My favorite expletive.

Unless it's Robert Pinsky, nobody should ask you to name your favorite poem.  It's one of those impossible conversation starters that makes you feel like a stammering nine-year-old.  If you care a lot about something--be it music, movies, poems, swear words, barbecue sauces--you know that there is no single epitome, nothing that can satisfy every need at every moment.

Recently, at a cocktail party to which I must have been accidentally invited, a member of the U.S. Embassy's staff asked me to name my favorite poem.  I wanted to ask him to name his favorite foreign power, but I decided to try to give him a single, specific answer, and not the awkward "but I love so many!"  While being the truth, it sounds like a total cop-out, and nobody likes a cop-out.  I know that if I'm ever asked this question at a job interview or at gunpoint, my interviewer/assailant is probably going to value clarity and concision.

So I said Philip Larkin's "High Windows."  It's a brilliant poem, rising with seeming effortlessness from carnality through banality and into the sublime.  It can be both funny and bitter, but always comfortable as is casually occupies its form.  Also, it drops the F-bomb in the second line and doesn't make a fuss.  Who else can do that and get away with it?  Here, hear him read it, and notice how pleasant he sounds when he swears.

Doesn't it just make you want to hire a weary older Brit with a plummy voice and thick glasses to follow you around and cuss you out all day?  Because that would be the life.

So if you ever ask me to name my favorite poem, I will, from now on, say, "Philip Larkin's 'High Windows' is my goddamn favorite fucking poem.  Now pass me a canape."