Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Did you find a poem to put in your pocket? What is it? What does it mean to you?

Here's mine. I've shared it before, but it's worth sharing again. It reminds me to be brave and take risks.

Small Frog Killed on the Highway

I would leap too
Into the light,
If I had the chance.
It is everything, the wet green stalk of the field
On the other side of the road.
They crouch there, too, faltering in terror
And take strange wing. Many
Of the dead never moved, but many
Of the dead are alive forever in the split second
Auto headlights more sudden
Than their drivers know.
The drivers burrow backward into dank pools
Where nothing begets

Across the road, tadpoles are dancing
Ont he quarter thumbnail
Of the moon. They can't see,
Not yet.

by James Wright

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Representing the Lone Star State

San Antonio

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side café,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
from Is this Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2004.

With thanks to The Writer’s Almanac.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another One From Martín

Because one is never enough when it comes to Martín....

The Day We Buried You in the Park

If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
--Walt Whitman

The day we buried you in the park
I couldn’t say no. Your wife had a plan,
revealed on the phone with the hush of conspiracy;
there are laws in this city against the interment
of human remains in public spaces.

This was the Poets’ Park, your vision
floating like the black butterflies of cinders
over the house in ruins across the street.
You and Juan saw the stone steps flowing down
into the circle where the poets would stand and sing one day.
You and Juan saw the poets showering the air with words
and the trees drinking words like water.
You nailed up the sign and spread your arms to greet us
at the ceremony. This could not be explained
to the clerk who stamps the licenses
for the burial of the dead.

Juan began to cry when he saw your ashes
in the wheelbarrow. I shook him by the shoulder;
the neighbor who watches the park from her window
was eyeing us. I handed him the shovel.
We had to clamp our jaws like mobsters
stoically soiling their hands with the grit of a rival thug.
Your wife poured a bag of plant food over your ashes
in case the neighbor peeked too long through the hedges
or the cops rolled their cruiser to a stop, bored
after years of shoving drunks into the back seat.
We stirred the ashes with our hands till they turned white at the wrist,
and what I’d heard was true: there is bone that will not burn,
bodies that refuse to become dust, the stubborn shards of a man.
Ask any criminal who labors to bury the evidence.

We weren’t criminals. We dug the hole in the wrong place,
ripped out the roots, grunted with every shovel full of rocks.
We made the little grave too big, then tossed away the dirt,
forgetting that we’d need to fill the hole once we dumped you in it.
When I tipped the wheelbarrow, your ashes landed with a puff,
drifting in the briefest of clouds over the grass, and Juan
dropped to his knees, crying again, giving us away.
The neighbor poked her head from the window
like a chicken suspicious of the world beyond the coop.

An hour after we began, I wore a mask of ash and sweat, black shoes white,
like the last man in the village to hear the warning of volcano,
or a miner on the first day back at work after the strike is lost,
or a believer smeared with his ancestors about to wash in the great river.
A woman who recognized my face stopped me as I crossed the street.
Did you just bury something in the park? she asked.
Why would I do a thing like that, I said.

The day we buried you in the park, I drove home
with three scoops of your ashes in a coffee can:
Chock Full o’Nuts, the Heavenly Coffee, their slogan
emblazoned in a cloud across the New York skyline.
At your desk there was bad coffee and good poetry,
but no heaven, so I will look for you under my bootsoles,
walking through the world, soaking up the ghosts wherever I may go.

by Martín Espada

Monday, April 27, 2009

Children's Poet Laureate

Did you know there's a children's poet laureate?

Yep, Jack Prelutsky.

I'm not always keen on the idea that children's poetry has to be silly, because it doesn't -- it underestimates a child's ability to appreciate imagery and language. However, silliness isn't always a bad thing, and I did enjoy this one. Visit his Web site and see what else he has to offer!

My Mother Says I’m Sickening

My mother says I’m sickening,
my mother says I’m crude,
she says this when she sees me,
playing Ping-Pong with my food,
she doesn’t seem to like it
when I slurp my bowl of stew,
and now she’s got a list of things
she says I mustn’t do-


I wish my mother wouldn’t make
so many useless rules

By Jack Prelutsky
From The New Kid on the Block

Sunday, April 26, 2009

John Williams

A Benediction Of The Air

In every presence there is absence.

When we're together, the spaces between
Threaten to enclose our bodies
And isolate our spirits.
The mirror reflects what we are not,
And we wonder if our mate
Suspects a fatal misreading
Of our original text,
Not to mention the dreaded subtext.
Reality, we fear, mocks appearance.
Or is trapped in a hall of mirrors
Where infinite regress prevents
A grateful egress. That is,
We can never know the meaning
Of being two-in-one,
Or if we are one-in-two.
What-I-Am is grieved at What-I'm-Not.
What-We-Should-Be is numbed by What-We-Are.

Yes, I'm playing word games
With the idea of marriage,
Musing over how even we can
Secularize Holy wedlock.
Or to figure it another way,
To wonder why two televisions
In the same house seem natural symbols
Of the family in decline.

Yet you are present to me now.
I sense you keenly, at work,
Bending red in face to reach
A last defiant spot of yellow
On those horrific kitchen cabinets.
Your honey hair flecked with paint;
Your large soft hidden breasts
Pushing down against your shirt.
The hemispheres of those buttocks
Curving into uncompromising hips.
To embrace you would be to take hold
Of my life in all its substance.

Without romance, I say that if
I were to deconstruct myself
And fling the pieces at random,
They would compose themselves
Into your shape.
But I guess that is romantic,
The old mystification-
Cramming two bodies
Into a single space.


Our separation has taught me
That, dwelling in mind,
The corporeality
Of mates has spiritual mass
Which may be formulated:
Memory times desire over distance
Yields a bodying forth.
Thus I project into the
Deadly space between us
A corposant,Pulsating a language
That will cleave to you
In the coolness of sleep
With insubstantiality
So fierce as to leave its dampness
On the morning sheets,
Or so gentle
As to fan your brow
While you paint the kitchen.
A body like a breath,
Whispering the axiom
By which all religions are blessed:

In every absence there is presence.


by John Williams
with thanks to American Poems

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Write an Epigram

It's a pithy little poem, the epigram. A few lines shot off from the hip, no?


Visit the Academy of American Poets or Wikipedia for overviews on the epigram. Then take a shot at it yourself.

Here are a few examples for inspiration:

I am His Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
— Alexander Pope

Is dandy,
But liquor
Is quicker
— Ogden Nash

Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest - and so am I.
— John Dryden

A Lame Begger
I am unable, yonder beggar cries,
To stand, or move; if he say true, he lies.
— John Donne

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not a Puppy Poem

Everyone says poems are butterflies, puppy dogs and chocolate pudding. Or something like that.

But what if they're about things not as, er, fluffy?

The Joy of Smoking

Unwind the plastic belt and hear the silly crinkle as you unsheathe
the hard red box
Turn it over and tap tap tap it on the bottom
Spread open the lid
Take a deep breath, inhale the strong sweet and musky scent
Pull off that last little cover and admire the perfect little rows,
waiting for fire
Run your finger along their firm but soft ends
Slowly work one away from the rest
Release it, roll it between your fingers and admire the smooth roundness
Bring it to you nose and inhale, closer this time, deeper this time
Lick your lips, cradle the cylinder gently between them
Tease the spongy circle with your tongue
Give it a little nibble
Light the fuse and burn burn burn

by Vicky Dobbin

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Talk Like Shakespeare Today!

In honor of the Bard's 445th birthday and in celebration of Talk Like Shakespeare Day, I share with you a sonnet by Will himself. (And here's what some of them looked like back in the day.) (And click here for some general information on the poet.) Enjoy!

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

by William Shakespeare
Thanks to Shakespeare Online

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Because There's a Poem About Pretty Much Everything

I figured I'd Google a couple of words and see what I got. I've never read any of this woman's poetry but I liked this one. There's a link to other poems she has published, if you wish to discover a new voice.

*language warning*
There's a word in this poem you might not want to read aloud to those you're trying to teach to not use, er, certain words.

Red Shoes

They weren't ruby slippers
dancing shoes, no magic
in their stiff t-strap styling
no matter how my mother tried
to trick me into fairy tale believing

they were red shoes no angels
wanna wear, not on a bet, not
on a dare, not even to save a soul

they were
totally bugfuck butt-ugly
creaky clunky stuck to my feet
eight hours a day five days a week
under the approving nods of
I swear

seventy three nuns who held the
keys to my
not quite heaven but
damned close future self

and i was such a good girl
the smart one, just a little
chubby with such a pretty
face, just a little frizz to curls
that defied braids and rubber bands
that flat out refused to lie flat and
do the long and silky thing, that
screamed Shirley Temple in a
Marcia Brady world. i was

the one who sat in the corner with
two desks between my test paper
and everyone else's eyes, already
singled out as the one who
always knew the answer
never did the crime

and i was six and all i wanted was for once
to break a rule without surprising everyone

all i wanted was to trade
my red shoes for
Mary Lou McColgan's black
patent leather
Mary Janes.

by chameleon
Thanks to got poetry?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

W.S. Merwin, Pulitzer Prize-winner

Congratulations to W.S. Merwin, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for The Shadow of Sirius.

This is his second, by the way: he first won a Pulitzer in 1971 for The Carrier of Ladders. And he lives in Haiku, Hawaii. Is that lovely, or what?


My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

by W. S. Merwin
Courtesy Good Poems

Monday, April 20, 2009

English, Dialect, a Memory

I studied English with Dr. Ora Williams, a great professor whose voice was a treat to hear. She was the aunt of Ntozake Shange, and she once reflected aloud why a woman who was raised to speak perfect English chose to write in dialect.

I wonder that, too — but I also enjoy her poetry.

My Father Is a Retired Magician

(for ifa, p.t., & bisa)

my father is a retired magician
which accounts for my irregular behavior
everythin comes outta magic hats
or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets
are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits
or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958

my daddy retired from magic & took
up another trade cuz this friend of mine
from the 3rd grade asked to be made white
on the spot

what cd any self-respectin colored american magician
do wit such a outlandish request/ cept
put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah
thingamajigs away cuz
colored chirren believin in magic
waz becomin politically dangerous for the race
& waznt nobody gonna be made white
on the spot just
from a clap of my daddy's hands

& the reason i'm so peculiar's
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy's technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it's very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me
i come from a family of retired
sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers
wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies
on our side
i'll listen to yr problems
help wit yr career yr lover yr wanderin spouse
make yr grandma's stay in heaven more gratifyin
ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son
how to clean his room

YES YES YES 3 wishes is all you get
scarlet ribbons for yr hair
benwa balls via hong kong
a miniature of machu picchu

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you white
i mean
this is blk magic
you lookin at
& i'm fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored
& you gonna be colored all yr life
& you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it
love it/ bein colored/

by Ntozake Shange
Spell #7 from Upnorth-Outwest Geechee Jibara Quik Magic Trance Manual for Technologically Stressed Third World People

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It Can’t Get Any Better Than This

Poetry and libraries, books and librarians — life is sweet.

My First Memory (of Librarians)

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
too short
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

by Nikki Giovanni
with thanks to the Academy of American Poets

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Knew it Was Coming: A Hedgehog Poem

Hedgehog Lament
A woodpecker heard hedgehog shout

A hedgehog once got stuck in a tree,
Through how he got there quite beats me.
His prickles so long,
And his body so fat.
He just couldn't budge,
So he sat and he sat.

A woodpecker heard hedgehog shout:
"Will someone kind please help me out!
My prickles are long,
And my body is fat.
I can't even budge,
What is sadder than that?"

The woodpecker chirped: "Goodness me,
I'll have to peck into this tree.
His prickles are long,
And he is ever so slow.
He's not going to budge,
If I don't have a go!"

He pecked round the hedgehog until
He'd freed every prickly quill.
Before very long,
Hedgehog's tight groove
Had loosened its grip,
And at last he could move!

The Hedgehog said: "Thank you from me,
Now, woodpecker, come home to tea.
My prickles are long,
And my body is fat.
But I can cook well-
What is better than that?"

by Porter G., Hilda Offen, Pradera, Esme Eve, Alan Jesset, Richard Hooke
With thanks to

Friday, April 17, 2009

Only a Coen...!

Listen to the interview with Ethan Coen on NPR. At the end, you will hear William H. Macy read this poem. It's lovely, for so many reasons.

The Drunken Driver Has the Right Of Way

The loudest have the final say,
The wanton win, the rash hold sway,
The realist's rules of order say
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The Kubla Khan can butt in line;
The biggest brute can take what's mine;
When heavyweights break wind, that's fine;
No matter what a judge might say,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The guiltiest feel free of guilt;
Who care not, bloom; who worry, wilt;
Plans better laid are rarely built
For forethought seldom wins the day;
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The most attentive and unfailing
Carefulness is unavailing
Wheresoever fools are flailing;
Wisdom there is held at bay; The drunken driver has the right of way.

De jure is de facto's slave;
The most foolhardy beat the brave;
Brass routs restraint; low lies high's grave;
When conscience leads you, it's astray;
The drunken driver has the right of way.

It's only the naivest who'll
Deny this, that the reckless rule;
When facing an oncoming fool
The practiced and sagacious say
Watch out — one side — look sharp — gang way.

However much you plan and pray,
Alas, alack, tant pis, oy vey,
Now — heretofore — til Judgment Day,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

by Ethan Coen
from The Drunken Driver Has The Right Of Way

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When You Can't Explain, You Explain

I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity —
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

by Linda Pastan
from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W. W. Norton & Company.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Honor of an Engagement One Year Ago

It's a rather manic view of life, love and marriage — with more than a few laughs. Do you have a favorite wedding poem? (I have a favorite engagement "poem"!)


Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky -

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap -
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son -
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food -
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on -
Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd almost be inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce -

But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust -

Yet if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking -
No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
But - imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream -

O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes -
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and -
But there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible -
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
so i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

by Gregory Corso

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Your Heart and e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

by e. e. cummings
With thanks to Famous Poets and Poems

Monday, April 13, 2009

It Happens to the Best of Us

Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other's silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I'm giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,

the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.

We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.

by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Listen to a Poem

Poems are so much more than words on a page. They are sound and experience. So much can be read from listening to a poem.

Here are a couple of places to catch a poem:
American Academy of Poets
Library of Congress
Poetry Archive
Wired for Books
The Writer's Almanac (plus a look at the day in history)

Listen to Australian poet Les Murray read Bats' Ultrasound by clicking here.

Bat's Ultrasound

Sleeping-bagged in a duplex wing
with fleas, in rock-cleft or building
radar bats are darkness in miniature,
their whole face one tufty crinkled ear
with weak eyes, fine teeth bared to sing.

Few are vampires. None flit through the mirror.
Where they flutter at evening's a queer
tonal hunting zone above highest C.
Insect prey at the peak of our hearing
drone re to their detailing tee:

ah, eyrie-ire; aero hour, eh?
O'er our ur-area (our era aye
ere your raw row) we air our array
err, yaw, row wry—aura our orrery,
our eerie ü our ray, our arrow.

A rare ear, our aery Yahweh.

by Les Murray
from Selected Poems, 1986

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keen Observation

This struck me with its lovely imagery. Listen to Garrison Keillor read it on The Writer's Almanac. Enjoy!


When you've been away from it long enough,
You begin to forget the country
Of couples, with all its strange customs
And mysterious ways. Those two
Over there, for instance: late thirties,
Attractive and well-dressed, reading
At the table, drinking some complicated
Coffee drink. They haven't spoken
Or even looked at each other in thirty minutes,

But the big toe of her right foot, naked
In its sandal, sometimes grazes
The naked ankle bone of his left foot,

The faintest signal, a line thrown

Between two vessels as they cruise
Through this hour, this vacation, this life,
Through the thick novels they're reading,
Her toe saying to his ankle,

Here's to the whole improbable story
Of our meeting, of our life together
And the oceanic richness
Of our mingled narrative
With its complex past, with its hurts
And secret jokes, its dark closets
And delightful sexual quirks,
Its occasional doldrums, its vast
Future we have already peopled
With children. How safe we are

Compared to that man sitting across the room,
Marooned with his drink
And yellow notebook, trying to write
A way off his little island.

by George Bilgere
from The Good Kiss. © The University of Akron Press.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lyrics as Poetry, and a Bonus

From time to time, I like to ask myself, "Are lyrics poetry?" Go ahead, ask yourself that. What's your answer?

And what are some of your favorite lyrics?

Sittin' by the Side of the Road
from the motion picture "Michael"

Sittin' by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere
I don't know where I'm goin' but I hope I know it when I get there.
Thinking about how love never works out,
but I guess that's the way it goes
And how this story ends, only heaven knows.

I always thought there was an angel watchin' over me
But angels sometimes make mistakes, as you will see
'cause I've had my share of bad love affairs,
in fact, I married three.
So here's my little story about Miles, Ralph and Bradley

Miles made me smile 'til he stole my Camaro
Ralph made me laugh 'til I cried
And Bradley, oh, I loved him madly
but his tires were bald, and they went flat
so did our love and that was that.

Now I'm sittin' in the middle of nowhere by the side of the road
One of these days I'll find true love,
learn how to say 'No.'
I know in the past my love didn't last
as I guess this story shows
Where was my angel then? Only heaven knows.

And a bonus: a YouTube video of Quincy Coleman singing the pie song from "Waitress," one of my favorite movies. (Alas, still no soundtrack released!)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grapefruit. There, I Said It!

I hope you visit some of the links I provide with these poems. There is some unexpected information from time to time. Like now.

And not just because I said a word that, if said enough times, will make you giggle even if you don't want to.


My grandfather got up early to section grapefruit.
I know because I got up quietly to watch.
He was tall. His hairless shins stuck out
below his bathrobe, down to leather slippers.
The house was quiet, sun just up, ticking of
the grandfather clock tall in the corner.

The grapefruit were always sectioned just so,
nestled in clear nubbled bowls used
for nothing else, with half a maraschino
centered bleeding slowly into
soft pale triangles of fruit.
It was special grapefruit, Indian River,
not to be had back home.

Doves cooed outside and the last night-breeze
Rustled the palms against the eaves.
He turned to see me, pale light flashing
off his glasses
and smiled.

I remember as I work my knife along the
membrane separating sections.
It's dawn. The doves and palms are far away.
I don't use cherries anymore.
The clock is digital
and no one is watching.

by Ted McMahon
from The Uses of Imperfection. © Cat 'n Dog Productions.
Thanks to The Writer's Almanac.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pesach and Poetry

At sunset tonight begins Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), so today we celebrate with two poems. Click here to find out more about this holiday.

Enjoy this poem and Happy Passover!
Chag Sameach Pesach!
(khahg sah-mehy-ahkh pay-sahkh)

Gabriel, Age Two, Opens the Door for Elijah

My grandson gazes at the seder plate from his position
far down the table, waves his little hands in my direction,
And says, on cue and as he had practiced, "Ma zot?"
Hebrew for "What is all this?" Next year he might know
the Four Questions but for now, Ma zot is sufficient,
and we set about answering him.
True, we took a few liberties with the seder's order,
Gabriel opened the door for Elijah before the meal
In case he got cranky and his mother had to put him down.
For the record, Elijah didn't come this year,
Nor did he drink from the glass near Gabriel's plate.
But I swear I felt the prophet's presence
in the angelic face of my grandson. Both are harbingers
of that better world all of us so desperately need.

By Sanford Pinsker
Courtesy The Jewish Magazine

I Love Passover

I love Passover,
since that's when you'll be back.
Like every year,
we'll take the car to Kiryat Motzkin
and, over glasses of wine
and bowls of charoset,
Zvi will tell us
of the March of Death.
Then we'll return to Tel Aviv,
and as you drive in the dark,
the car's windows
will fog up,
and I'll put my hand on your knee.
At home, we'll get into bed
and celebrate our own
private Seder.
I see myself putting
my lips to your belly
and thinking of honey,
while in the street below
our angel passes.

by Aharon Shabtai
Courtesy Say Something Wonderful

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Twitter Poetry

Valerie, whose birthday is today, inspired me. My brilliant and creative stepdaughter asked about Twitter, and it made me think: how about poetry on Twitter? The medium is ripe for it.

For those of you who haven't been completely overwhelmed by Technology, Twitter is a new service that allows users to send brief messages, called tweets. These tweets are limited to 140 characters, including spaces.

Writer Tom Watson, who has pondered this idea, illustrates that sometimes the poetry isn't intended. Sometimes it just is, like his friend Steve Bowbrick's tweet about driving to see his mother in Ireland:
Driving down to West Cork used to be a quiet pleasure.
Now it's a melancholy chore.
Still, the sky is absolutely full of stars.

Now, that is poetry.

If you haven't already done so, sign up for Twitter, which is free, and start following me (cfcohen).

Now, get to the fun work: write a short poem, as many lines as you want, but using no more than 140 characters (including spaces and symbols). Drop me a line and let me know, and I'll be sure to start following you — and enjoying your poetry.

Don't be discouraged and think you have nothing to say. I know the Internet is full of people showing us they really don't have anything to say, but this is different. Even the act of putting a frozen pizza in the oven is ripe for poetry. Watching the leaves blow about the parking lot? Poetry! (Well, it can be.)

So, go tweet me! I can't wait to see what you have to share.

And now, if you'll indulge me, this is a tweet for Valerie. Happy birthday, Val!
Though far away, she
is with me every

Her words —
a tweet,
a message, a call —
make me smile

I thank the Web, her
father, but

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mobile Poetry from, Plus Not Just Any Sonnet

If you want poetry on the go (and who doesn't?), click here for the Academy of American Poets mobile poetry service. It's the best thing you can do on your BlackBerry or iPhone on any given day!

Here's a compact poem: a sonnet, courtesy of Sonnet Central. It's a Canadian sonnet. (I couldn't make this up if I tried.) (Would you have preferred Sonnets of a Chorus Girl?)

With no further ado, I give you the Canadian Mary Morgan:

Good Deeds
(Founded on a Persian Legend)

The child asks, "Is it true?" The story's old,
Of a brave youth who all on good intent
Alone about the world unwearied went
For love of human kind, nor sought for gold.
His face was beautiful with thought; his hold
Of life but frail--as if he had been meant
For gentle ways, and could not have been sent
To battle with a world that bought and sold.
A wistful far-off look grew in his eyes
As if they said to all, "Good-night, farewell!"
Farewell it was. In groves of paradise
A radiant maiden meets him. "Who art thou?"
He asks. "For none so fair on earth did dwell."
"I am thy deeds," she says, "that greet thee now!"

by Mary Morgan

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Go Have Fun!

Shel Silverstein, may he rest in peace, seemed like a fun-loving guy. Visit his Web site and see if you agree.

In the meantime, here's one of his poems.

Bear In There

There's a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire--
He likes it 'cause it's cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He's nibbling the noodles,
He's munching the rice,
He's slurping the soda,
He's licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he's in there--
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.

by Shel Silverstein
With thanks to Famous Poets and Poems.

Don't let this keep you from going to his Web site — it's too fun to miss!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Choose a Poem for Your Pocket

Here's one I wrote ages ago. It still amuses me. You can use it for your Pocket Poem, if you would like.

Or, find one and share it with me.

Just go find one and carry it with you. Read it from time to time. Maybe even give it away to someone who looks like s/he needs it. Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 30, so be ready!

Until then, enjoy this little limerick.
There once was a wise cat named Mao
Who said to herself, "Anyhow,
I will not make a sound
That is not as profound
As Lao Tse's poetical Tao."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poetry from the Commonwealth

Take this, a poem by Virginia's poet laureate and Mason alumna, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda. Visit her Web site to hear her read it.

Take This on Authority

When the last cloud leaves
nothing behind—no
history, no trace of error, no
basilica to shelter a man—
a hymn, as lonely as any,
will rise out of canyons
and at great heights
sing to every particle, to
every hint of light along the way.
In a temple, in another
universe, listeners will
bow down chanting.

By Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More About Language

More on language....

Why We Speak English

Because when you say cup and spoon
your mouth moves the same way as your grandfather's
and his grandfather's before him.
It's Newton's first law: A person in motion
tends to stay in motion with the same speed
and direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force—
scarcity or greed.
Is there a word for greed in every language?

Because the ear first heard
dyes furs pepper ginger tobacco cotton timber
silk freedom horizon
and the tongue wanted to taste
all these fine things.

And when my son asks why his father speaks Danish
and he and I speak English and Carlos—
at kindergarten—speaks Portuguese:

because Denmark is and has always been.
Our ancestors tracked north and Carlos'
tracked south. What's left in their wake
is language.

Because it comes down
to want, to latitude and longitude as ways to measure
desire, invisible mover of ships—
great clockwise gyre of water in the sea—
like some amusement park ride where boats seem to sail
but run on tracks under the water.

Because to change course now would be like diverting
the Arno, this centuries-long rut we've dug ourselves
into, and how would it be to wake up one morning
with bird oiseau or another word entirely?

by Lynn Pedersen
from Theories of Rain. © Main Street Rag, 2009.
With thanks to The Writer’s Almanac.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Starting Above the Arctic Circle

Welcome to National Poetry Month! In April, I will share a poem a day with you on this site. The only way this could be better is if April had 39 days!

Don't hesitate to share with me some poems you come across and think are cool. If you hear one or read me or even just think about that one you had to memorize, send it along. I'll share it with the rest of the class!

So, here's our first poem of the month. Enjoy, and check back tomorrow for another one!

The Icelandic Language

In this language, no industrial revolution;
no pasteurized milk; no oxygen, no telephone;
only sheep, fish, horses, water falling.
The middle class can hardly speak it.

In this language, no flush toilet; you stumble
through dark and rain with a handful of rags.
The door groans; the old smell comes
up from under the earth to meet you.

But this language believes in ghosts;
chairs rock by themselves under the lamp; horses
neigh inside an empty gully, nothing
at the bottom but moonlight and black rocks.

The woman with marble hands whispers
this language to you in your sleep; faces
come to the window and sing rhymes; old ladies
wind long hair, hum, tat, fold jam inside pancakes.

In this language, you can't chit-chat
holding a highball in your hand, can't
even be polite. Once the sentence starts its course,
all your grief and failure come clear at last.

Old inflections move from case to case,
gender to gender, softening consonants, darkening
vowels, till they sound like the sea moving
icebergs back and forth in its mouth.

by Bill Holm