If you’re new to poetry and find it difficult, you may want to try the work of Gerald Stern. At eighty-eight, he’s one of the grand masters of poetry still composing poems. He’s won lots of awards but writes in understandable language about everyday things: travel, frogs, New York, cafeteria (spelled with a k as are all of the c words in this poem), his childhood, flowers, and love. What I like about his latest collection In Beauty Bright and all of his work is that he celebrates living in an almost ecstatic way--most of his poems could be songs. Check out these lines: “Like fools we waited to hear the tomatoes; we knew / what greenness means to the vine.” or “Take a dog to the vet’s, he knows what you’re doing, / a cat becomes a muscle, she leaps from your arms.”
You can tell from his work that he’s the kind of quirky writer that does weird things on occasion to discover his latest poem; for instance, “Day of Grief” begins: “I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window / where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies…” Another insect poem starts this way, “I lost my rage while helping a beetle recover / and stood there with precision, balancing / grass with stone.”
And see how immediate and tactile this poem simply titled “Love” is, “I loved your sweet neck but I loved your shoulder blades more / and wondered whether I should kiss your cheek first / or your hair.”
Stanley Kunitz called Gerald Stern “the wilderness of American poetry.” Did Kunitz mean that Stern always finds in the environs of city flowers, fauna, and people a wildness inside himself that burns brightly?
For a totally different kind of poetry that also celebrates the natural world through the lens of inner landscapes, read Jane Hirshfield’s work including her latest, Come Thief. She brings a Zen worldview to her poems that is very interesting.