{Sylvia Plath + My Dad}



My original plan involved two things:

1. Having this done two days ago

2. Writing about the poem “Stings”


But as we read Sylvia Plath poem in class, I just knew I couldn’t write about anything else but her poem “Daddy.” I think the reason I changed my mind was because as I heard the words out-loud, it had a very different effect on me then when I had read it in my head. When I first read, “you do not do,/ you do not do…Daddy, I have had to kill you”  I thought: well, holy expletive, this girl did have major daddy issues! But when we talked about how the word “Daddy” is a term of endearment, the poem became ironic to me. First, for the obvious reason: she totally hates her dad and is writing something awful about him, but she calls him “Daddy.” The  The second reason is because I love my Dad a whole lot. He’s definitely one of my very best friends, but I’ve never called him “Daddy.” In fact, even in our most precious father-daughter moments, it’s always been “Dad” or “Father.” Weird, and probably information you don’t care to read, but its the truth. If I were to write Plath’s inverse, I would call the poem “Father” and talk about how he has been the best Dad ever.  So to see a woman call her dad a bastard is something I can’t picture or feel or even understand. The emotional disconnect makes a emotional connection in a different way..

Besides the actual content of her poem, I really can’t help put geek out over the way it is crafted. Her repetition of makes me want to give a nod to Stein and Rukeyser,  her bringing in German words gives nod to Pound; the italicizing of one word gives nod to Frost. I mean, I don’t know if she meant to do that, but I definitely noticed and was reminded of previous poets when reading the poem.

William Jay Smith wrote a poem through the eyes of a child called “American Primitive” which brings a different kind of saddness than Plath’s does. He writes, “And I love my Daddy like he loves his dollar.” The lines show the adult American man chasing the American Dream. As the little boy expresses his love for his father, it is not mutual. His father’s love is not for him but for money and what it can buy. This poem is different from Plath’s in many ways, but both show the negative connotations that fathers can have on their children.

Dads matter. They just do.


Elizabeth Bishop’s Loss + Lucille Clifton’s Uterus


I think out of all the modern American poems that I have read, “One Art”  by Elizabeth Bishop has made it to the top of my list as one of the very best. It is such a well crafted piece of literature that I cannot help but re-read the poem a dozen times over (no exaggeration). I love her contrast between the easy loss of lost keys and people. I can’t ignore how witty she is by placing the ordinary with the tragic. As she talks about the loss of car keys, that’s the only imagery I need to understand. Ask anyone, and they will tell you I have a PhD in losing my keys.


She is controlled in this poem, and it seems as though she has accepted her loss and is coming to terms with the lot life has given her. The end stanza put a lump in my throat.  How she can just equate mastery of the loss of keys with the loss of her lover? I guess in the end she sees it as all the same. There is a tone of hospitality in her voice. She is welcoming of loss “Lose something every day. / Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spend, The art of l0sing isn’t hard to master./ Then practice losing farther,/ losing faster.” I understand the emotion she is trying to convey. In her life she lost things (important things) at a rapid pace, but she is learning to become talented at losing things great and small. I have this poem tucked away for when I’ll need it most. It has brought understanding and comfort to me for situations I have not yet experienced.

I listened to this YouTube video of a professor reading and expounding upon Elizabeth Bishop and “One Art” at the institute/library in which Bishop studied. If you watch the video, you can see the 17 drafts it took her to write the poem, and it’s fascinating. The professor, M. Mark, made a comment about Bishop and her poetry that was so fantastic it would be a disservice to you and to Bishop if I did not share. She says,

“Unlike many of her mid-20th century peers, she was not a confessional poet…The details she (Bishop)  brings forward and those she implies—opens up a space for me to confront my own loses and my own fears—its poetry as intimate conversation.”

Mark’s comments are perfectly spoken words about how I feel about Bishop as a poet.

To contrast Bishop’s poem, I chose a Lucille Clifton poem on the less-than-glamorous subject of her getting her uterus removed. In her poem, “poem to my uterus” she is much more explicit about her loss. In Bishop’s poem, the pain which she is ultimately dealing with doesn’t come until half way through the poem, climaxing at the last stanza. In Clifton’s free verse poem, she gets right to it, “you   uterus/ you have been patient/ as a sock/ while i have slippered into you/ my dead and living children” and the last few lines, “where can i go/ barefoot/ without you/ where can you go/ without me.” The uterus the ultimate symbol of her womanhood, a part of her that helped her grow and produce her children, is bringing her to a sense of loss, like losing a friend. While I find Bishop’s poem much more emotional and meaningful for me, I do not discredit Clifton’s poem as moving and meaningful. It is certainly interesting to see how the two women deal with loss. Bishop is much more composed than Clifton, but Clifton’s imagery is much more vivid in my mind than Bishop’s.

Catch Up! {With William Carlos Williams}


I like William Carlos Williams. It seems like all he is even known for are nonsensical poems. But I find his poetry refreshing and even thought-provoking. Among his poems that I particularly enjoy are “The Young House Wife”  and “The Great Figure.”   But perhaps my favorite is “This is Just to Say.” 

This is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


I could listen to this poem on repeat and it would take a bit of time for it to get old. I’ve listened to it over  five times and I still just want to hit the repeat/replay button. It’s one of those poems that you think, “I just want to have one more listen.” And then you realize you’ve listened to William Carlos Williams speak his coy-lined poetry at you for a solid 30 minutes. But whose complaining?

While I was reading, listening, and thinking about the poem, I clicked on some YouTube links which were people “interpreting” the poem. I have to share my least favorite with you first because its just too much. Like, calm down yo. It’s just plums:


For me, this interpretation is missing the point, really. The poem is cute and fun and coy. And much better represented by this interpretation:


My favorite part of this interpretation is her writing the poem as she eats the last plum. It’s pricelessly adorable and totally intimate. Which is what I imagine the poem to be–this sweet intimate exchange between two loves. Kind of like when you go out to dinner and have left overs in the fridge the next morning and wake up starved and even though you have a thousand things in your fridge you could eat, you can ONLY SEE your spouse’s leftovers which look too good not to eat. So you eat them, and write an apologetic note saying “I love you” without actually saying the words. Its not this huge remorse thing. And I like that. It’s a sign of being comfortable with someone. It’s natural.

I know Bill Knott recently died, but I say his poems are alive and well and he certainly counts as a contemporary poet, seeing as he died only 2 months ago. So, in a memorium to Bill Knotts I would like to share one of my favorite poems that I think capture the same coyness as William Carlos William’s poem “This is Just to Say.”

Poem – Bill Knott

One of the old guys said
a good test of poetry was
that if you thought of a true
poem while shaving you’d cut yourself
lots of times I’ll be reading a poem
and stop right in the middle
cause I just remembered
the great shaves I get
from my Wilkinson Sword-Edge blade. 


It’s really a light-hearted comment on poetry. And while it’s not a poem to someone or a poetic “note.” I think it is similar to Williams in tone. Knott’s poem takes what “one of the old guys said” and turns it on its head in a way that is comical to me. What I like about both Williams and Knott is that I can enjoy their poems for the sake of enjoyment and it doesn’t have to be anything more than that.


Catch up! {With Muriel Rukeyser}

Muriel Rukeyser


Muriel Rukeyser is a political poet of the modernist era. Cary Nelson describes that she “understood that race and gender are integral parts of our social and political life” (Cary, 655). Her most famous work, “The Book of the Dead” is based on her own research of a West Virginia scandal were people (especially  black people) were victimized by being underpaid to mine silica without appropriate protection equipment (read more about this industrial disaster HERE). “The Book of the Dead” is emotional, intellectual, and mystic. Her art prepares us for thought. One of the most emotionally-effecting, thought-provoking sections in her book is a section called, “Mearl Blakenship.” Here are a few of her most effective lines:


“I wake up chocking, and my wife

“rolls me over on my left side;

“then I’m asleep in the dream I always see:

“the tunnel chocked

“the dark wall coughing dust.

“I have written a letter.

“send it to the city,

“maybe to a paper

“if it’s all right.”

The letter than follows is tactful and presents a sad realism for so many Americans who faced this disaster and were then forgotten about.  What I like about this particular stanza is that it exemplifies how Rukeyser can take reports and turn them into poetry. The above lines preface his letter and hold gloom, discouragement, and a lack of self-confidence–“send it to the city,/ maybe to a paper/ if it’s all right.” The language she chooses show how the sickness and the neglect wears down on a man. He wants freedom from his disease and compensation for his family, but who is there to give it to him? The art in which Rukeyser presents us with is both emotional and intellectual as she takes something tangible and makes it conceptual.

Holly Karapetkova’s poem “Love and National Defense” takes a much more emotional approach to another American tragedy, September 11th. In contrast to Rukeyser, Karapetkova’s poems are not interviews turned poetry, but her poem attempts to capture the pure emotion of the day after the terrorist attack on 9/11. For example, she writes, “If love were a dirty bomb,/ you could set
it off in Washington and it would spread/ into the suburbs unseen,/ contaminate the air and water.”  Her poem is more melodic that Rukeyser’s “Mearl Blankenship.” 

While they both do different things, what is similar about them is their ability to embrace politics as a means for presenting the world with art.  

Langston Hughes + Harlem Love

Langston Hughes



Langston Hughes is known as the African American poet between the two world wars. His poems are not…pleasurable, per say. But they are thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and the problems the put in your face cannot be wiped away. You are forced to face them. His style his his own and distinctly African American voice. He plays with shape, form, and flow. I enjoyed reading his easy-to-read poetry, even if the content was a little hard to deal with. Sometimes, whole poems will be italicized, or words sections of poems will be in caps. For me, this adds to the emotion of his poems. And I appreciate that! My favorite poem was “Harlem:”


What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?
I chose this poem because the imagery made me feel  his words. And I could understand the anguish he felt for the place that was supposed to be full of opportunity, love, and hope. The last line “or does it explode?” Makes me wonder what he means? The narrator describes his put-off-dreams, maybe to go to harlem? And while he explore what his “maybe tomorrow” dream looks like, when he says, “explode” it puts the image in my mind of him just making it happen as fast as he can. The other images he uses in terms of unaccomplished dreams make not accomplishing them something that the narrator would forget about or it would dwindle away and not become a reality anymore. But for a deferred dream to explode I think it can be taken one of two ways: that it totally blows up in his face and he is left with the reality that it will never happen OR the fact that he has never accomplished it is in his face and he bolts after it and chases it down and accomplishes it. I’m not really sure which one it would be, or what the last line means, but I liked exploring my options.
Based on the title, its definitely a commentary of Harlem. Whether Harlem is the speaker or someone is talking about going to Harlem, the poem is something I feel like I can relate to, even though the subject I have never experienced. The emotions I have. The same goes for Miles Hodge’s poem Harlem. He speaks about Harlem’s hard history, and it reminds me a lot of Hughes. He also referenced Hughes at the beginning of the poem.

Catch Up! Jean Toomer + Claude Mckay

After this, weekly posting will ensure. I promise. I don’t think my sanity could handle it if i didn’t.

Jean Toomer is someone I have significant respect for. His work, Cane,  has made it’s way to my summer reading list. Toomer struggled with his racial self-image, not wanting to be defined by any specific race. He, like Chesnutt or Hodges (who we will get to in a second) are considered “Mulatto”–meaning that they are racially mixed, having parents of both black and white descent. He never referred to himself in a racial sense, but simply called himself “American.” His writing certainly reflected such. Unlike McKay, his poetry beat more in line with the patriarchal tradition, and his lyric were not obviously, “African American.” That is to say, his ethnicity was not tied explicitly to his poetry. I am thinking of his poem “Her Lips are Copper Wire” and “November Cotton Flower.” In the selection of poetry I have read, he never talks about his race, the history of African Americans, slavery, the fight to freedom, etc.

Claude McKay, on the other hand, is a political protester. His race and his lyric cannot be separated. Mckay even fleshes out the feeling one might experience coming from a diverse racial background in his poem”Mulatto”:

Because I am the white man’s son–his own,

Bearning his bastard birth-mar on my face,

I will dispute his title to his throne,

Forever fight him for my rightful place.

There is a searing hate within my soul,

A hate that only kin can feel for kin,

A hate that makes me vigorous and whole,

And spurs me on increasingly to win.

Because I am my cruel father’s child,

My love of justice stirs me up to hate,

A warring Ishamelite, unreconciled,

When falls the hour I shall not hesitate

Into my father’s heart to plunge the knife

To gain utmost freedom that is life.


The struggle that women and men of a mixed-racial background has not gone away. It still is alive today. Miles Hodge, the son of a black-white couple, writes a lot of poetry about his struggle with his identity. He is becoming one of my favorite living poets. Considering the poem “Mulatto” and Toomer’s decision to not associate with either race, take a listen to Hodge’s poem “Mask-less.” I hope you learn to like Hodge as much as I do, because we will see him again next week🙂

(Also, his poem “From Head to Toe” reminds me of Toomer’s poem “Her Lips are Copper Wire”…)

Catch up! With Hilda Doolittle (Will The Real Imagist Please Stand Up?)



I just spend a solid 5 minutes writing about how my initials are the same as Hilda Doolittle’s. Then I realized that those thoughts are only interesting to me…so, i deleted it all and spared you. You’re welcome.

Hilda Doolittle is my favorite female poet of the modern era. I think she, for me, is more successful than Gertrude Stein at breaking the patriarchal poetic tradition. She is more nuanced that Stein; for example, instead of writing the words “patriarchal poetry” some odd 12-dozen times, H.D. writes a poem like “Eurydice”: “What was it that crossed my face/ with the light from yours/and your glance?” I wish she got more notice than she does. That we could take her work and allow it to be hers (which we do to an extent), instead of automatically linking her to Pound. While Pound certainly influenced H.D. very heavily, she is still her own woman apart from Pound. And looking back, H.D. played an essential role in shaping modern poetry. Additionally she took what Pound said poetry should be and mastered it perfectly. As an Imagist, is there or will there ever be anyone like H.D.? Take, for example, “Oread”:

Whirl up, sea–

whirl your pointed pines,

splash your great pines

on our rocks,

hurl your green over us,

cover us with your pools of fir.


Her ability to make quick, sharp images is incredible. And still, she is never obvious. Is this about a forest? an ocean? Both? Yet read and re-read and the image is so unmistakably vivid. You can’t escape it, you can’t help but enjoy it and love it. “Midday” was among the most vivid for me, mainly because I feel like it describes my life right now: “my thoughts are spent/as the black seeds./ My thoughts tear me,/ I dread their fever./I am scattered in its whirl./I am scattered like the hot shriveled seeds.” I have come to understand that Mid-day isn’t an exact time of day, but her words give off the effect of mid-day. The speaker is tired, exhausted like it’s 2 p.m. and you’re sitting in traffic, almost out of gas, and your once extra-hot herbal tea is now less than desirable. But in the midst of her exhuastion, she looks as sees that nature never tires, “O Poplar, you are great/ among the hill-stones,/while I perish on the path/among the crevices of the rocks.” Her images are unforgettable and somewhere, somehow I read this poem and I just feel overwhelmed and relieved that someone gets it. Someone has felt this way too. My exposure, insecurity, and tireless work is crafted so beautifully and lovely. It almost makes the feeling not as bad.

I have about 2,000 more words of H.D. to write, but for the second time in this post, I will spare you.

When searching for living poets to which I could compare H.D., I would be lying if I didn’t say that I spent at least an hour looking, and I still don’t know if I like what I chose. But nonetheless, I chose a poem by Adam Kirsch . The Poem is called “Professional Middle-class Couple, 1920.”  Kirsch views a photo of a (obviously)  professional middle-class couple in the 1920s, and writes a poem about them. The poem is much less of an imagist poem, but I chose it because I think that what H.D. and Kirsch are doing are in opposition with one another. H.D. takes something objective and makes it subjective, or vise versa. Kirsch takes something very objective and writes subjectively about it. Kirsch does evokes emotions with his words, but I think that they are hindered because he places a picture above it–for me, it really limits my emotions. Unlike Kirsch, H.D.’s poem “Midday” has me thinking and feeling and thinking again for a while. H.D. is more easily…..ponderable? than Kirsch.

Catch-up! With Eliot


To my five faithful followers, I am sorry I have been amiss from blogging lately. You see, I did this thing earlier this year, and it was called signing up for four English classes, a history class, and a theology class. Why did someone not say, “You’re going to kill yourself. Don’t do it.” Good news! I don’t have to worry about killing myself because I think at this rate, my school work is doing the job for me.

Also, since we aren’t talking about poetry just yet. Can I just say something that’s super annoying? When people spell ketchup “catsup.” Because catsup sounds like “catch-up” or the name for a street drug. Anyways, just know: its KETCHUP, not catsup.

Moving on.

To poetry because that’s really why we are all here.

T.S. Eliot.

Love him.

And why shouldn’t I? I can’t say I don’t envy his abilities, because I do. One of my favorite aspects of Eliot is that he has the capability of taking something normative and twisting it enough for it to be new, exciting. I have to admit, I haven’t read much of any of his post-conversion poetry—only “The Journey of the Magi,” “Little Gidding,” and “Burnt Norton.” So out of all poems of Eliot pre-conversion, by far, my favorite poem by him is “The Hollow Men.” Section V is a section I read and re-read because it makes sense, but no sense at the same time and I really just think it’s good poetry. It’s enjoyable to read, yet it’s interactive. He closes the poem out with

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

A Spin off of the children’s rhyme “This is the way we clap our hands,” Eliot takes a light and care-free rhyme and makes it something dark and sad. And lonely. And really, really depressing. When I see the last line, I am reminded of Revelation when Jesus comes back and creates the New Earth. “Whimper” certainly isn’t among the list of words used to describe the transformation. By declaring the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper, is to turn everything that most people believe to be true (whether you believe Jesus is coming back or the world will implode or aliens will come and destroy everything) upside down and inside out. It really boggles my freaking brain. I like reading this poem when I’m sad or just feel like the world is against me and I don’t know what the you-kn0w-what I believe anymore. It makes me realize how much I need the Gospel, and how my whole world would be so lost if The Word never became flesh and saved me. So, when I read this poem, I’m sad. But I am also so thankful for the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And much of these emotions come from his style: repetition of words, taking recognizable things and making them unrecognizable, and his (what seems like) honest lyric.

His style, above all, is something I have grown to appreciate. So, who to compare him to? Well, here is where I get all vulnerable. and if you try to talk to me about this to my face—I SWEAR I’ll deny it.

Can we make me a  pseudonym real quick? How about Jayne Laftery. Because I think I’ll be more comfortable talking about this if I can pretend it’s not really me.

Last year Laftery took a creative writing class, and one of the focuses of the semester was poetry. Her professor encouraged her to pick a poet she really loved and one of his poems that she really loved and write in his style–either word for word or phrase for phrase.

Laftery chose to do a word-for-word poem modeled after Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”  She didn’t end up doing the whole poem due to lack of time, but the first two sections are complete. Though she is not a real poet, through this experience Laftery realized that Eliot’s style and lyric is brilliant. Racking her brain to find words even 25% as good as his was a struggle. What Eliot can do with pen and paper across a page is wonderful. Without further ado, here is her (incomplete) poem:

The Broken Heart by Jayne Laftery

The Broken Heart


I am a broken heart

I am a full heart

Held together

Books bound by glue. No!

My callous whispers, when I sit alone

Are fragmented and longing


As life in new death

Or memories falling down roaring water

Drowning into my aching heart


Me without you, you without me,

Unmistakable Mistake, love with great cause;


You who have broken me

With dark eyes, to seek what you acquire

Remember me—if nothing else—as a dream

You lived once, but not again

I am a broken heart

A full heart.



Your voice I dare not hear in sleeping,

To dream of that place we were always meeting

There, I cannot bear:

These, your eyes,  are

Moonlight on a swerving walkway

Stop! Turn from that place we kissed

And the love was

In our hearts

More honest and more complicated

Than that tangled web you weaved


Let me come no nearer

To that place we are always meeting

Or to let me wear your whispers

Of always, forever, today.

In a world

Behaving like love was our oxygen

There I will not go—


To the place of we were always meeting,

The hour of unrequited love.


Pound + Leav + Love

Ezra Pound

I like Ezra Pound, actually. Sure, the Cantos are a little annoying; sure, he was a total loony-toon, but he gave and still gives so much to the poetic genre. How could anyone not be entirely fascinated with him? He surprises me in his poem The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter. I don’t know why—maybe because it’s sad and happy and wonderful and longing and about love? Maybe because he seems to write in a way, I feel, that anyone anywhere can relate to. It’s universal. The poem is seemingly about an arranged marriage, but I read it and I KNOW. This fanciful story of the misadventures of love expounds on all of love’s complexities and facets. The hi-lows it brings. Perhaps the fact that it is written in a narrative form makes it so impactful. Choosing the form of a letter makes the poem more tangible and real to me. Seriously, why isn’t this poem on every Valentine’s Day card ever written? Obviously, Hallmark could benefit from Pound.


So, another poet I have found to be pleasurable to read is Lang Leav. I think her poems of love are whimsical, sad, and sometimes a little cheesy. But, like Pound’s poem, I can understand her words so much that I feel them. When I read The Merchant’s Wife: A Letter, especially those last 3 stanzas, I can’t help but think of the implications of Pound’s words: “I destined my dust to be mingled with yours/forever and forever and forever.” And ” you dragged your feet when you went out.” And the way he describes time passing. These two love bird’s loved each other’s company!

Enter my favorite of Leav’s poem:

He and I

When words run dry,
He does not,
Nor do I.

We are on par.

He just is,
I just am,
And we just are.

I don’t know why, but I feel like Leav’s poem could be read as almost a commentary on Pound’s. That feeling of oneness and love. Both poets do a good job of evoking the feelings of nostalgia and sentiment and create within the reader a feeling that is universal.

Things Gertrude Stein likes

Gertrude Stein likes:
– repetition
– words that don’t make sense when put next to each other
– the phrase “What is the difference between…”
-the number 49
-being verbs

But i haven’t decided,yet, if she actually likes patriarchal poetry, even though she repeated it a bamillion times. At first, reading Gertrude Stein is like reading someone with an extreme case of OCD. the constant repetition, for me, was something like needing to tap the rearview mirror 40 times before turning the car on. Am I right? Then, i found myself feeling like an idiot for being frustrated, confused, and “not getting it.” Seriously, hand me an anxiety pill or a bottle of strong wine (Kidding!). But really….like, what WAS that.

With some enlightening help from a friend, I came to understand where Stein was coming from and what it was that she was trying to do. In “Patriarchal Poetry” phrases like, “Once. we to be. Once. To be. Once. We to be. Once. To be. Once to be we to be.” and it goes on. What Stein does with poetry was revolutionary of the time. The focus was much less on words. She was and still is trying to inflict me with emotions. Ouch. But it works, and if she is trying to convey frustration and confusion, then she is one of the clearest poets of all times! A plus for Stein.

I think a lot of current poems pick up the same trend…with the focus of emotions, and confusion of words. When reading Harryette Mullen I get the same type of confusion-frustratiion-emotions. In an excerpt from “Trimmings” she writes,

Akimbo bimbos, all a jangle. Tricked out trinkets, aloud galore. Gim-cracks, a stack. Bang and a whimper. Two to tangle. It’s a jungle.

There isn’t the same repetition as Stein, but at the end of the stanza, I’m still left thinking, “Wut?” Part of me wonders if I will ever grow to like poets like Harryette and Stein.. I guess my prof and peers have 3 hours to convince me…… good luck, ya’ll!

Oppression + Empowerment

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Maya Angelou (1928-present)

Maya Angelou (1928-present)

To be honest, I had never read Paul Dunbar until today. He is only one generation removed from slavery; his words are raw and real. And after only four poems, I’m craving more. And still, more. He strains my emotions and his words cause me sadness, but his lyric is nice. I like the way they sound coming off my lips. My personal favorite poem that I have read by him thus far is, “We Wear the Mask.” It is so short and so good, I couldn’t bare to just excerpt it. Here is the poem in full:

We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask.
I read this poem. And then I read it again. And then I went line by line, putting each into my own words. Each line became alive, with each line I grew sadder, more aware, more ashamed. I became ashamed of what a race, my racedid to cause these words to be written. I became the white women in the 1800s. But I also became the slave. While the beatings, the abuse, and the ill-treatment of the African-American race is something I will never understand, I can understand the emotions he feels. The wanting to show pain, but knowing that by showing pain it would only bring an enemy pleasure. I can sense his feeling of being overwhelmed—“Beneath our feat/and long the mile;”—like you couldn’t take another step, or endure another harsh word, even if you wanted to. In this poem, I feel empathetic oppression for what another human went through and what he never should have had to endure, yet he slapped a smile on his face all the while.
Dunbar recounts the hopelessness of his people, but Maya Angelou rises. She takes off whatever mask her people wore, and sticks it to the oppressors. She isn’t going to let her past determine her future, and out of the mire, she will become something great. This is what I feel when I read her poem “I Will Rise.” In her words, she confronts: “Does my haughtiness offend you?/Don’t you take it awful hard.” She is one sassy lady letting the world know what is up! The emotional contrast between Dunbar and Angelou is vast. With Dubar, I feel oppression, sadness, and hopelessness; with Angelou, I feel empowered, determined, and ready to take the man down. I’ll share my favorite two stanzas, but you must read and re-read, and re-re-read this  poem for yourself.
Excerpt From:  I Will Rise by Maya Angelou
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

The Form of Frost


Mr. Robert Frost

I began to love poetry most when it was read aloud. Of course, poetry by nature is supposed to be spoken. But for the majority of my childhood, I found myself reading poems in my head instead of out-loud. Prior to that, I really only heard the traditional rhyme of ABAB or AABB, followed by a period or comma after each line.

It wasn’t until my senior year in high-school that I remember having a poem sitting before me while my teacher read it aloud. And more than words or meaning, for the very first time I realized that not all poems had to have an ABAB rhyme, or a punctuation mark at the end of the line for the reader to pause. In poetry, there doesn’t have to be rhymes. You can put periods and commas and semi-colons and exclamation points where ever you want. It doesn’t have to take a specific form. It can be a block, a tree, a wing. And that, to me, is just magical.

I think that’s why I like Frost so much–you get a little of both. For example, in Fire and Ice, you get a cute little rhyme that you can probably memorize in a few readings of it. The Hill Wife also follows a pleasant rhyme scheme and had more traditional punctuation placement (however, I do not know if I would choose “cute” to describe it). Contrast the structure of The Hill Wife with The Witch of Coos, and you have a poem that breaks from form and creates its own structure. Colons, periods in the middle of the lines. Home Burial also follows this structure. It totally changes the way you read the poem, the feel it gives you as you read, and the effect that it has on the actual content.

Contemporary poets pick up on Frost’s style of unconventional rhymes and lines (though he was the only one to write this way). It’s an exciting way to read poetry and creates an environment that is unexpected and really just fun. Christine Shan Shan Hou recently (as in, December 2013) wrote a whimsical poem that takes the Frost’s style a step further. I’ll close with one of her poems which display the style I have come to love:

“Take Out” by Christine Shan Shan Hou

Becoming all body is not what my mother taught me.

There is paranoia in immigration. Clamoring fruits
in the kitchen. I am speaking of red apples, sliced
and without skin. Since puberty I have experienced
an increased desire to be swaddled. Called euphoria
backwards. Cereal is more expensive when not on sale.
I know because I am allowed three options.

Hair, when out of my face is more acceptable.
(I do not have sensual bangs, or beef on Fridays).

Make tight or loose around the waist. Three generations
under one suspicious roof. The untidiness of intention
mixed with the grueling nature of doubt.

Dreamed my plants turned plastic.

Dreamed I refused my own shell.

A house duster is a barbarian muffler.

Forget your keys on Saturday. Some are in need of
Stairmaster to be rid of all wanting and allergies.

Death Two Ways

Ronald and Nancy Reagan on Inauguration Day, 1981

Ronald and Nancy Reagan on Inauguration Day, 1981

There is always something enchanting about death. The way no one knows what it’s like; the way we wonder what happens when soul leaves body…and what? What may even be more enchanting than death itself is the way Emily Dickinson obsesses over her own death and mortality. We all know, as one blogger put it, that Dickinson is “often touted as the quintessential manically depressed agoraphobic.” Even still, she lets us into mind and we embrace her fantasies. There is something delicious about knowing that she seemingly revealed herself to no one and kept herself hidden—yet she exposed herself, letting everyone see her, in her poetry. The way funeral drums beat her brain or the way she strolls leisurely through town with Death. Her imagination is wild and revealing.

Looking closer at her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,”  we experience death as a friend (“He kindly stopped for me”).Her imagery is vivid, and she paints for us her out-of-body experience, and through it the reader understands the way she sees death and dying. That is, she imagines her soul-leaving-body experience to be a sweet moment of remembering earthly life then journeying on to her new forever. Death is wanted and she is ready to leave earth and move on to an immortal world.

In contrast, Brad Cran paints a different soul-leaving-body experience in “The Death of Ronald Reagan: A Final Love Song.” Unlike Dickinson, he isn’t quite ready to hop into Death’s carriage. No, Cran paints Reagan as waiting for his forever bride. What’s most interesting about the imagery he sets forth is the “unseen” emotions of the deceased, namely, Reagan’s perspective and the longing he has to be with his living wife (“My ghost will walk to the empty tomb/ where I will wait for you to die”). Before he leaves earth for eternity, he is mournful. And stubborn too–refusing to move on until he is with her.

What the two share do share is their recollection of the things in the past. Dickinson recalls with Death the day-to-day: school children, earth in its morning, organic state, a house (maybe hers?). Reagan recalls precious moments with Nancy: the one they shared when he became president and she was by his side, and the way he loved her.

When I read Dickinson, I feel ready for death and it brings about in me a sense of nostalgia and appreciation, but eagerness to move on to Glory. Cran, too, gives me a sense of nostalgia, but it is followed by melancholy and a desire to cherish it—to hold on tight to life and breath and moments I will lose when I die.

Death. It’s an extraordinary thing. Isn’t it?

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

{Emily Dickinson}


Without you my life was wooden

then I loved you like sky,

like breath, like ocean.

How can I say it to you one last time?

{Bran Cran}