A Poem for Thursday #92

Photo by Taylor Wright on Unsplash

Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet, essayist, and playwright. Alexander's poems concentrate on the subjects of race, politics, motherhood, and history. Alexander was asked to read one of her poems at Barack Obama's inauguration. She is only the fourth poet ever asked to read at an inauguration. One of her books was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and she has won many awards and honors.

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'"),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the counter,

overhearing on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Ars Poetica #100:  I Believe
Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for a Thursday #91

Photo by Arnaldo Aldana on Unsplash
I have featured a Wendy Cope poem before here. It was only the ninth in this series and here we are at the ninety-first. I enjoy her poems because they feel as if she is simply speaking to the reader. It is like having a conversation with a friend. They give the deceptive feeling that we could have written them ourselves. And then, of course, we realize that no, no we couldn't have.

If you asked me 'What's new', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion--I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover? 
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life:  I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

Being Boring
Wendy Cope

A Day Out//Wickham Park

My husband and I went to Wickham Park last week and, let me tell you, it was the most thrilling thing we have done in months. We are tired of the parks near our house. We are tired of the bike trail behind our house. We are tired of everything. So, we decided to drive to a park an hour away from us. We are fond of this park. I have gone there ever since I was a little kid, my husband proposed to me there, and we used to take our kids there when they were little. It was absolutely lovely. The weather cooperated and was only in the 80s and not as humid which was a welcome break. The park was busy but not crowded. We had a little bit of that thrill you get when you are on vacation. New! Different! Out and about! What a nice change.

Ever since I was a little kid I have "fed the lions" when I go to Wickham Park. I have no idea how it started but it is an ingrained tradition that I have now taught to my daughter. The lions used to be fed with the gravel on the ground all around. There wasn't any gravel so I fed him pine needles instead. Heaven forbid we break with tradition and not feed him!

We bypassed the areas we used to spend so much time in with our kids--the playground and the aviary--and wandered through all the little gardens and pretty areas that have been cultivated in recent years. There are benches dotted all around and we frequently stopped to admire the view, people watch, and simply enjoy being outside in a pretty place.

It was a lovely day in a lovely place and it was just what we needed. I'll have to see what other little excursions I can find to brighten our lives.

A Poem for a Thursday #90

Robert Cording has published eight collections of poetry and taught for thirty-eight years at Holy Cross College. He has received honors including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference.  He lives not too far from me in Woodstock, CT.

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves-

before November's drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June-

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of the rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters. 

Old Houses
Robert Cording

Little Plans

I am writing this on Monday, July 13, and thus it is the 5,246th day of the year. It took me multiple tries to write that sentence because I couldn't remember what day of the week or what month it is. But I know absolutely it is the 5,246th day of the year because there is no way it is only the 195th day of the year. Google tells me that is true and I don't believe it.  I think there are probably at least 5, 246 days to go before the end of the year too. I know, I am just a ball of optimism today.

In an effort to combat the gloom and doom currently hanging over my house-and the world at large-I am compiling a list of things I would like to do before the end of the year. These are all doable things. I obviously will not be traveling through Europe or traveling anywhere, to be honest. But what can I do?

I got this far in the post and must admit to hitting a roadblock. What do you do for fun when you can't do anything? However, onwards and upwards. There must be some fun left in the world.

I want to go to the shore one evening after everyone has left for the day and the beaches are quiet. I want to bring a picnic, search for sea glass, and listen to the waves.

My daughter and I came up with the entire plot to a children's book the other night. I want to work on it with her and see if we can actually turn out something that resembles a book.

Blueberries are ripe and crying out to be picked. I want enough to freeze and to make a luscious pie.

I haven't been to a bookstore in months and I feel a little less myself because of that. One of my favorites has reopened with all kinds of social distancing requirements in place. Maybe it will safe for me to visit. That would be lovely.

I want to go to Old Sturbridge Village. It is one of my happy places and they just reopened. (Posts here, here, here, and here. I told you I liked it.) I want to wander through the village, play Pooh sticks by the stream, and escape from the current world for a little while.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary this fall. We always said we would do something big and amazingly fun for our 30th. Somehow, I don't think that is going to happen but I would like to do something small and fun. If it is possible, maybe rent a little cottage somewhere for a few days?

I want, and I am dreaming big now, for my entire family to leave the house at the same time and leave me home alone. I haven't been in the house by myself in longer than I can remember. Doesn't it sound amazing? Silence. Time to waste in any way I want. Much as I love my family I do also love being alone sometimes. So, yes, my potential future happiness does involve getting rid of my family. But only for a little while. Then they can come home and demand food and leave their shoes in front of the door and do all the other things that drive me crazy. I shall be fortified by that time to myself.

What little plans do you have to get you through the next 5,246 days?

A Poem for a Thursday #89

Photo by Kübra ÇOLAK on Unsplash

Robert Hayden was an American poet, essayist, and educator. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and experienced a difficult and traumatic childhood. This pushed him to read as an escape from the violence and depression surrounding him. He was the first African-American to hold the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, now called the US Poet Laureate. He was criticized in the 1960s because he insisted that he be judged "as an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles." However, many readers feel his best poetry involves the Black experience and their history.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake up and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices? 

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

A Poem for a Thursday #88

Photo by Thomas Le on Unsplash

Alison Luterman is a poet, esssayist, and playwright. She says of her writing that she is willing "to be naked and vulnerable, and to connect my own small set of concerns to the larger questions and concerns of humanity."

I stalked her
in the grocery store:  her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,
beaming peach like the North Star.
I wanted to ask "What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth burn and turn on
its axis-"
but we don't request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, "I love your hair."

I Confess
Aliston Luterman

Book Review//A Woman in Berlin

World War II is one of the eras I am particularly interested in. I have read many books about life in the U.K. and the U.S. during the war. I especially enjoy diaries and letters. Recently, I thought it would be interesting to read about what life was like on the other side of the war. This led me to A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City. This diary was published anonymously in 1954 to huge acclaim. It was translated into many other languages and finally published in German in 1959. It is said that the book was either "ignored or reviled" in Germany. The author refused to have another edition published in her lifetime. A Woman in Berlin was finally published in Germany again in 2003. This time it was on the bestseller list for more than 19 weeks. The author was identified as a journalist named Marta Hiller. She died in 2001.

Hiller's diary is deeply upsetting and beautifully written. She kept a diary for the eight weeks in 1945 when the Russian army was taking over Berlin. She wrote about her life and the life of those who shared her apartment building. It is an honest and painful description of the violence, hunger, rape, and misery of war but also of the strength of the individuals.

The hunger is overwhelming and all-encompassing. Notice this passage:

Rummaging through the few books owned by the tenant of this apartment (where I also found the blank notebook I'm using to write this), I turned up a novel. The setting is English aristocratic, with sentences like:  "She cast a fleeting glance at her untouched meal, then rose and left the table." Ten lines later I found myself magnetically drawn back to that sentence. I must have read it a dozen times before I caught myself scratching my nails across the print, as if the untouched meal-which had just been described in detail-were really there and I could physcially scrape it out of the book. A sure sign of insanity. Onset of mild delusions brought on by lack of food.

The people who lived in Hiller's apartment building formed a community. They looked out for each other, for the most part, and comforted and supported each other. This was especially true of the women who had to deal with repeated rape by the Russian soldiers. Some of them chose to accept the protection of one soldier in the hopes of being able to avoid rape by many different men.

I look at the sixteen-year-old girl, up to now the only person I know who lost her viginity to the Russians. She has the same dumb, self-satisfied look she always had. I try to imagine how it would have been if my first experience had come in this way. But I stop myself-it's unimaginable. One thing is for sure;  if this were peacetime and a girl had been raped by some vagrant, there'd be the whole peacetime hoopla of reporting the crime, taking the statement, questioning witnesses, arrest and confrontation, news reports and neighborhood gossip-and the girl would have reacted differently, would have suffered a different kind of shock. But here we're dealing with a collective experience, something foreseen and feared many times in advance that happened to women right and left, all somehow part of the bargain. And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help each other by speaking about it, airing their pain, and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they've suffered. Which of course doesn't mean that creatures more delicate than this cheeky little Berlin girl won't fall apart or suffer for the rest of their lives. 

The author has an amazing ability to step outside herself and report on not only what is going on but also how she and others feel about it. It makes reading these diaries an intensely emotional experience.

What else can I do? I have to sit out and wait. Our days are accented by flak and artillary fire. Now and then I wish it were all over. These are strange times-history experienced firsthand, the stuff of tales yet untold and songs unsung. But seen up close, history is much more troublesome, nothing but burdens and fears.
Tomorrow I'll go look for nettles and get some coal. Small as it is, our new stock of provisions will keep us from starving. I fret over it the way rich people worry about their money. The food could be bombed or stolen, eaten by mice or looted by the enemy. Finally I have everything crammed into one more box for the basement. I can still carry all my earthly possessions up and down the stairs with hardly any effort. 

 The whole time I read this book the phrase about "man's inhumanity to man" kept running through my head. How do people do these things to each other? How do people survive such horrors? I would not say I enjoyed this book. It isn't a book you enjoy. It is a book you read with, figuratively speaking, your hand over your eyes yet peeking through your fingers because you are unable to look away. Really, we shouldn't look away because this is what people do to each other sometimes and that is truly terrible. The truly terrible needs to be acknowledged.