Tag Archives: Poetry

Tracy K. Smith: ‘Staying Human: Poetry in the Age of Technology’

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. SmithPoetry is not the language we live in. It’s not the language of our day-to-day errand-running and obligation-fulfilling, not the language with which we are asked to justify ourselves to the outside world. It certainly isn’t the language to which commercial value has been assigned. But poetry — which awakens our senses, frees us from the tyranny of literal meaning and assures us of the credible reality of emotional truth — puts us in touch with something bigger than language, something I believe each of us was perhaps fluent in before the moment when language became our chief vehicle for meaning.

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Sylhet

by Rukiya Khatun (16)

SylhetThere,

Sun birds chipper,

Their feathers, light lime,

Seep in the sunshine.
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Mango trees

Summit and soar,

Stalk high above

The forest floor.
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Where

A Bengal tiger,

Obsolete

As an emperor
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Trembles

As the hushed wind-

Breathes –
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Rukiya’s poems were always about her childhood in Bangladesh and her journey to England when she was six. This poem shows a child’s vision of a jungle and has a gorgeous soundscape. Published in England Poems from a School, edited by Kate Clanchy.

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Summer Night, Riverside

Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933

Summer Night, RiversideIn the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.
The rail along the curving pathway
Was low in a happy place to let us cross,
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom
Sheltered us,
While your kisses and the flowers,
Falling, falling,
Tangled in my hair….
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The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.
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And now, far off
In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.
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To-night what girl
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair
This year’s blossoms, clinging to its coils?

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At the Living Heart: Translating Aimé Césaire

By David B. Hobbs

At the Living HeartAimé Césaire was one of the foremost French poets of the 20th century. He was also one of the foremost leftists on his home island of Martinique and in the French National Assembly. Upon his death in 2008, he was honored with a state funeral attended by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy—ironic, considering Césaire’s refusal to meet with him in 2005, after the passage of a bill compelling French history teachers to emphasize the “positive aspects” of French colonialism.
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In 2013, the centenary of Césaire’s birth was marked by academic conferences and new scholarly editions of his work. His words still have enormous power outside the classroom as well—at the Festival d’Avignon that year, for instance, the playwright Dieudonné Niangouna revealed that while he was imprisoned during the Second Congo War and forbidden from speaking or reading French, he hid lines from Césaire’s long poem, Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal, on the inside of his shirt.

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A Hot Day in Agrigento

Molly Peacock

A Hot Day in AgrigentoTemples look like discarded alphabets.

We loved lying in their shadows lazily

deciphering and resting and laying bets
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on what they really were for. Easily

caught by fantasy, we no longer cared

why they were there, just that they were. Happy
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to sit down and drink the water we shared

(having lugged our plastic bottle, and hats,

and camera, through the human dung bared.
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right there in the sun—where else could you get

relief with no toilets?) we guzzled it down

and rubbed it on our arms, hands, legs, and necks.
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A girl in dirty, expensive clothes found

us with the bottle and asked us for some.

I said no. As she left, a gagging smell wound
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its way from the bottle’s damp lung.

I’ve often been asked to give what I’ve saved,

but under the temple I said no, numbed
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against the girl, like one of those bridesmaids

who kept her oil in the Bible story

and was safe for the night. I’d hated those maids
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until I became one in my story,

the shape of the character I’d searched for

surprising me as the temples did: See
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how golden but pocked they’ve become, nor

are they quite decipherable any more,

at least to those who forget what they’re for,
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which is worship, the greed of prayer.

“So that’s who you are,” my friend said. “Thirsty?”

With him I drank, not quite the maid in the story.

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Flights of Fancy

Two decades before Audubon, Alexander Wilson created a poetic catalog of American birds.

BY GARRETT CAPLES

Flights of FancyI don’t recall how I stumbled across the Scottish American poet Alexander Wilson, but it certainly wasn’t in the course of academic literary studies, in which he is unknown. It may have been through my friendship with Philip Lamantia, who, in addition to being the preeminent US surrealist poet, was an enthusiastic birder, as his 1991 poem “Passionate Ornithology Is Another Kind of Yoga” attests. Wilson is still known as the “Father of American Ornithology.” His nine-volume American Ornithology: or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States (1808–1814) is the foundational account of North American birds. As Edward H. Burtt Jr. and William E. Davis Jr. write in Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology (2013)—the only recent book on him—Wilson remains relevant to the field. In addition to his comprehensiveness and his early adoption of the Linnaean system of taxonomy, the poet “introduced a truly scientific approach to ornithology—dissection to explore dietary and morphological detail—and used behavioral, ecological, and quantitative observations.” Moreover, though John James Audubon and the National Audubon Society have long eclipsed Wilson in popular awareness, there remains a Wilson Ornithological Society, founded in 1888 and active on Twitter.
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Given the dearth of interesting American poets before Poe, I’m surprised by how utterly Wilson has disappeared from the American literary canon. I don’t contend that he’s a great poet. His verse, ranging from the early, Robert Burns-influenced Scottish poems to the more plainspoken English poems of his American period, is of intermittent interest at best. His most ambitious poem, The Foresters (1809), is a 2,218-line chronicle, in Pope-like couplets, of a 1,300-mile hike from Philadelphia to Niagara Falls. It’s perhaps more valuable as an early US travelogue than as poetry, though it establishes Wilson as a prototypical American road poet, a precursor to Vachel Lindsay and Jack Kerouac. But if we take the wider view of poetry as potentially inherent in the writing of a poet regardless of genre, then Wilson’s highest poetic achievement is American Ornithology itself.

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Claudia Rankine on the Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks

Claudia Rankine on the Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks-2The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks
Edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith

278 pp. The University of Arkansas Press. Paper, $29.95.
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Claudia Rankine on the Legacy of Gwendolyn BrooksREVISE THE PSALM

Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks

Edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Sandra Jackson-Opoku

Illustrated. 416 pp. Curbside Splendor Publishing. Paper, $24.95.
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Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born in Topeka, Kan., at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, 1917. But her family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and she was a Chicagoan until her death, in 2000. The author of more than 20 volumes of poetry, Brooks holds the distinction of being the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize (in 1950, for her second book of poems, “Annie Allen”), and she received numerous accolades, including the National Medal of Arts and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. In honor of the centennial year of her birth, two anthologies have arrived: “Revise the Psalm,” edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Sandra Jackson-Opoku; and “The Golden Shovel Anthology,” edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith.
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In their shared mission, these books complement each other without too much overlap. The novelist Richard Wright, in a reader’s report for Harper & Brothers in the early 1940s, declared Brooks essential: “America needs a voice like hers.” Confirming Wright’s claim are the hundreds of artists represented in these two new anthologies, poets who have used her work as a prompt or a point of engagement.

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Solstice

Gerry Dawe
SolsticeSolstice-text

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The Poems that the Great and Good Turn to

Auriol Bishop explores the role of poetry in times of turbulence and trouble

The Poems that the Great and Good Turn toWhat is it about poetry when it feels as though the world is falling apart?
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Pithy, expressive, capturing in a soundbite all you want to say and mean; and in far better words than you could have put it yourself – if you reach for your favourite collection of poems at moments of crisis, you can be sure you’re not alone. Social media is alive with poetry new and old, words of comfort and inspiration being shared between friends and strangers. There are numerous blogs, as well as articles in the mainstream press with poetry reading lists to bring you solace in these troubled times of ours.
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And you’re in the company of many a world leader and public figure, too, of course: from Jeremy Corbyn declaiming Shelley to the cheering crowds at Glastonbury to President Putin’s public broadcast of the words of Andrey Dementyev for International Women’s Day, there’s a perennial appeal to the higher authority of a poet’s words that have already stood the test of time.

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Today in 1936, Poet June Jordan is Born

Today in 1936One 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.

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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   

inevitable

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

asleep

and breathing in the quiet air

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