Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women's History Month Poetry Countdown Round-Up

Now that March is concluding, I wanted to provide a round-up of my countdown of the greatest female poets in history. Remember, one criterion was that they could no longer be living. Another was that I think they were awesome. It was tough going at times making choices--a lot of great poets didn't make my list--but it was a ton of fun doing so much reading and research. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

#10--Lucille Clifton
#9--Marianne Moore
#8--Lorine Niedecker
#7--Qiu Jin
#6--Louise Bogan
#5--Denise Levertov
#4--Elizabeth Bishop
#3--Gwendolyn Brooks
#2--Jane Kenyon
#1--Emily Dickinson

Be sure to stay tuned to The Small Nouns for our first every National Poetry Month series starting tomorrow, April 1!

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month--#1

A Man may make a Remark -
In itself - a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature - lain -

Let us divide - with skill -
Let us discourse - with care -
Powder exists in Charcoal - 
Before it exists in Fire -

I couldn't do it. I was all set to place Emily Dickinson #2 in my Poetry Countdown in honor of Women's History Month. But then I typed that poem and realized that there was no way that Dickinson could be any place but #1.

Let me be upfront...I don't find pleasure in every Dickinson poem. However, I am awed by the complexities and intricacies of nearly every one of them. Fear not--there are plenty that I really do love, though. Like this one...

Fame is a bee.
It has a song--
It has a sting--
Ah, too, it has a wing.

The fact that this was written in the mid-19th century always strikes me. 150 years later, fame is still a bee, to say the least. Would you call her before her time? It seems from what I know of her biography, that she wasn't the perfect fit in her time period. At least that's my take. Maybe she wouldn't have fit in anywhere.

On to another gem...

They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still”   –

Still! Could themself have peeped –
And seen my Brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound –

Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Look down opon Captivity –
And laugh – No more have I –

I wish she was still around today because I'd love to hear her explain her dashes and capitalization (as if she'd tell me). I'd also love to hear her take on 21st century life. Although, again, a lot of her work is timeless. And I do especially enjoy the poems where she acts very un-Emily-like:

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

There are so many Dickinson poems. It's impossible to choose a few to leave you with. So here are her pages at the Poetry Foundation and at Each has a bio and links to numerous poems. Dive in. Enjoy. Bask in her genius.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month #2

Looks like we just might make it in time...#2 today and #1 tomorrow, as promised!

Jane Kenyon left us far too soon. She died in 1995 at the age of 47. But in such a short life, she produced some amazing poems. She had an uncanny eye for detail and an almost supernatural ability to capture a scene. Upon first read her poems very accessible However, repeated readings reveal hidden depth and complexities and therein lies the pleasure of reading Jane Kenyon. Read a Kenyon poem once and you find pleasure. Reread it a few times and you're in awe. I'm also drawn to the subtle spirituality of much of her work and also (not in a morbid way) to the several poems she wrote about death and dying. She seems so at peace in her writing.

Here is an example, "Let Evening Come:"

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving   
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing   
as a woman takes up her needles   
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned   
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.   
Let the wind die down. Let the shed   
go black inside. Let evening come.

Read the rest at the Writer's Almanac. As I've professed before, the use of repetition is a poetry "move" I really enjoy. She uses it splendidly here, almost melodically in a way that lulls you to sleep, and also in several of her other poems.

I also like "Happiness" (who doesn't?):

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

Finish reading here and you'll notice that wonderful repetition move come back.

I believe you'll see what I'm talking about when I say "eye for detail" and "hidden complexities" if you're able to take a moment to read these:

Hopefully you'll find Jane Kenyon deserving of her #2 ranking. And check back tomorrow for the #1 poet in our countdown!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month--#3

Gwendolyn Brooks said once, of living in Chicago, one of my favorite places in all the world, "If you wanted a poem, you only had to look out of a window." A poet that views the world that way, that finds poetry in the hidden nuances of everyday life, and that expresses her observations in the beautiful way that Brooks did, is bound to hold a top-three spot on my countdown.

I admit that I didn't always enjoy poetry. In my youth, particularly high school, poetry was a chore--something to read that was nearly incomprehensible. Nowhere near the joy that it is to me today. That is, however, except for one poem: "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks. You can read it here or, better yet, listen to Brooks read it herself here. I think you'll see why I found it so entrancing.

Brooks also wrote many poems that captured the African American experience in experience that blacks nationwide could relate to. Take, for example, "kitchenette building," a splendid piece:

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes   
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes   
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,   
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,   
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

Read the poem in its entirety here.

But Gwendolyn Brooks was not limited to being an "African American poet," and I hope no one would dare only categorize her as such. She is truly an American poet, or better yet, a "human poet," as her themes are often universal. One of my all time favorites of hers is "when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story:"

—And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come—
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies—

Finish this brilliant poem here.

If you have time, please also give the following poems a read:

I don't get around in "poetry circles," so I don't know if Ms. Brooks is a well-known poet or not. Nor do I know how highly regarded she is. In my mind, she's near the top, though. And her contribution to poetry deserves recognition.

Again, if you've missed any of the countdown, please feel free to peruse numbers 10 through 4. And stay tuned for numbers 2 and 1 coming up later this week!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: Women's History Month Countdown #4

Have you been following our Countdown this month? What's that you say? You haven't? Well, my friend, you are in luck. Today we're bringing you our #4 poet in the countdown, Elizabeth Bishop, and if you want to get caught up on numbers 10 through 5, click here.

Elizabeth Bishop left behind a fairly small catalog of poems--she wrote just over 100 of them. But her attention to detail might have been unmatched among her 20th century counterparts. Some of her poems were made up of long, sprawling stanzas that are filled with intricate descriptions, vivid imagery, and beautiful language. Like, for example, "At The Fishhouses:"

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.

Read the rest of this wonderful poem here.

Choosing a favorite Bishop poem for me, I think, is an impossible task. I've blogged about "One Art" before. You can't resist a poem that starts like this...
The art of losing isn't hard to master
IF you don't know this poem, read it immediately. Your life may never be the same.

BUT...wait there's more. You know what my all time favorite poetic form is, right? If you said "sestina" you're correct! Elizabeth Bishop might have written the most amazing sestina of all time. On its own, it's brilliant. When you realize that it conforms to some very strict rules, it leaves you awestruck....

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

There's no way you can resist reading the rest, is there?

I have to confess--although I knew all along that I wanted Bishop included on this countdown, I was never really sure where to put her. For a time, I thought that maybe #4 was too low, that maybe she was more of an 8 or 9. Now, after reviewing the poems of hers I really like, I am wondering if #4 is too high. She just might be top-three material...take a look at this sampling and let us know what you think:

The Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Mary Lee at A Year in Reading this week. Please stop by and check out all the blogosphere has to offer on this last Friday before the beginning of Poetry Month!

National Poetry Month Approaches

There are so many wonderful poetry and literacy blogs out there. I know I only follow a fraction of them right now, but the ones I do follow are pretty terrific. If you haven't taken the time to peruse my blogroll, I highly recommend doing so. It'll be worth it, trust me.

What you'll find when you do so is that a lot of them are already gearing up for National Poetry Month and have some big things in store for April. I'm not sure what The Small Nouns will be doing to celebrate, but you can be sure we'll come up with something impressive (in my humble opinion). One thing we'll do for sure is keep you posted on what else is happening in the blogosphere so that you can easily follow along. You'll just have to check back to see what else I come up with!

Eight more days!!!

Poetry Countdown--Women's History Month #5

We've made it to the top five greatest female poets in the history of the world! Our number five poet is Denise Levertov.

Levertov's imagery and mastery of language stands out to me, especially in a poem like "The Clearing:"

What lies at the end of enticing
country driveways, curving
off among trees? Often only
a car graveyard, a house-trailer,
a trashy bungalow. But this one,
for once, brings you
through the shade of its green tunnel
to a paradise of cedars,
of lawns mown but not too closely,
of iris, moss, fern, rivers of stone rounded
by sea or stream,
of a wooden unassertive large-windowed house.

Read the rest of this poem here. "Paradise is a kind of poem." How great is that? And the sounds are amazing too. And the way she plays with the "It's paradise" line...the line play is a calling card of hers, it seems.

Some of these same characteristics appear in "A Time Past:"

The old wooden steps to the front door   
where I was sitting that fall morning   
when you came downstairs, just awake,   
and my joy at sight of you (emerging   
into golden day—
                         the dew almost frost)
pulled me to my feet to tell you   
how much I loved you:

those wooden steps
are gone now, decayed
replaced with granite,
hard, gray, and handsome.   
The old steps live
only in me:
my feet and thighs
remember them, and my hands   
still feel their splinters.

Read the rest here. This one, like her others, strikes me as meticulously and almost perfectly crafted. Her poems are works of art, without a doubt.

And if you're not familiar with Levertov's work, please take a moment and explore these gems:

Once you read these I hope you'll agree with Denise Levertov's top-five ranking! And while you're waiting for the final four posts, be sure to check out the rest of the countdown in case you missed it. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month #6

In addition to this being our 100th post, this also marks the conclusion of the first half of our Women's History Month Poetry Countdown. So far, we've honored five of the greatest poets in history (in my humble opinion), regardless of gender. Just to recap:

#10 -- Lucille Clifton
# 9 -- Marianne Moore
# 8 -- Lorine Niedecker
# 7 -- Qiu Jin

Now I bring you my #6 poet in the countdown--Louise Bogan. Let me start by saying that I'm a free verse kinda guy. Meter and rhyme often get in the way of my enjoyment of a poem. I'm not saying I dislike all lyric poetry, but it's certainly not my favorite.

Louise Bogan, however, used meter and rhyme (often in complicated ways) very often in her poetry. But it seems to be done in a way that differs from classical 18th and 19th century poets. It seems much more modern to me. I'm not enough of a scholar to be able to explain it any better than that, so hopefully that makes sense.

Take a look at "A Tale" and maybe you'll see what I mean:

This youth too long has heard the break
Of waters in a land of change.
He goes to see what suns can make
From soil more indurate and strange.

He cuts what holds his days together
And shuts him in, as lock on lock:
The arrowed vane announcing weather,
The tripping racket of a clock;

Seeking, I think, a light that waits
Still as a lamp upon a shelf, —
A land with hills like rocky gates
Where no sea leaps upon itself.

Read the rest of this poem here. The Poetry Foundation also has Learning Lab Activities and discussion questions for this poem for all you teachers out there.

Her poems are often very romantic and include passionate, emotional descriptions of relationships and heartbreak. This isn't usually my thing either. But Bogan is such a skilled poet, I become lost in her poems, completely forgetting that poems like this usually aren't my thing.

Here's a great example of this, "Juan's Song:"

When beauty breaks and falls asunder   
I feel no grief for it, but wonder.
When love, like a frail shell, lies broken,   
I keep no chip of it for token.
I never had a man for friend
Who did not know that love must end.   
I never had a girl for lover
Who could discern when love was over.   
What the wise doubt, the fool believes—
Who is it, then, that love deceives?

And finally, bringing it back to the rhyme and meter--I'm not the best at marking up poems with accents and feet and I hardly know a trochee from an iamb or tetrameter from pentameter. But I do know that Bogan does some unique things and I'm left puzzling over her poems, trying to read them correctly. With some I get caught up in the pleasure of decoding them and hunting for the rhyme scheme and the pattern in the meter. Maybe this is just because I don't know how to read a poem correctly. Either way, I enjoy it, especially in a poem like "Song for the Last Act:"

Now that I have your face by heart, I look   
Less at its features than its darkening frame   
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,   
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.   
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show   
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Read the remaining stanzas here.

Hopefully Louise Bogan's poetry appeals to you as much as it does to me. You might also enjoy these poems:

Keep checking back here for the top half of our countdown, which will wrap up March 31st with our number one female poet of all time!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poetry Countdown--Women's History Month #7

After sticking to some fairly familiar names for numbers ten, nine, and eight in the countdown, I thought I would take a slight turn towards the obscure. This poet is certainly deserving of this spot. However, prior to researching this series of blog posts, I had never heard of her. But I'm certainly glad her name popped up in my search for the greatest female poets in history, because not only are her poems magnificent, but her back-story is inspirational as well.

Qiu Jin (1875-1907) lived during the Qing Dynasty in China. She spoke out against injustices such as the binding of females' feet and other traditions such as arranged marriages and restrictions on education of girls and women.  She founded a revolutionary literary journal and worked to organize revolutionary activities. Arrested while serving as principal of a girls' boarding school, Qiu was subsequently tortured and beheaded. Her memory and legend live on in Chinese history as a valiant martyr who helped inspire China's revolution in 1911.

Qiu's poems are powerful, especially when read within the context of her life. Here's one entitled: "On Request For a Poem:"

Do not tell me women
are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea's
winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand,
like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands,
all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels,
guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing
not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat.

Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me:
how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds?

Not only does the message of her poetry resonate, but the imagery does as well. They combine in a powerful way. For example, here are some excerpts:

“Our skulls pile up in mounds;
our blood billows in cresting waves
and the ghosts of all the millions massacred
still weep…”

"Unbinding my feet, I washed away
     a thousand years of poison.
My heart fired with excitement, I awoke
     one hundred slumbering flower-spirits
But pity my shagreen handkerchief
Half stained with tears
     and half with blood."

Or imagine yourself as an oppressed female in China (then or now) reading something like "Crimson Flooding Into the River:"

Just a short stay at the Capital
But it is already the mid autumn festival
Chrysanthemums infect the landscape
Fall is making its mark
The infernal isolation has become unbearable here
All eight years of it make me long for my home
It is the bitter guile of them forcing us women into femininity
We cannot win!
Despite our ability, men hold the highest rank
But while our hearts are pure, those of men are rank
My insides are afire in anger at such an outrage
How could vile men claim to know who I am?
Heroism is borne out of this kind of torment
To think that so putrid a society can provide no camaraderie
Brings me to tears!

OR do the same with this poem, written by Qiu apparently after having her picture taken, dressed in a man's costume:

Who is this person, staring at me so sternly?
The martial bones I bring from a former existence regret 
     the flesh that covers them.
Once life is over, the body itself will be seen to have
     been an illusion,
And the world that has not yet emerged--that will be real.
You and I should have got together long ago and 
     shared our feelings;
Looking out across these times, our spirits garner 
Someday, when you see my friends from the old days,
Tell them I've scrubbed off all that old dirt.

I will say that Qiu Jin's poems aren't exactly easy to find on the 'net. I had to spend some time googling to find just the right ones. But if you enjoy her work and want to expose your students or yourself to a not-very-well-known female Asian poet, the search is time well spent. And, if you're feeling especially ambitious, get a hold of "Autumn Gem," a documentary about the life of "China's first feminist."

Stay tuned for #6 in the countdown--it is coming soon! I'm running out of days in the month and I need to pick up the pace.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New to Me Wednesday: Peggy Shumaker

In my continuing effort to share a poet each week that is "new to me," I bring you this week's new-to-me poet, Peggy Shumaker.

The poem "Night Dive" came to my attention for the first time recently via Ted Kooser's page, American Life in Poetry. Shumaker lives in Alaska, and that certainly is evident in many of her poems. Like this one for example:

"Night Dive"

Plankton rise toward the full moon
spread thin on Wakaya’s surface.
Manta rays’ great curls of jaw
scoop backward somersaults of ocean
in through painted caves of their mouths, out
through sliced gills. Red sea fans
pulse. The leopard shark
lounges on a smooth ramp of sand,
skin jeweled with small hangers-on.
Pyramid fish point the way to the surface.

Read the rest here.

I think there is a richness to her language and her word choice that is beyond anything I've read recently. Each image is vivid in my mind. Each setting is exquisitely described. As in "The Story of Light..."

Think of the woman who first touched fire
to a hollow stone filled with seal oil,
how she fiddled with fuel and flame
until blue shadows before and after her
filled her house, crowded
the underground, then
fled like sky-captains
chasing the aurora’s whale tale
green beyond the earth’s curve.

I think you see what I mean. Read the rest of the poem here.

If these two were right up your alley, you're all but certain to enjoy the litany-esque qualities of "What to Count On" (not to mention the ironic fact that it's about things you can't count on AND it has a terrific ending), or "Oatmeal" or the equally amazing "The Oldest Music."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Poetry in Music: Regina Spektor

What is it that makes one song more poetic than another? It's kind of hard to pin that one down without saying "I know it when I hear it." But that's what happened this morning when I heard Regina Spektor's "Blue Lips" on the way to work:

Maybe it's the narrative quality of the song. Maybe it's the repeated use of color. Maybe it's the imagery. Maybe I love piano players. Maybe I heard it on the right day. Either way, it's poetic. I really like a lot of Spektor's music, although not all of them strike me as poetic as this one.. I know she's been around for awhile, but I didn't really discover until she sang with Ben Folds on "You Don't Know Me."

If you like "Blue Lips," I highly recommend "Two Birds," "Samson," "Us," "Genius Next Door," and "Folding Chair." 

Enjoy and stay tuned this week for numbers 7 and 6 in our Women's History Month Poetry Countdown.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Michigan Reading Association Follow-Up

Just returned home from my presentation at the MRA 2011 conference. My topic, naturally, was poetry.

This is the first time I've presented on this topic and I have to say, it went extraordinarily well. I survived the early time slot (8 AM the day after springing forward!) and the lack of wireless internet (Note to DeVos Place, it's 2011) and emerged unscathed.

I learned that my 75 minute presentation is actually a 90 minute presentation (although going in I thought it might be a 30 minute presentation). That's a really long way of saying I brought too much material and didn't get to it all. Good to know for next time.

If you were in attendance, thanks so much. You were a great audience and I thought the discussion was lively and productive.

And, whether you were there or not, I've created a page on the blog for all my handouts (I'm hoping there will be future presentations...preferably for a sizable fee). Just click "Conference Handouts" at the top of the Blog Home Page.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month--#8

I need to preface this edition of my Women's History Month Countdown with this--I am not a poetry scholar. On top of that, I'm not very good at enjoying British poets. So on this countdown, you're not going to find Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Christina Rosetti or any of the scores of European (particularly those who are English) female poets who may deserve to be on it. Sorry.

My first two poets on this countdown, Lucille Clifton and Marianne Moore, are certainly deserving. But they also are indicators or things to come. The remaining 8 poets on my list are going to be mainly American, and mainly poets of the 20th century.

That being said, I have done a lot of research for this series, and I've read a lot of poems by poets that I wouldn't normally have read. I've enjoyed it, too. So without further adieu, on to number 8...

Lorine Niedecker's poetry can be described as minimalist, I suppose. Kenneth Koch called it "whittled clean," according to Niedecker's Poetry Foundation's bio page. Without a doubt, though, it is both unique and glorious.

Poet's Work

     advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned to sit
     at a desk
          and condense

No layoff
     from this

Her poems are so small and yet each one of them achieves perfection in its own way. I would imagine that crafting poems like these would have been labor intensive--choosing just the right words and just the right spacing. The hard work pays off, for sure.

Popcorn can cover
screwed to a wall
     so the cold
can't mouse in

See what I mean? Perfection. These four lines are among my favorite in all of poetry, I think. I love that indentation. And the use of "mouse" as a verb. I asked my class once, kind of on a whim, why they thought there was no period at the end of "popcorn can cover." I had no idea what the answer is, I just wanted to hear what they would say. A student responded: "Maybe the story isn't over yet." Maybe.

I think, without a doubt, that she deserves this spot in my countdown. I hope you'll enjoy reading her poems as much as I do.

Another Niedecker "must-read" is "In the great snowfall before the bomb," which has an ending that ranks up there with the greatest I've read. In fact, her poems' endings are one of my favorite things about them.

Please also enjoy these Niedecker greatest hits: also has a really good article called "Who Was Lorine Niedecker?" Like many brilliant genius poets, she was a very interesting person. I think you'll agree.

Be sure to check out the number 10 and number 9 entries in the countdown. AND head over to Liz in Ink for this week's Poetry Friday Roundup.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New to Me Wednesday: Carl Dennis

I'll begin with a huge thank you to Liz In Ink for bringing Carl Dennis to my attention. This past Poetry Friday, hosted here at The Small Nouns in case you missed it, she posted "Worms:"

Aren't you glad at least that the earthworms
Under the grass are ignorant, as they eat the earth,
Of the good they confer on us, that their silence
Isn't a silent reproof for our bad manners,
Our never casting earthward a crumb of thanks
For their keeping the soil from packing so tight
That no root, however determined, could pierce it?

Imagine if they suspected how much we owe them,
How the weight of our debt would crush us
Even if they enjoyed keeping the grass alive,
The garden flowers and vegetables, the clover,
And wanted nothing that we could give them,
Not even the merest nod of acknowledgment.
A debt to angels would be easy in comparison,
Bright, weightless creatures of cloud, who serve
An even brighter and lighter master. 

Read the rest here.

It seems like a Pulitzer Prize winning poet should be someone I've heard of. Not in this case. Mr. Dennis won in 2002. But lucky for me, I liked "Worms" so much (that sounds weird) that I did a little searching and found some others that I really like, too. Like "Drugstore," for example...

Don't be ashamed that your parents
Didn't happen to meet at an art exhibit
Or at a protest against a foreign policy
Based on fear of negotiation,
But in an aisle of a discount drugstore,
Near the antihistamine section,
Seeking relief from the common cold.
You ought to be proud that even there,
Amid coughs and sneezes,
They were able to peer beneath
The veil of pointless happenstance.
Here is someone, each thought,
Able to laugh at the indignities
That flesh is heir to. Here
Is a person one might care about.
Not love at first sight, but the will
To be ready to endorse the feeling
Should it arise. Had they waited
For settings more promising,
You wouldn't be here,
Wishing things were different.

Read the rest here. Or maybe you'll enjoy "Candles" as much as me...

If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle   
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra   
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,   
A man who may have come to the town she lived in   
Looking for work and never found it.   
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,   
After a month of grief with the want ads,   
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.   
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards   
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,   
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on   
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic   
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up   
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can. 

The rest can be found here.

As for some other poems by Carl Dennis that I think you might want to check out, try "In Paris" or "At Becky's Piano Recital" or "Thanksgiving Letter From Harry," which appears with an author's note at How a Poem Happens.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month--#9

Prior to beginning this endeavor, there was only one poem that I knew by the number 9 poet. And that was enough to guarantee her a spot in my countdown of the top ten female poets in history (non-living edition). In fact, I like the first line of that poem so much that its mere existence might have been enough.  (When I visited the offices of The Poetry Foundation a couple years ago, one of their employees had a tote bag with this line emblazoned on it. It took all that I had to resist the urge to purloin that little tote.)

I, too, dislike it. 

Thus begins Marianne Moore's "Poetry," an epic piece that I don't completely understand and probably operates on some sort of syllabic plane that I can't wrap my head around. Factor in all that indentation stuff going on (which happens a lot in Moore's poems)...and there's a lot going on that I don't necessarily "get." But, that being said, it's one of my favorite poems ever. 

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
Read it in its entirety here.

From what I've read this week about Moore, poetry scholars either really, really like her...or not. I'm certainly not ready to digest her complete works or anything, but she wrote many poems in addition to "Poetry"that I enjoy. I'll start with a short one:

"I May, I Might, I Must"
If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
I will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.
This has to be the most accessible of Moore's poems. It gets a lot heavier...

Those Various Scalpels

various sounds, consistently indistinct, like intermingled echoes
   struck from thin glasses successively at random—
       the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails of two
   fighting-cocks head to head in stone—
       like sculptured scimitars repeating the curve of your   
               ears in reverse order:   
                                                                        your eyes,
             flowers of ice and snow

Finish reading it here. How can you not love that? I am a firm believer that a poem is like a work of art. It's meant to be enjoyed. It's meant to be experienced. I don't need to understand it to enjoy it. And I enjoy it even more because of the obvious brilliance of Marianne Moore. Even if I don't get it, I respect it...I'm awed by it.

Here are a few others to try:
Stay tuned for our number 8 poet in the countdown. It should be up and ready for Poetry Friday. In the meantime, read about number ten, Lucille Clifton. And spend some time chewing on this:

What Are Years

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Poetry Friday: Women's History Month Countdown

Not only is Poetry Friday here. It's also HERE! Welcome to the first ever Poetry Friday to be hosted at The Small Nouns. 

For those of you new to The Small Nouns--welcome! Take a look around, enjoy, leave copious amounts of comments, and by all means subscribe to my RSS feed. And for all you wonderful fellow bloggers out there, why not take the time to add The Small Nouns to your blogroll? I'd really appreciate it and will certainly reciprocate.

Since it's a special day, I wanted to start a special series of posts dedicated to Women's History Month. And since nothing spurs discussion like a countdown (I'm still ticked that Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" beat out Tiffany's "Could've Been" in my best friend's Top Hits of Fifth Grade, I was a dork), I decided to countdown my top ten favorite female poets.

Now, I need to admit that I'm not very good at limiting myself. I'm the guy who sneaks 12 items in the express lane and whose Top Five Movies list has ten movies on it. Et cetera, et cetera. So I'm limiting myself in this case to poets no longer among the living. It's still a daunting task, but I'll do my best. And of course, feel free to disagree or join in in the conversation by leaving a comment.

Without further ado, I give you my number 10 poet...Lucille Clifton.

I think the first Clifton poem I ever read was "homage to my hips." I was a poetry novice at the time and its frank voice and pure honesty really stood out to me. What a powerful piece, a bellowing from the mountaintop of independence and freedom. "So this is what you can do with poetry," I thought.

Another poem that is dripping with honesty and pride is "won't you celebrate with me:"

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand

Read the rest here. "i made it up." How great is that? And how true? My fifth graders loved reading this poem last year and it became an instant favorite. I think students of higher grades would enjoy it, too. The Poetry Foundation has a complete Poetry Guide for this one, including writing ideas, discussion questions, annotations, and teaching tips. Be sure to check it out.

So many of Ms. Clifton's poems strike a chord. She passed away last year and her powerful voice is surely missed. You might also enjoy:
There are many, many more. And many of them are painful and sad. But they're all beautifully written and so, so honest. Let me know which favorites of yours I've missed.

And now it's your turn, friends. Please use the little gadget-thingy below to leave your link. Thanks to all and happy Poetry Friday!