Poetry News

Ta-Nehisi Coates has "Poppies" in his head

By Harriet Staff

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who blogs now and again about poetry for The Atlantic, is featured in the latest installment of "The Poem Stuck in My Head" for the Paris Review. Recently, Coates has had Jennifer Grotz's "Poppies" on repeat:

What I love about poems is how they change in the light of repeated readings. Now this is true of most art (and I guess most things), but because poems are (often) so short you can actually experience the change over a series of days or weeks of rereading, or even, still, over the space of years. When I first read Jennifer Grotz’s “Poppies” all I could tell you was that I liked its sound. I didn’t have any idea what the poem was about. I just liked letting the words fall off my tongue when I read it aloud. It was elemental, and I think almost every poem I love is like that for me. At a base level it just sounds good. “That’s how the rain comes” just sounds good. “Black pepper and blood” just sounds good.

Multiple readings eventually lead Coates from sound to sense, and he began to detect some of the ideas at work in the poem:

Grotz writes of our constant desire to tame the world, and even the righteousness of that desire (“shouldn’t we love all things equally back?”). She writes of the anguish that ultimately comes from trying (the poppies are beautiful but only “like the feral cat who purrs and rubs against your leg / But will scratch if you touch back”) and then, finally, our sadness at the whole thing. “Love is letting the world be half-tamed,” Grotz writes. I think you could say that about a lot more than just the natural world that she is addressing. That’s a lesson we’re constantly learning.

Click through to read "Poppies" in its entirety and to find other poems that sound good.

Originally Published: January 10th, 2012