Archives For Poetry

A Poem For Sunday

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 1 2015 @ 12:59pm

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“Then Abraham” by Jean Valentine:

Then an old man came down out of the thicket,
with an axe on his shoulder, and with him

two people made out of light
–one a blameless son,

the other like a Vermeer girl,
on their way back down with the old man.

Still, all the history of the world
happens at once: In the rain, a young man

holds out a blue cloth
to caress her head

at the landing pier
of the new bride.

You can’t get beauty. (Still,
in its longing it flies to you.)

(From Break the Glass © 2010 by Jean Valentine. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Sigurdur Bjarnason)

A Poem For Sunday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 25 2015 @ 5:05pm

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“Report to the Mother” by Etheridge Knight:

Well, things / be / pretty bad now, Mother—
Got very little to eat.
The kids got no shoes for their tiny feet.
Been fighting with my woman, and one / other
Woe:—Ain’t got a cent to pay the rent.

Been oiling / up / my pistol, too—
Tho I / be / down with the flu,
So what / are / You going to do . . . ?

O Mother don’t sing me
To the Father to fix / it—
He will blow-it. He fails
and kills
His sons—and / you / know it.

(From The Essential Etheridge Knight © 1986 by Etheridge Knight. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Photo by Phil Warren)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 24 2015 @ 9:29am

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Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Etheridge Knight was born in Mississippi in 1931. He began writing poetry as an inmate in the Indiana State Prison during the 1960s and published his first collection, Poems from Prison, in 1968. The capsule biography available on the Poetry Foundation’s website describes Knight as an accomplished reciter of “‘toasts’—long, memorized, narrative poems, often in rhymed couplets”—by the time he entered prison.

While there, he was encouraged by the prominent poet Dudley Randall, who established the Broadside Press in 1965, publishing poets on the order of Melvin Tolson, Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Margaret Walker. Randall was also a remarkable anthologist perhaps best known for his groundbreaking volume, The Black Poets, published in 1971 and for many years the most popular and significant gathering of work by African American poets.

Galway Kinnell and Gwendolyn Brooks are just two of the distinguished contemporaries who admired Knight’s work, which was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was also a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. Brooks wrote:

The warmth of this poet is abruptly robust.
The music that seems effortless is exquisitely carved.
Since Etheridge Knight is not your stifled artiste, there is air in these poems.
And there is blackness, inclusive, possessed and given; freed and terrible and beautiful.

“A Watts Mother Mourns While Boiling Beans” by Etheridge Knight:

The blossoming flower of my life is roaming
in the night, and I think surely
that never since he was born
have I been free from fright.
My boy is bold, and his blood
grows quickly hot/ even now
he could be crawling in the street
bleeding out his life, likely as not.
Come home, my bold and restless son.—Stop
my heart’s yearning! But I must quit
this thinking—my husband is coming
and the beans are burning.

(From Born of a Woman: New and Selected Poems by Etheridge KnightPhoto by Amy Riddle)

A Poem For Monday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 19 2015 @ 10:29am

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“Old Black Lady Next Door, Walking” by Wanda Coleman (1946-2013):

she walks walking
walked
all thru life
walks
restless like her people
waiting to see
what happens
knowing it will never happen
until after she’s dead

old lady
there are so many things
i want to ask you
but I have no voice

she walks walking
up and down the sidewalk
nylons knotted below her knees

at times my loneliness hers

she is the me
i meet in nightmares

(From Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems and Stories, 1968-1986 by Wanda Coleman © 1987 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted by kind permission of Black Sparrow Books and David R. Godine, Inc. Photo by Deb Stgo)

A Poem For Sunday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 18 2015 @ 8:29pm

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“Waterbirds” by Michael Longley:

   for Emily

Out of the huge sadness of the Iliad
(I was reading Book Fifteen when you died)
Waterbirds are calling—barnacle geese,
Grey herons and long-necked whooper swans—
Waterbirds in flight over a water-meadow,
Honking, settling in front of one another,
Proud of their feather-power—taking me back
To the camogie pitch where your heart failed.
Waterbirds are calling—barnacle geese,
Grey herons and long-necked whooper swans.

(From The Stairwell © 2014 by Michael Longley. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press. Photo by Mohamed Malik)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 17 2015 @ 9:05am

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Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Michael Longley’s The Stairwell, just published by Wake Forest Press, the premier publisher of Irish poets in America, is his thirteenth collection. He has also edited 20th Century Irish Poems and selections of the work of some of his favorite poets—among them Louis MacNeice, Brendan Kennelly, and Robert Graves, and he is the author of a winning memoir, Tuppeny Stung. He is a superb elegist and his poems about birds, children, and the natural world – exquisitely delicate – are among his most enchanting, often just four lines long, or two.

We’ll start with four of these shorter poems:

“Maisie at Dawn”:

Wordless in dawnlight
She talks to herself,
Her speech-melody
A waterlily budding.

“Wild Raspberries”:

Following the ponies’ hoof-prints
And your own muddy track, I find
Sweet pink nipples, wild raspberries,
A surprise among the brambles.

“Hailstones”:

at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

It must have been God, or rather, Yahweh
Who scattered the granite slabs with hailstones
And threw them from His Hand so accurately
Not one Jew was uncommemorated.

“The Frost”:

They kept you refrigerated for days, my twin.
I kissed your forehead where the frost was fading.

(From The Stairwell © 2014 by Michael Longley. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press. Photo by Jenny Downing)

A Poem For Friday

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 16 2015 @ 3:02pm

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“Even the Raven” by Kathleen Jamie:

The grey storm passes
a storm the sea wakes from
then soon forgets . . .

surf plumes at the rocks –
wave after wave, each
drawing its own long fetch

– and the hills across the firth –
golden, as the cloud lifts –yes
it’s here, everything

you wanted, everything
you insisted on –

Even the raven,
his old crocked voice

asks you what you’re waiting for

(From The Overhaul © 2012 by Kathleen Jamie. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. Photo by John Morgan)