|"It doesn't matter who my father was," Anne Sexton once wrote, "it matters who I remember he was." That memory--of the enormous, perhaps protective, perhaps absent, often mythic man--looms large in poems about fathers. In Mark Irwin's "My Father's Hat," for example, the father seems so big that his closet is like "a forest, wind hymning/ through pines." Or in the famous Sylvia Plath poem "Daddy," the father exerts such a massive influence that Plath imagines that even one of his toes must be "big as a Frisco seal," his head meanwhile dipping "in the freakish Atlantic," an image of a father so huge his body spans an entire continent.
Stanley Kunitz's father committed suicide before the poet was born, and yet the father's absence is still felt 64 years later: "I could hear him thumping," Kunitz wrote in "The Portrait."
Poems about fathers can be poems about work, employment, "bringing home the bacon," or if not bacon, then gum, as in the Suzanne Rancourt poem "Whose Mouth Do I Speak With." Robert Hayden's poem "Those Winter Sundays" recalls a father's thankless labor in the "blueblack cold." And William Jay Smith's poem "American Primitive" reimagines the wonder with which a child gazed upon his father going to work:
Look at him there in his stovepipe hat,
There's also a comic element to fatherhood. As Robert Pinsky said, "From Polonius to Homer Simpson, fatherhood has sometimes been associated with comedy. Like all notions of dignity, fatherhood, in its dignity, invites the banana peel fall of satire." A good example of this is the William Carlos Williams poem "Dance Russe," where a father, allowed a moment of privacy as everyone else in the house sleeps, dances grotesquely, naked, in front of a mirror, eventually concluding:
Who shall say I am not
Finally, many poets have used poetry as a way to pay tribute to their fathers, to mourn them, or to plead with them through time. In Li-Young Lee's "The Gift," the speaker, while helping his wife remove a splinter, recalls the time his father did the same for him:
And I did not lift up my wound and cry...
For poems about fathers and fatherhood, consider the following:
Poem 39 in Time by Yehuda Amichai