“Still, no one finally knows what a poet is supposed
either to be or to do. Especially in this country, one
takes on the job—because all that one does in America
is considered a “job”— with no clear sense as to what
is required or where one will ultimately be led.”
— Robert Creeley
“… for it is through poetry that we give
name to those ideas which are — until
the poem— nameless and formless,
about to be birthed, but already felt.”
─ Audre Lorde,
Poetry Is Not a Luxury
born this week
1688 – Alexander Pope born in London to a Roman Catholic linen merchant’s family; English essayist, poet, and translator. Because Catholicism was banned, he was taught by his mother’s sister, and in clandestine Catholic schools. He was best known for his satirical verse, and his translation of Homer. Pope died of edema and acute asthma at age 56 in 1744.
Ode on Solitude
by Alexander Pope
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
1923 – Dorothy Hewitt born, Australian poet, novelist, playwright and feminist; while working under pen names for the Communist paper, The Tribune, she also worked in a clothing factory, so her first novel, Bobbin Up, is semi-autobiographical; she became disillusioned with the Communist Party in the 1960s, and renounced her membership after the Soviet Army’s brutal suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968; her collection of poems, Rapunzel in Suburbia, was published in 1975, and Virago Press published her autobiography, Wild Card.
To the Literary Ladies
by Dorothy Hewitt
Here they come the clever ladies
in their detachable Peter Pan collars
their fringes their sober mein
hiding such anger such
subtle vices dizzying torments
how do they manage to keep it intact
that demeanour? Is it something they’ve learned?
Not from George rough-hewn or Emily
choking her mastiff down on the moors.
No it’s Jane with her simpering smile
her malice her maidenly virtues
rustling through the 20th Century seminars
sitting on platforms discussing
manner and style how to instruct
& parry impertinent questions.
“To the Literary Ladies” from Selected Poems, © 1991 by Dorothy Hewitt – Fremantle Arts Centre Press
1926 – Robert Creeley born Arlington, Massachusetts; American poet and author of over 60 books. At age two, he lost his left eye. He taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and was a co-founder of the Poetics Program at Buffalo. He won the 1999 Bollingen Prize for So There, and was honored in 2001 with the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award. His many books of poetry include Gnomic Verses; Echoes; So There: Poems 1976–1983; and On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay.
by Robert Creeley
One day after another—
They all fit.
“One Day” from The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1945-1975, © 2006 by Robert Creeley – University of California Press
1956 – Lucie Brock-Boido was born in Pittsburgh, American poet who published four collections of poetry; winner of the 1996 Witter-Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim fellowship. She died of cancer at age 61 in March 2018.
A Girl Ago
by Lucie Brock-Boido
No feeding on wisteria. No pitch-burner traipsing
In the nettled woods. No milk in metal cylinders, no
Buttering. No making small contusions on the page
But saying nothing no one has not said before.
No milkweed blown across your pony-coat, no burrs.
No scent of juniper on your Jacobean mouth. No crush
Of ink or injury, no lacerating wish.
Extinguish me from this.
I was sixteen for twenty years. By September I will be a ghost
And flickering in unison with all the other fireflies in Appalachia,
Blinking in the swarm of it, and all at once, above
And on a bare branch in a shepherd’s sky. No Dove.
There is no thou to speak of.
“A Girl Ago” from Stay, Illusion, © 2013 by Lucie Brock-Broido – Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
1799 – Thomas Hood was born in Cheapside, London, to a bookshop owner – family lived above the shop; English poet, author and humorist, best known his poem “The Song of the Shirt.” He wrote regularly for The London Magazine, Athenaeum, and Punch. Hood became in invalid by age 41, and died at age 45. His daughter and his son both became writers, and collaborated on collecting and publishing their father’s work.
by Thomas Hood
There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave—under the deep deep sea,
Or in the wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hush’d—no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke, over the idle ground:
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.
1842 – Maria Konopnicka born as Maria Wasiłowska in Suwalki, in northeastern Poland, when her country was part of the Russian Empire; Polish poet, novelist, translator, journalist, and was an activist for women’s rights and Polish independence. She married at 20, and bore six children, but her husband disapproved of her writing, so she often used pen names. In 1878, she took the children and left for Warsaw to pursue writing. Her work was displeasing to the Russian authorities, so friends and admirers raised the money to purchase a house for her in the village of Żarnowiec, near the border with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died at age 68 in 1910.
There, In My Country, In A Far Away Land
by Maria Konopnicka
There, in my country, in a faraway land
a hundred dimmed stars shine in a crown,
one hundred extinguished stars above the field stand,
like a hundred knights in an iron armor clad.
There, in my country, in a faraway land
one hundred red-hot hearts with longing burn,
one hundred red-hot hearts pound in the chest
like a ghost into armor iron plates.
There, in my country, in a faraway land
one hundred winds are galloping through fallow lands,
one hundred winds are galloping through the steppe trail
like one hundred steeds’ golden horseshoes beating the ground.
And when one hundred days, one hundred nights shall pass,
with hearts full of power knights will rise,
knights will rise, horses will mount,
and they’ll light up stars in the golden crown.
– translated by Przemyslaw Musialowski
1906 – Sheila Wingfield born in Hampshire in southeast England as Sheila Beddington; Anglo-Irish poet and memoirist from a Northern Irish protestant family, although her father’s family had originally been Jewish. In 1932, she married Mervyn Patrick Wingfield, who later became Viscount Powerscourt. Her poems were first published in The Dublin Magazine in 1937. Although initially supportive, her husband later asked her not to be involved in Ireland’s literary circle, so she was little-known in Ireland in spite of writing three memoirs of Irish life, and eight collections of poetry. She was never comfortable in the formality of upperclass British life, and began taking drugs during her debut season in London, which led to alcohol, morphine, and cocaine addictions. During WWII, her husband was captured by the Germans, and came home in poor health and suffering from shell shock. He never fully recovered, and they were separated in 1963. She lived mostly in hotels until her death at age 85 in 1992 in Ireland.
by Sheila Wingfield
I think Odysseus, as he dies, forgets
Which was Calypso, which Penelope,
Only remembering the wind that sets
Off Mimas, and how endlessly
His eyes were stung with brine;
Argos a puppy, leaping happily;
And his old father digging round a vine.
“Odysseus Dying” from Collected Poems, 1938-1983, © 1983 by Sheila Wingfield – Enitharmon Press
1947 – Jane Kenyon born in Ann Arbor, Michigan; American poet and translator; she won the 1994 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, for her body of work; author of five poetry collections, the final one, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, was published posthumously in 1996, a year after her death from leukemia at age 47.
Heavy Summer Rain
by Jane Kenyon
The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day
turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.
Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.
“Heavy Summer Rain” from Collected Poems, © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon – Graywolf Press
1940 – Joseph Brodsky born as Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky in Leningrad, Russia; American poet and essayist. After his work was denounced, he was tried and condemned to a Soviet mental institution, then sentenced to five years at Arkhangelsk, an Arctic labor camp. He served 18 months of that sentence, before international outcry helped secure his early release. The Soviet authorities prevented the woman he loved from marrying him, and he had to leave her and their son behind when he was exiled in 1972, his poetry banned in the U.S.S.R. In a poem he later described an exiled writer as one “who survives like a fish in the sand.” He was honored in 1987 with the Nobel Prize in Literature. Invited back after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Brodsky never returned to his homeland. His son came to New York, and they developed a relationship. Brodsky was appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States (1991-1992). His poetry collections include A Part of Speech, and To Urania. Brodsky died at age 55 of a heart attack in January 1996.
by Joseph Brodsky
Our cheeks are hairy.
Our backs are striped,
Paws are a miracle of beauty!
Beauty is unusual,
The tail is bent like a violin key.
We are dusting it.
And in silence, it sounds.
“Summer Music” from Collected Poems in English, © 2000 by the Estate of Joseph Brodsky – Farrar, Straus and Giroux
1803 – Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston MA, American philosopher, essayist, poet and minister, who led the Transcendentalist movement; his poetry often reflects his fascination with Eastern philosophy and culture.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, or sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.
1908 – Theodore Roethke was born in Saganaw Michigan, the son of a German immigrant; influential American poet who struggled with manic depression. Won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Waking; two National Book Awards for Poetry, in 1959 for Words for the Wind, and posthumously in 1965 for The Far Field. He had a heart attack in August 1963, and died at age 55.
by Theodore Roethke
The vulturine necks stretch out; the mean eyes bunch,
Float over hedges, witch-like, branch after branch,
Droop down from grimy windows; lust to lynch;
Or narrow to a dark reptilian stare,
Glide, poison-fanged, from bridge tea to the store.
The victim walks, his curdled spine aware.
Whatever could this bumbling man have done
That these cold venomous eyes should merge as one,
Freeze and transfix him like an evil sun?
“The Gossips” from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, © 1966 by Beatrice Roethke as Administrator of the Estate of Theodore Roethke
1925 – Rosario Castellanos born in Mexico City; Mexican poet, author, and feminist; her work deals with cultural and gender oppression; one of Mexico’s most important 20th century literary figures. She was appointed as Mexico’s Envoy to Israel in 1971, and died in 1974 at age 49 in Tel Aviv, from electric shock caused by a malfunctioning table lamp.
por Rosario Castellanos
…porque la realidad es reducible
a los ultímos signos
y se pronuncia en s6lo una palabra …
Sonríe el otro y bebe de su vaso.
Mira pasar las nubes altas del mediodía
y se siente asediado (bugambilia, jazmín,
rosal, dalias, geranios,
flores que en cada pétalo van diciendo una sílaba
de color y fragancia)
por un jardín de idioma inagotable.
– – – – – –
by Rosario Castellanos
…because reality is reducible,
ultimately, to signs,
and is pronounced in only one word …
The other smiles and sips from a glass.
Watches the passage of tall midday clouds
and feels bothered (bougainvillea, jasmine,
roses, dahlias, geraniums,
flowers of which each petal is speaking a syllable
of color and fragrance)
by a garden of inexhaustible language.
– translator not credited
“Charla/Talk” from The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos (English-Spanish edition) – Graywolf Press, 1989 edition
1926 – Phyllis Gotlieb born, Canadian science fiction novelist and poet; won the Prix Aurora Award for Best Novel in 1982 for her novel A Judgement of Dragons; The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is named for her first novel in 1964, Sunburst; much of her poetry is collected in Red Blood Black Ink White Paper: New and Selected Poems 1961-2001.
by Phyllis Gotlieb
Da Vinci and the man on the bed stare
at each other through the dark air of
death watch. The dying man more than half
suspects from the black glitter
beneath the eaved brows that it is Death
Da Vinci moodily
hones in his mind the silver
saw he has made to trepan the skull.
“Hospitality” from The Works: Collected Poems, © 1978 by Phyllis Gotlieb – Calliope Press
1938 – Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie Oregon; American short story author and poet; noted for award-winning stories like “A Small, Good Thing” and “Where I’m Calling From.” He started drinking heavily as his first marriage failed, but began his “second life” when he stopped drinking on June 2, 1977. In November 1977, he met poet Tess Gallagher at a writers’ conference, and by 1979, they were living together. They influenced each other’s work: he began writing some poetry and she wrote some short stories. In 1988, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. They were married six week prior to his death at age 50 in August 1988, and Gallagher manages his literary estate.
by Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
“Late Fragment” from All of Us: The Collected Poems by Raymond Carver – Vintage 1996 reprint edition
1893 – Maxwell Bodenheim was born in Hermanville, Mississippi; Modernist poet; lived for a time in Chicago, then moved to New York, where increasing alcoholism reduced him to peddling his poems in bars. He and his third wife were murdered in their lodgings February 1954 by a former mental patient.
To One Dead
by Maxwell Bodenheim
I walked upon a hill
And the wind, made solemnly drunk with your presence,
Reeled against me.
I stooped to question a flower,
And you floated between my fingers and the petals,
Tying them together.
I severed a leaf from its tree
And a water-drop in the green flagon
Cupped a hunted bit of your smile.
All things about me were steeped in your remembrance
And shivering as they tried to tell me of it.
“To One Dead” from Maxwell Bodenheim Poetry Collection – 2020 edition
1378 – Zhu Quan born, Prince of Ning, the 17th son of the Hongwu Emperor who founded the Ming dynasty; military commander, feudal lord, historian, playwright, poet, musician, and composer. He was a military commander, and was granted the frontier fief of Ning (now part of Inner Mongolia). He played an important role during the unrest surrounding the ascension of his teenage nephew, Jianwen Emperor, in 1399, but was later captured by Zhu Di, who was beginning a new attempt to overthrow Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di torched Zhu Quan’s capital, and Zhu Quan’s extensive library was lost in the flames. After Zhu Di successfully overthrew Jianwen Emperor, Zhu Quan retired to a backwater land-locked province, and devoted himself to cultural pursuits. His Most Pure and Precious Books on the Way of August Heaven, an encyclopedia of Taoism, became part of the Taoist canon. But he is best-remembered for his Tea Manual and the Manual of the Mysterious and Marvellous, a compilation of the history and music of the guqin, a Chinese zither. He died at age 70 in 1448.
by Zhu Quan
The tall, courtly trees clumped together create a deep shade.
The night is cool, clear talk, sit by a pillar.
For no particular reason emotions rise up, leisure anxious thoughts.
Play until the tune Plum Blossom, and moonlight fills the qin.
A “qin” is a song or music written for the guqin, sometimes played to accompany spoken poetry.
1819 – Julia Ward Howe born in New York City; American author, essayist, and poet, best known for writing the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but she was also an editor and contributor (1872-1892) to the suffragist magazine Woman’s Journal, and very active in the movements for the abolition of slavery, social reform, women’s rights, and peace. She died at age 91 in October 1910.
from The Bee’s Song
by Julia Ward Howe
Do not tie my wings,
Says the honey-bee;
Do not bind my wings,
Leave them glad and free.
If I fly abroad,
If I keep afar,
Humming all the day,
Where wild blossoms are,
‘Tis to bring you sweets,
Rich as summer joy,
Clear–as gold and glass;
The divinest toy
That the god’s have left,
Is the pretty hive,
Where a maiden reigns,
And the busy thrive.
Visuals: Descanso Gardens, Arcadia California – in Spring