Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “The Older Man,” by Karin Gottshall

baked pears

“I chose this poem because I admire Karin Gottshall’s use of language throughout all of her poems, but this one in particular feels extremely comforting to me. The lines “Your apartment,/dim and small, was in a neighborhood redolent/of cinnamon.” is so unique and such an interesting way of describing a location. I thought this poem was perfect for a day in January because it speaks of such cozy, intimate moments. It’s just something you need on a cold day, like a little pick-me-up. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do!”

– RCAH Center for Poetry Intern, Estee Schlenner

 

White-on-white like tumbled

sheets, the crumpled paper. It was autumn;

I spent hours sketching the dancers

in the Degas galleries. Five times

a day I heard the docent say Degas portrayed

his dancers, his bathers like unthinking

animals—but I was in love

with their arched backs, the blatant pleasures

and fidgets of the body in use. Your apartment,

dim and small, was in a neighborhood redolent

of cinnamon. I was clunky in corduroy

and wool as you tenderly unwound

my scarf each night; it seemed your cat

would never leave off worshipping

my ankles. You unbuttoned

my heavy coat, received my load of books,

and set before me, once, a baked pear—rich

with brown sugar, sweet

butter, redundant with spice. I ate it

ravenously, that exotic food.

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Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Burning the Old Year,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Center for Poetry intern, Amy Potchen, tells us why she chose this poem: “This poem only seems fitting for the beginning of the year. It serves as a reminder that a new year brings new beginnings. I enjoy the artful thought of being able to burn monotonous parts of the old year.”

Burning the Old Year

BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.

 

So much of any year is flammable,   

lists of vegetables, partial poems.   

Orange swirling flame of days,   

so little is a stone.

 

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   

I begin again with the smallest numbers.

 

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   

only the things I didn’t do   

crackle after the blazing dies.

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “The Trace of Hope from Lock 29: Advent 2018,” by David Adams

Dust Rays

 

The Trace of Hope from Lock 29*: Advent 2018

~David Adams

 

He shuffles through December rain that is waiting to be snow,

waiting to be darkness. The river winds and bubbles,

today its power more a rumble than a roar.

He stands before the remnants of the lock that lifted

the canal boats high across the river’s coils.

 

If he were not alone, someone might hear him whisper

“The river is a path, the canal is a path, and then

the water’s voices, too.” All paths that lead

to last night’s dream, with his question to

a cloud above his bed: How am I to love all things

laid before me at this age of counting losses, in such a world as this?

Lovers, friends and creatures—all consigned to memories.

Hopefulness has always been his answer,

but now the favored scripture passes from his lips

like a habit worn out from its use.

Lord I believe…

 

They built this canal to tame the waters,

but no water is ever tamed for good.

The canals fell to the rails, that fell to roads,

that swelled to highways. Each chance buried in another’s hope.

In any case he is standing here alone, once the hope of two,

waiting at the mossy lock as if it were a sepulcher.

 

Long ago, in a time of sorrow, a country pastor

told him “Think of the present imperfect.

Be emptying your hopes of everything but hope.

Figure it out. You will be okay.”

 

He remembers two years ago exactly,

Driving back down Riverview, dazzled

by sunlight slanting through a stand of cedars

Like a fold of angels. But that was then.

Now the rain has found its temperature.

In the darkness graupel dances on his hood

and in his lights, sparking in the darkness.

He is drifting to the boy in the back seat

of a Mercury, staring at the Christmas lights,

his breath a halo on the glass, the soft voices of assurance.

The snow becoming fire, becoming stars.

He is thinking he will be okay.

 

 

*A note to my distant friends. Lock 29 on the old Ohio & Erie Canal was actually an aqueduct that raised the canal boats above the bending stretch of the Cuyahoga River at the village of Peninsula, Ohio. Remnants of the old lock remain, and I have visited many times. For some reason, Lock 29 called to me as a site for this year’s poem. You might think it an odd place to seek hopefulness, but I have found all such places to appear odd choices, at least at first.

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “After Apple-Picking,” by Robert Frost

Center for Poetry intern Allison Costello said this about her choice for this week’s poem: “I chose this classic poem because I wanted something reflective to close out the autumn season. I think this semester has been a tough one for many people, and there’s nothing quite like the wise comfort (and touch of sorrow) that Frost consistently conveys in his work. While it may be cliché to use such a poem to represent the turn of the seasons and a time for rest, I think it contains an honesty and mix of emotions that many people can relate to regarding their own accomplishments and dreams in the final month of the year.

 

After Apple-Picking

By Robert Frost

 

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Waiting for a Poem,” by Lulieta Lleshanaku

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Center for Poetry intern Arzelia Williams said this about her choice for this week’s poem: “I chose this poem in particular because of something Cindy Hunter Morgan said at our last Peckham workshop. It was emphasizing becoming a better writer and poet by reading more writers and poets. I thought about the poet’s approach to write about waiting to get inspiration (her guests). Too often writer’s block has been a result of waiting for the action and paying little attention to the setting.”

 

Waiting For a Poem

 

BY LULJETA LLESHANAKU

TRANSLATED BY HENRY ISRAELI AND SHPRESA QATIPI

 

I’m waiting for a poem,

something rough, not elaborate or out of control,

something undisturbed by curses, a white raven

released from darkness.

 

Words that come naturally, without aiming at anything,

a bullet without a target,

warning shots to the sky

in newly occupied lands.

 

A poem that will well up in my chest

 

and until it arrives

I will listen to my children fighting in the next room

and cast my gaze down at the table

at an empty glass of milk

with a trace of white along its rim

my throat wrapped in silver

a napkin in a napkin ring

waiting for late guests to arrive. . . .

 

 

Luljeta Lleshanku, “Waiting for a Poem” from Child of Nature.  Copyright © 2000, 2006, 2010 by Luljeta Lleshanku. Translation copyright © 2010 by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Posted in Poem of the Day

Poem of the (holi)Day: “Wild Gratitude,” by Edward Hirsch

Wild Gratitude

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke’s
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
“And all conveyancers of letters” for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,

And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth
That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,”
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn’t until I saw my own cat

Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, “a creature of great personal valour,”
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

 

You’ll find a link to a recording of the poet reading this poem at http://www.edwardhirsch.com/poetry/wild-gratitude/

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” by Joy Harjo

SunMistMountain

Perhaps the World Ends Here

 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation,

and it will go on.

 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their

knees under it.

 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make

men at it, we make women.

 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh

with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again

at the table.

 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A

place to celebrate the terrible victory.

 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give

thanks.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating

of the last sweet bite.


 

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky: Poems, by Joy Harjo. W.W. Norton, 1994.

Posted in Poetic Justice

“Poetic Justice” is back and building community

poeticjustice logo

 

Everyone’s favorite poetry podcast returns for Season 2, exploring the power and impact of poetry.

In the first episode of Season 2, hosts and Center for Poetry interns, Allison Costello, Estee Schlenner, Lydia Barron, and Amy Potchen discuss the importance of poetry and community building with Cindy Hunter Morgan, the Center for Poetry’s interim director.

Special shout out to intern Arzelia Williams for writing the interview questions.

“Working on the project was easier than I expected. Allison made the process easy to learn and Arzelia wrote some great questions,” Estee Schlenner said, after working on this podcast project for the first time.

Poetic Justice is produced by the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University.

You can listen to Poetic Justice via our website, online, or wherever you currently subscribe to podcasts.

 

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Origin Story,” by Karin Gottshall

Join us this Wednesday as we welcome Karin Gottshall for our Fall Writing Series.

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Origin Story

Lake Michigan dreamed me, I think,

in the winter of 1969, its long currents

combing shipwrecks and where

 

was my mama, then? (She was wearing

a red muumuu.) And where was my father,

then? (He was fishing for steelhead.)

 

No one dreamed you, stupid girl, the seagull

said — you came straight from the belly
of your granddad’s school mascot
.

 

You wore plaid skirts and bruised your knees
and lived across the street from the motorcycle shop
.

I remember dropping dimes in the jukebox;

 

I remember embers in the sand. Once I saw God

himself — a small boy running across the RV park

with a toy sword in his hand. I dreamed

 

we all lay down on the beach and the dunes

moved over our bodies. It took

ten thousand years of whispering,

 

but we finally slept. And before that?

the seagull asked. Before that I found comfort

in the fur of animals and the movement

 

of a boat on the water. I was warm

in my mother’s arms. Before that I was

a sonic boom over Wisconsin, and before that, fire.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “All Souls’ Day”, by Carol Rumens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Souls’ Day

By Carol Rumens

 

Let’s go our old way
by the stream, and kick the leaves
as we always did, to make
the rhythm of breaking waves.

This day draws no breath –
shows no colour anywhere
except for the leaves – in their death
brilliant as never before.

Yellow of Brimstone Butterfly,
brown of Oak Eggar Moth –
you’d say. And I’d be wondering why
a summer never seems lost

if two have been together
witnessing the variousness of light,
and the same two in lustreless November
enter the year’s night…

The slow-worm stream – how still!
Above that spider’s unguarded door,
look – dull pearls…Time’s full,
brimming, can hold no more.

Next moment (we well know,
my darling, you and I)
what the small day cannot hold
must spill into eternity.

So perhaps we should move cat-soft
meanwhile, and leave everything unsaid,
until no shadow of risk can be left
of disturbing the scatheless dead.

Ah, but you were always leaf-light.
And you so seldom talk
as we go. But there at my side
through the bright leaves you walk.

And yet – touch my hand
that I may be quite without fear,
for it seems as if a mist descends,
and the leaves where you walk do not stir.