Summer is fully upon us. I was flipping through the anthology Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools that was a project of Billy Collins when he was U.S. Poet Laureate and I noticed several summer-title poems.
To a high school student, summer is some faraway paradise when you are sitting in a classroom. I could imagine myself back in high school English class hearing one of those poems and drifting away to summer past or future.
The poem I settled on for this month is “The Summer I Was Sixteen” by Geraldine Connolly which Collins found in her collection, Province of Fire (1998 Iris Press). It is set at the town pool, but it would work set at any public lake or beach. Her poem is in the Duke-of-Earl1960s but not much has changed in the rituals of summer pool life with sun lotion, blankets on the grass, the snack bar and boys studying girls and girls study boys with an intensity they didn’t give to studying poetry in school weeks earlier. I understand those kids looking at:
“thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world.”
In another poem from the collection, “Summer in a Small Town” by Linda Gregg, the voice is older, but still thinking about the opposite sex.
” When the men leave me,
they leave me in a beautiful place.
It is always late summer.”
And in this adult view, we are not looking across a crowded pool and hearing the sounds of kids singing summer songs.
“I swim in the public pool
at six when the other people
have gone home. “
And I might have chosen the more famous poem in the collection, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. No pool here. The voice is having one-on-one time this a grasshopper who she encountered while strolling this summer field.
It makes the speaker wonder “Who made the grasshopper?” and eventually to say that she doesn’t know “exactly what a prayer is. “
What she does know, as many poets know, is “how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed.”
She concludes with another question – this time more to you than to the universe of a God: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
For this July, we asked for poems that specifically begin with a title that tells us the age of the speaker (as Connolly does) or the year of the summer that is being written about. That is, write a poem of a specific summer and use the speaker’s age or the year itself as the basis for the poem.