Poetry Under a Tree and Shocking Me

The best poetry doesn’t have to be written under a tree.  It doesn’t have to shock through graphic violence or sex.  It can shock through a sigh. 

Take the poem “The Cucumber” by Philip Nazim Hikmet:

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and still coming down hard:
it hasn’t let up all morning.
We’re in the kitchen.
On the table, on the oilcloth, spring —
on the table there’s a very tender young cucumber,
                                           pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it.
It softly lights up our faces,
and the very air smells fresh.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it,
amazed
              thoughtful
                                optimistic.
We’re as if in a dream.
On the table, on the oilcloth, hope —
on the table, beautiful days,
a cloud seeded with a green sun,
an emerald crowd impatient and on its way,
loves blooming openly —
on the table, there on the oilcloth, a very tender young cucumber,
                                           pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and coming down hard.
It hasn’t let up all morning.

(trans Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)

Source: The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry

http://999poems.blogspot.com/2009/07/938-cucumber-by-nazim-hikmet.html

 This is possibly the poem that introduced the now-cliché “fresh as a daisy.”

 

Another great example is “The Simple Truth” by Philip Levine from the collection of the same name (Knopf, 1996):

The Simple Truth

I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields 
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me 
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste 
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way, 
she swore, from New Jersey. “Eat, eat” she said,
“Even if you don’t I’ll say you did.”
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering 
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself, 
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste 
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch 
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-simple-truth/

 

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About Em-dash Lady

Em-dash Lady enjoys creative writing most of all, but her interests include art forms from music to writing to visual art to indie films and so forth. She's especially interested in how the art forms influence each other and blend together. She's a creative writing teacher and writer who mostly writes memoir and poetry about her favorite activity, watching TV. I would say I'm kidding, but I'm not. Naps are also her favorite. Too many favorites to count! Enjoy following Em-dash Lady as she figures out how she fits in the ever-evolving world of art.
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