Now, I have to confess that when I agreed to do this over on MySpace, it was based on a misunderstanding. I thought Si had asked me to pick seven island desserts that I would take with me, which would have been much easier, as they all would have involved pineapple, coconut, and ice cream, and rum.
So, ok, it's desert island poems, which is just a fancy way of asking me to choose seven poems that mean something to me. But how to pick just seven? I have to begin by admitting that the whole thing is a bit artificial and arbitrary. But all right then, a desert island, no wifi, no kindle, no laptop, no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury.
No books. Fine, then, I'm also going to rule out certain categories to make my task easier.
First of all, I'm not going to pick any poems from MySpace poets, and from any other poets that I know personally. Sorry guys, and gals, but I just don't want to play favorites.
Second, I'm assuming that no children are present on this dessert island, because if there were, I would pick poems to read to them, poems that I myself love dearly, including And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss's poetry having been very near and dear to me, and an absolute delight to read aloud.
Third, I'm ruling out song lyrics, even though they most certainly can be considered poetry. Otherwise, I would probably include some of Bob Dylan's works, like "Mr. Tambourine Man" (but I know that one by heart so why bother?). No theme songs either, like Gilligan's Island (not that I ever would pick it).
Fourth, I'm ruling out plays, even though the origin of the theater is as a modified version of poetry, as for example the great Attic playwright Aeschylus shifting the performance from one reader to three. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to pick seven of Shakespeare's plays, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth. But I would not pick any of his sonnets, which simply do nothing for me.
And fifth, speaking of epics, and with a tendency to take things literally, if I were going to be stuck on a dessert island, I would probably grab seven epic poems because their length would give me something to occupy myself with in my isolation. I'd be particularly interested in taking epics that were originally produced without any recourse to writing, by oral poets otherwise referred to as singers of tales. My choices would include the Iliad and the Odyssey, Gilgamesh, the Kalevala, and the Elder Edda, but I probably would include one or two epics written by literate poets—I'm particularly fond of Ovid's Metamorphoses. But somehow that would feel like cheating, so I'm only going to pick one, and that one because of its poetics as much as anything.
All right then. For my first and only epic poem, I am going with Beowulf, and in particular with the new translation by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney that was published in 2000, the original having been composed in Anglo-Saxon, otherwise known as Old English.
You can hear Heaney read four excerpts from the epic online, courtesy of The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Archive page (just click here).
And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!