Poem of the Week: A Poem by Rupi Kaur

i want to apologize to all the women

i have called pretty.

before i’ve called them intelligent or brave.

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is the most you have to be proud of

when your spirit has crushed mountains

from now on i will say things like, you are resilient

or, you are extraordinary.

not because i don’t think you’re pretty.

but because you are so much more than that

-rupi kaur

from Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Copyright 2014

Poem of the Week: Prospective Immigrants Please Note



by Adrienne Rich

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

View Adrienne Rich reading this poem here

2015 Book Sale a Success

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Thursday, September 17, the RCAH Center for Poetry hosted our annual used book sale. The sale brought in more than $1,300, which will help us to continue to bring in poets, performers and writers throughout the year. Many thanks to everyone who came out to the sale!

P.S. If you’d like to donate books for next year’s sale, please contact our assistant director Laurie Hollinger at cpoetrymsu@gmail.com. Donations are tax deductible.

Poem of the Week: Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda


Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda

Source: Translated by Alistair Reid in Extravagaria

Center for Poetry Fall 2015 Events – Save the Date!

Welcome back, poetry people! The RCAH Center for Poetry is excited to be up and running again, led by our new assistant director, Laurie Hollinger. Laurie graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Arts and Humanities and Creative Writing.

Also new to our team are interns Frances Master and Grace Carras. Frances is a freshman studying Arts and Humanities. Grace is a sophomore studying Arts and Humanities, English, and creative writing.

Sarah Teppen and Kelsey Block are our returning interns this year. Sarah is a junior studying Arts and Humanities, Anthropology, sustainability, and several languages. Kelsey is a senior studying Arts and Humanities and Journalism.

Take a minute to glance through some of our biggest Fall 2015 events, and be sure to keep an eye out for our bi-weekly newsletter!

September 17
Annual Book Sale
9 am – 5 pm, Farm Lane & N. Shaw lawn

September 30 or October 14
Fall Poetry Chalking
11 am – 2 pm, River Trail behind Shaw Hall

October 21
Fall Writing Series: Cindy Hunter Morgan (Poetry)
Conversation: Levity and Gravity: How Humor Serves Solemnity in Contemporary Poetry 3 pm, LookOut! Gallery, Snyder Hall
Reading: 7 pm, RCAH Theater

October 27-28
Fall Writing Series: Michael and Carrie Kline (Appalachian Music and Folklore)
Tuesday, Oct. 27: Conversation 3 pm, LookOut! Gallery, Snyder Hall
Wednesday, Oct. 28: Reading: 7 pm, RCAH Theater

November 11
Fall Writing Series: Marvin and Nathan Bell (Poetry and Folk Music), co-
sponsored by the MSU “Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives” Program
Conversation 3 pm, LookOut! Gallery, Snyder Hall
Reading and Benvenuto Prize Winner announcement/reading: 7 pm, RCAH Theater

November 18
Fall Writing Series: Simeon Berry
Conversation 3 pm,LookOut! Gallery, Snyder Hall
Reading: 7 pm, RCAH Theater

Renowned poet, activist, and MSU alumna Carolyn Forché returns to campus

By Kelsey Block

The Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry was proud to welcome Michigan State University alumna and poet Carolyn Forché to campus on April 22 and 23. Forché joined the Center as a part of its annual Spring Poetry Festival, which is held in conjunction with National Poetry Month in April.

Crowds packed into the RCAH Theater for a poetry reading on Wednesday, April 22, and reconvened the next day at the Main Library to listen to Forché talk about her experiences writing and working internationally.

Forché, a Detroit native, first got started writing poetry on a snowy winter day when she was 9 years old. School was cancelled, and to keep chaos at bay, Forché’s mother assigned each of her seven children a task. Carolyn’s was to write a poem.

So, Forché’s mother took a book of poetry down from the shelf and taught her a bit about the structure of a poem, and Forché got to work.

“I wrote a very boring poem about snow and I became enchanted with writing,” Forché said.

Her newfound joy for writing merged with her interest in reading and Forché was hooked.

“It was a bit audacious,” she said, laughing. “I felt as a child I could write like the authors of the books were doing. I somehow knew I could do it.”

Forché went on to study at Michigan State University, where she met her mentor, English Professor Linda Wagner-Martin. Years later, Wagner-Martin would be the one to encourage Forché to apply to graduate schools.

Forché earned her MFA from Bowling Green State University, which is where she got her first taste of teaching. During her time at Bowling Green, she was tasked with teaching a freshman composition course.

“I had to teach them well enough that they would pass a written exam at the end in order to stay enrolled at the college,” she said. “It was challenging and wonderful. I would never have thought of myself as a teacher prior to that, but I discovered that’s what I wanted to do.”

Forché won the Yale Younger Poets Prize soon after she graduated from Bowling Green. At the time, she was teaching at San Diego State University. She received a message from another professor that she had missed a telephone call from someone in Connecticut. Forché didn’t know anyone in Connecticut, and she remembers she was hesitant to call the number back. When she did, the director of the Yale University Press informed her she won the prize and would have her first book published.

“I danced around the office and I was very excited. I started to cry. It was what you would expect of a young person who now knows that she’ll have her first book published,” she said.

Forché believes wining the prize led her to new heights in her career. Not long after winning the prize, she was appointed to a new, tenure-track position at San Diego State, something she says would not have happened otherwise.

In addition, it was her time in San Diego that, eventually, led her to El Salvador. Well, that and a “torrential rainstorm.”

Forché was visiting a friend in San Deigo one day when it began to rain. She decided to hang around a while and wait for the rain to let up, and while she was waiting, she read some of her friend’s mother’s poetry, which was written in Spanish. Forché was so moved by the work that she decided to translate it to English. She spent a summer in Spain working on the project. Not long after, she received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which led her to El Salvador, a country on the verge of war.

“I didn’t really understand that to be the case at the time. El Salvador was not a country that was well-known to Americans,” she said. She traveled there intending to study, not to get wrapped up in something much bigger.

Since then, Forché has written a number of pieces on her time in El Salvador, nonfiction as well as poetry. Internationally, she’s known as a “poet of witness.” She’s currently working on a memoir.

“I didn’t set out to write poetry about El Salvador. I did set out on occasion to write journalism about El Salvador, but poets don’t have any choice really about what they’re writing about,” she said. “I understood my role to be to speak about the conditions there, to try to help the people in my own country to understand what was causing the disruption and the war … I didn’t consider myself a political person; I considered myself a person trying to do the right things.”

Forché feels it’s especially important for writers to stay in tune with current events.

“I don’t understand how something serious could emerge from hand of someone who’s not paying attention to the world,” she said. “The more one knows, the larger the sphere for the writing, the more available the world is to you. I don’t think we can never know enough or experience enough. I don’t think it’s a question of politics but of human community and our relations with each other.”

2015 Balocating Prize for Poetry: “Memorial Day” by Connor Yeck

Congratulations to Connor Yeck, a Senior in English and the winner of the 2015 Annie Balocating Undergraduate Prize for Poetry! Yeck’s poem “Memorial Day” was selected by guest judge Carolyn Forché and presented during her reading at the RCAH Center for Poetry on April 22, 2015 in Snyder-Phillips Hall. The Balocating Prize is an award of $500 for a single poem submitted by an undergraduate student at Michigan State University. Started in 2010, the award is in honor of Annie Balocating, a poet and alumna of the former ROIAL program at MSU.

“Memorial Day”
by Connor Yeck

We were washing graves at the edge
of June. Veterans, my father had said,
handing me pail, rag, twist-tie throat

of plastic peonies; family we mustn’t
forget, even here, the way-back-simple-
sticks of Hart, Shelby, Newaygo & Irons.

So I go to metaled spigot, swatting gnats
& potter wasps, half-proud, half-angry
at a weekend spent with dust-dull acres,

stern watch, stone-chip fields of knotweeds
& shagbark. Rubbing slattered bird filth,
I rinse those men in granite, marbled boys

who’d seen Belleau Wood & Saint Quentin,
the pined Hürtgenwald, till he calls me restless
across the day. It is near-time for lunch,

he says, & so opens the fish chest—fried
chicken cutlets, sweet rolls, iced-necks of soda
for the both of us. We eat in silence, crushing

chiggers, spotting sun-pricked pillar tombs beyond
a bank of hedge. I ask if we might turn on the radio,
& he says no, it is disrespectful to those passed,

(as if it might shake them back to living sense).
Rather, he tells me of work, though I am young,
& uncaring—how I can go to the Dow plant,

like himself, or the carom factory if I so wish.
It makes me ill to think of fall bowling leagues
& company picnics, shouting in the Polish bars,

& for a moment, I hate him, a thing kept hidden,
loose, & careful, yet what he must’ve known, going
to the nearby fence line where curled, sun-spry

buckwheat had begun to overtake. A farmer’s field,
next-door. Brown-green runnels filled with migrant
workers. He calls to the nearest & three appear.

Cuánto cuesta? he asks, so loud and fool-clumsy.
The men hold up sky-burnt fingers. A few creased
bills, & they are gone, off to blue-bent buckets

on an endless, running turf. I am given the clutch
of asparagus, ribbed & gritty, a baton-like thing
of morals, perhaps. I expect him to say how young

they were, working on their knees in gingham aprons,
pulling, plucking, proud; how they’d be glad to clean
old graves for an afternoon, have something to drink.

But instead, he simply says, eat, & I do, tasting loam,
wet musk, the raw-keen bite of insecticide as he tells
me Oceana County, despite its meager size, is this-
that, crop capital of the entire living world.

Poem of the Week: “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché

Perhaps Carolyn Forché’s most well-known poem, “The Colonel” was published in her book The Country Between Us (1981) and captures “her now-famous encounter with a Salvadoran colonel who, as he made light of human rights, emptied a bag of human ears before Forché” (from The Poetry Foundation). Forché will visit the RCAH Center for Poetry this Wednesday and Thursday for a reading & reception as well as a talk about her travels and her experience as a poet of witness. More information about her visit here.

%22The Colonel%22 by Carolyn Forche

Courtesy of The Poetry Foundation

RCAH Center for Poetry Hosts Conference for Educators and Writers

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By Kelsey Block

On March 28, 2015, the RCAH Center for Poetry hosted its first-ever conference, titled: “Exploring Our Own Amazement: Learning the Language of Poetry.”

A crowd of approximately 40 people filled the RCAH Theater to participate in workshops and discussions with a number of presenters, including the Center for Poetry staff, associate professor of MSU’s College of Education Laura Apol, and local poet, teacher and coordinator of the Old Town Poetry Series, Ruelaine Stokes.

Laura Apol started out the day with a discussion on how to teach poetry effectively. Ruelaine Stokes followed with a lively presentation on strategies for oral performance. Center for Poetry Assistant Director Linnea Jimison and interns Jenny Crakes, Sarah Teppen and Kelsey Block followed with a panel on community outreach and public relations. Anita Skeen closed the day with her talk on the “compass points of poetry” and helping young writers find direction in a poem. For more information, visit our website.

The Center for Poetry plans to host another conference next year. We welcome your suggestions.

Poem of the Week: “Ice Music” by Terry Blackhawk

Detroit-based poet Terry Blackhawk will join the Center for Poetry for a reading and talk on April 15th as part of our Spring Poetry Festival. You can read more about her visit on our website.

“Ice Music”
by Terry Blackhawk

ice melt ice lace ice
breaking up upstream
coming down from up
north in variegated
quilts of floes
no instant’s act this
crumbling an entire
season sends broken
continents our way
once-miles-wide chunks break
and bob or push up
against the shore in
spun sugar turrets
they rise fall glistening
dissolving ice lace
ice music I seem
to hear a tremolo
in the trees
but it’s March no leaves
no breeze just the score
for the scene
before me silvery
glissandos rising
from a streaming swarm
of glinting
creatures herded
by the current
in a living touching
clinking singing surge

Courtesy of the author

"Poetry is life distilled." Gwendolyn Brooks


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