Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Marrying the Hangman by Margaret Atwood

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Ligeia, from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Both poems focus heavily on themes of marriagebondage, death, and sinister new life. | Illustration by Harry Clarke, 1919.

“Marrying the Hangman”

She has been condemned to death by hanging. A man
may escape this death by becoming the hangman, a
woman by marrying the hangman. But at the present
time there is no hangman; thus there is no escape.
There is only a death, indefinitely postponed. This is
not fantasy, it is history.

*

To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live
without mirrors is to live without the self. She is
living selflessly, she finds a hole in the stone wall and
on the other side of the wall, a voice. The voice
comes through darkness and has no face. This voice
becomes her mirror.

*

In order to avoid her death, her particular death, with
wrung neck and swollen tongue, she must marry the
hangman. But there is no hangman, first she must
create him, she must persuade this man at the end of
the voice, this voice she has never seen and which has
never seen her, this darkness, she must persuade him
to renounce his face, exchange it for the impersonal
mask of death, of official death which has eyes but
no mouth, this mask of a dark leper. She must
transform his hands so they will be willing to twist
the rope around throats that have been singled out
as hers was, throats other than hers. She must marry
the hangman or no one, but that is not so bad. Who
else is there to marry?

*

You wonder about her crime. She was condemned
to death for stealing clothes from her employer, from
the wife of her employer. She wished to make herself
more beautiful. This desire in servants was not legal.

*

She uses her voice like a hand, her voice reaches
through the wall, stroking and touching. What could
she possibly have said that would have convinced him?
He was not condemned to death, freedom awaited
him. What was the temptation, the one that worked?
Perhaps he wanted to live with a woman whose life
he had saved, who had seen down into the earth but
had nevertheless followed him back up to life. It was
his only chance to be a hero, to one person at least,
for if he became the hangman the others would
despise him. He was in prison for wounding another
man, on one finger of the right hand, with a sword.
This too is history.

*

My friends, who are both women, tell me their stories,
which cannot be believed and which are true. They
are horror stories and they have not happened to me,
they have not yet happened to me, they have
happened to me but we are detached, we watch our
unbelief with horror. Such things cannot happen to
us, it is afternoon and these things do not happen in
the afternoon. The trouble was, she said, I didn’t
have time to put my glasses on and without them I’m
blind as a bat, I couldn’t even see who it was. These
things happen and we sit at a table and tell stories
about them so we can finally believe. This is not
fantasy, it is history, there is more than one hangman
and because of this some of them are unemployed.

*

He said: the end of walls, the end of ropes, the opening
of doors, a field, the wind, a house, the sun, a table,
an apple.

She said: nipple, arms, lips, wine, belly, hair, bread,
thighs, eyes, eyes.

They both kept their promises.

*

The hangman is not such a bad fellow. Afterwards he
goes to the refrigerator and cleans up the leftovers,
though he does not wipe up what he accidentally
spills. He wants only the simple things: a chair,
someone to pull off his shoes, someone to watch him
while he talks, with admiration and fear, gratitude if
possible, someone in whom to plunge himself for rest
and renewal. These things can best be had by marrying
a woman who has been condemned to death by other
men for wishing to be beautiful. There is a wide
choice.

*

Everyone said he was a fool.
Everyone said she was a clever woman.
They used the word ensnare.

*

What did they say the first time they were alone
together in the same room? What did he say when
she had removed her veil and he could see that she
was not a voice but a body and therefore finite?
What did she say when she discovered that she had
left one locked room for another? They talked of
love, naturally, though that did not keep them
busy forever.

*

The fact is there are no stories I can tell my friends
that will make them feel better. History cannot be
erased, although we can soothe ourselves by
speculating about it. At that time there were no
female hangmen. Perhaps there have never been any,
and thus no man could save his life by marriage.
Though a woman could, according to the law.

*

He said: foot, boot, order, city, fist, roads, time,
knife.

She said: water, night, willow, rope hair, earth belly,
cave, meat, shroud, open, blood.

They both kept their promises.

Poem courtesy of https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

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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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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.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

 

photo courtesy of Sam Miller

 

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Poem of the Week: “At Winter Solstice” by Colleen Anderson

This week, we thought this previous poem of the week deserved a repeat appearance. With wishes for peace and joy to you and yours this holiday season and in the new year, the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU.

 

At Winter Solstice

My lawn is deep in brittle maple leaves

huddled against the house, each curving spine

outlined with frost. My neighbor’s holly tree,

old keeper of cardinals, old tower of green,

is standing watch, grandfatherly, in this

season of giving thanks and going home.

Come close: we need each other more, the less

directly we’re regarded by the sun,

and the long night is on us now. Come

close as you can, my friend, and let us share

the stories we were saving for this time,

and take the measure of another year.

Come close, and let us watch the morning in:

the hour of turning to the light again.

~Colleen Anderson

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “The Snowman,” by Wallace Stevens

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The Snow Man

 

One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

 

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

 

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,

In the sound of a few leaves,

 

Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

 

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

 

 

From Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954.
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Poem of the Week: “For Saundra,” by Nikki Giovanni

tree roots, asphaltFor Saundra

I wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping

then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked – do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
i’ll write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed that the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green – no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
i’ll do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occurred to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all

 

From Black Judgement, copyright 1968, Nikki Giovanni

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Poem of the Week: “Home,” by Bruce Weigl

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Home

 

I didn’t know I was grateful

         for such late-autumn

                  bent-up cornfields

 

yellow in the after-harvest

         sun before the

                  cold plow turns it all over

 

into never.

         I didn’t know

                  I would enter this music

 

that translates the world

         back into dirt fields

                     that have always called to me

 

as if I were a thing

         come from the dirt,

                  like a tuber,

 

or like a needful boy. End

                  lonely days, I believe. End the exiled

                           and unraveling strangeness.

 

From The Unraveling Strangeness, by Bruce Weigl, Grove/Atlantic, 2003.

 

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Poem of the Week: “Break,” by Aracelis Girmay

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Break

By Aracelis Girmay

When the boys are carnivals
we gather round them in the dark room
& they make their noise while drums
ricochet against their bodies & thin air
below the white ceiling hung up like a moon
& it is California, the desert. I am driving in a car,
clapping my hands for the beautiful windmills,
one of whom is my brother, spinning,
on a hillside in the garage
with other boys he’ll grow old with, throw back.
How they throw back their bodies

on the cardboard floor, then spring-to, flying
like the heads of hammers hitting strings
inside of a piano.

Again, again.
This is how they fall & get back up. One
who was thrown out by his father. One
who carries death with him like a balloon
tied to his wrist. One whose heart will break.
One whose grandmother will forget his name.
One whose eye will close. One who stood
beside his mother’s body in a green hospital. One.
Kick up against the air to touch the earth.
See him fall, then get back up.
Then get back up.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. From The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015).

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Poem of the Week: “Hija,” by Ruth Irupé Sanabria

Dust Rays

Hija

Ruth Irupé Sanabria

 

I am the daughter of doves
That disappeared into dust

 

Hear my pulse whisper:
  progre-so
     justi-cia
     progre-so
     justi-cia

 

I have many friends and thirty thousand
Warrior angels to watch
Over my exiled skin.

 

Look what occupies the four chambers of my heart:
re/vo/lu/ción

 

You will know me by this.
I am the daughter that never forgets.

 

 

 From “The Strange House Testifies” (Bilingual Review Press, 2013).

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Poem of the Week: Advice, by Dan Gerber

rainy

You know how, after it rains,

my father told me one August afternoon

when I struggled with something

hurtful my best friend had said,

how worms come out and

crawl all over the sidewalk

and it stays a big mess

a long time after it’s over

if you step on them?

 

Leave them alone,

he went on to say,

after clearing his throat,

and when the rain stops,

they crawl back into the ground.

 

Poem copyright ©2012 by Dan Gerber from his book of poems, Sailing through Cassiopeia, Copper Canyon Press, 2012.

Photo by Jacob and Karen Rank

The Center for Poetry is thrilled to co-host Dan Gerber with the Michigan Writers Series as part of our 2017 Fall Writing Series this Tuesday, October 24. Join us at 7pm for his poetry reading in the MSU Main Library!

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Poem of the Week: The Art of Leaving, by Anita Skeen

 

006_05-e1508166119125.jpgAs we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities (RCAH) at MSU, please enjoy this villanelle, written for the occasion of the first graduating class in 2011 by RCAH Professor and Center for Poetry director Anita Skeen.

 

The Art of Leaving

~ for the inaugural graduating class of the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities (RCAH) at Michigan State University, 2011

 

You came at dawn. It’s getting on toward noon.

We’ve just had time to learn your names and faces.

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

You made us snakes, and left us Appalachian tunes.

You wrote about extraordinary places.

You came at dawn. It can’t be much past noon.

 

Look at your watch. It’s long before the moon

will rise. Are you sure you rounded all the bases?

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

You chased white whales with Ahab, drew cartoons,

studied empires, lived transculturation.

You came at dawn. It’s now mid-afternoon.

 

You’ve got your rucksacks packed, like Daniel Boone,

for city sidewalks, graduate classes, distant mesas.

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

Unless you’d like the plenary to resume,

best grab your boots. Be sure to tie the laces.

You came at dawn. And now it’s long past noon.

Go where you need to go. But write home soon.

 

~ Anita Skeen

                                       May 7, 2011