National Poetry Month 2015!

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I almost forgot that April is National Poetry Month! I’ll be posting a bit more frequently this month because, in addition to my usual reviews, I’ll be sharing some poems that have caught my eye. I always have a small amount of anxiety about sharing poetry because I’m afraid I’ll forget about one of my favorites and then feel guilty for having neglected it. Maybe I’ll start a running list to get ready for next year. (Ah, who am I kidding? I’d probably lost the list!)

I’m starting with a stanza from a riddle written by Lewis Carroll. It’s one of my favorite stanzas of poetry; I remember reading it for the first time, ages ago, and being blown away by the fact that there was such a thing as a poetic equation. I haven’t even tried to solve the riddle yet (in fact, I may have only read it all the way through once); I’ve just always loved the neatness of these four lines:

Yet what are all such gaieties to me
Whose thoughts are full of indices and surds?
x2 + 7x + 53
= 11 / 3.

Review: Honeyvoiced by Jordi Alonso

Honeyvoiced by Jordi Alonso. XOXOX Press. 140 pp.

Honeyvoiced by Jordi Alonso. XOXOX Press. 140 pp.

Honeyvoiced is a collection of poetry inspired by Sappho’s fragments. They’re not direct translations, though; as the author explains in his introduction, “My hope was to create not a translation, but, a rewriting of Sappho, where her fragments would be stitched into my words, giving them strength and reaching for something both lovely and new.”

I love the idea of stitching someone else’s work throughout your own and creating a richly textured tapestry, and that concept works quite well for this poet. The poems in this collection are brief, some no longer than a few lines, so it’s a great book to keep on hand and dip into whenever you’ve got a spare moment. That’s not to say that it’s trivial, though; some of these poems say more in a few lines than others say in a few stanzas. Alonso chooses and uses his words carefully; he shows economy in his language while still managing to make it feel rich.

In Fragment 21, he writes,

Not of wars, politics, or dispassionate gods,

but of lust, love, home, beach, bread,

of the present,

sing to us.

The beauty of this collection lies in its dedication to just those things, a list of sensory elements that are easy to overlook but are…well…elemental when you stop and think about them. I enjoyed reading these poems; from Fragment 20, striking in its simplicity, to the rough, burning jealousy of Fragment 31 and the sweet longing of Fragment 192, this is a collection full of beautiful moments.

Visit Jordi online here.

Happy Poem In Your Pocket Day!

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but in case you’re interested, there’s more info here, along with some printable pocket-sized poems.

Which poem did I choose? Funny you should ask! Here it is:

Today

by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

National Poetry Month: Selection #5

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Last year, I read and reviewed a collection of poetry by Taylor Mali. As a former teacher, I could relate to many of his poems, but this one was by far my favorite. (I later discovered that it’s also one of his most popular poems.) I’ve posted the text of the poem below, but there’s a rather good illustrated version on the Zen Pencils Tumblr. It’s a little aggressive for my tastes — as is the poem at times — but I enjoy the overall theme enough to share it anyway.

What Teachers Make

by Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is
What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking:
if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time
with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

National Poetry Month: Selection #4

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It’s that time again. Time for another of my favorite poems. I could choose half of the poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass, because their rhythms are familiar and beloved to me after decades of re-reads, but for today I’ll go with this deliciously nonsensical one. It’s titleless, but it’s evidence read by the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in case you’d like to find it for yourself.

They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?

I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it,

Don’t let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.

National Poetry Month: Selection #3

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This poem breaks my heart every time I read it. Although I know I can’t (and shouldn’t), I still wish I could protect my son from all the painful, frightening things that life will bring his way. This is the part that fills my eyes with tears no matter how many times I read it:

She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.

It takes strength to let our children out of our arms.

For Julia, In the Deep Water

by John M. Morris

The instructor we hire
because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
In the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

National Poetry Month: Selection #2

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As April is National Poetry Month, I’ll be featuring a few poems I enjoy. Some of my favorite poems (like Prufrock) are a bit too long, so you’ll be seeing some of my favorite shorter poems. Here is today’s poem, a wonderful choice for all you polite — yet introverted — souls.

Politeness

by A.A. Milne

If people ask me,
I always tell them:
“Quite well, thank you, I’m very glad to say.”
If people ask me,
I always answer,
“Quite well, thank you, how are you to-day?”
I always answer,
I always tell them,
If they ask me
Politely…..
BUT SOMETIMES

I wish

That they wouldn’t.