Book Review: SELECTED POEMS, by Conrad Aiken

College sort of killed poetry for me. I knew eventually I'd regain interest, though probably not in the moody contemporary stuff my professors so loved; it took a friend of mine assuring me that Conrad Aiken was the perfect solution to my problem before I began to come around. He said this while hauling a stack of Aiken books up from his basement and proceeding to thumb madly through them in a search for "the perfect poem" to win me over, and though he didn't find that Perfect One, he read me enough to make me purchase my very own copy of SELECTED POEMS and continue the search on my own. I found it in "The Biography of Senlin," specifically II:1, the last stanza of which reads:
Knock on the door,--and you shall have an answer.
Open the heavy walls to set me free,
And blow a horn to call me into the sunlight,--
And startled, then, what a strange thing you shall see!
Nuns, murderers, and drunkards, saints and sinners,
Lover and dancing girl and sage and clown
Will laugh upon you, and you will find me nowhere.
I am a room, a house, a street, a town.
Moody, yes, but gorgeous--I encountered this one over my lunch break at work and was stunned, particularly by the last line. That was the Perfect One, indeed.

And I'll tell you what--the rest of the collection was just as lovely, dark and abysmal, but teeming with beautiful language, so that I remembered, however dimly, that that's what I liked about poetry in the first place: the language.



An interesting aside: I think I read somewhere that Joan Aiken, of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was Conrad Aiken's daughter. Even if she isn't, you should still read her books. You should also read my review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Little Bird review)

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