The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Robert Frost

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Tania, who runs (along with Kirt) Write Readsa blog and Canadian reading book club podcast.

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I can only pick one? Okay, Margaret Laurence …but there are so many others!! 

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Travel, Political/Social Commentary and anything by Bill Bryson.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Decameron by Boccacccio
The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Leacock
The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Asterios Polyp by Mazzuchelli

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)
 

Meaning of life
Justice/Injustice

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I’ve liked a lot of T.S. Eliot. I’ve liked more story-telling poems and less of the random images and symbols that I don’t understand poetry 🙂


 

Ok, so this is a tricky one, because I haven’t read any of the books that Tania lists! (Well, excerpts from The Decameron, and I’ve read one Bill Bryson book, but still.) However, with a little poking around, I got the sense that Tania likes well-developed characters, vignette-like structures, and a strong sense of place. It’s these last two qualities, in particular, that lead me to recommend that American poet everyone thinks he knows, Robert Frost.

Modern in sensibility, if not in form, Frost’s poetry is rooted in nature, and the woods of New England, in particular. Many of his poems read like vignettes, records of small moments in country life, whether everyday (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) or horrific (“‘Out, out–‘”). Darkness lurks around the edges of the very poems that are so often celebrated for their beauty and felicitous phrasing; isolation, death, and despair walk in the woods, too.

Take Robert Frost’s “The Wood-Pile”, which I think might be just right for Tania. The speaker is far from home, walking through a frozen swamp, and before we can wonder why, we’re distracted by the flighty bird that’s leading the speaker on, and then by the wood-pile, orderly but abandoned, out in the woods. There’s so much going on with that wood-pile that I’ll let you discover it for yourself.  I hope you’ll like this poem, Tania, and Robert Frost’s work, too!


 

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

“There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, / Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.”

Tougas farm, apple season Photo by CR OliverI remember assigning Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking,” along with “Birches” and “Mending Wall” to my first-ever college class. I was twenty-two, and at least one of the seniors in the class was older than I was. A clerical error had given me a class of thirty instead of twenty, and we were assigned a narrow, windowless room on the second floor of the library. The heaters clanged on in August and the noise of campus construction somehow reverberated in that room.

It was glorious.

I loved being a newly-minted teacher, choosing readings and building a course that I wanted to teach (and take). I loved practicing my students’ names so that they would feel comfortable in class (one Thai last name was a real tongue twister!), and I loved watching their ideas spill onto the chalkboard. There’s no better job than being a tour guide through literature.

I chose to teach Frost because we’re in New England, after all, and he’s THE New England poet, and I encouraged my students to get out of the city and see the beautiful blend of colors in the trees. I’ve gone apple picking each fall with Mr. O since we started dating, and there’s nothing like the blue sky and the fiery trees and the red, red rows of apples.

“After Apple-Picking” is a dreamy meditation on life and death, sleep and wakefulness. Maybe we too will look back on moments both missed and remembered, and think,

“There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.”

A Literary Wedding, or, “Earth’s the right place for love: / I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

our rings

Our wedding rings

We were married three years ago this week, back in the olden days before Pinterest provided endless helpful suggestions regarding how to personalize your wedding with monograms and mason jars.

Now, I love a mason jar as much as the next gal, but our last name’s initial looks a heckuva lot like a circle, so I didn’t (and don’t) see much point in monogramming anything. I think it would have confused people. (“Which table are you sitting at?” “Table 0.” “Oh, I thought we were at table O.” “Oh dear.”) Personalizing one’s wedding ought to mean something more than splashing one’s initials all over it in in perfect wildflower hues, right?

Our wedding would never make the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings. We didn’t meticulously handcraft garlands of paper cranes from the pages of vintage books. We didn’t do favors, rice, confetti, a “real” wedding cake (we went with the Heart of Darkness chocolate torte, with mango coulis), or a “normal” ceremony.

What we did do was try very hard to make the wedding our own, an event that expressed not only who we are as a couple but where we came from — the people and words and music that shaped our lives.

The program included the line from “Birches” I’ve used in this post’s title, and Juliet’s immortal lines, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea / My love as deep. The more I give to thee / The more I have, for both are infinite.” The lettering on the front of the program used a font based on Jane Austen’s handwriting; on the last page we reprinted Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 in memory of absent friends.

The processional was “Building the Barn” from Witness, because, well, just watch that part of the movie (bonus: Viggo Mortenson cameo!). And the recessional was “Everyone” by Van Morrison because, well, watch the end of The Royal Tenenbaums. But only if you’ve seen the beginning and the middle.

While guests waited they had the option of tinkering with a crossword we made about us, our friends, and families, or looking out over a little river and falls, or browsing in the bookstore.

Yes, we were married at a bookstore. Well, technically, we were married on a deck that’s part of a restaurant that’s located in an old mill that’s been converted into a used bookstore in a town called, of all things, Montague. But I just tell everyone that we were married at a bookstore. It’s easier that way.

[It’s lovely to be able to return to a place that holds such beautiful memories for us; we try to go back at least once a year. I’ll post pictures from our latest visit tomorrow.  I bet you’ll want to go there too.]

Our ceremony was comprised of the usual wedding bits, retooled to suit our beliefs and preferred wording, and literary readings. Each of us asked a parent, a sibling, a friend, and an aunt or uncle to read during the ceremony, in groups of two.

Which readings, you ask?

  • “In Lands I Never Saw,” by Emily Dickinson
  • “The Owl and the Pussycat,” by Edward Lear
  • Most Like an Arch This Marriage,” by John Ciardi
  • Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare
  • “The Master Speed,” by Robert Frost
  • a selection from the Song of Songs
  • a selection from Emma, by Jane Austen
  • a selection from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I can still hear each one of these people reading, people we love who shared these words that mean so much to us. Because a marriage ceremony is an act of speaking something into being, and it’s important to get the words right.

***

So, since today is Tuesday, and therefore a poetry day around these parts, I thought today I’d highlight a poem that wasn’t read at our wedding.

You read that right. We both love Robert Frost’s “Birches” — so much so that my husband’s wedding ring is etched to look like birch bark — but it is long, and not really related to marriage, so we chose a different Frost poem for our set of readings. Now, though, after three years and one child together, this poem has taken on even more significance to us. Sometimes I imagine my son as the boy in the poem, confident though solitary. Sometimes I turn to the poem when things get hard, as they are wont to do, when

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.

But above all, we love the poem for its abiding love for the beauty and promise of this world and its often-anonymous inhabitants. After all, “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Three years later, at the bookmill.

Three years later, at the Bookmill.

Did you incorporate readings into your wedding ceremony? How did you choose your readings?