A Poetry Playlist

I went to high school and college in the 80s, which means some of my formative years were spent in the period of American culture that particularly revolved around wearing the right clothes: from leg warmers to Jordache jeans to bright, bold colors, what you wore was who you were. Or at least we thought that as teens, and worried that other people were constantly judging and criticizing us. 

I was not as cool of a nerd as this, but I did carry books everywhere.

Unfortunately, I was never trendy. I disliked shopping, wasn’t a fan of bright colors (why would I want to draw that much attention to myself?), and spent a lot more time reading than listening to popular music. Nor did I fit in with the other groups at school, like the stoners who hung out in the parking lot. I had a couple of close female friends and, well, that was it.

So maybe this is why I’ve always been self-conscious about my taste in music, movies, and even books. If I didn’t like something, I just didn’t want to pretend I did, which hit pretty hard in graduate school when my classmates were swooning over John Ashbery and I was more interested in Pattiann Rogers, whose little book Legendary Performance offered poems that danced around like fairy tales. 

Album people baffled me.

I also felt like I didn’t fit in when friends and writers talked about albums. Sitting through eight songs I didn’t much care for just to hear the one I did wasted my time. I loved mix tapes, and eventually music players that allowed for playlists. And as the years have passed and it’s become easier and easier to access individual poems online, I’ve realized I’m basically a playlist person when it comes to poetry, too. I know, I know—I also prefer milk chocolate to dark, don’t like olives, don’t understand jazz, and haven’t worn a heel higher than 1/2 inch in the new millennium. I’m a weirdo, and I accept it. 

I’m not all about tech, but playlists are great.

Even before poetry on the internet, I cut pages out of literary magazines (if I owned them) or spent too much money on the photocopiers in libraries. I had three-ring binders full of poems I liked, and sometimes created my own “anthologies” as gifts for people who liked poetry. But now I can share poetry playlists easily with all and sundry, so I thought I’d create one for you. The news and its attendant despair is on my mind, so several of these poems deal with that, as well as with what and who we turn to in order to survive.

1. “You Are Who I Love” by Aracelis Girmay

“…You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying ‘No!’ and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who”

2. “Knowledge” by Kim Addonizio

“…even now you’re sometimes stunned to hear

of some terrible act that sends you reeling off, too overwhelmed

even to weep, and then you realize that your innocence,

which you had thought no longer existed,

did, in fact, exist–…”

3. “The Coming of Light” by Mark Strand 

“Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light…”

4. “A Brief for the Defense” by Jack Gilbert

“…We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil…”

5. “I Wonder if I Will Miss the Moss” by Jane Mead

“…There was mud,

and there was the walking,

all the beautiful walking,

and it alone filled me—…”

6. “I Was a Good Wife” by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

“…I am

remembering how to want

my life, how to want to come

even closer to the wolf I was…”

7. “Dead Stars” by Ada Limon

“Look, we are not unspectacular things.

       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.

     No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?”

8. “Urgent Care” by Heather Bell

“…I schedule the next session, Thursday 10:15 a.m., bring your sadness

again, your idea of beauty, dead animals and abuse. And this time, tell

me the truth, the branches, the emptiness, the body seizing up. I begin

to see a therapist, a body, atmosphere, gourd to place something into…”

9. “Waiting for Happiness” by Nomi Stone

“Dog knows when friend will come home

because each hour friend’s smell pales,

air paring down the good smell

with its little diamond. It means I miss you

O I miss you, how hard it is to wait

for my happiness…”

10. “I Used to be Able to Listen to Sad Songs” by Catherine Pierce

“but that was before they started strutting 

around with billy clubs in their fists, started 

kicking the backs of my knees so that I 

crumpled right there on the asphalt…”

11. “The Sun Got All Over Everything” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

“…And I had made a plan

to cry all day

and into the evening. I marked in my book,

which seems like something I’d make up in a poem

except this time I actually did it.

I wrote: Grieve. Because we’re all so busy

aren’t we? And so broke. I needed to make

an appointment with my anguish, so I could

take my mind off buying groceries…”

12. “Singularity” by Marie Howe

“…would that we could wake up   to what we were

—when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was

liquid and stars were space and space was not…”

13. “Poem Beginning with a Retweet” by Maggie Smith

If you drive past horses and don’t say horses

you’re a psychopath. If you see an airplane

but don’t point it out. A rainbow,

a cardinal, a butterfly. If you don’t

whisper-shout albino squirrel! Deer!

Red fox!…”

14. “Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror” by Kelli Russell Agodon

Magpies are smart.

“The night sounds like a murder

of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs

because we can’t change the world, but we can

change our hardware…”

15. “Dear Alicia” by Jennifer Givhan

“…& when

I screamed, Alicia, when I turned my face in horror, for

I thought she was tearing the wings from the birds to decorate

her large oak body, the largest oak you have ever seen, you said,

My Jenn, she is taking her burning heart, her wound, & healing

the wounded birds so they can fly…”

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