Posted in Poetic Justice

“Poetic Justice” is back and building community

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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.


Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Unmarked,” by Tim Seibles



for Natalie


So much like sequins

the sunlight on this river.

Something like that kiss—



Fourth of July, with the moon

down early    the air moved


as if it were thinking,

as if it had begun

to understand


how hard it is

to feel at home

in the world,


but that night

she found a place

just above your shoulder


and pressed her lips

there. Soft rain


had called off the fireworks:

the sky was quiet, but

back on Earth


two boys cruised by on bikes

trying out bad words. You turned

to reach her mouth,


at last, with yours    after weeks

of long walks, talking


about former loves

gone awry—


how the soul finally

falls down


and gets up alone

once more


finding the city strange,

the streets unmarked.


Every time you meet someone

it’s hard not to wonder


who they’ve been—one story

breaking so much


into the next: memory

engraves its hesitations—


but that night

you found yourself

unafraid. Do you remember


what the wind told the trees

about her brown hair?—

how the cool dark turned around:


that first kiss,

long as a river.


Didn’t it seem like you already loved her?


Off the sidewalk: a small pond,

the tall cattails, all those sleepy koi


coloring the water.



Center for Poetry intern Estee Schlenner had this to say about her choice of “Unmarked” this week:
I like this poem so much because, as a poet, it is difficult to write about love or most sentimental feelings, without leaning into clichés. I think Seibles walked that line perfectly. He spoke of love and a first kiss, while making it about so much more than that. I think it’s very admirable when a poet can write a poem like this because it’s a very difficult task to accomplish.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Wounded Men Seldom Come Home to Die,” by Austin Smith



Regarding this week’s selection, Interim Director Cindy Hunter Morgan says, “I’ve been sharing Austin Smith’s poems with friends and students and strangers since I discovered his book, Almanac, in 2013. I was delighted to find this new poem in the August issue of Adroit Journal. I admire how Smith balances the ordinary with the surreal, and how the poem, as a vessel, accommodates both gentleness and violence. I admire his use of simile. ‘Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling’ is wonderfully odd and perfectly right, and the description of the wound — the way, as Smith says, ‘It’s still drifting around inside his body, bouncing,’ also feels weird and true.”





And this is why: when a wounded man comes home
To die he must come in through the summer kitchen,
Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling.
At the sight of him his mother faints. He catches her

Just in time and lays her down on the floor.
When his sister comes in from slopping hogs to find her
Brother at the table with his long legs kicked out
And their mother senseless on the linoleum, she sighs

And unbuttons his shirt. The wound isn’t visible yet,
It’s still drifting around inside his body, bouncing
Under his skin like a man swimming under ice,
Desperate to find the place where he fell through.

When the wound surfaces, that’s when she’ll know
Whether he’ll live or die. For now, his eyes are calm
And blue. He asks her which boys have been bothering her
At school. She knows not to ask him where he’s been.

When their mother comes to, she insists she’s fine.
“It’s just this heat is all,” she says. After putting a pot
Of coffee on, she says, “Now if you’ll excuse me,
I’m going upstairs and close my eyes awhile.”

There’s blood soaking through his white tee-shirt now.
His sister pretends not to see it. They talk through the evening.
Around midnight she tells him the sheets on his bed are clean.
He thanks her and tells her he might sit on the porch,

Watch fireflies like he used to when he was little.
In the morning his bed hasn’t been slept in. There’s no note
On the kitchen table, just a few fireflies in a Mason jar,
Holes punched in the tin lid so they can breathe.

(Originally Published in the Adroit Journal, August 2018)

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill,” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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Center for Poetry intern Grace Carras selected this poem, and had this to say:

“I had the great privilege of participating in a poetry workshop led by Aimee Nezhukumatathil over the summer. As a teacher, she was tremendously energetic and inspiring; as a poet, her wit and attention to sensory detail sets her work apart from so many others. I’ve felt inspired by her poetry for months, and I hope you find yourself inspired as well.”


Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill,

(a found poem, composed entirely of e-mails from various high school students)


If I were to ask you a question about your book

and sum it up into one word it would be, Why?

I think I like Walt Whitman better than you. I just don’t

get literature, but for a fast hour and a half read, your book


takes the cake. I like how you organized the lines

in that one poem to represent a growing twisting bonsai tree.

Are you going to get a rude reaction when you meet

that one guy in that one poem? I guess you never know.


You are very young to be a poet. I also like how your poems take

up an entire page (it makes our reading assignment go faster).

In class we spend so much time dissecting your poems

and then deeply analyzing them. I think I like Walt Whitman


better than you, but don’t take offense—you are very good too!

You are young, You are young and pure and really just want

to have a good time. Thank you we have taken a debate

and you are a far better poet than Walt Whitman. And I loved


how your poems were easy to read and understand. Hello

my name is Alicia. We read you book and I just loved it.

We also read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. There

was no competition there. I liked your book a whole lot better.


It was an easy read. But poetry is not my favorite type

of literature. Sometimes I am offered drinks and guys

try to talk to me but I too just brush it off and keep dancing.

Every once and a while the creepy mean guys try to offer you


things and then they say something. What would you do?

Lastly, I was wondering if you ever wrote a poem that really

didn’t have a deeper meaning but everyone still tried

to give it one anyways? Walt Whitman is better than you.


Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Orchestra” by Russell Brakefield


Center for Poetry intern Amy Potchen selected this week’s poem, and said this:

This poem is by Russell Brakefield.
I chose this poem while looking into Brakefield’s poetry, since he will be coming to RCAH next month to do a reading. This poem reminds me to see the beauty in Summer’s nature before the season comes to a close. The end of the poem emphasizes that we can learn from bees and the connections they seem to have to each other. I am also intrigued by how frequent the line breaks are, as well as relating the sound of bees to an orchestra.


by Russell Brakefield

Bees sleep
because they need to
like us. Together
a bundle
of bees asleep
at night
is a concertina
wheezing closed.
In the hive
they dance
a democratic dance,
a waltz
to prioritize.
Abdomen wobbles
a whole note.
I read today
some bees feel
the thrum
of electric current
as they encounter
a flower’s field,
which is true
but also
what I need to be— 
social spark,
singing field.
Posted in news

“Fall”ing in love with poetry

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Welcome back readers, writers, lovers of poetry and all those in between. The Center for Poetry is back with a fully loaded calendar this fall semester. Check out our “Calendar of Events” page for more information on dates, places and times.

Our Fall Writing Series of visiting writers kicks off Wednesday, October 24 with Russell Brakefield. He will be giving an afternoon talk in the LookOut! Gallery in Snyder Hall at 3 p.m., entitled “Poetry from the Archives,” and a reading in the RCAH Theater at 7 p.m.

Our Annual Used Book Sale will be held on campus at the corner of Farm Lane and North Shaw on Thursday, September 27. We will be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and encourage all to stop by and browse our extensive selection of books.

Through the end of this week, we will be accepting donations of books for the sale. Email to arrange for drop off.


Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” by Adam Zagajewski

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Center for Poetry intern Estee Schlenner selected this week’s poem, and said this:

I chose this poem because I really appreciate the message that Adam Zagajewski is sending. In this poem he is expressing that the world is “mutilated”, damaged in some way, but that we should still appreciate the beautiful memories that it gives us too. Even if there are bad events happening in the world, this poem reminds us to remember the good that it brings too. The beauty of strawberries, acorns in autumn, or gentle light, these redeeming qualities that encourage optimism in a sometimes pessimistic world.


Try to Praise the Mutilated World


by Adam Zagajewski


Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June’s long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

You watched the stylish yachts and ships;

One of them had a long trip ahead of it,

while salty oblivion awaited others.

You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,

you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together

in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

You gathered acorns in the park in autumn

and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.

Praise the mutilated world

and the grey feather a thrush lost,

and the gentle light that strays and vanishes

and returns.