I Figured Out the Perfect Evening Activity

I Love Lucy

Usually, at night, you can find me lying in my bed watching a show on my phone. I’ve plowed through Schitt’s Creek (adored Alexis), I May Destroy You (phenomenal), The Undoing (eeps), you name it, I’ve seen it. But last night, my eyes were tired of staring at a screen, so I cuddled up and read this

Whale Day by Billy Collins. Have you read his poems? They are funny, surprising, conversational, profound. And you get drawn right in. “I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem,” Collins once said. “Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.”

I don’t usually lie around reading poetry, but I was amazed by the feeling it gave me. Relaxed, content, inspired. My breath slowed down. It felt physically good.

And it’s funny because I was originally planning to start a novel last night, but happened to pick Collins’s book of poems from the shelf instead. In an interview with The Paris Review, Collins said, “One of the differences between being a novelist and a poet is that the novelist kind of moves into your house. I mean, it takes three days or three weeks to read a novel. I think of the novelist as a houseguest. The poet is more someone who just appears. You know, a door opens, and there’s the poet! He says something about life or death, closes the door and is gone. Who was that masked man? I like that kind of sudden appearance. Not overstaying your welcome, you might say.”

At times, I laughed; at times, I clutched my heart. When asked if he had a concept of the reader, he said, “She’s this girl in high school who broke my heart, and I’m hoping that she’ll read my poems one day and feel bad about what she did. No, the reader for me is someone who doesn’t care about me or has no vested interest. I start the poem assuming that I have to engage his or her interest. There is no pre-existing reason for you to be interested in me and certainly not in my family, so there must be a lure at the beginning of a poem. I want the reader to be in the sidecar, ready. Then off we go.”

Off we go, indeed!

Do you remember ages ago we talked about memorizing poems? I would love to memorize one — or maybe a few — Billy Collins poems. A reader named Lauren once said, “My professor at Columbia called this kind of memorization investing in your own ‘mental furniture.’ He had memorized most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and he loved the idea that he’d always have those words as furniture in his head for his thoughts to sit on, even in old age.”

Here’s the one I’d memorize, I think, although it’s impossible to choose between his poems, like naming a favorite child.


No man is lonely while eating spaghetti. — Christopher Morley

This time, I was at a corner table at Pasta Vivace!
on that side street next to the old music store.
The place was not at all crowded.
Just enough young men and women
were coming and going to keep me
occupied as I sipped my Campari and soda
and waited for the waiter to arrive with my pasta.

I imagined what the parents of all these people
were doing this evening,
then I thought of all of the diners as babies
with looks of amazement on their tiny faces.
Then as they kept arriving and departing,
holding the door for one another,
they turned into skeletons in their caskets,

each being carried by six husky pallbearers,
who would also be dead by now,
as I would be before too long,
for death is the magnetic north of poetry.

But first, I must insist on having the pleasure
of eating my linguini con vongole,
dipping chunks of crusty bread into the briny sauce.

for this is also a poem about happiness,
a celebration of the senses
and of all the men and women coming and going.
And if you turn your head a little this way,
you can see me at a corner table,
twirling the pasta with a fork and spoon
like an infant with a bib tucked under his chin.

Thoughts? Do you ever read poems? Do you have a favorite? Please share below, I would love to hear…

P.S. On being human, and Kate Baer’s motherhood poems make me laugh and cry. And my other dorky hobby.

(Photo of I Love Lucy.)

  1. Kate the Great says...

    Years ago, my husband and I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins. He read a poem called “Litany”. The moment it was done, we turned to each other in amazement and awe in what we had just heard.

    We use it to express our love to each other. He printed it on pretty paper, framed it, and gave it to me as a gift. I’m currently working on a photoessay of each image in the poem as a gift for him.

  2. How fun and deliciously nerdy! I used to memorize poems during my tortuously long commute (I’d record myself reading the poem aloud on my phone, then play it on the drive). I collect poems and books that have any mention of cats because #catmama, and here’s a recent favorite. The title is key!

    Lilian Morrison
    I have lived with it for years,
    this big cat, developed an
    affection for it. Though it is
    aging now, I cannot abandon it
    nor do I want to. I would love
    to throw it about in play but
    must be careful. It cannot sum-
    mon that agile grace of old. Yet
    it’s really pleasant to be with,
    familiar, faithful, complaining
    a little, continually going about
    its business, loving to lie down.

    (from the anthology “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”

  3. Ana says...

    The one I loved lay down to die
    No power on earth had strength to save,

    And when her soul went up on high
    I planted sweet peas round her grave

    To-night from out a thousand throats
    To God a holy incense floats.

    * I love this poem its so simple but captures grief

  4. Kate says...

    I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading by Billy Collins when his book, “The trouble with poetry and other poems,” came out in 2005. If you had happened to pass by the reading you would have thought you stumbled upon a comedy show; we were all crying with laughter! Billy reads his poems deadpan and you can tell by a hint of a smirk on his face that his work was written to make you smile and reminisce. 100% recommend watching him read, “The Lanyard.”

  5. Denise says...

    I found this poem by e.e. cummings after my husband died, almost ten years ago. It always felt like a funeral dirge to me, even though I love it. Until yesterday, when I realized that it equally represents new love:

    i carry your heart with me

    i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
    my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
    i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
    by only me is your doing, my darling)
    i fear
    no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
    no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
    and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
    and whatever a sun will always sing is you

    here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
    and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
    higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
    and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

    i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

    • Sabrina says...

      I’m so sorry about your husband. We had this poem read at our wedding, but now I can see it fits many different life events.

    • Jenni says...

      My sister is living with me after her husband died unexpectedly and suddenly last month. I knew this poem but had forgotten it, and reading it this morning made me cry and took my breath equally. So sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing this. I am keeping certain poems on hand for my sister as she is ready to read and mourn and remember and will add this to the list.

  6. Emily says...

    This is a poem I hold dear, as my grandmother recited this to my mother, my mother to me, and me to my daughters:

    Good morning sky
    Good morning sun
    Good morning little winds that run
    Good morning Earth
    Good morning trees
    And creeping grass and brownie bees
    Who told you that it was day?
    Who told you night had gone away?
    I’m wide awake, I’m up now too
    I’ll be right out to play with you.

    (Oof now I need to get a recording of each voice reciting this for future generations.)

    • Oh my gosh, I love this! My sister and I shared a room growing up and had a routine where we would say “Good Night / Love you / See you in the morning” and now we’ll say “see you soon” if chatting on the phone. It’s amazing how these little reoccurrences can summarize it all and mean the world.

  7. Emmy says...

    We have been making a habit of reading poetry before bed with our four year old twins. Their current favorites is:

    Mud, mud, glorious mud
    Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
    So follow me, follow
    Down to the hollow,
    And there let us wallow in glorious mud.

  8. jdp says...

    i just finished the late poet donald hall’s memoir “unpacking the boxes.” he was so of new england, and of a certain time, and such a fantastically bearded, unkempt and gruff old coot at the end. in rural new hampshire they jokingly called the women who helped care for him (including his assistant, a woman named kendel, who typed all his poems, letters and manuscripts) his “harem,” and i like to consider myself as a reader one of them in a gruff, new englandy, way. one of my favorites of his poems, “my son, my executioner,” is kind of relevant to the post about the heartbreak of aging children….and how their growing up means our growing old….

    • Libbynan says...

      My son turned 52 last week and this whole concept has been haunting me for days. How can he be 52 when I’m only about 55? Poetry is the best…it expresses the things that we ourselves can’t find words for. I’m so thankful that Amanda Gorman is bringing poetry to the attention of a couple of new generations. Poetry rocks…literally!

  9. Shannon says...

    So many beautiful poems shared here by readers. My thanks to all.

    I have a neighbor who, at the very beginning of the pandemic, started putting a whiteboard outside her house with a new poem written on it every week or so. My husband and I have been going on daily neighborhood walks and the poems she chooses have become these beautiful punctuation marks to our lives, somehow often reflecting back just what I’m feeling at the time, or just what I need to read. I had a miscarriage in early January and on our first walk after my D&C, this was the poem we found:

    A Blessing for the New Year
    by John O’Donohue

    On the day when
    The weight deadens
    On your shoulders
    And you stumble,
    May the clay dance
    To balance you.

    And when your eyes
    Freeze behind
    The grey window
    And the ghost of loss
    Gets in to you,
    May a flock of colours,
    Indigo, red, green,
    And azure blue,
    Come to awaken in you
    A meadow of delight.

    When the canvas frays
    In the currach of thought
    And a stain of ocean
    Blackens beneath you,
    May there come across the waters
    A path of yellow moonlight
    To bring you safely home.

    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
    May the clarity of light be yours,
    May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
    May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

    And so may a slow
    Wind work these words
    Of love around you,
    An invisible cloak
    To mind your life.

    • Emily says...

      Oh Shannon, what a lovely gift of a poem.
      I had a miscarriage and D&C a few years back. Sending you love. The feeling of being held by love, and finding solace within the heartbreak is sometimes all there is.

    • Bec says...

      Oh Shannon. Thank you. I have been struggling in this new year. My mother has gone into hospice and will leave us soon. I’m not ready (although I’m 58 and she 91). This poem was just exactly what I needed today. Thank you. -B

  10. Anne says...

    For two years (!) I’ve been slowly reading through Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry chronologically. I read one first thing in the morning and one at night just before sleep. I’m reading her final collection now, Devotions, which is essentially a collection of all the poems I’ve read over the past couple years. It’s a bit bittersweet to be reaching the end as these poems have carried me through, especially this past year. Here’s the poem I read this morning, one of my favorites, from Swan (2010):

    Don’t Hesitate

    If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
    don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
    of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
    to be. We are not wise, and not very often
    kind. And much can never be redeemed.
    Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
    is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
    something happens better than all the riches
    or power in the world. It could be anything,
    but very likely you notice it in the instant
    when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
    case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
    of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

    I’d like to continue the practice but with new and different poets. Some I’m keen to try: Tracy K. Smith, Kate Baer, Morgan Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Adding Billy Collins & others suggested here to the list :)

  11. PS says...

    My daughter loves Arthur Guiterman’s “The Habits of the Hippopotamus” and her gurgles of laughter (when reading this aloud) bring me so much joy:

    The hippopotamus is strong
    And huge of head and broad of bustle;
    The limbs on which he rolls along
    Are big with hippopotomuscle.

    He does not greatly care for sweets
    Like ice cream, apple pie, or custard,
    But takes to flavor what he eats
    A little hippopotomustard.

    The hippopotamus is true
    To his principles, and just;
    He always tries his best to do
    The things one hippopotomust.

    He never rides in trucks or trams,
    In taxicabs or omnibuses,
    And so keeps out of traffic jams
    And other hippopotomusses.

    • Fiona says...

      this poem is perfection – thank you!

  12. Nancy Pecha says...

    One of my faves my dad always recites to us every Christmas season, and used to on the way to school in the morning:
    “Christmas is a-comin, and the geese are getting fat
    who will put a penny in the old man’s hat?
    If you haven’t got a penny, a half-penny will do,
    if you haven’t got a half-penny,
    then GOD. BLESS. YOU!”
    so fun and cute

    • El says...

      I remember that one from a school play, I think it’s Victorian. Except we said ha’penny (said hape-ney) for halfpenny.

  13. Kristi says...

    I just started to appreciate poetry in the few years since my mom died. The emotion that can be expressed in such a short amount of text and how it can ring differently each time I read is a gift. And I’m loving reading everyone’s favorites in the comments. Here is my contribution:

    Kissing in Vietnamese
    Ocean Vuong

    My grandmother kisses
    as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
    where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
    through the kitchen window,
    as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
    and flames are making their way back
    through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
    as if to walk out the door, your torso
    would dance from exit wounds.
    When my grandmother kisses, there would be
    no flashy smooching, no western music
    of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
    you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
    so that your scent is relearned
    and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
    inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
    death also, is clutching your wrist.
    My grandmother kisses as if history
    never ended, as if somewhere
    a body is still
    falling apart.

  14. Kelsey says...

    So many wonderful recommendations here!

    For those looking for new poets, I suggest the collections:
    * Essential Pleasures: Poems to Read Aloud (mix of classic “literature” poems and more modern poems)
    * Set Me On Fire: A Poem for Every Feeling (mostly newer, younger poets, so plenty to discover)
    * American Journal, edited by Tracy K. Smith
    * Joy: 100 Poems

    Some favorite poets of mine include: Maggie Smith, Maggie Dietz, Dorianne Laux, Mark Doty, and Jane Hirshfield

    • Sage says...

      God yes. “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith is a forever favourite of mine:

      Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
      Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
      in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
      a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
      I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
      fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
      estimate, though I keep this from my children.
      For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
      For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
      sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
      is at least half terrible, and for every kind
      stranger, there is one who would break you,
      though I keep this from my children. I am trying
      to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
      walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
      about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
      right? You could make this place beautiful.

  15. Rue says...

    I dated someone for an actual decade who is a lovely human and also just not the partner for me at the end of the day. He is a *huge* Billy Collins fan, and I have great associations with him introducing me to his work. And the beautiful happy ending, dear reader, is that he’s now dating a poet. He texted me when they were in town for a poetry workshop she was participating in, and mentioned how excited he was to be going to readings every night. I admit… I hate the idea of going to poetry readings every night! But thrilled for them, that they found each other and they both love that life.

    • Kristi says...

      This is sweet. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Marnie says...

    I love finding the right poem – how it reverberates in my mind, soul, body like the auditory afterimage of a gong strike. This one is posted on my fridge. Some days, I mutter it under my breath over and over:

    This is what,
    at last, it is
    to be
    a human being.

    Leaving nothing
    out, not
    one star, one
    wren, one tear
    –Kobayashi Issa

    And then this, from the indomitable Lucille Clifton:

    homage to my hips

    these hips are big hips
    they need space to
    move around in.
    they don’t fit into little
    petty places. these hips
    are free hips.
    they don’t like to be held back.
    these hips have never been enslaved,
    they go where they want to go
    they do what they want to do.
    these hips are mighty hips.
    these hips are magic hips.
    i have known them
    to put a spell on a man and
    spin him like a top!

  17. Felechia says...

    One of my favourite yoga teachers read this poem at the end of a class and I immediately went home, looked it up and pinned it beside my desk.

    “What if you knew you’d be the last
    to touch someone?
    If you were taking tickets, for example,
    at the theater, tearing them,
    giving back the ragged stubs,
    you might take care to touch that palm,
    brush your fingertips
    along the life line’s crease.

    When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
    too slowly through the airport, when
    the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
    when the clerk at the pharmacy
    won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
    they’re going to die.

    A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
    They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
    a young gay man with plum black eyes,
    joked as he served the coffee, kissed
    her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
    Then they walked half a block and her aunt
    dropped dead on the sidewalk.

    How close does the dragon’s spume
    have to come? How wide does the crack
    in heaven have to split?
    What would people look like
    if we could see them as they are,
    soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
    reckless, pinned against time?”

    by Ellen Bass

    • Mel says...

      Oh my God that’s beautiful. So much so it hurt a little to read.

    • Claire says...

      Good grief. That is powerful. thanks for sharing it.

  18. Irene says...

    Do yourselves–and your children–a favor. Read to them from books of poetry for children, like A Child’s Garden of Verses by RL Stevenson or When I Was Very Young by AA Milne or some of Ogden Nash’s or Lewis Carol’s nonsense verses. You’ll find that you’re chanting them together at odd moments and before long you–and they–will own those poems forever. Oh and of course nursery rhymes before that.

    • Fiona says...

      I have several from A Child’s Garden of Verse and AA Milne memorized for life – my faves forever are “My Kingdom” from ACGOV “The King’s breakfast” and “Alexander Beatle” both by AA M.

    • Sequoia says...

      Thank you, I will!

  19. Jennifer says...

    I “hate” poetry – but after reading this I may give it another chance. Especially Billy Collins – he may change my mind.

  20. Dee Dee says...

    Swoon, Billy Collins!

    He has a MasterClass that is so so fabulous! Enjoying it with my sweet fifteen year old daughter.

    And ‘The Lanyard’ – I see it’s been mentioned above, but please please read/watch! Best two minutes ever:

    • Megan says...

      Thank you for sharing! Tears of laughter, what a delight.

    • Laura says...

      This is my favorite Billy Collins poem!

  21. I love this one:

    To a Daughter Leaving Home
    Linda Pastan

    When I taught you
    at eight to ride
    a bicycle, loping along
    beside you
    as you wobbled away
    on two round wheels,
    my own mouth rounding
    in surprise when you pulled
    ahead down the curved
    path of the park,
    I kept waiting
    for the thud
    of your crash as I
    sprinted to catch up,
    while you grew
    smaller, more breakable
    with distance,
    pumping, pumping
    for your life, screaming
    with laughter,
    the hair flapping
    behind you like a
    handkerchief waving

  22. Joy says...

    Hoo boy. As soon as I saw “Billy Collins” I clicked on the link, bought the book, then came back to finish the post. Wonderful, as always. And yes! I memorized (and “performed” on IG, terrifying) “The Lanyard” in honor of my mother, on Mother’s Day last year. An incredible exercise of the brain and soul. Thank you for this post. I needed it, particularly.

  23. Lila says...

    When my son was in fourth grade we ended up homeschooling for half the school year. Included in our schooling we memorized Palermo by Billy Collins. And Blackbird by the Beatles. Obviously, you can see were my priorities were! It was good times, I hope he will have memories of that later in life.

  24. Maria says...

    Poetry is that thing that connects you to something bigger than you, I think,

    A longtime favourite:

    She tells her love while half asleep,
    In the dark hours,
    With half-words whispered low:
    As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
    And puts out grass and flowers
    Despite the snow,
    Despite the falling snow.
    (R. Graves)

  25. Emily Crowder says...

    I’m taking a Children’s Services course in my Library program and doing an annotated booklist, which is how I came across the Verse Novel, a form I hadn’t known existed! Last night I read Inside Out and Back Again (well, I read 3/4 of the book and then fell asleep, full and exhausted with it). It’s so beautiful! The whole story told in poems! It’s for middle-years children, but I am devouring it and I think my fellow readers here will like it too. It’s by Thanhha Lai.

    Oh while we’re talking poems, the On Being podcast Poetry Unbound breaks me over and over and the host has the most wonderful reading voice. *swoooooon* POEMS!

    • Chrissy Collins says...

      Precious video!

  26. Elisabetta says...

    This is so great. Thank you so much to all the posters; I’ve really learned a lot, and I teach poetry.

    Here is one of my favorites:

    Come to the orchard in Spring.
    There is light and wine, and sweethearts
    in the pomegranate flowers.

    If you do not come, these do not matter.
    If you do come, these do not matter.

    –RUMI (trans. Coleman Barks)

    • Joyce says...

      Rumi, always and forever!!! That’s one of my faves too, Elisabetta! I also heartily endorse HRH Mary Oliver (mentioned here too) :)

      I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to this comment thread often to boost my spirits.

      And I’ll add my favorite Hafiz to the mix:

      All this time
      The sun never says to the earth,

      “You owe me.”

      What happens
      With a love like that.
      It lights the whole sky.

  27. Vivian says...

    Here’s the last (and best) poem someone shared with me. While I don’t read a lot of poetry, I did become quite taken with Mary Oliver’s writings.

    Mary Oliver

    The poppies send up their
    orange flares; swaying
    in the wind, their congregations
    are a levitation

    of bright dust, of thin
    and lacy leaves.
    There isn’t a place
    in this world that doesn’t

    sooner or later drown
    in the indigos of darkness,
    but now, for a while,
    the roughage

    shines like a miracle
    as it floats above everything
    with its yellow hair.
    Of course nothing stops the cold,

    black, curved blade
    from hooking forward—
    of course
    loss is the great lesson.

    But I also say this: that light
    is an invitation
    to happiness,
    and that happiness,

    when it’s done right,
    is a kind of holiness,
    palpable and redemptive.
    Inside the bright fields,

    touched by their rough and spongy gold,
    I am washed and washed
    in the river
    of earthly delight—

    and what are you going to do—
    what can you do
    about it—
    deep, blue night?

  28. Theresa says...

    I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Oliver and Ada Limón poems during quarantine. Both poets bring me such peace. Ted Kooser is great too.

  29. Vivian says...

    These poem posts may be my favorite, even though I normally don’t read too much poetry. Very surprising! I actually think back to our mental furniture a lot and find myself reciting my favorite poems from time to time just to make sure I still have them down.

    • Vivian says...

      Last thought — Billy Collins happens to have a course on Masterclass, if you’re so incline :)

  30. Robin says...

    So much beauty here. It’s been a long time since I’ve read poetry but I love it. Maybe this is the solution to my problem these days – I can’t let myself read books because I get so lost in them I just want to read all the time I don’t have time and it comes out of my sleep cycle. I can afford a few minutes before bed, it just turns into hours! But poetry … favourites on my shelves – Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, e e cummings, also Spalding – anchoress is novel length and beautiful and haunting. Another america by Barbara kingsolver is another book length wonderful one. Virginia Woolf who basically writes in poetry all the time. The hours is my favourite.

  31. Em says...

    Love Billy Collins so very much! My Dad took me to hear him give a reading at the college he taught at when I was in high school. He is a master and such a good companion! :)

  32. Loren says...

    I have to plug this wonderful book by B A Van Sise, a descendant of Walt Whitman and a first rate photographer and writer. It is a compilation of photographic portraits of contemporary poets and samples of their work.

    And here is a poem I love:

    A Blessing

    Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
    And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
    Darken with kindness.
    They have come gladly out of the willows
    To welcome my friend and me.
    We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
    Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
    They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
    That we have come.
    They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
    There is no loneliness like theirs.
    At home once more,
    They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
    I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
    For she has walked over to me
    And nuzzled my left hand.
    She is black and white,
    Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
    And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
    That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break
    Into blossom.

    • Em says...

      This has been one of my favorites since high school, Loren!! So good!

    • cherry says...

      there is a podcast called poetry unbound that does an episode on this poem, if you’re interested!

  33. Holly says...

    I wanted to read this at my wedding, but chickened out. I still read it to my husband when we are feeling sentimental…

    Litany by Billy Collins

    “You are the bread and the knife,
    The crystal goblet and the wine . . .”
    Jacques Crickillon

    You are the bread and the knife,
    the crystal goblet and the wine.
    You are the dew on the morning grass
    and the burning wheel of the
    You are the white apron of the baker
    and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

    However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
    the plums on the counter,
    or the house of cards.
    And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
    There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

    It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
    maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
    but you are not even close
    to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

    And a quick look in the mirror will show
    that you are neither the boots in the corner
    nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

    It might interest you to know,
    speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
    that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

    I also happen to be the shooting star,
    the evening paper blowing down an alley,
    and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

    I am also the moon in the trees
    and the blind woman’s tea cup.
    But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
    You are still the bread and the knife.
    You will always be the bread and the knife,
    not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

    • J says...

      Holly, thank you so much for posting this. I memorized it for a high school contest fifteen years ago, but hadn’t thought of it since. Reading it was like seeing a photo I hadn’t known existed. It took my breath away. Now I am married and it reads so differently and makes me smile in new ways. Thank you!!! I also was too embarrassed to do a poetry reading at the wedding but I did put one on the back of the program — habitation by Margaret Atwood.

    • Agnès says...

      I love it! makes me want to write my own version!! thanks Holly.

  34. Cheryl says...

    Delmore Schwartz wrote “Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day” in 1937 at the age of 23. It starts out so peacefully, but the ending takes my breath away every time:

    Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
    Metropolitan poetry here and there,
    In the park sit pauper and rentier,
    The screaming children, the motor-car
    Fugitive about us, running away,
    Between the worker and the millionaire
    Number provides all distances,
    It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
    Many great dears are taken away,
    What will become of you and me
    (This is the school in which we learn …)
    Besides the photo and the memory?
    (… that time is the fire in which we burn.)

    (This is the school in which we learn …)
    What is the self amid this blaze?
    What am I now that I was then
    Which I shall suffer and act again,
    The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
    Restored all life from infancy,
    The children shouting are bright as they run
    (This is the school in which they learn …)
    Ravished entirely in their passing play!
    (… that time is the fire in which they burn.)

    Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
    Where is my father and Eleanor?
    Not where are they now, dead seven years,
    But what they were then?
    No more? No more?
    From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
    Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
    Not where they are now (where are they now?)
    But what they were then, both beautiful;

    Each minute bursts in the burning room,
    The great globe reels in the solar fire,
    Spinning the trivial and unique away.
    (How all things flash! How all things flare!)
    What am I now that I was then?
    May memory restore again and again
    The smallest color of the smallest day:
    Time is the school in which we learn,
    Time is the fire in which we burn.

  35. Macy says...

    Yes for bedtime poems!

    This year has been such a hard one on every level. Between the pandemic, climate change, the election and aftermath, an husband who needs experimental brain surgery, not being able to see family on the other side of the country, and an accident that left my mom hospitalized for a bit I found that it was nearly impossible to have a conversation with my parents that didn’t take a dark turn into sad or upsetting territory that one never wants to consider before bed, only to get off the phone and feeling like I had wasted the opportunity to really talk to them. When all of life feels hard it is hard to interrupt the insistent internal voice of anxiety and doom to find words for anything else. That is when I instituted a bedtime poem policy, where I began calling them each night with a poem. It grew and now we take turn finding poems to read to each other and we exchanged books of poetry for Christmas. We have laughed together, and we have cried together, and once they picked the same poem and have yet to settle the debate of who actually earmarked the page. We have found words to describe feelings we didn’t know how to name and we have found comfort, hope, and joy. I have a newfound appreciation for the art form and am so delighted to have a COJ Poem reading list here in the comments to share with them. May you all find the words your heart needs to hear!

  36. Lizzy says...

    I love Billy Collins! One of my favorite times to memorize a poem is on a long hike.

  37. I’ve been reading so much poetry during the pandemic. Loads of novels, too, but there’s something mystical about poetry that functions for me like a brief prayer. What a balm.

  38. anne says...

    Back in 2017, I was on my way to the fertility clinic to see if my (defrosted and hatched) frozen embryo transfer worked when they read Mary Oliver’s poem “This morning” on The Writer’s Almanac:

    This morning the redbirds’ eggs
    have hatched and already the chicks
    are chirping for food. They don’t
    know where it’s coming from, they
    just keep shouting, “More! More!”
    As to anything else, they haven’t
    had a single thought. Their eyes
    haven’t yet opened, they know nothing
    about the sky that’s waiting. Or
    the thousands, the millions of trees.
    They don’t even know they have wings.

    And just like that, like a simple
    neighborhood event, a miracle is
    taking place.

    I obviously needed a tissue. There was a rainbow in the sky and my husband and I were like- let’s not get carried away BUT I’m *pretty* sure this is a sign!!! My miracle just turned three, and sadly/strangely Mary Oliver passed away on January 17, 2019– his first birthday. I’ve read this poem so many times I’ve lost count. I typed it out and have it pinned to the wall but I still start crying just thinking about it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh, that is so beautiful.

    • Rosalie says...

      Oh wow! I need a tissue after reading this. How beautiful.

  39. k says...

    For the last several years, I have been rediscovering and discovering new poets and poems. Several favorites have been mentioned.

    The Thing Is
    to love life, to love it even
    when you have no stomach for it
    and everything you’ve held dear
    crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
    your throat filled with the silt of it.
    When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
    thickening the air, heavy as water
    more fit for gills than lungs;
    when grief weights you down like your own flesh
    only more of it, an obesity of grief,
    you think, How can a body withstand this?
    Then you hold life like a face
    between your palms, a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes,
    and you say, yes, I will take you
    I will love you, again.

    And, a mantra for a few years:
    Rupi Kaur
    it takes grace
    to remain kind
    in cruel situations

  40. Sarah says...

    Oh so many! My best friend gifted me Mary Oliver’s “Devotions” for my 30th birthday, which I love I’ve been reading each night before bed. I also took a liking to the New York School Poets when I was at university. Though I still don’t understand all of the references, “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara will always be one of my favorites:

    Having a Coke with You
    is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
    or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
    partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
    partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
    partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
    partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
    it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
    as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
    in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
    between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

    and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
    you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

    I look
    at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
    except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
    which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
    and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
    just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
    at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
    and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
    when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
    or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
    as the horse

    it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
    which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

  41. Susan says...

    I don’t read a ton of poetry, but recently read and enjoyed The Tradition by Jericho Brown

  42. Jenni says...

    This very morning, while my family was upstairs working and learning, I was padding around in my bathrobe reading poems aloud to myself from Whale Day. That’s why this blog feels like an extension of home.

  43. Neeraja says...

    I started a poetry ‘newsletter’ to share with some close friends over the past year. We are at poem 94 now, our poem 1 was Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins. Some of our favorite poets include Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab Nye and Vikram Seth. Things by Lisel Mueller is a great pandemic poem but her Love Like Salt is an evergreen favorite.

  44. Emily says...

    These poetry threads seize my heart every time! Joanna, could you perhaps release an anthology called “Essential Poems from Cup of Jo Readers”?

    • KJ says...


  45. The Lanyard is one of my favorites. Must read more poetry!

    • Loren says...

      The Lanyard is such a great, funny, heartbreaking poem!

  46. MJ says...

    Oh this is so lovely, and it’s so nice to hear everyone’s favorite poems!!
    My 2.5 year old has been enjoying being read a collection of animal poems from various poets in the bathtub, memorizing her favorites. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I’ll be sad when this little phase passes. This is one of her and my favorites, and hearing her recite it makes my heart burst.

    Seal Lullaby
    Rudyard Kipling

    Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
    And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
    The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
    At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
    Where billow meets billow, there soft by the pillow.
    Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
    The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee
    Asleep in the storm of slow-swinging seas.

    • Robin says...

      Oh wow I can’t imagine my kids memorizing this but I love the idea of trying. We read a lot of books but never poems. So lovely.

      Have you come across jack nicolson reading the just so stories? How the camel got his hump and the rhino one. Not poems but great listening for kids and adults alike.

    • Sarah says...

      I hope you see this! There is a stunning choral arrangement of this poem. I don’t think links work in this comment format. Search “Seal Lullaby Eric Whitacre” and enjoy.

    • Sarah says...

      Would you mind sharing the collection of animal poems? I love reading poetry to my kids.

    • Britt says...

      Where did you find the collection? Would love something like that for my four year old.

    • MJ says...

      The book is Animals Animals and illustrated by Eric Carle, we actually got it at a little free library on our block!

      And I’ll check these suggestions out!

    • Sarah says...

      I did some searching and found “Classic Treasury: First Poems” which includes it, so I went ahead and got a used copy. Hoping that’s the one, but I’m glad for the reminder that poetry might make bathtime more peaceful and less splashy madness.

    • Shannon says...

      I have been looking for a soothing poem to memorize so I can recite it to myself to help me fall asleep at night (I always start imagining catastrophes and overthinking every scary thing the moment I close my eyes). I think this seal lullaby is just the one. Thank you.

  47. Carmen says...

    First discovered this precious gem in high school thanks to the Poetry 180 project by Billy Collins. I’ll carry this in my heart for the rest of my life because it connects me to my grandparents, my parents and now my own children.

    Sentimental Moment or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road by Robert Hershon

    Don’t fill up on bread
    I say absent-mindedly
    The servings here are huge

    My son, whose hair may be
    receding a bit, says
    Did you really just
    say that to me?

    What he doesn’t know
    is that when we’re walking
    together, when we get
    to the curb
    I sometimes start to reach
    for his hand

    • Miche says...

      Thank you Carmen for posting this. It is my 60th today and this poem encapsulates everything about my life.

  48. I love this post and all of the comments so much! I’ve been so into reading and writing poetry ever since my Dad passed away in August. I’m an artist and I’ve always found great healing in creating and writing has become another incredible tool for healing. I recently completed a series of art and poetry called “Winter Skies” about the pandemic. Here’s the link if anyone cares to read:

  49. Lee says...

    I’ve loved Billy Collin’s work ever since I stumbled upon a collection of his years ago. I.m enchanted by how he makes the everyday extraordinary. He has a way of magnifying the tiny things, which forces you to examine them in a whole new context. Plus, I also find his poetry meditative and relaxing Joanna. Funny enough, I’ve always thought of poets as magicians because of how they can quickly conjure up the unexpected, or altar something you thought you knew so well. Collin’s quote about how poets are more like house guests that just drop in and surprise us, reminded me of this. He’s a linguistic Houdini.

  50. El says...

    Highly recommend listening to the podcast from the Poetry Foundation called VS. It’s interviews with poets (most of them are youngish and are often queer BIPOC) and they’re SO enlightening and fun and joyful. Hearing poets talk about how they see the world is just wonderful, and the hosts have fantastic chemistry. I can’t recommend it enough– I teach college English, and this podcast is such a joy to bring into the classroom. A fantastic one to start with is the interview with Eve Ewing titled “Eve Ewing VS the Apocalypse.”

    • Rosalie says...

      Wow, thank you for this recommendation! I love Danez Smith, and this podcast sounds amazing.

  51. Laurel says...

    The Lanyard by Billy Collins! Have you read it? It’s such a beautiful and sweet depiction of motherhood. My mother read it at my grandmother’s funeral, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I reread it.

  52. Tovah says...

    Oh! Also David Whyte and Maggie Smith (not the actress).

  53. Wink says...

    This is my third post on this thread. I feel very passionate about poetry! I just wanted to share a poem that I discovered recently when my brother was dying. It helped me during such a difficult time. I like to think that poems arrive to us when we need them most. Maybe this poem will help someone else, too.

    Unsent Letter to My Brother In His Pain

    Please do not die now. Listen.
    Yesterday, storm clouds rolled
    out of the west like thick muscles.
    Lightning bloomed. Such a sideshow
    of colors. You should have seen it.
    A woman watched with me, then we slept.
    Then, when I woke first, I saw
    in her face that rest is possible.
    The sky, it suddenly seems
    important to tell you, the sky
    was pink as a shell. Listen
    to me. People orbit the moon now.
    They must look like flies around
    Fatty Arbuckle’s head, that new
    and that strange. My fellow American,
    I bought a French cookbook. In it
    are hundred and hundreds of recipes.
    If you come to see me, I shit you not,
    we will cook with wine. Listen
    to me. Listen to me, my brother,
    please don’t go. Take a later flight,
    a later train. Another look around.

    Leon Stokesbury

    • Courtney says...

      oh my… so beautiful. Couldnt stop tears.

    • Sharlene says...

      So so good

    • Anna says...

      Thank you for sharing this. Four years ago my (then) 25-year-old brother was in ICU for 6 weeks. He coded multiple times and was put on the heart-lung machine before he – miraculously – recovered. This poem perfectly encapsulates that desperate, begging feeling and the longing to share just one (always just one) more small, insignificant detail with a person you love.

  54. Tovah says...

    Oh gosh, thank you for the reminder that I love Billy Collins. What a lovely writer he is.

    Other favorites: Mary Oliver (I haven’t read the comments yet but I assume she is heavily rep’d here!), Ross Gay, Kim Addonizio and Naomi Shihab Nye.

    Oh, have you heard the podcast “Poetry Unbound”? It’s produced by On Being and a lovely Irish poet reads you a poem, discusses its content, meaning, and structure, then reads it again. Each episode is under 15 minutes and it’s like taking the most soothing and inspiring college poetry class!

    One last thought– GOD I miss eating and people watching in a restaurant.

  55. Anna says...

    Katey, I haven’t tried Mary Oliver with him yet, but I will now! We’ve mostly stuck to children’s poetry anthologies – there are so many good ones.

  56. R.a.m says...

    I went to a Waldorf School and part of our everyday education was memorizing verses and fairly long poems.. once in a while a poem from first or second grade will pop into my head, fully formed, and I’m in awe of the way our memories retain these morsels of delight.

    • Robin says...

      I’m trying to get my daughters (10 and 13), into poetry. Any recommendations that inspired you around those ages?

  57. Bec says...

    I wish I could connect with poetry like everyone here. Instead I feel… alienated? frustrated? by it. I can’t explain it! It’s like everyone is in on this big profound secret that is behind a door I don’t have the key for.

    Please enjoy it for me friends.

    • ainsley says...

      my mother feels the same. sometimes it just takes finding the right poet – many of the ones people find amazing I do not connect to. but I found poets I do like just by keeping an open mind and waiting for the one who struck the right tone for me. I’ve since found several and when you do it’s a simple pleasure. when you’re very lucky your mind is pleasantly blown : ) Give it a chance every so often and see how you feel. my favorites for what it’s worth: William Merwin = deeply green/environmental, Nayyirah Waheed = spiritually empowered woman; Hafiz, Rumi = ancient spiritual. Actually, the Illustrated Rumi is a wonderful introduction to poetry; available via the library – just be sure to sanitize the cover and edges before reading.

    • Kiana says...

      Me too! I wish I could be a student again and take a class on appreciating poetry and generally famous pieces of literature I just don’t get. Anyone know of a podcast or something? I really want the key too.

    • Sonja says...

      I feel VERY STRONGLY that poetry is super personal and you have to find the “right” type/poet for you. I have to remind myself that it’s ok that many styles of poetry I have absolutely zero interest in, and that other people might actually like that style… I think it helps a bit to think about it this way. I have found a couple books of poetry that I can read forever and I realized I just had to find the right style. :)

  58. Colleen S says...

    I am a huge fan of older poetry–Byron, John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe (to name a few). I have been in love with Keats since I saw the trailer for a movie based on the relationship he had with Fanny Brawne, Bright Star (also the title of one of his poems). I find them so beautiful and haunting. I often will go find a recording of Benedict Cumberbatch reading “Ode to a Nightingale”. While I can’t fully recite any of his poems, I love them. I took a British Lit class in college, only to find we wouldn’t cover Keats (though I did write a paper for the class on one of his poems).

  59. Kate says...

    Love Billy Collins. Kate Baer has that feel to me: super accessible but razor sharp. Franz Wright is also a wonderful modern poet.

    by Franz Wright

    The only animal that commits suicide
    went for a walk in the park,
    basked on a hard bench
    in the first star,
    traveled to the edge of space
    in an armchair
    while company quietly
    talked and abruptly
    the room empty.

    The only animal that cries
    that takes off its clothes
    and reports to the mirror, the one
    and only animal
    that brushes its own teeth—


    the only animal that smokes a cigarette,
    that lies down and flies backward in time,
    that rises and walks to a book
    and looks up a word
    heard the telephone ringing
    in the darkness downstairs and decided
    to answer no more.

    And I understand,
    too well: how many times
    have I made the decision to dwell
    from now on
    in the hour of my death
    (the space I took up here
    scarlessly closing like water)
    and said I’m never coming back
    and yet

    this morning
    I stood once again
    in this world, the garden
    ark and vacant
    tomb of what
    I can’t imagine,
    between twin eternities,
    some sort of wings,
    more or less equidistantly
    exiled from both,
    hovering in the dreaming called
    being awake, where
    You gave me
    in secret one thing
    to perceive, the
    tall blue starry

    strangeness of being
    here at all.

    You gave us each in secret
    something to perceive.

    Furless now, upright, My banished
    and experimental

    You said, though your own heart condemn you

    I do not condemn you.

  60. rose says...

    This is titled “Therapy” but I’ve secretly renamed it “Spring 2021”:

    Therapy by Nayyirah Waheed

    the hard season
    split you through.
    do not worry.
    you will bleed water.
    do not worry.
    this is grief.
    your face will fall out and
    down your skin
    there will be scorching.
    but do not worry.
    keep speaking the years from
    their hiding places.
    keep coughing up smoke
    from all the deaths you have
    keep the rage tender.
    because the soft season will
    it will come.
    both hands in your chest.
    up all night.
    up all of the nights.
    to drink all damage into love.

    • Tovah says...

      Holy h***, that is incredible.

    • Lee says...

      Whoa. Thank you for sharing Rose. This is one to save. I am looking this poet up NOW!

    • B says...

      I love Nayyirah Waheed!!
      Thanks for sharing.

  61. Mary says...

    Have you seen this? Someone else with an affinity for Billy Collins! You can also check the archives of The Diane Rehm Show to hear her interviews with Billy Collins.

    • Alexia says...

      I saw that video ages ago, he is the cutest and smartest thing ever!

  62. Danielle says...

    I met Billy Collins at a bar once. I feel like for once I am in a crowd that can fully appreciate that celebrity sighting :)

    • K says...

      Okay, how awesome is that? I am extremely jealous.

  63. Danielle says...

    I love this post. I’ve been loving the instagram account @poetryisnotaluxury for reminding me of favorites and introducing me to so many poets who are new to me. I have a few favorite poets but I’ll forever have a soft spot for Richard Brautigan.

    Widow’s Lament
    It’s not quite cold enough
    to go borrow some firewood
    from the neighbors.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, my heart! sometimes the shortest poems pack the biggest punch.

  64. Abbie says...

    “We never know how high we are
    Til we are called to rise.
    And then if we are true to plan
    Our statures touch the skies.
    The heroism we possess
    Would be a daily thing.
    Did not ourselves, the cubits warp
    For fear to be a king.” -Emily Dickinson
    I went through a very intense Emily Dickinson phase in junior high and that poem has never left me. It still gives me goosebumps.

    Also Lucille Clifton. Can’t recommend her highly enough.

  65. Gabi says...

    If you like Billy Collins, you might also like Ada Limon. She has the same inviting, conversational style.

    Instructions on Not Giving Up

    More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
    of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
    almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
    their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
    sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
    that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
    and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
    the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
    the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
    growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
    to the strange idea of continuous living despite
    the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
    I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
    unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

    Also love this one:
    I am a groundhog! Never knew I could feel so seen, ha.

    Also, check out @poetryisnotaluxury on instagram. They post the most incredible selections and place poems from different writers together in themes, like the most perfect poetry museum. Makes me happy every day.

  66. Claire says...

    One of my favorites. I almost have it memorized.

    Security, by William Stafford

    Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
    I always find it. Then on to the next island.
    These places hidden in the day separate
    and come forward if you beckon.
    But you have to know they are there before they exist.

    Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
    So far, I haven’t let that happen, but after
    I’m gone others may become faithless and careless.
    Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
    and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

    So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
    to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
    you find, and after a while you decide
    what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
    you turn to the open sea and let go.

  67. Adrienne says...

    The Raincoat by Ada Limon. The last line stops me in my tracks every time.

    • Suzanne says...

      I just googled this poem, Adrienne, and it got me so choked up, and then I ordered The Carrying from the library. Thank you for the introduction. Wow.

  68. Elise says...

    When I read “ I was originally planning to start a novel” I got really excited… the first Cup of Jo book coming soon! Must stop skim reading haha.

    … but seriously, can you?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww you are so sweet!

  69. Amrita says...

    Fellow CoJ friends – in the same vein of this post, I would love to get recos for some poetry books for someone like me who is new to exploring this genre. I love many of the poems above, and would like to know if there are any collections you love. All I know is Mary Oliver! Thank in advance, and happy to put a list together to share with others!

    • Kate L says...

      I think a great place to start is on instagram: poetryfoundation and poetryisnotaluxury are two great accounts that will expose you to all sorts of poems! Just like I don’t like every genre of novel, I’ve learned I don’t like every type of poem (gimme those short and sweet ones!), and these accounts could point you in the right direction. Happy reading:)

    • Gabi says...

      Check out poetryisnotaluxury on instagram. They post incredible poems daily and you can get a sense of who/what you like and then buy their books!

    • Dee says...

      I usually find new poets I love on this particular blog. I sometimes then buy the book of poetry of that author, which in turn supports their work. Recently I discovered Caroline Bird, and her work is wow. Happy reading!

    • Claire says...

      I suggest a good starting point might be an anthology, and I recommend “Joy: 100 Poems”, edited by Christian Wiman.

    • C says...

      Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

  70. Shannon says...

    My current favorite:

    Maggie Smith
    Good Bones

    Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
    Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
    in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
    a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
    I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
    fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
    estimate, though I keep this from my children.
    For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
    For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
    sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
    is at least half terrible, and for every kind
    stranger, there is one who would break you,
    though I keep this from my children. I am trying
    to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
    walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
    about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
    right? You could make this place beautiful.

    • Rachel says...

      Thank you, Shannon (and Maggie Smith)! This is exactly how I feel as a mom with my two beautiful boys.

    • Shannon says...

      Two out of two Shannons agree, this is a winner.

    • Shannon says...

      Hahahah :D

      Thank you for sharing that, Danielle!

  71. Dee says...

    I love this post! And I would like to return the gift… by Ellen Bass:

    Any Common Desolation

    can be enough to make you look up
    at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
    that survived the rains and frost, shot
    with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
    orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
    would rip it like silk. You may have to break
    your heart, but it isn’t nothing
    to know even one moment alive. The sound
    of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
    animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
    The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
    Warm socks. You remember your mother,
    her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
    the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
    drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
    can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
    the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
    you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
    and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
    that sudden rush of the world.

    • Anna says...

      ‘It isn’t nothing to know even one moment alive.’

      Wow, and yes.

    • MB says...

      Wow, I’m reading through all these poems (I often feel like I don’t “get” poetry)trying to find one that resonates and here it is! Beautiful and spot on, thank you for sharing

  72. Meghan says...

    I’m a high school English teacher, and I often introduce my poetry unit by showing different examples of text (song lyrics, jingles, grafitti, traditional poetry, etc.) and having students decide whether or not it’s poetry. Once, when I show an example of Collins’ work, a student was adamant that it wasn’t poetry. When I asked why, he said, “because I understood all the words!”.

    • Tovah says...

      What an awesome exercise!

  73. Laura says...

    What a lovely experience! Feel that you might enjoy the Billy Collins poem that has stuck with me since I read it, eesh, back in 2005 or so. It does feel like a piece of ‘mental furniture’ (what a great expression)…..


    Today I pass the time reading
    a favorite haiku,
    saying the few words over and over.
    It feels like eating
    the same small, perfect grape
    again and again.

    I walk through the house reciting it
    and leave its letters falling
    through the air of every room.

    I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
    I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
    I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

    I listen to myself saying it,
    then I say it without listening,
    then I hear it without saying it.

    And when the dog looks up at me,
    I kneel down on the floor
    and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

    It’s the one about the one-ton
    temple bell
    with the moth sleeping on its surface,

    and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
    pressure of the moth
    on the surface of the iron bell.

    When I say it at the window,
    the bell is the world
    and I am the moth resting there.

    When I say it at the mirror,
    I am the heavy bell
    and the moth is life with its papery wings.

    And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
    you are the bell,
    and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

    and the moth has flown
    from its line
    and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

  74. Alison D says...

    I love Billy Collins. I teach my college freshman the poem Nostalgia every year and then ask them to write their own versions about the year we are in. One of my favorite poems ever.

    • El says...

      Fantastic prompt, Alison!

  75. Caitlin says...

    When I was in college, as I was falling in love with the comfort of poetry, my brother gifted me a book by CK Williams. In it is the poem Yours, which became a deep comfort to me. When I was in low moments, I would frantically search the book for the poem. One day my husband typed up the poem, printed it out and put it on the fridge, saying now all you have to do is go to the fridge. All these years later it’s still there and I still do. It’s not memorized but I think of specific lines often (you are a wonder of soul spirit intelligence/it would sing to her in her body). I wrote to the poet years ago and he wrote me back.

    I’d like every girl in the world to have a poem of her own
    I’d written for her I don’t even want to make love to them all anymore
    just write things your body makes me delirious your face enchants me
    you are a wonder of soul spirit intelligence one for every one
    and then the men I don’t care whether I can still beat them all
    them too a poem for them how many?
    seeing you go through the woods like part of the woods seeing you play piano
    seeing you hold your child in your tender devastating hands
    and of course the children too little poems they could sing or dance to
    this is our jumping game this our seeing game our holding each other
    even the presidents with all their death the congressman and judges
    I’d give them something
    they would hold awed to their chests as their proudest life thing
    somebody walking along a road where there’s no city would look up
    and see his poem coming down like a feather out of nowhere
    or on the assembly line new instructions a voice sweet as lunchtime
    or she would turn over a stone by the fire and if she couldn’t read
    it would sing to her in her body
    listen! everyone! you have your own poem now
    it’s yours as much as your heart as much as your own life is
    o men! o people! please stop how it’s happening now please
    I’m working as fast as I can I can’t stop to use periods
    sometimes I draw straight lines on the page because the words
    are too slow
    I can only do one at a time don’t die first please
    don’t give up and start crying or hating each other they’re coming
    I’m hurrying be patient there’s still time isn’t there? isn’t there?

  76. LK says...

    In AP English in high school, my teacher played us T.S. Eliot’s reading of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I didn’t really understand the meaning, but the haunting way and rhyme of the poem has stuck with me forever. Here’s a sample.

    The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
    The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
    Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
    Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
    Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

    • Jane says...

      Unforgettable poem. I studied it at the same age and it, along with The Four Quartets, has echoed in my mind for over forty years. “Do I dare? “. A question to ask every day!

  77. Emily says...

    I studied poetry in college and have written it since I was very young. Billy Collins taught at my college many moons ago and I took a few seminars with him. A poet one should examine if they like Collins is Gerald Stern. I also recommend for readers of this blog a poet called Lisel Mueller. she has a poem called Salt that is incredible.

    I have many favorite poems. One I’ve gone back to in recent years is The Boy by Marie Howe. All of her poems are amazing (What the Living Do is one of the most perfect elegies ever written in my opinion-it’s the title poem of the collection in which the following appears as well).

    The Boy
    -Marie Howe

    My older brother is walking down the sidewalk into the suburban
    summer night:
    white T-shirt, blue jeans— to the field at the end of the street.

    Hangers Hideout the boys called it, an undeveloped plot, a pit
    with weeds, some old furniture thrown down there,

    and some metal hangers clinking in the trees like wind chimes.
    He’s running away from home because our father wants to cut his hair.

    And in two more days our father will convince me to go to him— you know
    where he is— and talk to him: No reprisals. He promised. A small parade
    of kids

    in feet pajamas will accompany me, their voices like the first peepers
    in spring.
    And my brother will walk ahead of us home, and my father

    will shave his head bald, and my brother will not speak to anyone the next
    month, not a word, not pass the milk, nothing.

    What happened in our house taught my brothers how to leave, how to walk
    down a sidewalk without looking back.

    I was the girl. What happened taught me to follow him, whoever he was,
    calling and calling his name.

    • Wink says...

      Love Marie Howe and Gerald Stern, Emily. Howe’s “What the Living Do” is an important book to me. You also reminded me of a favorite poem of Gerald’s that I’ve committed to memory. The last line still gives me chills, every time.


      In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
      and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
      I have never seen a postwar Philco
      with the automatic eye
      nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
      in 1945 in that tiny living room
      on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
      then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
      my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
      his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
      of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
      half fart, the world at last a meadow,
      the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
      screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
      as if we could never stop—in 1945 —
      in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
      of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
      from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
      oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

      Gerald Stern

    • Emily says...

      Wink-it has been many years since I have read that Stern poem. Thank you for reminding me of it. It is breathtaking. I am always so happy to find a fellow Marie Howe devotee. Xo

  78. B says...

    I also love reading poetry before bed! It’s the perfect way to transition from waking life to dream world. My favorite part about poetry is how it invites the reader to really sink into its words. For a moment in time, those 3, 8, or 22 lines have your entire attention. There’s nowhere to be but here. No hurried page-flipping to get to the end of a chapter, no mind wandering predicting a plot twist, just here. In these few, carefully chosen words. Saying, rest here for a while. Take me with you and chew on me for years. Or admire me now and forget me instantly. But either way, reading a poem is to be in a suspended moment of time, the depth of its message slowly rising to the surface. I never listen so deeply to the craft of words, and the space in between those sounds, as I do with poetry. What medicine for our hurried 21st century minds!

    • J. says...

      This is a really beautiful comment!

  79. Kate L says...

    I adore Mary Oliver. You can just be humming along reading one her cute little poems and then BAM! A verse that completely breaks your heart. Goosebumps just thinking about <3

  80. Claire says...

    How wonderful! I am also a Billy Collins fan, and many other poets too. The best days are when I start with reading poetry first thing out of bed, with my cup of tea, before looking at anything else- no droning news reports, dramatic podcasts, or perpetually outraged social media. Better to dial into the poetry zone of my being, it’s like connecting to an inner radio station, and it sets a good tone for the rest of my day, and keeping me above the fray.

  81. Tee says...

    This is the only poem I’ve ever managed to remember; you gotta love Dorothy Parker!

    Oh, when I flung my heart away,
    The year was at its fall.
    I saw my dear, the other day,
    Beside a flowering wall;
    And this was all I had to say:
    “I thought that he was tall!”

  82. Katya says...

    I have memorized Mary Oliver’s “I Worried” and often mutter it to myself during moments of anxiety and worry:

    I Worried, by Mary Oliver

    I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
    flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
    as it was taught, and if not how shall
    I correct it?

    Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
    can I do better?

    Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
    can do it and I am, well,

    Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
    am I going to get rheumatism,
    lockjaw, dementia?

    Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
    And gave it up. And took my old body
    and went out into the morning,
    and sang.

    • Lauren E. says...

      This poem never fails to make me cry. Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Caitlin says...

      Thank you Katya. So much of this made me think of my spouse. I’ll be sure to share it with him tonight and I’m sure he’ll wish to thank you as well.

    • Julie says...

      I adore Mary Oliver!

  83. Brooke says...

    I still have a few poems memorized from high school, but the two that I’ve replayed often in my head over the past year are The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus and I, Too by Langston Hughes. Amazing how relevant a few words can still be after so long.

  84. Olivia says...

    LOVE Billy Collins. He was the commencement speaker at my college graduation. He’s wonderful!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that’s so cool!

  85. jane says...

    This is the only one I’ve memorized:

    String-chewing bass players,
    Plucking rolled balls of sound
    From the jazz scented night

    Feeding hungry beat seekers
    Finger shaped heartbeats,
    Driving ivory nails
    Into their greedy eyes.

    Smoke crystals, from the nostrils
    Of released jazz demons,
    Crash from foggy yesterday
    To the light
    Of imaginary night….
    — bob kaufman

  86. Gina says...

    YES!!!!!! I love our little de facto poetry-reading club.

    My favorite poem is:

    Of Whom Am I Afraid?
    by James Tate

    I was feeling a little at loose ends, so
    I went to the Farmer’s Supply store and just
    strolled up and down the aisles, examining
    the merchandise, none of which was of any use
    to me, but the feed sacks and seeds had a calm-
    ing effect on me. At some point there was an
    old, grizzled farmer standing next to me holding
    a rake, and I said to him, “Have you ever read
    much Emily Dickinson?” “Sure,” he said, “I
    reckon I’ve read all of her poems at least a
    dozen times. She’s a real pistol. And I’ve
    even gotten into several fights about them
    with some of my neighbors. One guy said she
    was too ‘prissy’ for him. And I said, ‘Hell,
    she’s tougher than you’ll ever be.’ When I
    finished with him, I made him sit down and read
    The Complete Poems over again, all 1,775 of them.
    He finally said, ‘You’re right, Clyde, she’s
    tougher than I’ll ever be.’ And he was crying
    like a baby when he said that.” Clyde slapped
    my cheek and headed toward the counter with
    his new rake. I bought some ice tongs, which
    made me surprisingly happy, and for which I
    had no earthly use.

    • Claire says...

      I love this!

  87. Louisa says...

    I used to teach science at a summer school that was largely staffed by Iowa Writers Workshop students on summer break. One night (we all stayed in the same dorm) they were having a debate and called out to me “Hey! Can you name a living poet?” I was proud that I could: “Billy Collins!” THEY ALL GROANED.
    “Okay, then, name a living scientist!” “Uh… Bill Nye?” Ha.
    Ever since, I have been a little embarrassed to love Billy Collins. Still, I love his poetry, and I love The Lanyard most of all.

  88. Hannah says...

    Lately I have been reading more poetry. I love Ada Limon’s collection, The Carrying. Here’s one of its many treasures:

    The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
    Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
    song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
    red glare” and then there are the bombs.
    (Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
    Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
    even the tenacious high school band off key.
    But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
    to the field, something to get through before
    the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
    we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
    could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
    the truth is, every song of this country
    has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
    snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
    the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
    hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
    like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
    like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
    brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
    has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
    when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
    you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
    love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
    like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
    by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
    the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
    unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
    that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
    that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
    into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
    in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
    are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
    and isn’t that enough?

  89. I am such a Billy Collins fan!! The literary organization that I work for — Aspen Words — is hosting Billy for a “Whale Day” virtual author talk on April 13, timed with National Poetry Month! Pádraig Ó Tuama, poet and theologian for The On Being Project’s Poetry Unbound podcast will interview Billy. Here’s the link to sign up:

    Tickets are normally $10, but we’d love to extend our promo code to Cup of Jo readers — it’s WW2021. BTW, your sister Lucy Kalanithi spoke at one of our events in Aspen a few years ago for “When Breathe Becomes Air.” She was incredible.

    • Julie Barcrof says...

      Thank you so much for this! Just registered.

  90. Bobbi says...

    I’m a creative writing teacher, and so often I feel like students believe (have been taught?) that poetry has to be so heavily laden with metaphor that it’s almost unrecognizable to the average reader. What Billy Collins does for all of us is remind us that our own observations, however mundane, are gorgeous and meaningful– and surprisingly heavily laden with metaphor ;)

    You absolutely must watch the trailer for his masterclass. He’s so dry and hilarious and I just want to sit across a table from him and share a plate of cookies.

  91. Eli says...

    I did not read the poem. I just stopped at:

    “No man is lonely while eating spaghetti. ”

    Because if that isn’t truth I don’t know what is. I will come back to the poem; But I have to marinate on this for a bit.

  92. My husband texted me this one the other day. Whoa Nelly.

    Last Gods
    by Galway Kinnell

    She sits naked on a rock
    a few yards out in the water.
    He stands on the shore,
    also naked, picking blueberries.
    She calls. He turns. she opens
    her legs showing him her great beauty,
    and smiles , a bow of lips
    seeming to tie together
    the ends of the earth.
    Splashing her image
    to pieces, he wades out
    and stands before her, sunk
    to the anklebones in leaf-mush
    and bottom-slime—the intimacy
    of the geographical. He puts
    a berry in its shirt
    of mist into her mouth
    She swallows it. He puts in another.
    She swallows it. Over the lake
    two swallows whim, juke jink,
    and when one snatches
    an insect they both whirl up
    and exult. He is swollen
    not with ichor but with blood.
    She takes him and talks him
    more swollen. He kneels, opens
    the dark, vertical smile
    linking heaven with the underearth
    and murmurs her smoothest flesh more smooth.
    On top of the rock they join.
    somewhere a frog moans, a crow screams.
    The hair of their bodies
    startles up. They cry
    in the tongue of the last gods,
    who refused to go,
    chose death, and shuddered
    in joy and shattered in pieces,
    bequeathing their cries
    into the human breast. Now in the lake
    two faces, floating, see up
    a great maternal pine whose branches
    open out in all directions
    explaining everything.

    • cherry says...

      whoa nelly is right!! how utterly sexy to have a man who sends you such poetry.

    • Sarah says...

      Wow. If my husband sent that to me I’d get a little dizzy.

    • elleworth says...

      this reminds me of that time at the end of a long hike in New Mexico, at the top of a giant rock outcropping under the vast blue sky with the world expanded far and wide below.

  93. Katie says...

    Poetry is perfect for pandemic life. I mean… by the end of the day I’m so burned out. I can’t read anything these days that requires significant time. Reading a few poems at night feels good I agree; you can always put it down and still feel completed by one.

    Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Adrienne Rich, and Carl Phillips are my favorite poets.

    Another thing I do to keep my poetry love alive. I buy the “Best American Poetry” books each year. I thumb through them leisurely and earmark poems I want to return to. I have been doing this for 10+ years. My favorite part might be the bios in the back of all of these poets. Some of them are clearly “established” but there are always a few that stand out to me– perhaps poetry is their side gig or this poem is their first published and they are in their sixties. I like to see where they live. When I’ve felt lost about my own ambition (what am I doing with my life), I’ve read poems from these books and wandered to the back and realized that some of these accomplished people may not have it fully figured out yet either and that’s ok.

  94. Annie says...

    I memorized a handful of poems that I could recite to myself during some scary-for-me medical procedures. My family wasn’t nearby, so I was going solo to my appointments, and the poems became a sort of mental comfort blanket. And you know what? It worked—I felt braver in the company of those poems. It also backfired a bit, after a surgery when I was coming out of anesthesia, I apparently recited a few poems for my surgeon and the OR. Haha. This was 10+ years ago, and I still blush thinking about it.

    • I don’t think you need to blush, nor consider it a backfire! I cannot imagine anything more lovely for the medical staff than to be greeted with a poem after the blood and exhaustion of surgery. If it were me, it would be a moment I would never forget.

    • anne says...

      That’s adorable! Lucky medical team.

    • anne says...

      That’s adorable! What a lucky medical team.

  95. Fiona says...

    I have memorized a lot of poems in my life – and I have a group of about eight, all different lengths and rhythms that I recite to my night-terror suffering husband when he can’t shake the feeling and cant settle to sleep.

    Our favorite, which became a special one for our marriage is the Owl and the Pussycat by Edmund Lear, because when we were long distance for years, we counted down the time till we were together again by counting down the full moons. Even now whenever we spot a full moon we always point it out to each other – “the moon the moon!”.

    The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea-green boat,
    They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
    The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
    “O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
    You are, You are!
    What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

    Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
    O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?”
    They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
    And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
    His nose, His nose,
    With a ring at the end of his nose.
    “Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
    So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
    They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
    And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
    The moon, The moon,
    They danced by the light of the moon.

    • Michelle says...

      I love this poem and your story that goes with it!

    • That is such a delightful poem – thank you for sharing!

  96. Christina says...

    The only poems I can recite are those that my teachers felt strongly about, a few by Jacques Prevert that my French teacher loved and one by Pusjkin that my Russian teacher had us all learn (Я вас любил) – to Russians, reciting poetry is important, he said; you never know when it might be useful for you.
    But I know so many lyrics to songs and psalms. Those are also often like poetry.

    • Jessica says...

      My Russian teacher made us learn this as well! I still have it memorized all these decades later…

  97. Grace Farris says...

    I love Billy Collins. I like to recite this section of his poem The Lanyard to myself from time to time:

    “Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.”

    • Alison says...

      The Lanyard is the poem I read to my mother on her 75th birthday! It’s speaks beautifully and humorously and wisely to motherhood. I love Billy Collins too and arranged for him to give a lecture at my children’s high school. He was a huge hit, mostly because he treated the students like equals. And my daughter gave me Whale Songs for Christmas, Joanna, so this post was like hitting the trifecta! Also, many thanks to all the responses here. Am enjoying the poems and the stories that go with them immensely.

  98. What I Think About When Someone Uses “Pussy” as a Synonym for “Weak”
    by Beth Ann Fennelly

    At the deepest part of the deepest part, I rocked shut like a stone. I’d climbed as far inside me as I could. Everything else had fallen away. Midwife, husband, bedroom, world: quaint concepts. My eyes were clamshells. My ears were clapped shut by the palms of the dead. My throat was stoppered with bees. I was the fox caught in the trap, and I was the trap. Chewing off a leg would have been easier than what I now required of myself. I understood I was alone in it. I understood I would come back from there with the baby, or I wouldn’t come back at all. I was beyond the ministrations of loved ones. I was beyond the grasp of men. Even their prayers couldn’t penetrate me. The pain was such that I made peace with that. I did not fear death. Fear was an emotion, and pain had scalded away all emotions. I chose. In order to come back with the baby, I had to tear it out at the root. Understand, I did this without the aid of my hands.

    • Joanna Goddard says...


    • Katey says...


    • Dee says...

      Smoking Jehoshaphat that is some poem lady. Definitely saving this one!

    • Tovah says...

      Ok this REALLY resonates with me! Giving birth was such a holy, metaphysical experience for me and I’ve never seen it expressed in this way. I’m in awe.

  99. katie says...

    In high school I had a huge humanities textbook and got fixated on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Well I have lost you. I was in the back and forth of teenage love and had initiated a break up with a decent guy. Memorizing that poem certainly helped. Then I’d get drunk at college parties and feel kickass for being able to recite a poem. That was a great feeling and this is inspiring me to look at poetry again.

    Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
    In my own way, and with my full consent.
    Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
    Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.
    Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
    I will confess; but that’s permitted me;
    Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
    Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.
    If I had loved you less or played you slyly
    I might have held you for a summer more,
    But at the cost of words I value highly,
    And no such summer as the one before.
    Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—
    I shall have only good to say of you.

  100. Meggie says...

    I have had a love affair with Kay Ryan in my mind for more than a decade. I once saw her on stage with Billy Collins, and, honestly, he took up way too much space. Just exhaled his man-poet’s breath all over everything. It was not encouraging. So it dismays me that I do like his work.

    Sharks’ Teeth
    by Kay Ryan

    Everything contains some
    silence. Noise gets
    its zest from the
    small shark’s-tooth-
    shaped fragments of rest angled
    in it. An hour
    of city holds maybe
    a minute of these
    remnants of a time
    when silence reigned,
    compact and dangerous
    as a shark. Sometimes
    a bit of a tail
    or fin can still
    be sensed in parks.

    AE Stallings is another.

    Fear of Happiness
    by A.E. Stallings

    Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
    As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
    I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
    Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
    Though someone always said I’d be all right—
    Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
    (The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
    The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
    Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
    The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
    It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
    But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
    That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
    It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s so interesting that you say that. I actually saw him at an event the week before shutdown last march — he was there to interview Julie Blackman, the incredible photographer (and Stella’s mom!). and he definitely talked a LOT. of course, everything he said was wonderful, butI kept wishing he would allow more space for her to speak, since we were really there to hear from her.

      here’s an interview with Julie Blackmon, if you’d like to see:

    • Emily says...

      He taught at my college forever ago and at the age of 21 I found this to be true as well. Alone I find him fine, reading his work and I rarely take issue with him on the page. I do take issue with his poem about undressing Emily Dickinson. I hope(d) in his old age he may humble a bit and begin to listen to women. There are many male contemporaries of Collins who do not take up nearly as much air in person…

  101. Agnès says...

    I am so amazed that poetry is so alive in your country! In France, not ONE person in the street could quote a poem from a contemporary poet, nor even know one, I am sure. Poetry seems to be something from the past or just for a few. I have discovered many poets thanks to this community, thank you. Will definitely look for a book from Collins.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m not sure if it is alive here? But more like something a small percentage of the population loves a lot? Curious to hear what others think. I think Amanda Gorman might be changing things!

    • jane says...

      I do think maybe Amanda Gorman represents the groundswell that probably began around the time instagram poets began to gain followers – thinking of Nayyirah Waheed. Interestingly I was working for a poet at the time so for me it’s been a fun corresponding parallel.

    • El says...

      Agnès, in a separate comment I recommended a podcast that features all contemporary poets (mostly American poets, but not entirely!). I love it and use it in my writing classes (college prof here), so I can’t resist sharing here too– the podcast is called VS by the Poetry Foundation. There is a generation of really exciting young poets working right now! (I also wrote my dissertation about poetry, so I get super nerdy about this, hahaha)

    • Agnès says...

      Thank you, it’s really giving the idea of sarting sthg about poetry in France; just simple, every day poetry.

  102. Wink says...

    For fans of Billy Collins, may I present Matthew Olzman. His work is also accessible and often humorous, but can surprise you out of the blue with profoundness. (If you like this poem, google Letter Beginning with Two Lines from Czeslaw Milosz, for a real gutpunch.)


    Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
    might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
    about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
    at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
    loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
    gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
    from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
    You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
    of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
    Because you think swans are overrated.
    Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
    to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
    Because you underline everything you read, and circle
    the things you think are important, and put stars next
    to the things you think I should think are important,
    and write notes in the margins about all the people
    you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
    Because you make that pork recipe you found
    in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook. Because when you read
    that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
    except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
    and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
    are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
    over the windows, you still believe someone outside
    can see you. And one day five summers ago,
    when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
    was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
    there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
    which you paid for with your last damn dime
    because you once overheard me say that I liked it.


    Incidentally, his wife, for whom this poem was written, is Vievee Francis, also a kickass poet.

    • E says...

      I think that poem has been linked on CoJ before (maybe on a post about wedding readings?)! Thank you for bringing it back :)

    • Wink says...

      It could have been me, E! I really love that one.

  103. pigeon says...

    I have to share my favorite, it’s so lovely. Wendy Cope, The Orange

    At lunchtime I bought a huge orange —
    The size of it made us all laugh.
    I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave —
    They got quarters and I had a half.

    And that orange, it made me so happy,
    As ordinary things often do
    Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
    This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

    The rest of the day was quite easy.
    I did all the jobs on my list
    And enjoyed them and had some time over.
    I love you. I’m glad I exist.

    • Emily says...

      I love this poem.

    • Meredith Taylor says...

      Thank you for posting this. I love it right now in the pandemic when I’m so tired of the ordinary!

    • Becca says...

      I really love this too. Just printed this out and taped it to the wall at my office desk.

  104. Dawn says...

    I recently discovered the works of Indian poet and activist Sarojini Naidu. Her poems are so musical that they are a joy to memorize and say aloud.

    Wandering Singers
    Where the voice of the wind calls our wander-
    ing feet,
    Through echoing forest and echoing street,
    With lutes in our hands ever-singing we
    All men are our kindred, the world is our
    Our lays are of cities whose lustre is shed,
    The laughter and beauty of women long
    The sword of old battles, the crown of old
    And happy and simple and sorrowful things.
    What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall
    we sow?
    Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps
    we go.
    No love bids us tarry, no joy bids us wait:
    The voice of the wind is the voice of our fate.

    • Cindee says...

      Thank you for sharing this lovely poem

    • s says...

      Is this Cindee from maui?

  105. H says...

    I keep a copy of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur on my nightstand. I love flipping to a random page every once and a while to read a poem.
    Yesterday, I recited the poem “snowball” by Shel Silverstein as my husband and I were out snowshoeing.

  106. R says...

    Last year for Mother’s Day instead of giving my mom something she didn’t want and would end up feeling guilty that I spent my money on, I copied out this Billy Collins poem for her: .
    The surprise and then tenderness on her face as she opened the envelope and read it was everything.

    • Sage says...

      What a lovely, lovely gift for your mother. Tears. :)

    • katherine says...

      The Lanyard is my favorite poem! I can’t read it aloud because I just start laughing out loud — so delightful.

  107. Anna says...

    I started doing “poetry teatime” with my little one during the pandemic, as conceived by home educator Julie Bogart. My 7-year-old son loves it. Drinking tea with me makes him feel so grown up, and he loves reading and discussing the collections of poetry we check out from the library. I thought he’d lose interest in it over time but he asks for it every weekend! It has really been a special and magical experience for us both, and I hope it will kindle a lifelong love of poetry.

    • Emily says...

      I love this! I want to do it too :)

    • Katey says...

      That is lovely! Life is good.

      I’ve been reading Mary Oliver poems most nights before dinner. It has been a nice addition to our family time. Before that I’d never had much connection to other people’s poetry; perhaps I was never still enough. Anyhow, my five year old loves the poems and often requests ones we’ve done prior. It’s a beautiful art and it gives us additional shared focus while we have our meal.

    • m says...

      Anna, I love Juile Bogart too and her educational ideas. <3

    • jane says...

      Gosh that sounds special! 💝

    • Megan says...

      We have also been doing Friday afternoon poetry teatime and it is something to look forward to all week!

  108. Ceridwen says...

    Oh I love this! Wonderful. Such a fantastic poem and I love what he says about the poet appearing like that. I have been writing a lot lately and it seems it is poems for me. I am not ready to call myself a poet, but I do love writing them. I often think of Winnie the Pooh when he says poems, or hums, come to him. They pay a visit so you write them down.

  109. Cait says...

    My seemingly uncontainable feelings about what it is to be a person in 2020/2021 have found some rest in poetry lately, which has surprised me, because I have always thought of myself as insufficiently patient for poetry. But my friend sent me a little book published by Jewish Currents called “Provisions: Poems Held Close in a Time of Crisis,” and I have been savoring one poem a night from it for the past week. Each poem is accompanied by a page of commentary that is invariably as gorgeous as the poem itself. Reading slowly through this little book has been very therapeutic for me. Highly recommend!

    • MariaE. says...

      Hi Cait, I love your “what it is to be a person in 2020/2021”. I have been trying to figure it out for quite sometime now. We are definitely not the same persons we were before mid-March 2020.

  110. Madeleine says...

    I LOVE BILLY COLLINS! I had no interest in poetry until my high school lit teacher (who was absolutely magic and looked like Gwyneth Paltrow) shared some of Collins’ work with us. The imagery! The delightful tone! All of it. I went home and found my mom’s book of his poems and have loved him ever since!

    The poem she shared with us, “Introduction to Poetry”:
    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,
    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.
    —Billy Collins

  111. Diana says...

    I memorized “Fog”, by Carl Sandburg, in junior high. It still sits with me all these years later. I love the idea of mental furniture! This one feels like a soft place to land.

    The fog comes
    on little cat feet.

    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

  112. Yes yes yes! I have not picked up a novel in the past year. Between working, parenting, and general COVID-era life, I just haven’t had the time to read books or listen to podcasts. However, I’ve rediscovered my love for poetry. It doesn’t require a big time commitment and feeds my need to read. Thank to CoJ, I’ve been reading from Kate Baer’s book (and sent it to friends!). There’s also been a lot of Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, and Robert Hayden. I adore Hayden’s “Monet’s Waterlilies” and have revisited it often:

    Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
    poisons the air like fallout,
    I come again to see
    the serene, great picture that I love.

    Here space and time exist in light
    the eye like the eye of faith believes.
    The seen, the known
    dissolve in iridescence, become
    illusive flesh of light
    that was not, was, forever is.

    O light beheld as through refracting tears.
    Here is the aura of that world
    each of us has lost.
    Here is the shadow of its joy.

  113. Cooper says...

    Years ago I saw a video of a toddler who had memorized several Billy Collins’ poems after his parents played a recording of the poems as he was falling asleep each night. I think of that little voice, full of wonder, reciting those profound poems whenever I see Billy Collins’ poetry.

  114. D.Morgendorffer says...

    Let me recommend both starting and ending your day with a little poetry. In the morning, I read for the duration of a cup of coffee before I look at any screens. The following is by Issa, from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse, with Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite as translators. I think it describes so much of life.
    “Slowly, slowly, climb/ Up and up Mount Fuji/ O snail.”

  115. M says...

    Jo, I adore this post. Similar to your limerick habit, poetry started to take over my life in early 2020. I have become obsessed with it. I need it like water. I read it, I write, I think it. What is happening?! Is it coming for you too? ;)

    Anyways, I would never be able to choose just one favorite, so here my favorite poem for the day. Isn’t it perfect?

    by Nikki Giovanni

    once a snowflake fell
    on my brow and i loved
    it so much and i kissed
    it and it was happy and called its cousins
    and brothers and a web
    of snow engulfed me then
    i reached to love them all
    and i squeezed them and they became
    a spring rain and i stood perfectly
    still and was a flower

    • Joanna Goddard says...


  116. Now I want to get out my Billy Collins books! I introduced him to my high schoolers when I was a teacher and was terribly excited when he came to the university nearby for a reading. And you are right – I don’t want so much screen time in the evening, poetry is much better.

  117. Emily says...

    I love reading poetry or essays before bed! Recently I’ve been rereading “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold (essays about the natural world and conservation) and read a page or two out loud to my in-utero baby. Leopold’s words, nearly 3/4 of a century later, are still so important but also so soothing. It helps me relax at the end of the day and I enjoy sharing something that has been very impactful on my life with my baby.

  118. Eliza says...

    I recently read the audiobook of Nikita Gill’s Fierce Fairytales and immediately bought print copies for myself and my sisters. The collection is full of lovely and powerful challenges to patriarchy and traditions, all wrapped up in the retelling of fairytales. Here’s a video of Nikita Gill reading my current favorite, Why Tinkerbell Quit Anger Management:

  119. ADORE Billy Collins and love reading poetry when I have the attention span to sit and commit the time. I wish I had a better mind for memorizing poems, but I definitely find it helpful to LISTEN to it as I learn to memorize. I highly recommend this *insanely adorable* video of a 3-year-old boy (oy vey, from 11 years ago!) reciting Billy’s poem “Litany” from memory:

    You can also see this same sweetheart reciting Billy’s poem “Walking Across the Atlantic” from memory here:

    SIGH. My favorite forever.

    • Sadie says...

      These are so sweet. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sage says...

      God I love these. So sweet. (I want to be friends with that kid’s mom, haha.)

  120. Lana says...

    Last winter I memorized “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and it was so fun! I remember sending my friend a video of me reciting it while I was wearing a huge red parka with a fuzzy hood around my head. I looked like an Eskimo and was trying to be super serious (to make him laugh) but instead he was like, “OMG! That literally brought me so much joy today!” It was so delightful that I went on to try and memorize other things (like the phonetic alphabet!) just so I have funny party tricks when life starts to lag.

    • Lauren says...

      That Frost poem always makes me giggle uncontrollably. In college when my best friend and I learned that “barf” means “snow” in Persian, he got a pensive look on his face and said, “He will not see me stopping here / To watch his woods fill up with barf.”

  121. Katie S. says...

    It’s ‘I May Destroy You’, not ‘May I Destroy You’ :) And yes, phenomenal!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yes thank you!

  122. Daisy says...

    I love this so much! Especially the bit about mental furniture! The new Margaret Atwood Dearly book of poems was phenomenal. I love Billy Collins! His poem Lanyard (makes me weep as I am a mother) or Marginalia (the bit about egg salad stains gets me) are my favorites. Collins is so approachable yet that doesn’t take away from how smart his poems feel.

  123. Fiona says...

    Billy Collins has such a way of capturing emotion. I memorized “On Turning Ten” for an English class in high school and it still makes my heart pang to read it!

    “It seems only yesterday I used to believe
    there was nothing under my skin but light.
    If you cut me I would shine.
    But now if I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
    I skin my knees. I bleed.”

  124. Broadwater says...

    Whenever I am invited to dinner or a meal, I always offer to bring dessert. Which for me always means squares of chocolate for the guests to savor while I read a poem.

    • M says...

      be my guest? please.

    • Kate says...

      I would love to have you as a dinner guest!

  125. Janna says...

    Love Billy Collins. “Dancing Toward Bethlehem” is my favorite- I thought about reading is as part of my wedding vows. It gave me the feeling of love and beauty being a lifeline as the world around you is burning.

  126. Katy says...

    My daughter is taking a poetry class in college and sent me one of her poems about bees. I don’t read a lot of poetry but was excited to read hers. I loved it and told her I thought it was a metaphor on police murders of Black men. She said that it wasn’t, but that’s what she loves about poetry.
    Thank you for this post.

    • M says...

      I love this comment.

  127. laura says...

    I think we crashed the page the Whale Day link was leading to :/ oops lol

  128. Sherri says...

    My dad was a student of the American poet, Theodore Roethke. When I was five years old I memorized Roethke’s poem, The Lizard, from I Am! Says The Lamb.

    The Time to Tickle a Lizard,
    Is Before, or Right After, a Blizzard.
    Now the place to begin
    Is just under his Chin,—
    And here’s more Advice:
    Don’t Poke more than Twice
    At an Intimate Place like his Gizzard.

  129. HH says...

    Billy Collins has been one of my favorites for decades. I love the way he writes about art, or the art of living… or dying, as it were. “Marginalia” is a favorite, in the anthology, “Sailing Alone Around the Room,” although partly that’s because it was recommended to me by a young man I was in love with in my early 20s who wasn’t, it turns out, in love with me. I don’t want to spoil it, but the poem’s ending is perfect and profound and surprising, partly because it’s hidden from view by a page turn. You turn the page and gasp in delight and wonder.

  130. Denise says...

    I love having a book of poems by the bed. Right now I have The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy by John Brehm, which I admittedly picked up at a small book store at the beach solely because of the lovely cover and the size of the volume in my hand.

  131. Lindsey says...

    My mom wrote this poem for her grandmother and I’ve always loved it:

    Beginning as one small thread
    you wove your way into my heart,
    accenting my days with color and texture,
    altering the warp and weft of my soul,
    complimenting the very fabric of my life.

    • Agnès says...

      Oh what a gift!

  132. Agnès says...

    That vision of a novelist being a long term guest and the poet a soul that appears from time to time is so right!! My father is almost 91 and has lost most of his sight, ear and short term memory, but he knows pages of Victor Hugo , La Fontaine, Queneau. He s not easy to be around except when he remembers poetry. It is a true life lesson, when all is gone, there is still poetry (and love).

    • M says...

      “When all is gone, there is still poetry (and love).” So true, Agnes.

  133. Ruth says...

    Garrison Keillor has a daily newsletter called The Writer’s Almanac. Each one features a poem. I don’t love all of them, but there is a great mix of modern and classic poems. If you like poetry, I’d highly recommend subscribing. It’s a good way to start the day. :)

    • Emily says...

      This is a great recommendation-it’s also fun to go back through the archives to commemorate occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

  134. Janey says...

    This is so lovely, thank you for sharing. Here in Scotland all children have to learn a poem by national post Robbie Burns once a year and perform it in front of the class. Starting in the first year of school – age 5 – all the way through school. My boys are teenagers now but can still recite several poems from memory, which they secretly love despite complaining about having to learn one every single year ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that is so cool! what an incredible national tradition.

    • Fiona says...

      I want to learn Jackie Kay’s Fare Well from this past year’s Edinburgh Hogmanay –

      “This air has heather and malt on its breath
      as it sighs, puffed oot after a year of death,
      under the blue mask of its flag. The Saltire’s
      been a warning cross. Dinny come too near.
      And this air has no been able to sing
      the old familiar airs, or fitba chants, or hymns;
      or blend its griefs in funerals for the dead;
      or laugh its joys like confetti over the newly-wed.
      But the lone piper fills the pipes with air;
      our individual breaths blow oot in prayer,
      wee church or secular, over these rooftops;
      to travel endlessly and to not stop…
      Till the hands wring the minutes out of the clock
      and the new year turns its key in the old year’s lock.”

    • jane says...

      As a child I remember always feeling very bothered that the children of Great Britain – on TV at least – always seemed to be quoting enormously long poems by Keats or Shakespeare entirely from memory. Perhaps these contests are why. Ok, I feel a little better ha ha.

  135. Abbe says...

    Billy Collins is pure magic, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t read tons of poetry. His poem “Japan”…oohh!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my goodness, that is stunning.

      by Billy Collins

      Today I pass the time reading
      a favorite haiku,
      saying the few words over and over.
      It feels like eating
      the same small, perfect grape
      again and again.

      I walk through the house reciting it
      and leave its letters falling
      through the air of every room.

      I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
      I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
      I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

      I listen to myself saying it,
      then I say it without listening,
      then I hear it without saying it.

      And when the dog looks up at me,
      I kneel down on the floor
      and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

      It’s the one about the one-ton
      temple bell
      with the moth sleeping on its surface,

      and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
      pressure of the moth
      on the surface of the iron bell.

      When I say it at the window,
      the bell is the world
      and I am the moth resting there.

      When I say it at the mirror,
      I am the heavy bell
      and the moth is life with its papery wings.

      And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
      you are the bell,
      and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

      and the moth has flown
      from its line
      and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

    • Agnès says...

      oh I love it, thank you!

  136. Oh, that is so lovely!

    Just before he died in November, my dad attended a tiny (outdoor) party with my mother. Someone recited a poem and asked if anyone knew any others. My dad got up and recited one from his youth. After the funeral, we learned that someone who as at the party had learned my dad’s poem as well, because he was so inspired by it. I love that one of the last fun moments my dad got to enjoy lives on in this way.

    When we can socialize again, it would be so fun to have someone prepare a poem before a get together! Here’s to being inspired! And to dads who love poetry!

    (and because I know people will ask, he did not get Covid)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss. your dad sounds like an amazing person.

    • Angela says...

      Anja. I’m so sorry for your loss. My first question was “what was the poem?”.

      I had to memorize the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling in 7th grade and I still remember some of it.

      ‘if’ by rudyard kipling
      If you can keep your head when all about you
      Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
      If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
      But make allowance for their doubting too;
      If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
      Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
      Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
      And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

      If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
      If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
      If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
      And treat those two impostors just the same;
      If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
      Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
      Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
      And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings
      And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
      And lose, and start again at your beginnings
      And never breathe a word about your loss;
      If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
      To serve your turn long after they are gone,
      And so hold on when there is nothing in you
      Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

      If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
      Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
      If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
      If all men count with you, but none too much;
      If you can fill the unforgiving minute
      With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
      Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
      And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

      Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

    • Thank you Joanna and Angela!

      The poem was in German. Something silly and light hearted.

      Love the Rudyard Kipling! Thank you for sharing. I am officially starting a file of favorites.

  137. G. says...

    I was just listening to some Andrea Gibson last night! I love that this is the first comment. <3
    I love your line "They remind me how hard it can be to be human, but also how worth it is to stick around." This is so true.

    Boomerang Valentine–and these lines in particular– was my soundtrack of resilience last year:
    "I know there are things I haven't survived
    I know there are people in this world who have had to work
    Really hard to survive me
    I don't ever want to take that lightly
    But I want the heavy to anchor me brave
    To anchor me loving
    To anchor me in something that will absolutely
    Hold me to my word when I tell Cupid
    I intend to keep walking out to the tip of his arrow
    To bend it back towards myself
    To aim for my goodness
    'Til the muscle in my chest tears from the stretch of becoming
    What I came here to be: a lover
    Of whatever got covered up by the airbrush
    The truth of me: that beauty of a beast.."

    • G. says...

      Oops– I intended this as a reply to GF

  138. JZ says...

    Inspired by your ages ago post, I made my 2019 goal to memorize a poem each month. I loved everything about it: selecting a new poem each month, the slow and steady memorization process, the way the poem became a defining fixture in my life for a few days or weeks until it slowly gave way to the next month’s poem. There was the month I waited until the very last minute and so picked “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams and the month I found out I was finally pregnant and so chose “Ultrasound” by Rachel Richardson. I loved that friends and colleagues also shared their favorite poems with me when they learned about my commitment.
    I honestly don’t fully remember most of the poems now (a heck of a 2020 will do that to your memory), but still think about how those words shaped my year.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is so beautiful!

    • Elisabetta says...

      JZ, that is so funny, because just yesterday I read that Williams’ wife Flossie wrote a response back to him, and he turned it into a poem (which I never knew, after years of enjoying “This is Just to Say.”) Here it is:


      (crumped on her desk)

      Dear Bill: I’ve made a
      couple of sandwiches for you.
      In the ice-box you’ll find
      blue-berries–a cup of grapefruit
      a glass of cold coffee.

      On the stove is the tea-pot
      with enough tea leaves
      for you to make tea if you
      prefer–Just light the gas–
      boil the water and put it in the tea

      Plenty of bread in the bread-box
      and butter and eggs–
      I didn’t know just what to
      make for you. Several people
      called up about office hours–

      See you later. Love. Floss.

      Please switch off the telephone.

  139. Tricia says...

    I, too, enjoy Billy Collins.

    I don’t have a strong favorite poem, but occasionally, one or another will pop into my mind as a reflection of what I am experiencing at that moment. Not unlike the furniture you referred to!

    I am currently loving reading the poems of Mary Oliver. Such a soul!

    • Tricia says...

      I would like to add:
      Each ThanksChristmasGiving we share with our adult kids, we have a poetry recitation evening. We each recite something – some heartfelt, some humorous. I have a notebook where I add each year’s poems, for family history, I guess.

  140. Rachel says...

    My husband banned phones from our bedroom a few years ago because I was always struggling with sleep and he read it would help. I have started reading books, mostly fiction, each night before bed and I feel transformed! I still haven’t dabbled much in poetry aside from Kate Bauer of course, but I need to check it out.

    • b says...

      My life goal is to ban the phone from the bedroom. In the days before (before COVID, before phones, before social media, before streaming services), I was a voracious reader. I would stay up late to read almost every night. Now, there are so many other things calling my attention and I miss tearing through books.

  141. emily c says...

    Did you read Collins’ Lanyard last night? Give that one a try.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, I love that poem so much. it isn’t in Whale Songs, but I’ve read it before. so moving. xo

  142. Hani says...

    The timeliness of this post is just *chefs kiss*.

    I didn’t used to think this but, now I know in my heart: poetry is what will save us.

    I’ve never sought it out so much in my life. Audre Lorde, mary Oliver, Kate baer, rupi kaur, poetry podcasts, and my current fave—
    Brian Bilston on Instagram. His ‘tuesdet’ poem (idk if that is the real name) lives rent free in my head ;D

    • Hani says...

      Here it is:

      Love Poem
      You are so groovet
      I’d like to stay under you
      all of Tuesdet

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you for these!

  143. Michelle says...

    I purchased “ At Dawn” by Beau Taplin a few months ago and his poetry calms me so much. He is also on Instagram. Reading this article has inspired me to read my different poetry books nightly with my diffuser spreading a lemon scent around my room. Thanks Jo!

    • Michelle says...

      “There are a few things in life so beautiful they hurt: swimming in the ocean while it rains, reading in empty libraries, the city of stars that appear when you are miles away from the city, bars after 2 AM, a bed of roses in bloom, all the things we do not yet know about the universe, and you”

      Beau Taplin – in bloom

  144. Ali says...

    My grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease which is fairly advanced. She can no longer remember her family, but she can remember all the poems that she memorized long ago. All you need to do is read the first few words, and she will take over and start reciting it without assistance.
    Before my grandfather passed away, he had put postit notes on all the pages of poems she knows by heart so all you have to do is chose a postit page and start reading! If you ask Grandma why she knows the poem, she’ll say simply “I must have heard it once.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so beautiful, Ali. xo

  145. GF says...

    Andrea Gibson is one of my all time faves. I’ve seen them live three times and they always take my breathe away. They remind me how hard it can be to be human, but also how worth it is to stick around. Here’s one:

    The Nutritionist

    The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables
    Said if I could get down 13 turnips a day
    I would be grounded,
    Said my head would not keep flying away to where the darkness is.

    The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight
    Said for 20 dollars she’d tell me what to do
    I handed her the twenty,
    she said “stop worrying darling, you will find a good man soon.”

    The first psychotherapist said I should spend 3 hours a day sitting in a dark closet with my eyes closed, with my ears plugged
    I tried once but couldn’t stop thinking about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet

    The yogi told me to stretch everything but truth,
    said focus on the outbreaths,
    everyone finds happiness when they can care more about what they can give than what they get

    The pharmacist said klonopin, lamictil, lithium, Xanax
    The doctor said an antipsychotic might help me forget what the trauma said
    The trauma said don’t write this poem
    Nobody wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones

    My bones said “Tyler Clementi dove into the Hudson River convinced he was entirely alone.”
    My bones said “write the poem.”

    The lamplight.
    Considering the river bed.
    To the chandelier of your fate hanging by a thread.
    To everyday you could not get out of bed.
    To the bulls eye on your wrist
    To anyone who has ever wanted to die.
    I have been told, sometimes, the most healing thing to do-
    Is remind ourselves over and over and over
    Other people feel this too

    The tomorrow that has come and gone
    And it has not gotten better
    When you are half finished writing that letter to your mother that says “I swear to God I tried”
    But when I thought I hit bottom, it started hitting back
    There is no bruise like the bruise of loneliness kicks into your spine

    So let me tell you I know there are days it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets when you break down like the doors of the looted buildings
    You are not alone and wondering who will be convicted of the crime of insisting you keep loading your grief into the chamber of your shame
    You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy

    I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth with a red cape inside
    Some people will never understand the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside
    Some days I know my smile looks like the gutter of a falling house
    But my hands are always holding tight to the ripchord of believing
    A life can be rich like the soil
    Can make food of decay
    Can turn wound into highway
    Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says
    “it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society”

    I have never trusted anyone with the pulled back bow of my spine the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
    Screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound
    Four nights before Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington bridge I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
    Calculating exactly what I had to swallow to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down

    What I know about living is the pain is never just ours
    Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo
    So I keep a listening to the moment the grief becomes a window
    When I can see what I couldn’t see before,
    through the glass of my most battered dream, I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
    and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

    So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin, don’t try to put me back in
    just say here we are together at the window aching for it to all get better
    but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts may have only just skinned their knees knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming
    let me say right now for the record, I’m still gonna be here
    asking this world to dance, even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet

    you- you stay here with me, okay?
    You stay here with me.
    Raising your bite against the bitter dark
    Your bright longing
    Your brilliant fists of loss

    if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,

    my god that’s plenty

    my god that’s enough
    my god that is so so much for the light to give
    each of us at each other’s backs whispering over and over and over

    • Kate says...

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem – it was exactly what I needed to read right now.

    • M says...

      One of my favorite poets too. <3

    • Ker says...

      Oh my goodness. This took my breath away. Thank you GF for sharing it. I wish I could have read it to my friend and reached her across the darkness before it was too late.