Category Archives: Poem
deciphering and resting and laying bets
why they were there, just that they were. Happy
and camera, through the human dung bared.
and rubbed it on our arms, hands, legs, and necks.
I said no. As she left, a gagging smell wound
but under the temple I said no, numbed
and was safe for the night. I’d hated those maids
surprising me as the temples did: See
at least to those who forget what they’re for,
One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed African American writers of her generation, poet, playwright and essayist June Jordan was known for her fierce commitment to human rights and political activism. Over a career that produced twenty-seven volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged the fundamental struggles of her era: for civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual freedom. A prolific writer across genres, Jordan’s poetry is known for its immediacy and accessibility as well as its interest in identity and the representation of personal, lived experience—her poetry is often deeply autobiographical. Jordan’s work also frequently imagines a radical, globalized notion of solidarity amongst the world’s marginalized and oppressed. In volumes like Some Changes (1971), Living Room (1985) and Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997 (1997), Jordan uses conversational, often vernacular English to address topics ranging from family, bisexuality, political oppression, African American identity and racial inequality, and memory. Regarded as one of the key figures in the mid-century African American social, political and artistic milieu, Jordan also taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities including Yale, State University of New York-Stony Brook, and the University of California-Berkley, where she founded Poetry for the People. Her honors and awards included fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and the National Association of Black Journalists Award.
Read the complete biography from the Poetry Foundation
Poem for My Love
By June Jordan
How do we come to be here next to each other
in the night
Where are the stars that show us to our love
Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness
and the rain
falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh
the black men waiting on the corner for
a womanly mirage
I am amazed by peace
It is this possibility of you
and breathing in the quiet air
by Sharon Olds
The long bands of mellow light
across the snow
The sun closes her gold fan
and nothing is left but black and white–
the quick steam of my breath, the dead
accurate shapes of the weeds, still, as if
pressed in an album.
Deep in my body my green heart
turns, and thinks of you. Deep in the
pond, under the thick trap
door of ice, the water moves,
the carp hangs like a sun, its scarlet
heart visible in its side.
For Amy Lowell
We walked through garden closes
Languidly, with dragging Sunday feet,
And passed down a long pleached alley,
And could remember, as one remembers in a fairy tale,
Ladies in brocade, and lovers, and musk.
We surprised tall dahlias
That shrugged and turned scarlet faces to the breeze.
I loved thee, though I told thee not,
Right earlily and long,
Thou wert my joy in every spot,
My theme in every song.
And when I saw a stranger face
Where beauty held the claim,
I gave it like a secret grace
The being of thy name.
And all the charms of face or voice
Which I in others see
Are but the recollected choice
Of what I felt for thee.
This little poem by John Clare (1793-1864) is not his most famous, but it’s worth sharing here because it so perfectly puts into words the power of untold love. ‘I loved thee, though I told thee not’: undoubtedly we could all tell a similar story, especially during those powerful years when we’re in the grip of first love.
by Laura McKenna
What then is the signal to go?
The sun low in its arc, the yellowing moss
Or the drift of downy white,
A scrim of ice on tundra pools?
Do you shuffle forward, seaward
Ruffle feathers, ruk ruk, stretch your wings
Out, up? Is it the pull of go,
The push of fly, the open sky
That leads to this, beat on beat,
Over the seas of Baffin Bay
Coasting the fjords of Greenland
Soaring over icecaps, heart pumping
To push, push to three thousand metres
Find the current, to bring you down
The Denmark Strait, to Iceland, a time
At least to feed on eel grass,
Then gather the last reserves,
Fly low, follow the stars? Or is it the sun
That spurs you on, through Atlantic gales
To land at last at Strangford Lough
Or a stretch of Darndale wasteland
To graze with Travellers’ piebalds?
So what went wrong, that brings just one
to Coulagh Bay, in September?
Were your fellows prey to kestrels,
Or hunters’ guns in Iceland
Or did your compass point you here
For a solitary journey’s end?
From The Irish Times:
Laura McKenna lives in Cork where she is completing a novel as part of a Creative Writing PhD at UCC. Her poems have been published in New Irish Writing, The SHOp, and the Irish Examiner among others. She is a past Hennessy Award and Forward Prize nominee and this year she received a commendation in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize. Her first (unpublished) novel was a winner at the Irish Novel Fair, and longlisted in 2016 for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have been published in The Litro Anthology of New Fiction, Southword and Banshee and she is a past winner of the Penguin/RTÉ Guideshort story competition.
by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if.
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
— when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with
is is is is is
All everything home
Like trailing silks, the light
Hangs in the olive trees
As the pale wine of day
Drains to its very lees:
Huge presences of gray
Rise up, and then it’s night.
Distantly lights go on.
Scattered like fallen sparks
Bedded in peat, they seem
Set in the plushest darks
Until a timid gleam
Of matins turns them wan,
Like the elderly and frail
Who’ve lasted through the night,
Cold brows and silent lips,
For whom the rising light
Entails their own eclipse,
Brightening as they fall.
There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o’er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.
On June 28, we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.