Posted in Poetic Justice

“Poetic Justice” is in (and on!) the Air

Listen up!

The Center for Poetry has ventured even further to reach audiences of poetry through its new podcast “Poetic Justice.”

Interns Shannon McGlone and Allison Costello combined their love for radio and discussing poetry and social issues to produce a podcast, online for your listening enjoyment.

In the first episode, the hosts talk to the Director of the Center for Poetry, Anita Skeen about her former teacher and literary icon, Margaret Atwood.

Poetic Justice is produced by the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University. Original music by Shannon McGlone.

New episode available now!

Posted in poem of the week

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: Not Forgotten, by Toi Derricotte

We hope you’ll join us this week for a workshop with Toi Derricotte at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, and a reading at 7 p.m. the same day. Visit here for details.




I love the way the black ants use their dead.

They carry them off like warriors on their steel

backs. They spend hours struggling, lifting,

dragging (it is not grisly as it would be for us,

to carry them back to be eaten),

so that every part will be of service. I think of

my husband at his father’s grave—

the grass had closed

over the headstone, and the name had disappeared. He took out

his pocket knife and cut the grass away, he swept it

with his handkerchief to make it clear. “Is this the way

we’ll be forgotten?” And he bent down over the grave and wept.



Toi Derricotte, “Not Forgotten” from Tender. Copyright © 1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.



Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation,”by Natalie Diaz

Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though—
he came through here one powwow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I’ve ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John’s wife. It’s no wonder
Pastor John’s son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we’re better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
’xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.
Natalie Diaz, “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” from When My Brother Was an Aztec. Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Photo Credit:
Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: The Snow Fairy

By: Claude Mckay

Snow Fairy


Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol’n away.


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter’s night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.


Claude McKay, © Poems are the property of their respective owners.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Multiple Choice, by Susan Laughter Meyers


Your chickadee has nested in the wrong house, exposed and unprotected.

a.    You write to it, praising the green

        irony of an open door,

        the breeze that airs the bed.

        Which light, which shadow? you ask.

b.    You listen to what could be song

        but sounds more like scoldings

        of your tap-dancing mind.

c.    You breathe in the feathered smell

       of defeat, wondering why you didn’t hammer

       the yes-yes-yes closed.

d.   At dusk you speak the low syllables of elegy,

       when you can no longer sing.

       You have lost all sight of the tree,

       of whatever trembled its branches.





Posted in Fall Writing Series, news, visiting writers

Father and son duo Marvin and Nathan Bell visit Center for Poetry

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By Kelsey Block

Poet Marvin Bell and songwriter Nathan Bell joined the RCAH Center for Poetry on November 11 as guests in our annual Fall Writing Series.

Marvin Bell served two terms as the state of Iowa’s first poet laureate. His son, Nathan Bell is a singer and songwriter. Click here to listen to the audio, and visit our YouTube Channel to watch a video of their performance.

Marvin Bell, now 78, didn’t get seriously interested in poetry until after he got his undergrad degree. He was living in Chicago and had somehow fallen into a group of poets.

“I believe in dumb luck, but you have to make yourself available to it,” Marvin Bell said. “And so if you run into people who know about poetry, you end up writing poetry. If you run into people who know about serious creative photography, you end up taking photographs.”

Bell still remembers the first time he published a poem. As an undergrad, he saw a call for submissions from a San Francisco literary journal called Presidio.

“They were gonna pay for poems. A whole nickel a line!” Marvin Bell said. “Now don’t forget this was 1958 or ’59 or something. So I went to the newspaper office, I was the editor I had the key to the newspaper office, so I went in there and I wrote a poem, and I didn’t want them to know it was my first poem, so I called it Ontology, Part II. It was totally obscure and horrible, and I sent it to them and they bought it. I got a check for 90 cents.”

For Bell, poetry is always experimental. He’s well-known for creating a form known as the Dead Man poem.

“It’s odd in a number of ways. It comes out in two-titled sections. The dead man is alive and dead at the same time. He’s not a persona; he’s more of an overarching presence. Is he me? No, but he knows a lot about me. Every line of poetry is a sentence but the sentence is elastic,” Bell said. “It’s a form that is different than anything else I’ve written.”

Marvin’s son Nathan grew up wanting to be an athlete. As an 8-year-old, he would only wear button-down shirts because he wanted to look like the baseball players. He got his start in music playing trumpet, and soon decided he wanted to sing and play guitar.

Nathan Bell grew up with a lot of music in the house. His father and mother, Dorothy, would play a mix of everything – from country to jazz.

“I would go to school every morning on the bus, 12 years old. There was this older guy who went down the road to the high school, and he would sit next to me and talk to me and I had long hair and looked like a hippie kid. One day he said to me, ‘You need to buy Neil Young’s album Harvest, it’s the greatest album ever made.’ So I bought it and I fell in love with it and I still think it’s one of the best records ever made,” Nathan Bell said.

As a teen, he started playing venues in Iowa City where he learned about performing music.

“I came to writing because I wanted the songs to sound different than they were. There was a song I heard in my head and I wanted to make it,” he said.

Many of Nathan’s songs deal with work. A number of years ago, Bell was inspired by broadcaster Studs Turkel’s book, Working.

“I thought, ‘well this is how I want to write.’ It only took me 40 years to get it right,” Bell said.

For about half of those 40 years, Nathan Bell took a break from music while he worked and raised his family.

“I guess I was paying attention, because when I started to write again, the songs were about that life,” Nathan Bell said. His latest record features a number of songs all about working. “It’s only been the last two or three years that what I started doing in 1975 has started to feel like what it was supposed to feel like.”

Nathan Bell believes taking a break from music was instrumental in developing his current style.

“I learned things about people and myself that I didn’t know when I was just a songwriter. My viewpoint was informed by all the people I met,” the 55-year-old songwriter said. “There’s no way I write the way I write if I don’t stop writing for all those years.”

Over time, Nathan Bell said his music has gotten more complex while his lyrics have gotten simpler and more direct.

“I have a very hard time going back to anything I wrote because I’m interested in the next song,” Nathan Bell said.

While each Bell’s work is unique, both of them have sometimes used art to comment on current events and political issues.

“In art you are free. And you’re free to be hermetic. You’re free to write only about things only you are interested in and you’re free to write obscurely and you are free to write nonsensically and write in such a crazy fashion that nobody can figure out why you’re doing it. But you’re also free to take responsibility for treating serious subjects seriously,” Marvin Bell said. “If you write of your age, you write of politics. If you write of things two people do in a working class neighborhood, you’re writing of politics. If you write about someone who goes to jail, you’re writing about politics. If you write about two people who fall in love that didn’t want to fall in love, you’re writing about politics. You have to work very hard to remove them.”

“Your responsibility is to the truth,” Nathan Bell said. “The most you can do is feed one person, clothe one person, love one person. If you do that every day, you affect a miniscule number of people in the world. And if you accidentally become a Mandela or a King or even a Barack Obama, you don’t affect as many people as you want to affect. You don’t know the effects of your life. All you can do is write the thing that you saw and hope that it has some lasting value to somebody somewhere.”

The two conducted a conversation Wednesday afternoon on the relationship between song and poetry.

Nathan Bell maintains that poetry always wins, while Marvin insists that song always wins.

“It’s because what he does is infinitely harder than what I do,” Nathan Bell said. “I have this tool, music, which is completely emotional an irrational. And if I hit the right chords and play the right rhythms, you can fall in love. Poetry doesn’t get that.”

“I think music can write things that aren’t that specific because they have this musical quality that envelops you and goes right for your emotions. To express emotions you need a new language, and poetry does it by means of nuance and metaphor and music does it another way,” Marvin Bell said. “In terms of poetry, on one hand it’s poetry — oh my God it can save your life! On the other hand, it’s just poetry. You have to be able to think both ways.”

The two don’t tour together often, but they’re always excited when the opportunity comes up.

“I always thought that songs and poems could stand next to each other very comfortably as alternating views of the same thing,” Nathan Bell said. “People are always fine with songs. People come to see a poet and they hear a song, they like it. But people who listen to songs aren’t always aware of how musical poetry is. It turns out when we go do this together, a remarkable number of people come up to me later and say, ‘Poetry’s really exciting!’ and it’s just because they’ve been put in that frame of mind of seeing it that way.”

“It’s so much fun for us I’m just not 100 percent sure it’s not contagious for the audience,” Nathan Bell said. “It amuses the living hell out of me that at 55 years old I’m somebody’s kid. We’re very lucky.”

Posted in Fall Writing Series, news, visiting writers, workshops

Folklorists visit Center for Poetry as part of Fall Writing Festival

My heart, my soul, my spirit flies,

As I walk with granny one more time…

Folklorists Michael and Carrie Nobel Kline joined the RCAH Center for Poetry as part of the annual Fall Writing Series. Throughout the week of October 27, the musicians visited classes, facilitated conversations and gave a performance in the RCAH Theater.

The two met in Massachusetts in the 1980s while Michael was working on a folklore project and Carrie was working at a summer camp.

“I became enamored, at least admittedly with the work, and about eight months later with the folklorist himself,” Carrie Nobel Kline said.

“There was no romance that developed in this, initially. I wanted to make very sure I didn’t allow my personal attraction to muddy the waters we were trying to work in together. And she was just very eager to learn,” Michael Kline said. “We just grew together over time.”

Their first interview project together involved a 106-year-old man who had served in a Russian czar’s army in the early 1900s.

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Since that first interview, the Klines have talked with perhaps a thousand people about their stories. They’ve interviewed people in a number of different communities about a variety of subjects, but Carrie Kline says one thing always stays the same.

“The main thing is to admit to not knowing,” she said. “Really, all I can do is ask to be taught, to be schooled, to show interest… We try to create a situation where they know that I believe they’re the expert and they’re the teacher and I want to be sitting at their feet.”

Over the years, the Klines have continued to share stories and music in workshops, recordings, radio broadcasts and live performances.

In all of their work, whether it’s with fourth graders or college students, the Klines are careful to contextualize the stories and the music.

“Kids don’t like history – it’s all about rich men with suits and ties and presidents and politicians and generals. They don’t see any place in that for themselves,” Michael Kline said. “So we sing these groovy old songs and ask them to talk about the song, retell the story, learn the song, sing it and then try to provide a context for the song which is the history we’re after teaching.”

“We’re not just choosing to play the banjo because we think it’s a groovy instrument but we’re excited about the culture from which the banjo came,” Carrie Kline said.

Story, photos and video by Center for Poetry intern Kelsey Block

Posted in community outreach, news

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 Donations are tax deductible.