Name: Phyllis Cohen
Current City: Paris
Occupation: Owner of Berkeley Books of Paris
What does poetry mean to you?
I think poetry is vital, and one of the most beautiful forms of communication we have. If I want to learn about other countries, other eras, even other states of mind, I go right to the poetry of the place. If a poem works, it’s a direct address from one human heart to another. I find this to be a small, daily miracle.
The best of what’s out there is not at all limited by space or time, only the lack of translations. This is why I admire literary translators and think their work is so important.
Too, I think poetry is a better teacher of history than any other method known to us. This is an idea I picked up in college as a philosophy nerd. In Aristotle’s Poetics, you’ll find this:
“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.” - Aristotle
Why do you like this poet/poem?
There is an emotional intensity to this poem that gets me every time. I first read it as a youth in New York. The beauty of its romanticism, and the direct address from another human heart stopped me in my tracks. I decided to memorize it so as to have it with me always.
With age, the poem means even more to me. I understand it on levels other than the immediate poetic declaration and plea of the envoi. With the great poems, as with the best works of fiction, I think there is a sense in which we grow into them. They become part of us and help us learn what it is to live.