I admit to phrasing this question for maximum annoyance. I want the fun of saying, unequivocally, that the correct answer is Gerard Manley Hopkins. I still have the 1961 Penguin Poets selections of his poems and prose, much the worse for wear, which blew me away (before those words entered the lexicon) while I was in high school. And provided my first authentic experience of poetry. (This is not fair to Emily, who actually was my first love, but Hopkins out-sprung and out-alliterated her.)
In that mythical afterlife where we get to meet the dearly departed, I hope Hopkins shows up in my neighborhood. I know he can’t possibly live next door to me, but maybe he could pass through my circle and we could catch up a bit. I’d tell him how much we had in common and hope for his forebearance, how I too taught Latin and tried my hand at ancient Greek and studied Chaucer and Beowulf, how none of it took in my own poetry, but at least it primed me to recognize a guy who rocked. The word play and alliteration, I’d tell him I know they come from a strangling bottom. And the distillation of all that angst and spiritual ambition, the dribble into the world of the best, the purest.
He’d be very nice to me. I have no doubt. Despite the fact that I’ve stalked him for years, writing inane comments in the margins of books since those high school days. Next to a passage in W. H. Gardner’s Introduction, expatiating on the difference between Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus’ haecceitas and humanitas, I wrote “It seems odd that the Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus had such an influence on a Jesuit priest.” Really now? I ask that naively rounded hand of yesterday.
I pontificated on many other issues that could easily be used to self-satire, but my overwhelming feeling is gratitude that Hopkins as a person, as a scholar and as a poet engaged me so deeply. Yet I wonder with his obscure references and diction, if his stature as a poet, the best and greatest designation that I’m so eager to award him, will decrease with time.
Well, worry no more! Entering bookshelves everywhere The World Is Charged: Poetic Engagements with Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Daniel Westover and William Wright, published by Clemson University Press (2016). What an amazing testament to the influence that Hopkins has had on contemporary poets! It is a beautiful book, filled with gorgeous poetry, carefully edited, and strikingly similar to the aesthetics of my first Hopkins anthology. Believe me when I say that I am thrilled that my poem “Strife” was chosen to be published in this anthology. Pull up a chair, I’ll tell Father Hopkins when he stops by, and I’ll read it to you.