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A Poem Toss

I have never thought of tossing a poem around, but I guess anything is possible during National Poetry Month


by Robert Francis

 Two boys uncoached are tossing a poem together,
 Overhand, underhand, backhand, sleight of hand, every hand,
 Teasing with attitudes, latitudes, interludes, altitudes,
 High, make him fly off the ground for it, low, make him
 Make him scoop it up, make him as-almost-as-possible miss it,
 Fast, let him sting from it, now, now fool him slowly,
 Anything, everything tricky, risky, nonchalant,
 Anything under the sun to outwit the prosy,
 Over the tree and the long sweet cadence down,
 Over his head, make him scramble to pick up the meaning,
 And now, like a posy, a pretty one plump in his hands.


The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart
Edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 186.


Everything in 18 Lines of Text

As National Poetry Month continues, we move from yesterday’s syllabic meter of Elizabeth Bridges to free verse from a current popular and Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, Mary Oliver

by Mary Oliver

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daises and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.

New and Selected Poems, Volume Two
by Mary Oliver, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2005, p. 4.

Poetry about Poetry

Something by Marianne Moore as we continue our journey through National Poetry Month.  In this piece, Marianne wonders about just what poetry is and why it can be so alluring…

by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
                         beyond all this fiddle.
    Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
                         one discovers in
    it after all, a place for the genuine.
        Hands that can grasp, eyes
        that can dilate, hair that can rise
            if it must, these things are important not
                         because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but
                         because they are
    useful.  When they become so derivative as to become
    the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
        do not admire what
        we cannot understand: the bat
            holding on upside down or in quest of
                         something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
                         wolf under
    a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a
                         horse that feels a flea, the base-
    ball fan, the statistician --
        nor is it valid
        to discriminate against 'business documents and

school-books'; all these phenomena are important.  One
                         must make a distinction
    however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
                         the result is not poetry,
    nor till the poets among us can be
        "literalists of
        the imagination" -- above
            insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, 'imaginary gardens with real toads in
                         them', shall we have
    it.  In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
    the raw material of poetry in
        all its rawness and
        that which is on the other hand
            genuine, you are interested in poetry.

From: Poetry Out Loud Edited by Robert Alden Rubin, Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1993, pp. 192-193.

Tired of the Same Old Job?

Today’s installment in celebration of National Poetry Month is another fairly recent addition to the poetry universe…

Tired of the Same Old Job?
by David Meuel 

Then consider a career in poetry.
We’re POETEK, an acknowledged leader
in the burgeoning American poetry industry.
We excel in all the proven forms:
historical, pastoral, tragical, and lyrical.
And, if that’s not your style, we’re also
committed to producing the daring,
irreverent, and no-holds-barred.
We’re looking for energetic self-starters,
people who can do as well as dream,
people, perhaps, like you.
We have immediate openings for poets
in our Heroic Couplet, Epic,
and Horatian Ode divisions.
And, to meet exploding customer demand,
we’ll soon be staffing up
in our industry-leading Alienation Division.
We’ll start you out at $90K,
review your salary every six months,
and give you a great benefits package.
If that isn’t enough, we’ll set you up
in your own office
with your own expense account
and your own company car.
Keats only dreamed
of soaring with his nightingale.
You can soar with us!

POETEK, an equal opportunity employer.

For reference, see “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats.

Islands in the Sky
Poems by David Meuel, Palo Alto, CA: Purism Creek Press, 1997, pp. 56-57.

Almost a Solaris Holiday

National Poetry Month moves into its second week and, to start the week, here is a fairly recent poem (20 years old) written by Douglas Crase.  Given the words and metaphors he chooses, Mr. Crase may have been directing this poem towards those of us with computer science or mathematical backgrounds.  And, about that “Almost a Solaris Holiday” blog title, that’s for you to figure out…

True Solar Holiday
by Douglas Crase 

Out of the whim of data,
Out of binary contests driven and stored,
By the law of large numbers and subject to that law
Which in time will correct us like an event,
And from bounce and toss of things that aren’t even things,
I’ve determined the trend I call “you” and know you are real,
Your unwillingness to appear
In all but the least likely worlds, as in this world
Here.  In spite of excursions, despite my expenditures
Ever more anxiously matrixed, ever baroque,
I can prove we have met and I’ve proved we can do it again
By each error I make where otherwise one couldn’t be
Because only an actual randomness
Never admits a mistake.  It’s for your sake,
Then (though the stars get lost from the bottle,
Though the bottle unwind), if I linger around in the wrong
Ringing up details, pixel by high bit by bit,
In hopes of you not as integer but at least as the sum
Of all my near misses, divisible,
Once there is time, to an average that poses you perfectly
Like a surprise, unaccidentally credible
Perfectly like a surprise.  Am I really too patient
When this is the only program from which you derive?
Not if you knew how beautiful you will be,
How important it is your discovery dawn on me,
How as long as I keep my attention trained
Then finally the days
Will bow every morning in your direction
As they do to the sun that hosannas upon that horizon
Of which I am witness and not the one farther on:
Set to let me elect you as if there were no other choice,
Choice made like temperature, trend I can actually feel.

The Best of the Best American Poetry, 1988-1997,
Edited by Harold Bloom (series editor: David Lehman), New York, NY: Scribner, 1998, pp. 86-87.


YANPMBE (Yet Another National Poetry Month Blog Entry)

For a Friday, there’s nothing better, poetically speaking, than something by one of America’s best poets of light verse, Ogden Nash…

Assorted Chocolates
by Ogden Nash 

If some confectioner were willing
To let the shape announce the filling,
We’d encounter fewer assorted chocs,
Bitten into and returned to the box.

The Best of Ogden Nash
Edited by Linell Nash Smith, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007, p. 288.

A Second April on the Third

Continuing with entries honoring National Poetry Month

Today, the third of April, provides a perfect opportunity for another April poem, this one entitled “Song of a Second April” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Millay was a talented if somewhat enigmatic American poet of the early twentieth century who often wrote about the many sides of love.  Her finest lyrics are comparable to the best European and English poets from the Romantic and Victorian eras.  Her sonnets, in particular, show the hand of a skilled artist with great instincts for combining words, feelings, pictures, drama, candor, and confidence into a traditional poetic style.  As a follow-up to today’s poem, I’ll include one of her sonnets in a subsequent National Poetry Month post.

Song of a Second April
by Edna St. Vincent Millay 

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey woodpecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

Second April
by Edna St. Vincent Millay, New York & London: Harper & Bros., 1921, pp. 35-36.

Unforgettable Words

Continuing with the National Poetry Month theme, here is another sonnet by Lizette Woodworth Reese.  This one is entitled “The Unforgotten Things” and was written about twenty years after the poem I started with yesterday.

The Unforgotten Things 
by Lizette Woodworth Reese 

What are the unforgotten things, my heart?
In what guise do they come, in what strange way
Knock at the door, and enter in and stay,
Of our small hour the near, the poignant part? —
A sound, an odor, trick of sun and air;
Left from a song the little, sobbing note;
The yellow of a flower quick at the throat —
Of all our years, of all our tears a share.
No need for quest—they are forever nigh;
Out of the night, out of the noon they start;
Their steps do follow, follow through the grass;
Their hands touch ours, and eye looks into eye;
Outlasting years and tears, my heart, my heart! —
Broken into dust their ancient lovers pass.

A Wayside Lute
by Lizette Woodworth Reese, Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1909, p. 41.

National What Month?

Nope, no April Fool’s Day joke here (well, at least, it’s not meant to be), instead…

Today marks the beginning of a month-long celebration of poetry, poets, and all things poetic.  Aptly named “National Poetry Month,” it was inaugurated as a yearly tribute to poetry in the United States a mere twelve years ago by the Academy of American Poets .  This annual rite was created to increase the attention paid (by individuals and the media) to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our poetic heritage, and to poetry books and magazines… [and] to achieve an increase in the visibility, presence, and accessibility of poetry in our culture.  The Academy of American Poets web site has more information about National Poetry Month including this FAQ.

To add one small voice to the national celebration, during this month I’ll share some recent (or maybe not so recent) poems I have come across which I have enjoyed—proof that even a computer scientist/meteorologist can occasionally discover a right side to the brain.

To begin the month, here is a poem in sonnet form entitled “April in Town“, apropos given the current month (of course!)  It is by the 19th-century American poet, Lizette Woodworth Reese.  Reese was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson.  Although she never gained the same level of attention and critical acclaim as Dickinson, still, during her lifetime, she was a popular artist of traditional poetic forms.  The majority of her poetry presented bucolic or nostalgic themes, often favored in the post-Victorian era.

April in Town 
by Lizette Woodworth Reese 

Straight from the east the wind blows sharp with rain,
   That just now drove its wild ranks down the street,
   And westward rushed into the sunset sweet.
Spouts brawl, boughs drip and cease and drip again,
Bricks gleam; keen saffron glows each windowpane,
   And every pool beneath the passing feet.
   Innumerable odors fine and fleet
Are blown this way from blossoming lawn and lane.
Wet roofs show black against a tender sky;
   The almond bushes in the lean-fenced square,
      Beaten to the walks, show all their draggled white.
A troop of laborers comes slowly by;
   One bears a daffodil, and seems to bear
      A new-lit candle through the fading light.


A Handful of Lavender
by Lizette Woodworth Reese, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1891, p. 85.

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