Ted Kooser, one of my favorite modern poets, brags of his teacher, Karl Shapiro (great biography here). So, I read some of Shapiro’s poems in a collection done by John Updike: “Karl Shapiro: Selected Poems”.
Shapiro’s biography is rich and it feeds his interesting poetry. His war poetry is fascinating, and his Jewish eyes were enlightening for me. I also loved some of Shapiro’s critical essays — but that will be a different post.
I especially enjoyed his irreverence for academia (which he mastered), religion, culture and most of all, his lack of reverence of himself.
But I must admit that I sped-read most Shapiro’s poems, for if a poem does not hold me from the beginning – losing me with vagueness, allusions, cuteness or a whole list of more of my own snobbishness — I skim quickly. Lazy boy that I am, I can thus ‘digest’ whole poetry books easily. I should be embarrassed to say that, shouldn’t I? But alas, I am not.
But perhaps you will enjoy Shapiro far more than me. So let me share some of his poems which I enjoyed:
(1) I Am an Atheist Who Says His Prayers (see at: Poetry Foundation)
(2) The Dirty Word (see here)
(3) Human Nature (scroll down to find here)
(4) Spider (snippet below)
(5) Essay on Rime (snippet below)
(6) The Alphabet (snippet below, full poem here)
(7) The Synagogue (snippet below)
From Essay on Rime:
“I do not here attempt the definition/ Of rime, which is the province of esthetics,/ But to point out its ration to language./ In the mathematical sens, rime is a power,’ Prose raise to the numerical exponent/ …”
“I envy you, Arachne, painted fat,/ …. Center of interest of all your designs,/ Your craft is ageless, cynical, appalling,/ Penscilling on nothing our silver lines,/ Gather and kissing the captured lives./…”
From The Alphabet: “The letters of the Jews as strict as flames … The letters of the Jews are dancing knives”.
From The Synagogue: ” The Jew has no bedecked magnificat/ But sitts in stricken ashes after death, / Refusing grace; his grave is flowerless,/…”