Favorite Poet(s) of 2008

This year was one of discovery for me, finding poets that have long been familiar to others but hidden from my parochial, provincial vision. For instance: while Donald Hall had been on my radar, it wasn't until 2008 that I finally dove into his work. And according to my notes, I first discovered Charles Wright in the summer of 2007, but this year I enjoyed lingering with Negative Blue, with its alternate evocations of Italy and Virginia, Rorty and Dante.

But what's most remarkable for me is that, one year ago, I had never read a poem by Ted Hughes. That's what it means for me to "find" a poet: I don't know how I inhabited the world without him (or her). I simply can't imagine how my imagination looked before I read Anne Sexton; and I can't imagine how I perceived the world before Franz Wright.

And I don't know how I heard the world before reading Ted Hughes. His is the poetry of a Yorkshireman: earthy, wet, gutteral, alliterative, rolling and rocking. I can still remember being in our flat in York and being riveted by "The Hawk in the Rain":

I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up
Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth,
From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,
Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance: and I,

Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth’s mouth, strain towards the master-
Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still.
That maybe in his own time meets the weather

Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside down,
Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him,
The horizon traps him; the round angelic eye
Smashed, mix his heart’s blood with the mire of the land.
The very syllables are knee-deep in the muck of English winter while the word-hawk feels like it inhabits a vacuum, slipping streamlined as if the world were nothing, though threatened by that looming earth.

Or consider "The Thought-Fox" in which the poem sneaks up on both the poet and reader:

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
I'll also not forget finding a used copy of Hughes' New Selected Poems, 1957-1994 at Blackwell's in Oxford on Maundy Thursday, then reading it during a lonely Indian dinner before Maundy Thursday worship at St. Mary's.

I have much for which to be grateful in 2008; Ted Hughes is no small part of those graces enjoyed.