Whenever the news gets crazy or too difficult to take, you can count on three things; Talking heads clothed in outrage and hubris will tell us where someone is wrong. Facebook will be populated with critical memes which will change no one’s minds. A national or international funk will subtly infect our outlook and make us cynical or despairing.
On the other hand, the collective social “flu” which can be so pervasive can often be managed by drinking from the fountain of poetry. When our souls are hydrated from the deep wells of human expression, it can be a real elixir for our despondency or ennui.
So here’s my five choices of poetry books which work wonders when navigating difficult or daily life.
Wendell Berry – Timbered Choir; 1979-1997 (1999)
Coming to the woods’ edge
on my Sunday morning walk,
I stand resting a moment beside
a ragged half-dead wild plum
in bloom, its perfume
a moment enclosing me
Each Sunday for nearly twenty years Wendell Berry walked his Henry County, Kentucky farm before church and penned the poetry that is found in this volume. His wife,Tanya, has continued to transcribe his writings by an old typewriter. His work speaks of death, the seasons, farming, the Christian gospel and a myriad of other topics that fill his thinking on the morning meanderings. A must own.
Christian Wiman- Once in the West (2014)
When Christian Wiman turned 39 he fell in love, deeply and married Danielle. He also discovered he had a rare form of cancer. Since then Wiman has turned out some of America’s best poetry, including this new offering, Once in the West.
His work always reflects back on his childhood upbringing in west Texas and like writers Cormac McCarthy and Walker Percy, Wiman keeps asking, seeking, and knocking “to see the sanity and vitality of this strange, ancient thing” called Christian faith.
Scott Cairns- Idiot Psalms (2014)
Cairns’ religious upbringing in the Orthodox Church fully embellishes his understanding of prayers and psalms. His conviction that our best efforts to address God is littered with misstep and folly, creates a wonderful pathway to discovering the love and grace which occupies and superintends the universe, the creative impulse and the family of humankind.
Mary Oliver- New and Selected Poems (1992)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1993
“One of the astonishing aspects of [Oliver’s] work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets. . . .
These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
-Stephen Dobyns, The New York Times Book Review