Ten of my favorite poems (for Harry Northup)

Harry Northup recently asked me to send him a list of my ten favorite poems. With the semester wrapped (except for writing letters of recommendation), I finally got around to sorting through the poetry equivalent of stacks of .45 records. Harry had already asked several other poets to make such a list, so my citation of “this conversation” refers to similar lists by poets such as Michael Lally, S.A. Griffin, Holly Prado, Jonathan Cott, Sandra Giedeman, and Charles H. Webb.

Ten of My Favorite Poems (as opposed to my Ten Favorite Poems)

There’s little point in being redundant in this conversation. James Schuyler’s “The Morning of the Poem” and Randall Jarrell’s “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” both made my original top ten list, too, but since others have listed those poems, I might as well take advantage of the fact that there’s no shortage of willing substitutes. It’s a team with a very, very deep bench. Given Ginsberg’s multiple nominations, I also discarded him from my list, though my preference would have been “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” It should also be noted that anyone I published under the aegis of Momentum Press (either as a stand-alone volume or in my anthologies) or in an issue Momentum magazine was ineligible for this list. Obviously, that means Charles Bukowski’s “The Souls of Dead Animals” had to be left out, as well as any poem by Paul Vangelisti (“Days Shadows Pass” would have been my choice); several of my favorite poems by Eloise Klein Healy also were relegated to the semi-final roster as a result of that rule. It was an exceptionally difficult choice between Blake’s “London” and Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” Other photo-finishes involved Ron Silliman’s “Ketjak” and Michael McClure’s “In the Antechamber of the Night” in the tie for tenth and final entry.

I have listed the poems in order of my first reading of them.

“The Listeners” — Walter de la Mare (1964)
“The Ecstasy” — John Donne (1966)
“Dimanches” (“Le ciel pleut sans but, sans que rien l’émeuve”) — Jules LaForgue (1966)
Henry IV, Part 1 — William Shakespeare (1966)
“London” — William Blake (1968)
“Lady Lazarus” — Sylvia Plath (1968)
“Masses” (“When the battle was over….”) — Cesar Vallejo (translation by Clayton Eshleman; 1975)
“When the World Ends” — Mark Van Doren (1999)
“Montage of a Dream Deferred” — Langston Hughes (the book-length poem; 2006)
And tied for tenth:
“A Woman is Talking to Death” — Judy Grahn (2011)
“A View of Things” — Edwin Morgan (2013)
“On the Lake” — V. Sackville-West – (2013)
Also, tied for tenth: a thousand three hundred and seventy eight other poems.

If someone were to insist on only ten:
“The Listeners” — Walter de la Mare (1964)
“Dimanches” (“Le ciel pleut sans but, sans que rien l’émeuve”) — Jules LaForgue (1966)
Henry IV, Part 1 — William Shakespeare (1966)
“London” — William Blake (1968)
“Lady Lazarus” — Sylvia Plath (1968)
“Masses” (“When the battle was over….”) — Cesar Vallejo (translation by Clayton Eshleman; 1975)
“When the World Ends” — Mark Van Doren (1999)
“Montage of a Dream Deferred” — Langston Hughes (the book-length poem; 2006)
“A Woman is Talking to Death” — Judy Grahn (2011)
“On the Lake” — V. Sackville-West – (2013)
— Bill Mohr (12/23/15)