lovely poem, Jo. Thank you so much for taking the time to post it here. I am reminded of Freud’s comment that wherever he goes the poets have already been. I very much apprecate your comment and will cut and paste the poem for my digital journal. Best regards and thanks for stopping by.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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