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Ten Poems to Change Your Life

by Roger Housden

Other authors: Kabir (Contributor), Galway Kinnell (Contributor), Antonio Machado (Contributor), W. S. Merwin (Contributor), Pablo Neruda (Contributor)5 more, Mary Oliver (Contributor), Rumi (Contributor), St. John of the Cross (Contributor), Derek Walcott (Contributor), Walt Whitman (Contributor)

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Ten good poems, forced touchy-feely analysis. ( )
  DromJohn | May 20, 2014 |
Much is being done in the first decade of the 21st century to restore poetry to its prominent place among the arts and within our popular culture. Four recent US poets laureate have undertaken public projects to attract readers: Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, and Ted Koose. Collins made a special plea for “accessible”poetry as opposed to the oblique poetry of the academic establishment, which requires what my students always called “reading between the lines.” Garrison Keillor, with his daily literary almanac on NPR and with his anthologies called simply Good Poems, has joined in the movement. Poetry jams of all sorts attract teenagers and college students not unlike rap sessions. Some critical handbooks, like Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem, are flying in the face of the New Critics’ demand for ambiguity and paradox as the only legitimate poetic voice. Among English teachers in schools and colleges, the focus on readers and their independent, even personal, responses has provided a more open, satisfying way for the general public to enter conversations about their favorite poems—and to seek and find new favorites.

Roger Housden’s series of little books — Ten Poems to . . . — are good examples of this trend, and good models for other readers of and writers about poetry: Ten Poems to Change Your Life (Harmony Books, 2001) was the first one, followed by Ten Poems to Set You Free, . . . to Open Your Heart, . . . to Last a Lifetime, and after his recent heart-breaking divorce, Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again. In each of them, Housden simply writes his personal reflections on ten poems, mostly modern, that have been meaningful to him. What a breath of fresh air. He also edited the popular anthology Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation.

What Housden has done for me is to stimulate me to imagine my own personal anthologies and to begin commenting on my own favorite poems for my family and friends. It’s not that publishers need more Housdens sharing their personal responses publicly; it’s that the public needs to realize that everyone can construct their own canon and share their own responses — to change their lives, to set themselves free, to open their hearts, or simply to express their own enthusiasms for and their own engagement with texts that interest them. I’ve taken to calling mine 13 Poets + 13 Poems. I began with thirteen of my all-time favorites; e.g. John Keats, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the like: “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art . . . ,” “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau . . . ,” “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me . . . ,” “Margaret, are you grieving / Over goldengrove unleaving?” Then I went on to the 20th century, to poets of my own generation, to children’s poets (that was fun!), to Emily and her sisters, Walt and his brothers, Langston and his kin, and the like. But there are many ways to envision a collection: poems to wake you up, poems to read when you can’t sleep at night, poems to celebrate (or redefine) a holiday, poems you should read at my wake . . . well, the sky’s the limit. Collect the poems; share your comments. It’s as simple as that.

Housden’s first, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, sets the way. Now get ready for this: his collections and reminiscences take us from one divorce to another, through the intensity of a passionate relationship. Never mind. It’s the fact that he chooses poems that speak to him and, if we let them, will speak to us. This first collection begins with Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —

This poem, he concludes, presents a new self that “wants to plunge into life with a dedication and a commitment that can only come with a rare abandon . . . . to stand by your deepest knowing and to express that in your life first, whatever that may mean.” Just a few other chapter headings will give you a sense of where he is going: on Antonio Machado’s “Last Night as I Lay Sleeping,” he writes, “Some honey from old failures”; on an excerpt from Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he writes, “Every man his own priest”; on Rumi’s “Zero Circle,” as translated by Coleman Banks, he writes “Be helpless.”

In his epilogue, Housden exults: “Every one of these ten poems calls us in its own way to open our eyes to the wonder of what is around us; to the wonder of what is deep inside the human heart; and above all, to be awake to the presence, the sensation, of our own being, in the midst of all of it.”

Isn’t that what poetry is all about, after all? You can start with his ten if you like, but eventually you will want to find your own. And, as Housden has done, another ten and another ten and another ten.
1 vote bfrank | Dec 11, 2007 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roger Housdenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
KabirContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kinnell, GalwayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Machado, AntonioContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Merwin, W. S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Neruda, PabloContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oliver, MaryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
RumiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
St. John of the CrossContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walcott, DerekContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Whitman, WaltContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0609609017, Hardcover)

This is a dangerous book. Great poetry calls into question not less than everything. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind. It opens us to pain and joy and delight. It amazes, startles, pierces, and transforms us. It can lead to communion and grace.

Through the voices of ten inspiring poets and his own reflections, the author of Sacred America shows how poetry illuminates the eternal feelings and desires that stir the human heart and soul. These poems explore such universal themes as the awakening of wonder, the longing for love, the wisdom of dreams, and the courage required to live an authentic life. In thoughtful commentary on each work, Housden offers glimpses into his personal spiritual journey and invites readers to contemplate the significance of the poet's message in their own lives.

In Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Roger Housden shows how these astonishing poems can inspire you to live what you always knew in your bones but never had the words for.


"The Journey" by Mary Oliver
"Last Night as I Was Sleeping" by Antonio Machado
"Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman
"Zero Circle" by Rumi
"The Time Before Death" by Kabir
"Ode to My Socks" by Pablo Neruda
"Last Gods" by Galway Kinnell
"For the Anniversary of My Death" by W. S. Merwin
"Love After Love" by Derek Walcott
"The Dark Night" by St. John of the Cross

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Draws on the words of wisdom from ten distinguished poets to explore such themes as the wisdom of dreams, the awakening of wonder, the longing for love, and the courage to live an authentic life.

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