Required Reading #1: Wishful Thinking

20 02 2007

I hadn’t intended to start with poetry as my inaugural Required Reading post – particularly since I read it some seldom – but this poem has been calling to me for two days now and it must be answered if I am to get on with things.  The idea of my Required Readings entries will be to reflect on books that I feel are (as the title suggests) Required Readings, but I guess poems count too.

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,
she’d tell it to go to hell,
and she’d find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

~ “Insomnia” by Elizabeth Bishop

I first discovered this poem during my second year of undergrad. I had absolutely refused to “like” poetry in high or during my first year of university. I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t stand it, I saw absolutely no use for it.*

And then I stumbled across Elizabeth Bishop who captured me at that point to a tee, particularly in “Insomnia” and her land of reversals and wishful thoughts.

I did – I suppose I should say do –  that a lot in certain respects.  I’m practical and organized and all those things that you need to be to get by, but sometimes, sometimes I want that land of might be so much that it feels hard to breathe.

And then there is “One Art” which I can sense holds a power and a wisdom that will grow even stronger as I age and become – as I fear so often and overwhelming now – more intimately connected with loss.

So find and read yourself some Elizabeth Bishop and perhaps I’ll see you on the other side of the looking glass.

Those Blasted Footnotes are Back:

1. I can concede the usefulness of poetry now, but I’m still deaf and dumb where metre and rhythm are concerned, much to the dismay of my first year poetry students back in my MA days.  If any of you stumble across this, I sincerely apologize for my deficiency in this area.  It is the only time that I felt like a complete and utter failure as a teacher – which differs from most of the time when I fall between helpless and dismal.




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