The Best Poems From The Year

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 22 2014 @ 8:28pm

MartinLutherKingMalcolmX

There isn’t another political or current affairs blog I know of that has poems suddenly poking up all over the place. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of here at the Dish – because it makes the implicit point that wisdom comes in many guises and that there are more ways to understand life than explainer-journalism. All of this is very fine and dandy in theory, but none of it would be possible in practice without our Poetry Editor, Alice Quinn. In the world of poetry, Alice is a legend. Her impeccable taste and depth of knowledge, her passion for the form, and her dedication to its survival and its necessity are the stuff of literary lore. And sometimes it seems not only that she knows a poet’s work, but that she actually knows him or her, and is or was a friend. So when I think of how we can sustain the kind of culture that the now-dying liberal arts magazines once did, I hope the integration of poetry into blogging is one small sally into the prevailing winds.

Alice was Knopf’s poetry editor from 1976 – 1986 and the New Yorker’s poetry editor for the next twenty years, and is now the executive director of the Poetry Society of America. And, every Christmas, we invite our poetry-loving readers to express their appreciation by joining the Society. This year, they are running a special year-end membership campaign from now until January 2nd. While supplies last, anyone who joins at the basic membership level gets a signed, limited-edition broadside of “Frogs” by Gerald Stern with an extra $10 donation. Any donation is tax-deductible – and for a short time, you also get a beautiful broadside in the bargain. Sign up for your membership here.

In the week ahead, we’ll also be looking back at a few of the poems offered this year, chosen by Alice and Matt Sitman, our literary editor – think of it as an idiosyncratic “greatest hits” of Dish poetry. Each of these poems will include a link to the Poetry Society of America’s membership drive. The first poem we’re revisiting is below.

“For Malcolm X” by Margaret Walker:

All you violated ones with gentle hearts;
You violent dreamers whose cries shout heartbreak;
Whose voices echo clamors of our cool capers,
And whose black faces have hollowed pits for eyes.
All you gambling sons and hooked children and bowery
bums
Hating white devils and black bourgeoisie,
Thumbing your noses at your burning red suns,
Gather round this coffin and mourn your dying swan.
Snow-white moslem head-dress around a dead black face!

Beautiful were your sand-papering words against our skins!
Our blood and water pour from your flowing wounds.
You have cut open our breasts and dug scalpels in our
brains.
When and Where will another come to take your holy place?
Old man mumbling in his dotage, or crying child, unborn?

(From This is My Century: New and Collected Poems by Margaret Walker © by Margaret Walker Alexander. Reprinted by kind permission of the University of Georgia Press. Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, March 26, 1964, from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division via Wikimedia Commons)