A Poem For Sunday


“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


“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


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


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

she walks walking
all thru life
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


“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


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.


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


“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)

A Poem For Sunday


“The Stags” by Kathleen Jamie:

This is the multitude, the beasts
you wanted to show me, drawing me
upstream, all morning up through wind-
scoured heather to the hillcrest.
Below us, in the next glen, is the grave
calm brotherhood, descended
out of winter, out of hunger, kneeling
like the signatories of a covenant;
their weighty, antique-polished antlers
rising above the vegetation
like masts in a harbor, or city spires.
We lie close together, and though the wind
whips away our man-and-woman smell,
every stag-face seems to look toward us, toward,
but not to us: we’re held, and hold them,
in civil regard. I suspect you’d
hoped to impress me, to lift to my sight
our shared country, lead me deeper
into what you know, but loath
to cause fear you’re already moving
quietly away, sure I’ll go with you,
as I would now, anywhere.

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

A Poem For Saturday


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

The Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, born in 1962, is the author of seven collections, including The Overhaul, just published here by Graywolf Press and shortlisted for the T.S.Eliot Prize when it was published in 2012 in Great Britain. Too few poets from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are published here. She’s one to follow along with the Irish poet Michael Longley, who also has a new volume. We’ll feature Jamie this week and Longley next.

“Hawk and Shadow” by Kathleen Jamie:

I watched a hawk
glide low across the hill,
her own dark shape
in her talons like a kill.

She tilted her wings,
fell into the air—
the shadow coursed on
without her, like a hare.

Being out of sorts
with my so-called soul,
part unhooked hawk,
part shadow on parole,

I played fast and loose:
keeping one in sight
while forsaking the other.
The hawk gained height:

Her mate on the ground
began to fade,
till hill and sky were empty
and I was afraid.

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

A Poem For Friday


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn – giving us a brief respite from all the mayhem in France right now – builds on this poem and this one from last weekend:

Our last choice (so far!) from the Irish anthology, Lifelines: New and Collected, Letters from Famous People About Their Favourite Poem, is Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Manners,” chosen by contemporary Irish poet Vona Groarke, who wrote, “It records an age and a state of mind entirely without cynicism: a secure, small world in which no-one can lose his way. The child-like speaking voice is brilliantly achieved with rudimentary, sing-song rhymes which accommodate the jolly generosity and good faith of the child and her grandfather….

Hovering at the edge of its simplicity is something much darker, suggested by the obscured faces of the passengers in the cars: a future in which the values of the child and her grandfather will be as outmoded as their wagon seat; an impersonal, technological world which will have no place for the gentle intimacy of manners. The poem marks the belated transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, and from innocence to painful experience. Its success lies, I think, in doing so without the slightest trace of either rhetoric or sentiment.”

“Manners” by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979):

For a Child of 1918

My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
‘Be sure to remember to always
speak to everyone you meet.’

We met a stranger on foot.
My grandfather’s whip tapped his hat.
‘Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day.’
And I said it and bowed where I sat.

Then we overtook a boy we knew
with his big pet crow on his shoulder.
‘Always offer everyone a ride;
don’t forget that when you get older,’

my grandfather said. So Willy
climbed up with us, but the crow
gave a ‘Caw!’ and flew off. I was worried.
How would he know where to go?

But he flew a little way at a time
from fence post to fence post, ahead;
and when Willy whistled he answered.
‘A fine bird,’ my grandfather said,

‘and he’s well brought up. See, he answers
nicely when he’s spoken to.
Man or beast, that’s good manners.
Be sure that you both always do.’

When automobiles went by,
the dust hid the people’s faces,
but we shouted ‘Good day! Good day!
Fine day!’ at the top of our voices.

When we came to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required.

(From Poems by Elizabeth Bishop © 2011 by the Alice H. Methfessel Trust. Publisher’s Note and compilation © 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. Photo by David Prasad)