Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “The Coffee Aisle,” by Graham Barnhart

Beans (1)

“I chose this poem because I believe in the healing, transporting power of a cup of coffee,” said Center for Poetry intern Grace Carras. “Graham Barnhart writes often about his experience as a medic in the US Army. I thought that this was a touching poem that raises an interesting question; what flavors do we use to mask the old tastes in our mouth? What flavor could be strong enough to ground us in the ordinary present, when our minds keep slipping back to memories of trauma or conflict? (To answer, if that flavor isn’t coffee, then I don’t know what it could be.) I really enjoyed this poem, as I enjoy all of Barnhart’s poetry. Let’s face it; with all this ice and snow, the thought of a hot cup of coffee feels healing.”


The Coffee Aisle

by Graham Barnhart


You step back always to boiling

black froth in a tin cup

to the density of flak curtains

heavier at least than the wind


stirred up by whatever

is outside exploding,

whenever you arrive

among these stone-ground beans


labeled Colombian Supremo

Jamaican Blue Mountain

robust with floral notes and balanced

blends of pleasant acidity.


After disheveling homes

with tracks of finger-size holes

left open to let a little sunlight in,

or kneeling through blood rinsed


truck-bed surgeries

while ceramic armor plates

clamped your legs to sleep

your fingers in torn rubber gloves

in someone’s torn leg—


anything that didn’t taste

like dust was saffron or jasmine

under the tongue—even dirt

sometimes, even blood.


But now which of these

mild to moderate sharpnesses

counterfeit best that flavor

when tamped into a cannon-mouth


French press here at home

in your un-demolished kitchen?



Posted in news

Founder Anita Skeen featured in MSU Today


Anita Skeen, founder of the RCAH Center for Poetry, in full Ravenclaw regalia.

We were thrilled to find this February 11 story in MSU Today about our beloved founder, Anita Skeen.

Click this link to read more about Anita’s fascinating journey from Appalachia to East Lansing, and her campaign to start our Center for Poetry.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows,” by Paige Lewis

heart card

An explanation by Center for Poetry intern, Estee Schlenner: “Valentine’s Day is this week so I thought it only necessary to choose a love poem. This poem gives me all the warm, fuzzy feelings inside because it showcases the more sweet and subtle moments of love in a relationship. The last few lines are my favorite because they provide strong image of a sweet sentiment. I hope everyone has a nice Valentine’s Day, and remember to not only celebrate romantic love if you have it, but celebrate the love you have for your friends and family, and most importantly celebrate the love you have for yourself!”


“When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows”

by Paige Lewis



what I really mean. He paints my name

across the floral bed sheet and ties the bottom corners

to my ankles. Then he paints another

for himself. We walk into town and play the shadow game,

saying Oh! I’m sorry for stepping on your

shadow! and Please be careful! My shadow is caught in the wheels

of your shopping cart. It’s all very polite.

Our shadows get dirty just like anyone’s, so we take

them to the Laundromat—the one with

the 1996 Olympics themed pinball machine—

and watch our shadows warm

against each other. We bring the shadow game home

and (this is my favorite part) when we

stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled

my husband grips his own wrist,

certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.


Copyright © 2018 by Paige Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week “A Warm Day in Winter,” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

melting snow

Center for Poetry intern, Amy Potchen, gives insight about the choosing of the poem: “I could not think of a more perfect poem to fit the day in East Lansing. After what I hope is the largest snow storm of the winter, a day in the fourties seems almost uncomfortable. Paul Laurence Dunbar captures the feelings of today with his dialect heavy poem “A Warm day in Winter.”


A Warm Day in Winter


Paul Laurence Dunbar



Sunshine on de medders,

Greenness on de way;

Dat’s de blessed reason

I sing all de day.”

Look hyeah! Whut you axin’?

Whut meks me so merry?

‘Spect to see me sighin’

W’en hit’s wa’m in Febawary?


‘Long de stake an’ rider

Seen a robin set;

W’y hit ‘mence a-thawin’,

Groun’ is monst’ous wet.

Den you stan’ dah wond’rin’,

Lookin’ skeert an’ stary;

I’s a right to caper

W’en hit’s wa’m in Febawary.


Missis gone a-drivin’,

Mastah gone to shoot;

Ev’ry da’ky lazin’

In de sun to boot.

Qua’tah ‘s moughty pleasant,

Hangin’ ‘roun’ my Mary;

Cou’tin’ boun’ to prospah

W’en hit’s wa’m in Febawary.


Cidah look so pu’ty

Po’in’ f’om de jug–

Don’ you see it’s happy?

Hyeah it laffin’–glug?

Now’s de time fu’ people

Fu’ to try an’ bury

All dey grief an’ sorrer,

W’en hit’s wa’m in Febawary.


Dunbar, P.L. (1913). The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Aquarium, February,” by Liz Ahl


A note about the choosing of this poem from Center for Poetry Intern, Allison Costello: “In light of the intense winter storm that has made its way across Michigan, I wanted to choose a poem that referenced winter but honored the safety and stillness of indoors. “Aquarium, February” by Liz Ahl does just that, describing the ice outside making “daggers of the grass” in a blizzard, while the “neon” sea creatures behind the glass of the aquarium are blissfully unaware to the harshness of the outdoors. I thought we could all use the comforting imagery of the warm water flowing around the “meditative bass” in contrast to the hectic frozen landscape we’re experiencing right now.”


Aquarium, February

Liz Ahl


When ice outside makes daggers of the grass,

I come to where the tides of life still flow.

The water here still moves behind the glass.


In here, the seasons never seem to pass—

the sullen shark and rays still come and go.

Outside the ice makes daggers of the grass


and coats the roads. The meditative bass

won’t puzzle how the blustery blizzards blow.

The water here still moves. Behind the glass,


rose-tinted corals house a teeming mass

of busy neon creatures who don’t know

“outside.” The ice makes daggers of the grass


and oily puddles into mirrors. Gas

freezes in its lines; my car won’t go,

but water here still moves behind the glass.


No piles of valentines, no heart held fast—

just sea stars under lights kept soft and low.

Outside, the ice makes daggers of the grass;

in here, the water moves behind the glass.





Poem copyright ©2008 by Liz Ahl, “Aquarium, February,” from A Thirst That’s Partly Mine,

(Slapering Hol Press, 2008).



Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Miscegenation,” by Natasha Trethewey


Center for Poetry intern Elizabeth Sauter says this about her choice this week:

“I chose this poem by Natasha Trethewey in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day on January 21.  Majoring in political science due to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has led me to have a renewed passion for advocating for better racial equality in American society.  As we reflect on what Reverend King achieved this week, may we also reflect on how to better our country for all Americans.”



~ Natasha Trethewey


In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;

they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.


They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name

begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong—mis in Mississippi.


A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same

as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.


Faulkner’s Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name

for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.


My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.

I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.


When I turned 33 my father said, It’s your Jesus year—you’re the same

age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi.


Natasha Trethewey, “Miscegenation” from Native Guard. Copyright © 2007 by Natasha Trethewey.

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.

Posted in poem of the week

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


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


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.