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Back to school, in poetry: 'Life, friends, is boring.'

August 25, 2008 |  1:25 pm


Returning to school may be billed as a gleeful time, one for new clothes and old friends, but it's not quite that simple. Even for the bookish -- who anticipate energizing assignments and glowing report cards -- there is a certain measure of dread, of questioning. What will my classes be like? Did I wear the right thing? Who will I sit with at lunch? This dread, for me at least, lasted all the way through graduate school.

Tapping into that fear, and salting it with a measure of ennui, the Poetry Foundation has come up with an appropriately dark back-to-school set: 10 Poems to Read When You Get Stuffed Into Your Locker.

Their list is well worth reading, as it has thoughtful explanations for each poem. The poets range from the long-dead (John Clare, George Herbert) to the still-writing: Franz Wright, above, Michael Ryan and Heather McHugh. Also included are poems from William Butler Yeats, Alan Dugan, J. V. Cunningham, Richard Brautigan and John Berryman; a video of the latter is after the jump.

John Berryman's poem "Dream Song #14," which begins, "Life, friends, is boring," has a stubborn ennui that makes it perfect for this locker-stuffing list. In this clip, he talks about the origins of the poem -- the Henry it complains of is from "Anna Karenina" -- and then, at the very end, reads the poem.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo of Franz Wright courtesy of Blue Flower Arts