Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
People write me from all over the country,
asking me, and sometimes even telling me,
what they think a poet laureate should do.
I found that immensely valuable.
– Rita Dove (U.S. Poet Laureate, 1993-1995)
April is National Poetry Month in the U.S.
Though this month was first introduced and organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a celebration of American poetry, it was acknowledged right away in a presidential proclamation issued by Bill Clinton, and is marked on the schedules of the U.S. Poets Laureate.
Poetry Room – Library of Congress
This part of the series covers the years from 2004 to 2012. First up in this group is Ted Kooser, surprisingly the first Midwesterner to be chosen as our Poet Laureate. He was little-known to the general public when he started, but has since become one of our better-known and loved American poets. During his tenure, he founded “American Life in Poetry,” a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications, each featuring a poem by a contemporary U.S. poet.
Kay Ryan was another surprise choice — she was born in San Jose, California, and her first four poetry collections had been published by West Coast publishers before she was “discovered” by the more influential New York publishing establishment. Though she had won a number of prestigious prizes, she was teaching remedial English at a community college when she got the invitation to be the next Poet Laureate. She made it part of her mission while Laureate to extoll the virtues and importance of community colleges.
Ted Kooser – 2004-2006
by Ted Kooser.
Here, on fine long legs springy as steel,
a life rides, sealed in a small brown pill
that skins along over the basement floor
wrapped up in a simple obsession.
Eight legs reach out like the master ribs
of a web in which some thought is caught
dead center in it own small world,
a thought so far from the touch of things
that we can only guess at it. If mine,
it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself..
“Daddy Long Legs” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985, © 2005 by Ted Kooser – University of Pittsburgh Press
Donald Hall – 2006-2007
Apology for Old Clothes
by Donald Hall
Cerulean tweed jacket, twenty years old, that blueprints
the pitch of my shoulders . . . Cardigan out at the elbows—
familiar as memory’s attic after fifty years of collecting . . .
I wear a shabby house,
as a lazy turtle does, disreputable and easy, dozing
in mud all winter.
“Apology for Old Clothes” by Donald Hall appeared in Poetry magazine’s February 1979 issue
Charles Simic – 2007-2008
by Charles Simic
This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around a cannibal’s neck.
As you hold it on your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which is like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.
“Fork” from Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems, © 1999 by Charles Simic – George Braziller, Inc.
Kay Ryan – 2008-2010
by Kay Ryan
A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
egg energy to apply to the weakest spot
or whatever spot it started at.
It can’t afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.
One backward look by any of us
Can cost whit it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger’s knock;
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who eats dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.
“Doubt” from The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, © 2010 by Kay Ryan – Grove Press
W. S. Merwin – 2010-2011
by W. S. Merwin
There are threads of old sound heard over and over
phrases of Shakespeare or Mozart the slender
wands of the auroras playing out from them
into dark time the passing of a few
migrants high in the night far from the ancient flocks
far from the rest of the words far from the instruments
“Remembering” by W.S. Merwin from The Collected Poems of W. S. Merwin, © 2013 by W. S. Merwin – Library of America edition
Philip Levine – 2011-2012
An Abandoned Factory, Detroit
by Philip Levine
The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.
Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,
And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.
“An Abandoned Factory, Detroit” from Ashes: Poems New and Old, © by Philip Levine — Atheneum