Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poems for Feb. 15-16

Resignation by Nikki Giovanni (read with everyone saying "I love you" as chorus -- there are 12 such
This Morning I Pray for My Enemies by Joy Harjo (read line by line. no enjambments.)
Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye (read sentence by sentence.
Bugs in a Bowl by David Budbill(stanzas. I love how "Or." is one stanza!)
DetoNation by Ocean Vuong (played the poet reading his own work.)

It often comes up that those who like to know something about the author, feel background knowledge enhances the pleasure of reading the poem. It does make a difference for instance to know that Nikki Giovanni is a fab Black poet born in 1943, that Joy Harjo is American Indian, that Naomi is part Palestinian, the David Budbill is Buddhist and Ocean Vuong's real name was not Ocean, but one his mother gave him as they left the Philippines.

I feel really blessed that in our weekly group, we can share so many different points of view, some based on research, previous knowledge, some conjecture based on experience. It makes such a human tapestry — and I love how one poem can trigger such an outpouring of humanity!

Rae Armantrout has this to say about poetry:
“clarity need not be equivalent to readability. How readable is the world? There is another kind of clarity that doesn’t have to do with control but with attention, one in which the sensorium of the world can enter as it presents itself.”

In the first poem, "Resignation" the anaphor "I love you" pins down "because", compares itself,
considers alternatives, forays into a song by the Dells (Love is so simple) only to end up
with the indubitable power of love, the draws you to another and demands that you "should"
and "would" and how one person changes a whole life to love that other person... and just in case you don't get it... "and decided that I would,
love you
I love you I love you I love you."
She starts big... I love you because the Earth turns round the sun...
and we remarked the capital letters, "North wind" Pope is Catholic, most Rabbis Jewish.
Black (but after coffee, so expanded meaning) and that one Friday.

When is the last time you prayed for your enemies? I love that the first question is:
and whom do I call my enemy? Harjo addresses the question of "enemy", or heart/mind, the problem of indifference... of knowing. And that delightful twist -- an enemy who RISKS the danger of becoming a friend!
It goes back to the wisdom of holding what looks to be opposites together. (The heart... hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.) The mind has a hard time doing this but the heart is able to open the door in ways the mind cannot.

Stories shared about the KKK white supremacist who left the clan and befriended Blacks. Questions:Who do you want to call a respectful enemy? Comments: It’s a love poem...
enmity/hatred *consumes... vs. forgiveness..
to read: Notes of a native son – James Baldwin... Civil Conversation Project: Krista Tippett
The people who are the troublemakers – what they bring for us...
sand in the oyster that makes the pearl.

We had discussed Red Brocade I am sure, but it is a wonderful poem to read again and again.
Middle Eastern culture is different than ours. Imagine if we said, and truly meant it,
"No, I was not busy when you came!"... Imagine if we did not need the armor of business!
Ah... I feel with this poem a powerful sermon reminding me of my preoccupation with business.
How in High School, I would say how I had to practice piano, had to... had to... but the fact was,
that busy compulsion was just to pretend I had reason to live, unable as I was to help the mother
I loved unable to offer me a simple pleasure of snipping fresh mint into tea to share together.
Did I give my children that message too?
For the form: It is interesting to note the blend of end-stopped, comma-stopped sentences and
general flow -- as if the words stitch a comfortable pillow on which to rest.
3 sentences in first stanza of 11 lines;
5 sentences, two of which are fragments of questions in 5 lines;
3 sentences in stanza three, of 5 lines with a preponderance of initial "p;s" First sentence/line ends with an exclamation! Second sentence/line a period.
Final stanza: 3 sentences. 2 end-stopped. I love how p is repeated in "plate" and "snip".

Bugs in a Bowl gives a gentle poke at our human nature with humor. We do have choices...
Ask yourself every once in a while. Or.

Be the change... You don't like Sisyphus... be a bug in a bowl, look around. Hey, nice rock.
How's the push going?
Some were reminded of H. M. Woggle-Bug, T.E. (Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated)!

The final poem was quite enigmatic... the title combining the sense of detonation of a Nation.
How both father and bomb are repeated. Play of dark and light...
How does a bomb tell you: "here is your father" -- one imagines a dead man in pieces.
one's father in the very air you breath... and to write father has the effect of "carving a portion of the day our of a bomb-bright page." The father returns as italics, perhaps a ghost... don't cry
// anymore. The haunting image of a boy, his shadow growing toward his father...
One needs light to cast a shadow...

Apparently in an interview, Ocean said that it is a mistake to think that the poem is about
the poet's father. However, one does learn that the father left... and the war metaphor is apt
to capture loss.

As ever, the discussion allowed multiple angles and discoveries.

Thank you one and all.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Poems for February 8-9

For Once, Then, Something by Robert Frost
Spaces by Jenny Johnson
The Chance by Arthur Sze
“Home” by Warsan Shire
Dear Mother of Three by Wanda Schubmehl

utube of Robert Hayden reading his poem, “Frederick Douglass”
the poem:

Usually I am good about taking notes, about what each class says...
on the computer, or the copy the library makes at Rundel... It is now a week since the discussion...
no notes. Only the poems.
I can't even remember what our Frost specialist had to say... so bear with me.
What is my role as moderator,but to keep people on task with the poem...

The first poem, 15 lines, has an enigmatic title, repeated again to close the poem.
"Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something."
The general idea of looking over well curbs, becomes specific, on line 7 with the word, "once".
Perhaps he makes fun of the poet, the head wreathed in the reflection, with puffs of clouds. The "once" arrives when -- "for once", he looks with the intent of seeing something beyond himself.
He peers into the well, and sees "a something". Line 10, "Something" repeats and "then" is included: "Something more of the depths—and then I lost it."
The "something" then seems to be lying at the bottom of the well -- which only a drop from a fern
shakes -- and the lovely consonant clusters of "bl-bl" blurred, blotted, turn into the breathy "wh" asking "what was that whiteness".

I loved that everyone applied themselves hard to imagine the scene-- and also "beyond and through" the scene, knowing the poem is more than a description. Some were reminded of the Escher print,
which captures 3 worlds in a puddle -- a fish below the surface, reflections on the surface of what lies above. What is truth but something as slippery as water, whose ripples make it hard to discern. What a boring poem it would be to set out to talk about truth. Instead, a brief haiku-like "once"
with a hint (undefined) at a consequence.

It seemed the perfect prelude to the next poem, "Spaces" where the poet confides she originally wanted to write a poem of witness, but realized "the more honest poem was the one about what a witness can’t know about another person’s experience.”

The short enjambed lines, give a staccato energy of suspense. "I do not know how"... could easily be completed by the words "it happened"...
"... but I keep" -- could be completed by "thinking about her screaming"...
When help comes, and she tries to explain "I found her there after the--..."
the victim interrupts her. We will never know exactly what happened.

The lesson spills out-- yet by calling into question the value of poetry to convey it, confirms the nature both of poems and the complexity of feelings.

Arthur Sze's poem also contains enigma...
What to make of this:
"And as I approach thirty, the distances
are shorter than I guess?"
(going 30 miles an hour, not age 30, we presume). The doubling of language: ironwood, hardens and hardens... passion grows and grows, the desire for "clean white light" -- a bit like Frost's
"something" also blurred when seen reflected in the well, although here is is the x-ray .
His parallels of desire for passion create a sense of urgency that I don't sense in the Frost who creates a scene of "wondering".
Frost uses longer lines with enjambement which contrast with Sze's shorter self-contained lines:
I want a passion that grows and grows.
To feel, think, act, and be defined
by your actions, thoughts, feelings.

Chance... "once" when we are given a moment to "see" or understand, something that seems to "shine".

The problems right now of having a President who didn't seem to be aware of Frederick Douglass brought me to share the wonderful Robert Hayden poem, delivered with the poet's gentle voice.
The other issue of refugees made Warsan Shire's poem quite timely. "no one leaves home" becomes the anaphor that morphs into all the choices no one would make unless desperate. Powerful, authentic.
The poem left all of us with chills, especially closing as it does with "home" picking up the refrain :leave.
"no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here"

The letter written to the mother could also be like witnessing a crime, as in the poem "Spaces".
One person felt it was written more for the writer than for the reader or the family in question. Therapy writing is to alleviate some all consuming emotion or helplessness towards a person/situation.
Regardless, we all felt it was very powerful with its intimate, emotional tone. The only exception noted by one participant were
the first two lines especially and later, "I cannot pick you up......although I'd like to." which stood out for her as distant or casual.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

poems for Feb. 1-2

American History by Michael S. Harper, (1938 – 2016)

almost two pages long:
quaking conversation by Lenelle Moïse
The Children of Aleppo by Chard deNiord
On the Sadness of Wedding Dresses by James Galvin
Still I rise -- by Maya Angelou
Happy the Man -- by John Dryden

Included for O Pen: ( ) by Brenda Hillman
Included for Rundel -- mention of Wind in the Willows (Konrad)


Length of poem is sometimes discouraging to me, although recently I have come across 3 page poems
which don't feel long at all, but work a spell that a short poem would miss.
I didn't pick "A Brief History of Hostility" by Jamaal May, interesting -- but possibly too long to read, but did pick the amazing "American History" which in 9 lines provides "American History" that is not talked about either in school text books or in the general culture.
From the dates you can see the Michael S. Harper died young (54 years old), and the poem comes from his book "Images of Kin" so you can guess he is black. I would want to read more of his work.
The short lines, the word "redcoats" in italics, the closing rhetorical question enjambed
"Can't find what you can't see/
can you?"
brought up a discussion of tone. Several people gave a try of reading that sentence -- it is
a perfect vehicle to capture commentary... the tragedy of what is unsaid, unspoken, forgotten.
The italics remind us that labeling, such as in "Redcoats" sets up a "them/us"... and the horror
of taking human life to hide wrongful traffic...
Some remarked how at first, there was a sense that the people in the water were being hidden
to be saved... but on second read, of course, imagine FIVE HUNDRED -- the weight of all those bodies,
under water... and the reason -- so those redcoats wouldn't find them...and the slave traders would not suffer the consequence of "breaking the British laws that forbade such trade... This gives the final question a special clout, the turn, "can you", throws the reader a challenge... so what are you going to do about it ?

quaking conversation, takes all meanings of quake-- the physical earthquake, the political consequences that shake a nation, and the general injustice that makes one shudder. The small "i" Doris explained, is a way of saying "we" as opposed to the capitalized I which stands in its solo importance. Curious how Haiti has two "i"'s. The dates remind us of the first rebellions, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Napoleon, and the history of Haiti, which looks like a dirty brown bandage steeped in blood next to the large and lush green of the Dominican Republic; how strange two nations on one island turned out so differently. We learn Haitians greet each other with "honor" and "respect" and the open brings us to consider any victim; we are reminded that we are all subject to consequences of decisions made by our parents, our nation... how what happens to one person could happen to us all. We all have names, nerve, complexity and deserve honor and respect.

The quatrains do the work of oratory... the repetition of "i want to talk about haiti returns, doubles in the penultimate stanza... i always want to talk about haiti -- and the final stanza with it's three occlusive "come", "cry", talk, walk... a plea to consider all the complexity. The "wanting" of the poet, Lenelle invites the reader to talk about history, responses to disasters, and the striking phrase, "Irreversible dead". The next stanza calls them the "newest ancestors”. Thus, dead, but now, benevolent ghosts that still can work, from the past. They will help us talk about corruption,but also to express gratitude that we are living, with choices that bring a compassionate respect to other living people.

The Children of Aleppo: 18 lines. The first 8 tells the story. Children, asking/a thousand questions. Stilled by an answer they never saw, a "surgical strike". The next 10 lines ask an ambiguous question, interrupted and broken by another question.
"So why not the men inside the sky..." could refer to "why do they not ask about why the sky is blue;" or, "why are their tongues not suddenly stilled;" or "why does silence not ring in their place?"
The complexity of the unfinished question includes the question mark about the feeling of flying.
The discussion included the problem of receiving orders, and the contradictory paradox of
fine flyers, with "everywhere to turn" -- really superb-- but no where to go.
The final sentence as one of the participants put it, capitalizes on the enjambment of "really--
a "leaking sarcasm" on the word "superb".

I isolated the sounds of all the consonant clusters with s, as the hissing sibilance threads the poem, surrounds us:
First sentence:
asking, suddenly tongues, stilled, answer, saw, silence, rings, place, stone, Arkansas. thousand (z)
First question:
So, inside, sky, wings, clouds. (z)
continuation of question:
distance, is, theirs, turns, heavens,
continuation of question
Final part of question:
as excellent pilots

The vowel sounds accentuate the EEEEEEE -- which when pronounced, pulls the lips apart to the ears
and has a cutting sharpness to it... the short "i" (children/stilled") moves to long "I",
silence, inside, high, pilots). How the I sound in sky, has two difference views -- those looking up at it,and those bombing down from it.
We discussed at length the ptsd -- not just of pilots, but of those who program the drones.
How do people do what they do in times of war...

The Sadness of Wedding Dresses provided welcome relief -- the oddity of the conceit somewhat funny, but with a sense of sarcasm. Rich rhyming, "less" "dress", the slide of "l's" and ghostly "w's"
hints at something other than wedding dresses. Discussion included cynicism about the "wedding industry", but also, women defending the tradition -- the beautiful workmanship of making the dresses, the poorly-paid work of beading;

Perhaps some felt offended, or irritated at these lines:
"But what sad story brought it there,
And what sad story will take it away?"
although the "tongue-in-cheek" follow-up removes a rather sour view of weddings:
"Somewhere a closet is waiting for it."

The poem allows for a wealth of sharing -- everyone has a wedding story... betrayals
a week after the wedding, happy stories of re-using a dress, the debt one man is still paying off
20 years after his daughters were married...
What invites us to “collude” with the poem are the personal details, we want to add to the universals...
It is not an amusing poem, yet we laugh... welcoming the wedding dress perspective...
whether it be brown taffeta,or 6 yards of satin. Marna, who used to make wedding dresses
brought up the comparison of creating a dress was like being a hair stylist... fitting it just so
to allow the bride to bloom.

Another person seemed to think the highest ambition of the dress might be to go up in the air. Another said it had a very buddhist slant-- that self denial and right thinking is a way to reach Nirvanna. Another thought the sadness came from the fact that one dresses up for special occasions--
and that it infers the marriage cannot match something so extraordinary...
Of course in one sense it doesn't matter what a person wears to go to a museum or theater or church or other event, however, it is a sign of respect, a way to say that the occasion was extraordinary, important.

I'm glad Sherman Alexie picked the poem for the "Best of American Poetry- 2015."
The poem goes beyond wedding dresses… The symbol of a dress usually worn once, then
relegated to a closet reminds me of how easy it is to treat people that way too — We put a spotlight on someone, and for a moment, that person is special. Perhaps like a Christmas card from a far away friend, after read once, it is stored in a drawer, removed from daily life. We forget to pay attention to what matters and the forgotten dresses remind us of that. However, will you forget
"They are flung outside the double-wide,
Or the condo in Telluride,
And doused with gasoline."

What do we draw our attention to? The fate of the wedding dress can be like a beautiful sand mandala — all that work to create — then poof… gone… -- but how it is remembered, is as individual as each dress.

We heard Maya Angelou recite her poem.
It proves that a poem memorized can find different words,at a later date...
She replaced "haughtiness" by "sassiness"... "like" by "as if"... eyes by "lies"...
But still like life (instead of air..)
"wondrously" by "miraculously" --
In a way it is like watching a history of a life that prompted those changes.
"And so, naturally," she concludes, "I rise."

We ended on the simple wisdom of John Dryden.

As ever, I am so grateful for all the discussion!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Supplements sent out end of January 2017

Dear all,

Further to our discussion, I enclose Brenda Hillman’s poem which speaks about “Saudade” which Kathy brought up-- ( )whose first line is: "The word saudades cannot easily be translated."
(appeared in Boston Review in May 2016).

Anticipating Ground Hog’s day… as the days lengthen, perhaps some of you might enjoy these supplements to our weekly sessions. It’s certainly more than I can keep up with. Should anything strike your eye as something you’d like to discuss, please let me know.

Below the supplement to “Poetry” magazine —
I isolated the “poems of protest” in the enclosure— if you click on the poem you should be connected to it.
You might also enjoy the interviews from winter 2016-17 issue of “The Journal”

Poetry FoundationNewsletter
January 27, 2017
jia tolentino

Mind No Mind

Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment
Why poetry is necessary and sought after during crises.

Poetry Stars in a Movie
Ron Padgett on having his poems appear in Jim Jarmusch's film Paterson.

harriet the blog

I’m Trying to Wreck Your Mind, That’s All

Super Bowl

Poems for January 25-6

Mentioned in Article about Elizabeth Alexander and her Inauguration poem for President Obama's first inauguration.
are the first two poems.
kitchenette building by Gwendolyn Brooks (1961)
Harlem by Langston Hughes

Music by Anne Porter
Trick of the Light by Michelle Y. Burke
Inviting a Friend for Supper by Ben Jonson
Difference by Stephen Vincent Bent

I listed for fun "Your state's name here"...

Background of Chicago "Kitchenettes" -- after ww 2, small apartments with shared bathrooms.
Even without knowing that, the poem is tremendous in the craft that "shows doesn't tell".

Sandwich rhyme (aba; c de c; f g f; h i h) and in 3 tercets and one quatrain...
the foiling of "dream" in quotes, contrasting with dream, uncorseted by quotes in the
grit of onion fumes (tears). Gray "dream" -- not black and white,

The sounds and sensory details paint a powerful picture. How indeed, could a dream "flutter" like Madame Butterfly when "garbage ripens in the hallways"-- even if... past the tsking "t" in white and violet, potatoes, exasperated "f" in fight and fried in the second stanza to the "even if" where "it" (as dream rhyming let it in/begin). The change of tone in the final stanza brings us down into the reality,
where dream and maybe lukewarm water share the final "hope to get in it.

The opening line reduces people to "dry hours, involuntary plan, grayed in...
This is not dream deferred as in the next poem, or rhetorical "I have a dream" -- this is
life -- the 5-syllable "involuntary" a reminder that plan is not something to "warm", "keep clean"
or even anticipate but a noose that the unpronounced word hope can loosen.

Everyone enjoyed discussing this poem -- much to say about this "almost Sonnet"
... Happy 100th birthday this year Gwendolyn Brooks!

Langston Hughes, the "O Henry of Harlem" does not use the title "Dream Deferred". This powerful poem provides the unforgettable image "dry up like a raisin in the sun" -- a double reduction of a grape filled with vital juice-

The end rhyme, sun?/run?... meat?/sweet?, load/explode? does not clang but propels the rhythm -- does it? / or...? Does it? / or... Maybe... and a heavy couplet drags the heavy load... or
the wind up for the final, italicized "explode"?.
The preponderance of "d" -- dream/deferred/ does/dry/load/explode
contrasts with the sibilance : raisin, sun, fester, for, stink, crust, syrupy sweet, sags...
Powerful poem especially remembering how Martin Luther King's "dream" turned into a "dream" in 2017 half a century later still should be interrogated.
And what is the "American Dream" now? Over Hughes grave, an inscription from "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" says, "My soul has grown deep like the rivers."--

This is a perfect segue to the next poem... long and narrow on the page with no help of punctuation or stanza break.
The tone creates the feeling of "saudade" -- the word in Portuguese for yearning, or German "Sehnsucht" -- a sort of homesickness... for childhood, for ancient legends. Konrad brought up
"Wind in the Willows" , where Ratty and Mole travel down the river..( )
Paul brought up the lyric feel of Yeats. Others were reminded of Basho.. and the medieval wandering minstrels,(Trouveres) who sang of "sad pleasure, painful joy" triste plaisir... douleureuse joie.

We did discuss the word "wound" -- the opening that pierces the heart-- but also allows a certain "healing"... the tear that allows tears...
Anne Porter apparently didn't start publishing her work until age 83...
There is a quiet wisdom-- a reassurance that in our wanderings like music, we are not alone.

to quote Galway Kinyell: "To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment."

Trick of the Light is a curious title, for a rather surreal poem filled with delightful details.
People shared stories of pickpockets... noted the incongruency of a thief executing a personal, hidden response to survival with an overt petition against injustice. Light -- as in touch.. as in sleight of hand, as well as sharing light on a vignette, replete with the woman in checkered spandex, twirling the hull-hoop... while standing on her head in the busy subway junction.
Perhaps we are "Involuntary plan"... and it is fitting to hear the echo in "dear unobservant God"...
a plea not to snuff us out. The last line is not a justification or explanation of why or why not.
Rather a celebratory confirmation. We ARE beautiful and strange!

The Ben Jonson is filled with old vocabulary -- a rather blustery, pompous delivery that points
to a time of intense political discourse... Please come over... I promise, I won't rock the boat...
it's not the food, but the liberal display may remind us of liberty...
I think we do need to invite more friends to dinner!

The last poem seems more an exercise -- tight end-rhymed couplets contrasting two minds: One, a map, the other
an uncharted sea... The first stanza seems to have gathered phrases one has seen elsewhere:
Here there be tygers... "dark side of the moon"...
Judith brought up that Wylie was his sister-in-law and thus heavily influenced him.
We were stuck on Wednesday on the image of "moth"
Sewing bright coins upon the tragic cloth
Of heavy Fate, and Mockery, like a moth,

It goes back to the problem of using a word like "soul" in a poem... or in this case, "mind",
albeit the colors are like Brooks' purple onion, "white, lavender".
I far prefer her style.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inauguration Poems -- January 2017

In this article, an uplifting reminder of how an Inauguration could be, with the fine
voice of Elizabeth Alexander. We will discuss the first two poems she mentions in the article.

below the Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden and the Inauguration Poems for JFK, Clinton and Obama.

Our country has a strong tradition of including poetry to bring dignity to celebration of important events. (More on that another time: I’m reading, “Songs of Ourselves: the uses of poetry in America”
By local UR scholar, Joan Shelley Rubin.)
You might enjoy reading these “inaugural poems” and the article from Rumpus.

There are many voices, strong voices — we each can share a poem on this inauguration day…
And keep writing, and keep our voices clear, and celebrate the best hearts that beat
And celebrate the wisest people from history.


Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing

Praise Song for the Day -- Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

The Gift Outright by by Robert Frost
Poem recited at John F. Kennedy's Inauguration 1961

The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she will become

The inaugural poem that was not read, due to the glare of the sun.

Dedication by Robert Frost

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

On The Pulse Of Morning - by Maya Angelou
read for Bill Clinton’s Inauguration, 1993

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers-
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Of History and Hope by Miller Williams. (2nd Inauguration of Clinton)

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

One Today by Richard Blanco (for 2nd inauguration of Barack Obama)

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Poems for January 17-18

At the Entering of the New Year by Thomas Hardy
Remember by Joy Harjo
Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways by Brenda Hillman
You Can’t Put Muhammad Ali in a Poem, by Juan Felipe Herrera, (+ vimeo
The Shapes of Leaves by Arthur Sze
Resolution by Lia Purpura

The first poem, written Dec. 31, 1917, is set up of contrast between the "old style" and "new style" to celebrate Christmas holidays and preparations for a new year. The former has a lively sound, and one senses the delight of lively dancing,
a sense of promise. The end-rhyme falls on alternate lines: 2-4; 6-8. Men, again, echo in "casements, line 5;
In the second stanza, booming/lambings; almost rhyme, bounds/rounds, delight/sight continue the pattern,
as do the non-rhyming "duly"/"promise".he

In the "new style" there is no break with the alternate end-rhymes.
Muffled, steal, bereaved, lend a mournful tone... dusk of a pine-tree limb -- not branch or trunk, but severed member;
"to feature" harkens to a bleak future... where "Youth" is unmasked, untied -- but not associated with promise.
Who is the "good friend"? Youth-- the ghost? No blame for the wish not to converse...

I find the poem inspiring in form... a way to review perhaps the transition from 8 years of one President who is a compassionate, articulate leader, to the unknown of a president-elect who may well put well-being of the common man and the world at high risk.

Remember, by Joy Harjo, repeats the command like a meditative prayer. "You dance not for yourself, but with all your ancestors before you. Remember the earth whose skin you are: -- 5 different colors... how we, along with plants, trees, animals and all the histories are the living skin... Everything is "alive poem"-- history included.

Brenda Hillman may well have known the nursery rhyme about the 5 little monkeys jumping on the bed, but here, pulls 4 letters, treats them like children to bed to rest... What happens to "hate" when E turns sideways into
a suggestion of the bottoms of windows. The H, swings from the first stanza like a rope. A is pushed to the left. T pushed to the right. Like a Cross. A weapon. E on its back... Hate cannot be spelled to mean something.
Autumn ritual -- like burning leaves... the end of a season as winter approaches.

We listened to Herrera read his poem. Muhammad Ali,who said, "float like a butterfly,sting like a bee"...
He changed his name from Cassius Clay-- the old tradition of taking on a new name/identity -- perhaps to do those things which do not have a name... Just like the boxer, the letters dance on the page.
It would be interesting to listen to the poem with the audience saying the words in parentheses.

The Arthur Sze poem also very powerful-- beautiful enjambments. Second line... "our emotions resemble leaves,
and alive" -- like the bright EE in tree, grief, field, speak, leaf. Contrast of the network of roads with veins in a leaf... how pure anger, aspen gold can being both light, beauty, yet convey spilled and molten.
Some saw the anger as something like Judo, when one deflects another's energy to one's benefit...
Is it an elegy? Reminiscent of Bin Dahn's work.

The final poem we read both line by line and segment by segment up to a comma. The more you look at it, the more clever is appears... 3 times "morning", followed by a parenthesis echoing 3 times "more, more, more?)

So much more to say... the discussions were rich, inspiring people to speak about much more than the poems..