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Tuesday November 24 2020

<em>The Atlantic Daily</em>: 9 Poems for a Tough Winter

The Atlantic - Sat Nov 21 01:00

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A scary season looms; poems can steel the spirit, or offer a distraction. Our writers and editors offer nine selections for exactly those purposes. Store them in your heart’s cellar, and retrieve as needed.

I do not wish to be blithe, / I wish to recoil and writhe. / I will revel in cosmic woe, / And I want my woe to show. This one will straighten you out. The great Ogden Nash, 1902–71, was a fiercely innovative poet who consecrated his art to the entertainment of the masses—and carried on being fiercely innovative. No one was wittier, no one was more verbally adroit, yet he had no meanness or spikiness; he was adored by that shy beast, the general reader. “So Penseroso” is a loving, piercing send-up of a certain strain of indulgent melancholia—to which we’re all prone right now, let’s face it. You will feel both accurately diagnosed and much, much better.

I’ve always loved the rhythm of Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, how she seems to punctuate her flow with whispered asides. Throughout “My House,” she wonders aloud whether it might be a silly poem but keeps going anyway. That gentle musing mirrors her conclusion about the titular house and the warmth of the domestic sphere: Flawed or inconsequential though it may seem to others, this space is all Nikki’s—and being invited into it is no small thing.