5 Poems My Sister Told Me to Read (Bondurant)

by Treehouse Editors

Rachel Bondurant

When M.G., one of our poetry editors, suggested we do something on the site to honor National Poetry Month, I initially excused myself from participation. It isn’t that I don’t believe poetry should be celebrated, but that I have a shamefully limited knowledge of poetry. I’m a fiction writer and thus, a fiction editor. To be honest, poetry makes me a little nervous.

Usually when I don’t know enough about a particular subject (politics, movies, history, etc.) I defer to my older sister, who knows plenty. Not wanting to be left out of honoring Poetry Month, I sent her an e-mail asking for five recommendations. She immediately responded with a list of twelve poems.

“Five,” I wrote back. “I said give me five.”

Reluctantly and with much difficulty (I know because she told me so), she managed to get the list down to five. My sister is an actress—not for money, but for love of the craft—and to me, she is a true artist. So when she says these poems are worth my time, I don’t argue; I read. Here is the list, in no particular order, and how they made me feel.

  1. As Once the Winged Energy of Delight” by Rainer Maria Rilke – I found this poem to be subtly empowering and incendiary, with phrases like, “Wonders happen if we can succeed / in passing through the harshest danger,” and my favorite line: “And being swept along is not enough.” Which is a pretty gentle way of saying, “Do something.”
  2. The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver – I have to be honest with you: When I started reading this one, I momentarily doubted my sister’s credibility. I asked her for poems to turn me on to the craft, and she sends me one about a grasshopper. But by the end of the poem, I had decided this might be my favorite. In our editorial meetings, we talk about what Johannes affectionately terms “money lines.” You know one when you see it, and I saw a big money line at the end of “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”  Whoa. Okay, Mary Oliver, I hear you.
  3. The Revenant” by Billy Collins – Billy Collins takes a big risk with this poem by potentially angering dog lovers everywhere. It’s written from the point of view of Man’s Best Friend, who is writing to his owner from doggy heaven after being put to sleep. If Mr. Collins is right, it turns out we might be mistaken about the whole notion of dogs loving their owners unconditionally. For my part, I’ll definitely remember this poem the next time I find myself using that ridiculous baby voice to speak to my Jack Russell.
  4. A Story that Could Be True” by William Stafford – Heartbreaking and thoughtful, this poem makes me think of missed opportunities, finding my identity, and losing something I never had hold of in the first place.  It’s the kind of piece that makes you question your whole life and whether you’ve been the kind of person you could have been.
  5. Prayer” by Marie Howe – Speaking of missed opportunities, Marie Howe really knows how to make you feel like a jerk for not taking the time to appreciate what you have. Read this poem, and then take a couple minutes to think, rest, appreciate, and enjoy.  It doesn’t matter what the object of your thinking is—just don’t get up too quickly.

In addition to writing and editing fiction, Rachel Bondurant moonlights as a criminology student. She’s also Treehouse‘s marketing coordinator and resident Twitterer. When not tweeting for them, she tweets for herself (@rach_in_limbo). Rachel hails from Texas, knows Monty Python and the Holy Grail by heart and is deathly afraid of clowns.