Monday, December 19, 2011

Topography, by Sharon Olds

Hello Poets,
Sharon Olds on the unification of a divided nation. This is my kind of politics.


After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

by Sharon Olds, from The Gold Cell, 1987

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prayer, by James Armstrong

Hello Poets,
James Armstrong lived for a year in the middle of Lake Superior ("the blue that looks through us") at Isle Royale National Park.
I imagine him waking up on a winter morning to the emptiness and a wild beating heart. 


If we don’t believe in heaven, who reads the letters we mail there
      every evening?
Children send most of them, kneeling by the bedpost
imagining the universe under the care of a father
who rumbles behind the newspaper
smelling of cigarettes and Old Spice.
To grow up is to lose one’s God at sea –
better to lose one than be one.
If you believe the world is perfect,
think of Keats dying young.
I never would have seen it if I hadn’t believed it,
the saying goes. Somebody has to awaken us
to the time of day it is when the earth is empty
of any intention, or any human presence.

And yet it is noon, and here you are – your blue headlands
and swords, your wave-moistened silences.
As if at the heart of things
there were a heart.

by James Armstrong, from Blue Lash, 2006

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happiness, by Jane Kenyon

Hello Poets,
A surprise, a return, a remembrance. Warmth reappearing on cold fingers. Lentil stew, bread out of the oven, flickering flames on the burning log.
Bless you Jane Kenyon.


There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

by Jane Kenyon from Otherwise, 1996

Monday, October 31, 2011

Warm Spell, by Bill Holms

Warm Spell

A long November warm spell;
all the blizzards still asleep.
Bees hum unbelieving
around still blooming flowers.
Leaves, piled in compost heaps,
move around uneasily.
The dried branch bends down
in warm wind,
inviting them home again.

People who haven’t spoken in years
smile and greet each other in the street.
Relatives forget old quarrels
over family heirlooms.
The town atheist admits that God exists;
and the town drunk drinks coffee on his front porch.
The Lutheran minister forgets
St. Paul and the furrows
vanish from around his mouth.
Children are conceived in the open air
under willow trees by the river.

Like the life in the body,
this cannot last, so everyone
wastes time joyfully,
not even remembering
the old wounds they gave their spirit.
The old man on the stoop
in front of the beer joint
remembers his first lover,
and his toes begin dancing
around inside his shoes.

by Bill Holms, from The Dead Get By with Everything, 1990

Monday, October 17, 2011

Whispered Into The Ground, by William Stafford

Whispered Into The Ground

Where the wind ended and we came down
it was all grass. Some of us found
a way to the dirt – easy and rich.
When it rained, we grew, except
those of us caught up in leaves, not touching
earth, which always starts things.
Often we sent off our own
just as we’d done, floating that
wonderful wind that promised new land.

Here now spread low, flat on this
precious part of the world, we miss
those dreams and the strange old places
we left behind. We quietly wait.
The wind keeps telling us something
we want to pass on to the world:
Even far things are real.

by William Stafford, from Stories That Could Be True, 1977

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sky, by William Stafford


I like you with nothing. Are you
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown – still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won’t forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can’t tell what you say
when it’s the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head, where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

by William Stafford, from Sometimes I Breathe, 1992

Monday, October 3, 2011

After Love, by Maxine Kumin

After Love

Afterward, the compromise
Bodies resume their boundaries.

These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.

Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.

The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar

and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.

Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when

the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self

lay lightly down, and slept.

by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems 1960-1990, 1965

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Is Usual Is Not What Is Always, by Jane Hirschfield

Hello Poets,
Let's not forget, says Jane Hirshfield, the peculiarities, oddities and aberrations of everyday life.
More real than vacuous hopes and promises or soothing narratives, exceptions arrive somehow and take root.
These simple offerings are the odd matter to crystalize new worlds around.

What Is Usual Is Not What Is Always

What is usual is not what is always.
As sometimes, in old age, hearing comes back.

Footsteps resume their clipped edges,
birds quiet for decades migrate back to the ear.

Where were they? By what route did they return?

A woman mute for years
forms one perfect sentence before she dies.

The bitter young man tires;
the aged one sitting now in his body is tender,
his face carries no regret for his choices.

What is usual is not what is always, the day says again.
It is all it can offer.

Not ungraspable hope, not the consolation of stories.
Only the reminder that there is exception.

by Jane Hirschfield, from After, 2006

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Way In, by Linda Hogan

The Way In

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

by Linda Hogan, from Rounding the Human Corners, 2008

Monday, July 18, 2011

Walt Whitman, from the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass 

Hello Poets,
Still looking for Walt Whitman's thread of democratic and fraternal humanism?
Here are some frayed beginnings, remembrances of one who contained multitudes and wasn't afraid to begin again.

This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school, or church, or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.

by Walt Whitman, from the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass
(reprinted in Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition,
ed. by Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley 1965).

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Echo Of Wang Wei’s Reply To Vice Magistrate Chang- Stephen Levine

Hello Poets,
Stephen Levine lives with his wife Ondrea in mountains of northern New Mexico.
His work can be seen at

An Echo Of Wang Wei’s Reply To Vice Magistrate Chang

Growing old I love the quiet that used to
disturb me. I have distance on my life.
The boast and pity of self-regard
have fallen somewhat behind.
Heading home, the home I carry with me,
I settle into the clouds. On the mountain
I sit quietly in a sage meadow
visited by the same bees that make lovers
of flowering bushes.
I become part of the golden comb hidden
in the hive humming with delight.

by Stephen Levine, from Inquiring Mind, Fall 2010

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Cedary Fragrance, by Jane Hirshfield

A Cedary Fragrance

Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water –

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt, 2001

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Be Alive, by Gregory Orr

To Be Alive

To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but…

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?

by Gregory Orr, from Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved, 2005

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Winning, by Linda Gregg


There is having by having
and having by remembering.
All of it a glory, but what is past
is the treasure. What remains.
What is worn is what has lived.
Death is too familiar, even though
it adds weight. Passion adds size
but allows too much harm.
There is a poetry that asks for
this life of silence in midday.
A branch of geranium in a glass
that might root. Poems of time
now and time then, each
containing the other carefully.

by Linda Gregg from Things and Flesh, 1999

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poetry Jam at the White House

Sam is having computer trouble this week. So in the meantime,  here is a film of the Poetry Jam at the White House, on May 11, introduced by the President.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Invocation To Pan, by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams

Hello Poets,
The lyrical English poet Hilary Llewellyn-Williams works with direct, urgent and sensuous language to conjure up the shamanic heart of nature.

An Invocation To Pan

Come, eye of the forest
come, beast-footed
man-membered; come, tree-sinewed
soil-rubbed, leaf-garlanded;
come, goat-nimble
come, bird-joyful
come, fox-cunning;
out of the boles and burrows
out of the humps and hollows
out of the heaps of leaves;
out of mist and darkness
out of sunshafts, gold motes,
flowers, insects humming:
brown lying down in summer by the river
your flute notes cool
and black striding up from the woods in winter
wreathed in fogs, your voice belling;
come, old one, come, green one,
tree-protector, beast-befriender
good shepherd, wise steward:
come, earth-brother
long long lost
long long lost
let us find you
call you
call you up, out, back, forth –
be here now!
O musk of fur sour
in the wind, your branched head
through the thickets
coming, coming
in your power, your power, your power.

by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams, from Hummadruz, 2001

Monday, April 4, 2011

Assurance, by Bill Stafford

Hello Poets,
The Bill Stafford poem below "seemed to be a way we could raise our faces and talk back to the darkness around us."
Following his sudden death in 1993 "Assurance" was sent to hundreds of his friends and readers.
Thanks to the many of you who inquired about missing the Monday Poems. It was the combined effects of my electronic ineptitude and the demands of spring gardening.


You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names- and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles- you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head-
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

by William Stafford, from Smoke’s Way, 1983

Monday, March 7, 2011

King of the River (excerpt), Stanley Kunitz

Hello Poets,
In this last section of a shamanic poem about dying salmon and a dissolving self, Stanley Kunitz falls back from false assurances and rational choice to a deeper complexity that undoes ordinary reality, allowing another reality to enter.

King of the River (excerpt)

If the heart were pure enough,
but it is not pure,
you would admit
that nothing compels
any more, nothing
at all abides,
but nostalgia and desire,
the two-way ladder
between heaven and hell.
On the threshold
of the last mystery,
at the brute absolute hour,
you have looked into the eyes
of your creature self,
which are glazed with madness,
and you say
he is not broken but endures,
limber and firm
in the state of his shining,
forever inheriting his salt kingdom,
from which he is banished

by Stanley Kunitz, from The Testing-Tree, 1971

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Real Work, by Wendell Berry

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987

Monday, February 14, 2011

somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond- E.E. Cummings

somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond

somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

by E.E. Cummings, from ViVa, 1931

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When I Am In The Kitchen, by Jeanne Marie Beaumont


When I Am In The Kitchen
I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend's
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband's grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother's
teapot, my mother's Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law's Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father's hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, "sift and mix dry ingredients"
with his note that this makes "3 waffles in our
large pan" and around that our an unbearable
round stain of egg yolk or melted butter?

by Jeanne Marie Beaumont, excerpted from Burning of the Three Fires, 2010

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Brief For The Defense, by Jack Gilbert


A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowing out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven: Poems, 2005

Friday, January 28, 2011

Poetry, by Pablo Neruda

Hello Poets,
"The truth of who you are calls to you through the poems you love."
This from Pablo Neruda is one of those poems. A vital, voiced wisdom when spoken aloud, an invitation to make the first faint line of your life.


And it was at that age . . . Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

    by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid,
    from Memorial de IslaNegra, 1964.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

Hello Poets,
Glyn Maxwell ascribes the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott’s power to his verse which ". . . is constantly trembling with a sense of the body in time, the self slung across meter, whether meter is steps, or nights, or breath, whether lines are days, or years, or tides."

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems 1948-1984, 1986

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis, by Philip Whalen

Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words,
Usually a pointless joke or a silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick
                        splashed picture- bug, leaf,
                        caricature of Teacher
            on paper held together now by little more than ink
            & their own strength brushed momentarily over it

Their world & several others since
Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it-
Cheered as it whizzed by-
& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars
Happy to have saved us all.

by Philip Whalen, from Overtime, 1999

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Am Going To Start Living Like A Mystic, Ed Hirsch

Hello Poets,
Looking for something to be this year? Ed Hirsch takes a walk to find his path.

I Am Going To Start Living Like A Mystic

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusty snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage – silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

by Edward Hirsch, from Lay Back the Darkness, 2003