I've been watching a film this morning, a quirky little comedy with Emma Roberts and John Cusack called "Adult World". It's not a bad film. Nothing special, but something to enjoy on a grey, cool morning while drinking vanilla latte. Emma Roberts' character is certainly someone I'd have focused on had I met her--- bookish, lovely, willing to explore the things in life she'd read about (and been warned about).
I think what catches my eye, though, is that she wants desperately to be a poet. Her character has the worst possible reading voice, but she does love poetry. So I am thinking about poetry, about which poets and which poems have affected me, about which poems have said something to me about love and desire.
Years ago, I found a blog by a very, very serious girl who wrote that her plan for one spring semester was to read "one good poem" every day. I did grin at the ponderous undergraduate seriousness of it all, but I couldn't disagree with the idea. That is something worth doing.
Yes, I have written poetry, not that you'll ever see it. After all, I was an undergraduate once, and I did send poems to lovely girls I fancied. Yes, they were written to entice. However not? They weren't declarations of love, now. They were enticements and small visions of things I imagined. They weren't too overtly erotic or graphic. They were all of them a bit melancholy, though. All these years later, I still don't know if that melancholy was an affectation or actually the way I've always seen the world. By now there may not be any difference, of course.
I have favourite poets, and you can probably guess most of the names. I was in the last generation brought up with the Modernists, and they've stayed with me--- Eliot and Pound and Stevens and Auden are always there on my shelves. Rilke, too, in C. F. MacIntyre's translations. And Leonard Cohen, too, I think. (I have no idea which poets undergraduates are taught to admire these days--- can anyone out there tell me? ) If I had a poet for poems about love, though, it was always Cavafy. Cavafy always evoked things that I liked. The sense of exile, the cafes in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria, the sense of history, the sense of time and loss.
One of my favourites, a small poem called"Grey":
While looking at a half-gray opal
I remembered two lovely gray eyes—
it must be twenty years ago I saw them...
We were lovers for a month.
Then he went away to work, I think in Smyrna,
and we never met again.
Those gray eyes will have lost their beauty—if he’s still alive;
that lovely face will have spoiled.
Memory, keep them the way they were.
And, memory, whatever of that love you can bring back,
whatever you can, bring back tonight.
And another by Cafavy--- "Body, Remember":
Body, remember not only how much you were loved
not only the beds you lay on.
but also those desires glowing openly
in eyes that looked at you,
trembling for you in voices---
only some chance obstacle frustrated them.
Now that it's all finally in the past,
it seems almost as if you gave yourself
to those desires too--- how they glowed,
remember, in eyes that looked at you,
remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices.
I can remember reading those aloud alone in my rooms. I can remember reading them to girls there, too. My young companions have told me over the years that I have a good reading voice, and I'd like to think that's true. It's been a long time, though, since I've read poetry to a girl. I'd like to remedy that.
I can remember reading Cavafy to entice lovely girls, and I can remember reading him myself (always in the Keeley-Sherrard translations) and feeling myself move into his world. I first read Cavafy as an undergraduate, though, and that's a lifetime ago. I've no idea what poems and poets are taught as poets of romance and sex and desire and loss today. I've no idea which poets and what poems lovely undergraduate girls sigh over these days. I can't recall which poets black-clad bohemian girls are reading at coffee shops these days--- whenever I look at the books they have with them, it always seems to be critical theory. Well, that is something I should ask about.
Tell me, then, if you're reading this--- what are the poems that literary girls sigh over these days? Who are the poets regarded here in the second decade of the new century as speaking for their time about desire and love and loss? What are the poems read to girls in half-lit rooms just off campus? Let me know, if you can--- tell me who the voices are these days for seductions and romance.