Saturday, April 11, 2015

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy seems to have approached collecting the poems in this volume as a task to help cope with the onset of middle age, looking both back and forward and using poetry to "weave the choices we have already made into the changes we want to bring to our lives." The book is organized into sections that represent the phases of a woman's life, as well as aspects of our lives that define who we are: falling in love; making love; breaking up;  marriage; love itself;  work; beauty, clothes and things of this world; motherhood; silence and solitude; growing up and growing old; death and grief; friendship; and how to live. It was intriguing to read that Kennedy found two sections for which the number of poems available was smaller than she expected: work and friendship.

This is not my favorite collection of poems--perhaps too many "classics" for my taste--though I certainly found a number of works I enjoyed or was inspired by. However, what I found really interesting was thinking about what sections I would organize such a work into. I'm quite sure I'd have fewer sections devoted to love-related topics and more, perhaps, to childhood, family, and other activities through which we give meaning to our lives. And, one might ask, would the sections be different for a book about a man's journey through poems? Fun mental exercise.

Favorite passages (that were new to me in this collection)

. . . from what we cannot hold the stars are made.
From "Youth," by Osip Mandelstam, translated by W.S. Merwin

I watch  my son's face like a clock;
he is the time I have.
If I choose this window, this black-and-white notebook,
I must appear to be what I am:
a woman who has chosen a table
between her sleeping child
and the beginning of everything.

Fron "At the Cafe," by Patricia Kirkpatrick

"Summer with Monica," by Roger McGough
Away from you
I feel a great emptiness
a gnawing loneliness

with you
I get that reassuring feeling
of wanting to escape

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