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“Black Poets should live―not leap
From steel bridges, like the white boys do”
“Let all Black Poets die as trumpets,
And be buried in the dust of marching feet”
― Etheridge Knight
“Poetry survives because it haunts and it haunts
because it is simultaneously utterly clear and
deeply mysterious; because it cannot be entirely
accounted for, it cannot be exhausted.”
― Louise Glück
13 poets with birthdays this week
Another stellar week in
National Poetry Month
1871 – John Millington Synge born in a Dublin suburb; Irish playwright, writer, and poet; He was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, best known for his controversial comedy The Playboy of the Western World, which premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1907, and caused riots stirred up by Irish nationalists. Synge suffered from Hodgkin’s disease, and died at age 37 from a related form of cancer in 1909.
by John Millington Synge
Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.
I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.
“Prelude” from Poems and Translations by John M. Synge – Maunsel and Co, 1920 edition
1918 – Spike Milligan born as Terence Alan Milligan in British Colonial India; Irish-English comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright, and actor. His family moved back to England after WWI. He left school in the 1930s to work as a clerk while moonlighting as a jazz musician, and joined the Young Communist League. During WWII, he was a signaler in the 56th Heavy Regiment of the Royal Artillery on the south coast of England, but also entertained the troops with comedy sketches and music before being sent to North Africa and then Italy. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Monte Cassino, and hospitalized for the wound and shell shock. After the war, he wrote parodies of mainstream plays, which eventually led to The Goon Show. Milligan was the co-creator, chief writer, and a leading cast member of this popular BBC radio comedy show (1951-1960), which the NBC radio network began broadcasting in the U.S. in the mid-1950s. He also appeared on television and in films.. The 1970 TV movie The Other Spike dramatised his nervous breakdown. Milligan died from kidney failure at age 83 in 2002. Among his many poetry collections are Silly Verse for Kids, Small Dreams of a Scorpion, Goblins, Chill Air, and Fleas, Knees and Hidden Elephants.
by Spike Milligan
Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I’ll draw a sketch of thee,
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?
“Silly Poem” from Hidden Words: Collected Poems, © 1993 by Spike Milligan Productions – Penguin Books
1922 – Kingsley Amis born in south west London; English novelist, short story writer, poet, scriptwriter for radio and television, and critic. Though much better known for his novels, including Lucky Jim, That Uncertain Feeling, and The Old Devils, he also published several poetry collections, including Bright November, A Frame of Mind, and The Evans County. He died at age 73 after a stroke in 1995.
Something Nasty in the Bookshop
by Kingsley Amis
Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.
Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.
“I travel, you see”, “I think” and “I can read”
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,
The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.
Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
Girls aren’t like that.
We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
They write about it.
And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.
Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stayed up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn’t write.
“Something Nasty in the Bookshop” from Collected Poems: 1944-1979, © 1980 by Kingsley Amis – Viking Press
1935 – Sarah Kirsch born as Ingrid Kirsch in Prussian Saxony, but changed her name to Sarah in protest of her father’s anti-Semitism; prominent German post-WWII poet and author. After she protested East Germany’s expulsion of poet and dissident Wolf Biermann in 1976, she was excluded from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In 1977 she moved to West Germany, but remained critical of both East and West Germany. She died at age 78 in 2013.
by Sarah Kirsch
Poets love cats of course
The gentle free who cannot be controlled
Who sleep and dream November rain away
On silk chairs or in rags speak back
Without saying a word shake themselves
And get on with their lives
Behind the hunter’s fence
While his possessed neighbours
Are still noting down licence plates
The one being observed in his four walls
Has long left the borders behind
“Cat lives” from Ice Roses: Selected Poems, © 2013 by Sarah Kirsch, translated by Anne Stokes – Carcanet Press
1972 – Tracy K. Smith born in Falmouth, Massachusetts but raised in Northern California; African American poet and member of the Harvard English and African American studies faculties since 2021. She was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019. Smith won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book, Life on Mars. Her other books of poetry include The Body’s Question, Duende, and Wade in the Water. Her 2015 memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction, and was named as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
by Tracy K. Smith
A species of tiny human has been discovered, which lived on the remote Indonesian island
of Flores just 18,000 years ago. . . . Researchers have so far unearthed remains from eight
individuals who were just one metre tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These astonishing little
people . . . made tools, hunted tiny elephants and lived at the same time as modern humans
who were colonizing the area. — Nature, October 2004
Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body.
Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes.
Sound: birds stab greedy beaks
Into trunk and seed, spill husk
Onto the heap where my dreaming
And my loving live.
Every day I wake to this.
Tracks follow the heavy beasts
Back to where they huddle, herd.
Hunt: a dance against hunger.
Music: feast and fear.
This island becomes us
Trees cap our sky. It rustles with delight
In a voice green as lust. Reptiles
Drag night from their tails,
Live by the dark. A rage of waves
Protects the horizon, which we would devour.
One day I want to dive in and drift,
Legs and arms wracked with danger.
Like a dark star. I want to last.
“Flores Woman” from Duende, © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith – Graywolf Press
1586 – John Ford born at Bagtor, his family’s estate in Devonshire; notable English playwright, who also wrote poetry, during the reign of Charles I. There are few details of his life known from 1600, when he first arrived in London, to 1606, when he completed his first literary works Fame’s Memorial and Honour Triumphant. In 1601, he was residing at the Middle Temple, a complex of buildings which is one of the Inns of Court, the four associations of the barristers of England and Wales, but it is not known if Ford was studying for the bar, or was a just gentleman boarder. Financial difficulties got him expelled from the Middle Temple between 1606 and 1608, when he was readmitted. From 1620 onward, he concentrated on writing plays, and is best known for his 1633 tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, a family drama with brother-sister incest. Ford’s date of death is unknown, but is believed to have been in 1639.
A Bridal Song
by John Ford
Comforts lasting, loves increasing,
Like soft hours never ceasing;
Plenty’s pleasure, peace complying,
Without jars, or tongues envying;
Hearts by holy union wedded,
More than theirs by custom bedded;
Fruitful issues; life so graced,
Not by age to be defaced;
Budding as the year ensu’th,
Every spring another youth:
All what thought can add beside,
Crown this Bridegroom and this Bride!
1915 – Joy Davidman born in New York City, American poet, author, and novelist; her first book of poetry, Letter to a Comrade, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 1938 and the Russell Loines Award for Poetry in 1939. Her best-known work is Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Her second marriage, to author C.S. Lewis, inspired the play and film Shadowlands. She was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 1957, and died at age 45 in 1960 in Oxford, England.
by Joy Davidman
I am a serpent that will suck your blood,
Sting your bare eyes, or pleasurably drain
Sweet fiery thought and honey from your brain
And find the savor of your heartstrings good.
I will unclothe your spirit of your skin,
If I can take your body in the snare
That our of flowers and my flowering hair
And idle nights these incantations spin.
This is the way to keep your soul from me;
Let the sweet lure and the entangled guile
Crumble before your tolerant clear smile;
And let your cold and lovely honesty
Within my semblance made of shallow glass
Read my desires of you as they pass.
“Amulet” by Joy Davidman appeared in the January 1936 issue of Poetry magazine
1931 – Etheridge Knight born in Corinth, Mississippi; African-American poet. He was one of eight children in a poor family, and though a bright student, he dropped out of school at age 16, and worked as a shoe shiner before joining the army in 1947. He served in Korea as a medical technician until 1950, when he was seriously wounded. He became addicted to morphine. Coming back to the U.S., he was a drug dealer and thief to support his habit. In 1960, he was arrested for armed robbery, and sentenced to prison. There, he began writing poetry, and some of it was published in the Negro Digest, attracting the attention of established Black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Haki Madhubuti. Dudley Randall, poet and owner of Broadside Press, published Knight’s first verse collection, Poems from Prison, in 1968, coinciding with his release from prison. His second book, Black Voices from Prison was published in 1970. He earned a bachelor’s degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis in 1990, and taught creative writing until he became too ill to continue. He died of lung cancer in 1991 just weeks before his 60th birthday.
He Sees Through Stone
by Etheridge Knight
He sees through stone
he has the secret eyes
this old black one
who under prison skies
sits pressed by the sun
against the western wall
his pipe between purple gums
the years fall
like overripe plums
bursting red flesh
on the dark earth
his time is not my time
but I have known him
in a time gone
he led me trembling cold
into the dark forest
taught me the secret rites
to make it with a woman
to be true to my brothers
to make my spear drink
the blood of my enemies
now black cats circle him
flash white teeth
snarl at the air
mashing green grass beneath
ears peeling his words
the hunt the enemy
he has the secret eyes
he sees through stone
“He Sees Through Stone” from The Essential Etheridge Knight, © 1986 by Etheridge Knight – University of Pittsburgh Press
1947 [year disputed] – Kathy Acker born, American experimental novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and feminist writer; listening to stories of women whose lives were completely different from her own during her brief stint as a stripper in the mid-1970s had a profound impact on her understanding of gender and power relationships and on her early work. She had several long-term relationships with men and was married twice, but was openly bisexual. In 1979, she won the Pushcart Prize for her short story “New York City in 1979.” She wrote some of her most critically acclaimed works while in living in England in the 1980s, then returned to the U.S. as a visiting professor at several universities and colleges. In 1996, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and lost her faith in conventional medicine after an unsuccessful surgery. In 1997, she died in a Tijuana Mexico alternative cancer treatment clinic.
by Kathy Acker
I want all of you out there to shut up.
I’m going to live the ways we want to live.
What do you want of me now?
Liver, blood, guts?
The only thing left is madness.
You too’re gonna drive yourself to the pits:
You’re gonna walk on coals through blazing fires:
You’re gonna drink down the world’s most painful poisons:
That’s what wanting love is.
My man isn’t like other men.
He can keep you in prison.
He can make you do anything.
I know why all of you want him.
But worse, what happens
if my Slave Trader
for some stupid reason
happens to like you?
Then you’re screwed:
no more sleep
Nor will he let you keep your eyes.
He compulsions alone can fetter forces wildness.
How many times a spineless being you’ll run to
all the weaky friends you formerly despised,
tremulous sorrow will arise with tears shuddering
warts and pimples and fleas’ll appear on your skin
all your wishes’ll go, words are no more,
you’ll never again now who you are.
You’ll learn to serve him, girl, to be whatever he wants,
to disappear whenever he wants you to go.
You’ll learn why people who want, want to die
why the whole world are lies.
Your rich parents ain’t helping:
cause Love’s more powerful than social climbing.
But if even small you have given footsteps of your failure
how quickly from such a reputation you will be a murmur!
Not I then I will be able to comfort to bear to asking you
‘Cause I’m sick too.
At this point sicker than you.
My disease is forever.
I know no comfort.
Since we’re both maniacs,
let’s be nice to each other.
I myself want to live.
I want to burn.
all I ask is no one loves me
“the diseased” from Blood and Guts in High School, © 1978 by Kathy Acker – Grove Press
1826 – Dinah Mulock Craik born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire; English novelist, poet, and author of biographical sketches of famous writers, who often used Mrs. Craik as her pen name. Her most popular novel was John Halifax, Gentleman, but she wrote dozens of articles and sketches and hundreds of poems for popular magazines of the day in order to support herself, and help her family. In 1858, A Woman’s Thoughts about Women was published, a series of essays advocating for women being educated, so they would be capable of supporting themselves if they remained unmarried, or were widowed. She died of heart failure at age 61 in Shortlands, a London suburb.
Green Things Growing
by Dinah M. Craik
O the green things growing, the green things growing,
The faint sweet smell of the green things growing!
I should like to live, whether I smile or grieve,
Just to watch the happy life of my green things growing.
O the fluttering and the pattering of those green things growing!
How they talk each to each, when none of us are knowing;
In the wonderful white of the weird moonlight
Or the dim dreamy dawn when the cocks are crowing.
I love, I love them so – my green things growing!
And I think that they love me, without false showing;
For by many a tender touch, they comfort me so much,
With the soft mute comfort of green things growing.
And in the rich store of their blossoms glowing
Ten for one I take they’re on me bestowing:
Oh, I should like to see, if God’s will it may be,
Many, many a summer of my green things growing!
But if I must be gathered for the angel’s sowing,
Sleep out of sight awhile, like the green things growing,
Though dust to dust return, I think I’ll scarcely mourn,
If I may change into green things growing.
“Green Things Growing” from Poems of Dinah Maria Mulock Craik – Kessinger Publishing 2008 facisimile reprint
1816 – Charlotte Brontë born in Thornton, West Riding in Yorkshire; English novelist and poet, eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood and wrote novels that became classics of English literature. Her father was an Irish Anglican clergyman, and the family lived in straightened circumstances. She is best known as the author of Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847, although it was originally published under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Several reviewers of the time criticized Jane Eyre for its unconventionalism, immorality, passionate exchanges, anti-authoritative and anti-Christian tendencies, and improbabilities within the storyline, even though some of them admitted the quality of the writing was remarkable. In 1848, Brontë released a preface with the second edition of Jane Eyre to defend the novel against criticism, while also acknowledging its success and thanking the press, public, and publishers. Charlotte Brontë was the last to die of all her siblings. She became pregnant shortly after her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls in June 1854 but died on March 31, 1855, almost certainly from hyperemesis gravidarum, a complication of pregnancy which causes excessive nausea and vomiting.
Speak of the North!
by Charlotte Brontë
Speak of the North! A lonely moor
Silent and dark and tractless swells,
The waves of some wild streamlet pour
Hurriedly through its ferny dells.
Profoundly still the twilight air,
Lifeless the landscape; so we deem
Till like a phantom gliding near
A stag bends down to drink the stream.
And far away a mountain zone,
A cold, white waste of snow-drifts lies,
And one star, large and soft and lone,
Silently lights the unclouded skies.
1930 – Hilda Hilst born, influential Brazilian author, poet, and playwright; noted for her poetry collection, Presságio (Omen), and her novels, Com meus olhos de cão (With My Dog Eyes) and A obscena senhora D (The Obscene Madame D). She died at age 73 of a chronic heart and pulmonary condition in 2004.
by Hilda Hilst
Because there is desire within me, everything glimmers.
Before, daily life was thinking of heights
Seeking Another decanted
Deaf to my human bark.
Sap and sweat, they never came to be.
Today, flesh and bones, laborious, lascivious
You take my body. And what rest you give me
After the readings. I dreamt of cliffs
When there was a garden by my side.
I thought of climbs where there were no signs.
Ecstatic, I fuck you
Instead of yapping at Nothingness.
– translated by Lavinia Saad, Brazilian Poetry in Translation
1943 – Louise Glück born in New York city and grew up on Long Island; American poet and essayist; winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Wild Iris; Library of Congress Special Bicentennial Consultant (2000-2002) and Poet Laureate (2003-2004); and 2014 National Book Award (Poetry) for Faithful and Virtuous Night. In 2020, she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who helped invent and market the X-Acto Knife. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University without graduating from either school. In her mid-twenties, she published her poetry collection Firstborn to mixed reviews. Glück has since published over a dozen collections which have been heaped with honors.
by Louise Glück
My soul dried up.
Like a soul cast into a fire, but not completely,
not to annihilation. Parched,
it continued. Brittle,
not from solitude but from mistrust,
the aftermath of violence.
Spirit, invited to leave the body,
to stand exposed a moment, —
trembling, as before
your presentation to the divine —
spirit lured out of solitude
by the promise of grace,
how will you ever again believe
the love of another being?
My soul withered and shrank.
The body became for it too large a garment.
And when hope was returned to me
it was another hope entirely.
“The Garment” from Meadowlands © 1997 by Louise Glück – Ecco/HarperCollins
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