Here’s the Table of Contents of the little anthology I have created for this course. I chose each poem for its usefulness in showing (various) elements of poetic technique. And some of them speak to each other. Homer, Pound and Gunn; Pound and Duncan; Auden and Yeats; Baudelaire and Donne’s “Negative Love” and Greville and Voznesensky (regarding thinking by negatives); Williams and Niedecker and Levertov and others; all the sonnets; Hadas a sonnet, by the way—look at the line-endings for rhyme words, and then you’ll see how the poem is put together with a combination of expanded lines and “composition by field”; and other connections.
Essays about many of these poets, additional poems, and recordings of them reading their poems can be found at www.poetryfoundation.org.
More poems and resources are at the Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org.
There are also some recordings of the poets themselves or of others reading some of these poems on YouTube.
Anonymous, “Sir Patrick Spens”
W. H. Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”
Charles Baudelaire, “Obsession”
William Blake, “London,” “The Chimney Sweeper” (2 poems), “The Sick Rose”
Elizabeth Bishop, “In the Waiting Room”
Louise Bogan, “Women,” “The Crows,” “Dark Summer,” “Several Voices
Out of a Cloud”
Edward Kamau Brathwaite, “New World A’Comin’” (excerpt)
Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till,”
Shawn Carter/Jay-Z, “History” (excerpt)
Charles Causley, “The Great Sun”
John Clare, “The Mouse’s NeHart Crane, “Voyages” (V), “At Melville’s Tomb”
Robert Creeley, “The Language”
Emily Dickinson, poems 359, 612, 647, 1000, 1004, 1611
John Donne, “Negative Love,” “Holy Sonnets” (X)
Robert Duncan, “At the Loom,” “Poetry, A Natural Thing”
Robert Frost, “Home Burial”
Allen Ginsberg, “Sunflower Sutra,” “Howl” (I—excerpt)
Fulke Greville, “In night, when colors…”
Thom Gunn, “Moly”
Pamela White Hadas, “Eurydice”
Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush”
Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays,” “Night, Death, Mississippi,” “Homage to the
Empress of the Blues”
Seamus Heaney, “Death of a Naturalist,” “Casualty”
Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, “Sonnet of Black Beauty”
Homer, Odyssey X (excerpt)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid”
John Keats, “To Autumn,” “Ode on Melancholy”
Yusef Komunyakaa, “Yellowjackets,” “Memory Cave”
Philip Larkin, “The Explosion”
D.H. Lawrence, “Snake,” “Bavarian Gentians”
Denise Levertov, “Stepping Westward,” “Living”
Linda McCarriston, “With the Horse in the Winter Pasture”
Thomas McGrath, “Letter to an Imaginary Friend” (I—excerpt), “Love in a Bus,”
“Used Up,” “Epitaph”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman…”
John Milton, “Methought I saw…,” Paradise Lost IV (excerpt)
Eugenio Montale, “Lemon Trees”
Lorine Niedecker, “Swept snow, Li Po,” “Fog—thick morning—,”
“You are my friend—,”“Effort lay in us,” “
My mother saw…,” “Grandfather”
Frank O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them,” “The Day Lady Died”
Boris Pasternak, “Mirror”
Sylvia Plath, “Fever 103°”
Sterling Plumpp, Ornate with Smoke (excerpt)
Ezra Pound, “The Return,” “In a Station of the Metro,” “Canto II” (excerpt),
“Canto XXXIX” (excerpt)
Adrienne Rich, “The Fact of a Doorframe,” “Power”
Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Panther”
Yannis Ritsos, “The Meaning of Simplicity,” “Attack,” “A Wreath”
Ed Roberson, “”Beauty’s Standing” (excerpt), “Bend,” “Locus in Black Folktale”
Isaac Rosenberg, “Break of Day in the Trenches,” “Dead Man’s Dump”
Muriel Rukeyser, “Boy with his Hair Cut Short,” “”Letter to the Front”
Carl Sandburg, “Onion Days”
Sappho, fragment 31 (2 translations—by Anne Carson and Jim Powell)
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”),
Sonnet 55 (“Not marble nor the gilded monuments“), Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes
are nothing like the sun”)
Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella sonnet 1 (“Loving in truth, and fain in verse my
love to show”
Gary Snyder, “Point Reyes,” “Milton by Firelight,” “Axe Handles”
Sophocles, Antigone, lines 332-375 [“Ode to Man”—translation by RG and Charles Segal]
Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man,” “This Solitude of Cataracts”
Marina Tsvetaeva, “Poets” (excerpt) [translation by RG and Ilya Kutik]
Mark Turcotte, “Continue,” “Reflection”
César Vallejo, “A man goes by…” [translation by RG]
Andrei Voznesensky, “A Graveyard Within: To the Memory of Robert Lowell” [translation by RG and Ilya Kutik]
Derek Walcott, “The Schooner Flight” (excerpt)
Walt Whitman, “Whoever You Are…,” “A March in the Ranks…”
William Carlos Williams, “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital,” “Pink Confused with
Anne Winters, “The Mill Race”
William Wordsworth, “The Winander Boy,” “Composed Upon
Sir Thomas Wyatt, “Whoso List to Hunt…”
William Butler Yeats, “The Fisherman,” “Meru”
It’s National Poetry Month and TriQuarterly is proud to introduce a new web series by Reginald Gibbons, the Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University. Professor Gibbons will report on his class discussion—what can be talked about with clarity and what is elusive, too. And also what his students find most interesting and how they develop through the course.
It’s always a pleasure for me to begin talking about poetry with this little bit of folk poetry, first attested only in the 19th century, but it must be much older. We spent a fair amount of time simply noticing everything that’s going on in these few words:
oats, peas, beans and barley grow
Beyond using that simple poetic line to notice sounds, rhythms, and ideas, these first few days of class I’ve spent reading just three poems with the students.
My idea is to get everything we can out of those three poems—they represent a wide range of poetic styles and effects—and start, just start, to map all the sorts of things that language-in-poems, or human-beings-doing-poetry, does, everything it and we make happen in terms of thought and feeling and in terms of using more of language than we do in most of everyday life. Which doesn’t mean that the language in a poem can’t be everyday, casual, intimate, personal. It can and often is, in our day. But because we encounter that language in and as a poem, we know that there’s more meaning in it—if we listen for it—than we’re used to hearing or reading.
We talked about Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist”: we looked at the kinds of words he uses (so many with Old English roots—earthen words, used originally in a culture and time where technology was limited to crops and animals and weapons and ships), and at how these words create so many visual images, and how these remain “literal images” for the most part, without creating symbolic resonances in us. He sets a scene very vividly, in order to narrate (another thing the poem does) a moment of awakening (at least, that’s how it’s narrated, whatever experience he may have had, or not, and may still have remembered, at the time he was writing the poem). He invites us into what seems an autobiographical episode. We also looked at where the poem takes a step beyond where it has been hovering. It’s especially obvious where Heaney breaks that line two thirds of the way in, into two parts. That’s when the poem gets darker. And we listened to the speech stresses, and began, just began, to put them in relation to his “loose” iambic pentameter. (But notice that the first line and the last are very neatly done as impeccable pentameter lines) (including that extra unstressed syllable at the very end of the poem—almost as if he had barely gotten his fingers out in time—from where he didn’t, in the poem, actually put them).
Then we talked about Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till.”
I asked students to read on their own the story of this hate-crime murder, and of how Till’s mother kept the coffin open for the funeral in Chicago. When we looked at the imagery, the word choice, in this poem, we saw the superficial resemblance to the imagery in Heaney’s poem (the words for things: taffy, coffee, mother, room, boy, prairie, and for their qualities: pretty-faced, red, black, and so on). And we also saw the great difference—in Brooks’s poem, we are witnesses to something real, historical, that has enormous symbolic meaning. That is, the words are both literal in their creating our mental images, and many of them also have a symbolic value (three kinds of “black,” for instance, each of them pouring meaning into these simple lines).
We ended with Emily Dickinson’s famous poem number 359, “A Bird came down the Walk.” There’s so much for us to notice, think, and feel, in this poem. It’s far beyond the cute poem it’s thought to be. At the beginning, there are those visual images that create the scene of the poem. Simple, direct, amusing—and a little odd. ”A dew,” “a grass.” The little narrative has begun impersonally, then there’s an unsettling moment when the narrator shows up, and we see that by implication either the bird or the narrator, or both, feels anxiety, caution. There’s something dangerous for the bird in the presence of the human being—and there’s something dangerous for the human being in the *ideas* that will now bubble up with an almost joyous rapidity of metaphorical invention. And there’s all the ambiguity of that metaphorical profusion and overlap—things that can’t entirely be figured out, syntax that works in two different ways, words left out…
So in the first few days, we’ve got a fair amount to be placed on each student’s map of poetic technique: the rhythms created by the speech stresses; phonetic figures (repeated sounds); the movement from idea to idea or feeling to feeling or image to image, etc., families of words (from Old English roots, from Latin ones—the two biggest ones in English); the way these aspects of craft and others “mark” the language of a poem as poetic, and set us up to pay attention to that language much more closely, and how the poetic devices also vouch for the poet’s artistic skill. And more. We’ll see such things (and more yet to be named and pondered) over and over, as we go, and we’ll see how the individuality of each poet’s voice is created. And we’ll get a sense of the artistic range of the possibilities of poetry, and a little of a sense of the historical evolution of poetry—from Homer (we’ll look at one brief episode) to Jay-Z.
It’s National Poetry Month and TriQuarterly is proud to introduce a new web series. Reginald Gibbons, the Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University, will follow his undergraduate poetry writing course with mini-essays that lay out the framework of poetry as he sees it. Professor Gibbons will report on his class discussion—and what he failed to get to, or what was too elusive, and how his students develop throughout the course.
James Tadd Adcox ("The Bed Frame," "A Dial Tone," "The Off Season," and "The Weight of the Internet"; issue 139) has just published his first book, a collection of stories called The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, with Tiny Hardcore Press.
Meena Alexander ("Red Bird" and "Impossible Grace"; issue 141) was interviewed by the Poetry Society of America.
Brittany Cavallaro ("Tautology" and "Leitmotif"; issue 142), along with Rebecca Hazelton, has a book forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2013, No Girls No Telephones.
Eugene Cross ("This Too"; issue 141) recently published a collection of stories, Fires of Our Choosing, with Dzanc Books. "This Too" is included in the collection. Read an interview he did with The Millions here.
Su Friedrich ("Gut Renovation"; issue 141) won the Audience Award at the 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival for "Gut Renovation."
Edison Jennings ("Complexion," "Half-Life," "A Body in Motion," and "Old Bitch and Bone"; issue 139) has four poems in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume III: Appalachia. He also has a poem, "Durable Goods," in the current issue of Zone 3, and others forthcoming in Southwest Review and Rattle. Finally, the fall 2011 issue of Town Creek Poetry includes a retrospective of his work as well as an interview.
Angela Eun Ji Koh ("Antti Revonsuo"; issue 140) recently published her poem "Menopause" in La Petite Zine.
Tyler Mills ("Penelope's Firebird Weft"; issue 140) won the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award for her collection Tongue Lyre, which will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in February 2013.
Jacob Newberry ("Origins"; issue 141) was named a Bread Loaf Scholar in Nonfiction for the summer of 2012. He also has a short story forthcoming in the Southwest Review, as well as an essay forthcoming in the Kenyon Review.
We couldn't be prouder.
Meena Alexander’s poem “Impossible Grace,” from TQO issue 141 is being honored by an international music competition. The first Al-Quds Composition Award, which celebrates the “cultural uniqueness of the city of Jerusalem,” requires composers to submit work that is inspired by Alexander's poem. The winning composition will be presented at the new Al-Quds University College of Music in October.
Alexander was the 2011 Al-Quds poet in residence.
The typical image of a writer is a person slumped over a keyboard, face unshaven, hair unkempt, a cigarette fuming into the air beside a furrowed brow, a glass of whiskey in hand and a half-empty bottle on the table - man, I really need to stop looking in the mirror when I write these things…
But truth be told, the writer as a drinker is an iconic image from Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde to Jack Kerouac and Raymond Carver. The ink, it seems, is in the pen if the spirits are in the blood. This stereotype is true enough that there’s even a Bartending Guide to Great American Writers where you can find the favored libations of some of the craft’s greatest practitioners. Faulkner liked Mint Juleps, Anne Sexton loved Martinis, and Hunter S. Thompson had parts of his body osmotically replaced with Chivas Regal.
The old adage is for writers to write what they know, and with all this imbibing going on it’s not surprising that raging benders and blinding hangovers have become plot points and sometimes the topic of entire novels. Writers have even thought up their own cocktails; for instance, Hemingway devised his own daiquiri and Ian Fleming cooked up the Vesper Martini. Naturally enough, if a writer drinks, and writers create drinks, then there will be a plethora of drinks named after writers and for their books. Who wouldn’t want a Douglas Adams Pangalactic Gargleblaster chaser for a Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner?
Fine dining touts beverage pairings and a good sommelier can tell you what wine will match your confit of beef tongue on a brioche with salsa verde and a fried egg, so why not a sommelier for books? Go ahead, put on some Beethoven, mix 8 oz whole milk, 1 1.9 oz 5-Hour Energy bottle, 1.5 oz vodka and a few ice cubes in a Collins glass and stir with a dagger for a sip of Milk-Plus while you read A Clockwork Orange. If that’s a bit too much, fly to Baltimore and pick up some Edgar Allen Poe themed Raven Lager and wonder why Conrad Aiken said “A poet without alcohol is no real poet.”
Whatever the reason, booze and books are forever entwined. The tales of alcoholism taking its toll on writers are infamous and we’ve lost a great many voices to drink. Yet as with all things, moderation is key and over indulgence in any one thing can do harm. Even without alcohol, authors do have some crazy addictions (James Joyce dug flatulence?!?), so the rest of us always have the option to teetotal and just read about it.
On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police Officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King, sparking what became the Los Angeles Riots. By the end, over a billion dollars in damage had been done, 53 people lost their lives, and many, like Reginald Denny, were forever changed. Twenty years later, on February 26, 2012 George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin and the aftermath of that event is still unfolding around us as acts of anger and retaliation slowly ripple across the nation. If we expand our view, we find that these types of acts are repeated all over the world, every where from Afghanistan to Canada time and time again.
Our problem is thinking we’ve got the story, that we know what happened and who the other person is. We make decisions based not on fact, but on what we believe, on what we’ve heard, and what we’ve seen. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls this the danger of a single story. She says that, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” That Zimmerman shot Martin is true, there is no question of that. What remains to be seen is whether his reasons for doing so - the story he tells, in effect - will be considered justifiable by a court of law. Our understanding of the facts is blurred by context and by who is telling us the story.
“Stories,” Adichie says, “who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told — are really dependent on power. Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. Show a people as one thing — as only one thing — over and over again, and that is what they become.” Whether it’s the beatings of Rodney King and Reginald Denny or the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the problem remains the same, people carry with them the preconceived notions of society that color their perception.
What’s the solution? More stories from all voices and all points of view. Alex Kotlowitz writes that “Stories inform the present and help sculpt the future, and so we need to take care not to craft a single narrative, not to pigeonhole people, not to think we know when in fact we know very little. We need to listen to the stories—the unpredictable stories—of those whose voices have been lost amidst the cacophonous noise of ideologues and rhetorical ruffians.”
In the end it comes down to empathy and understanding, recent studies have shown that reading fiction actually increases a person capacity for empathy, the same is most likely true for narrative non-fiction. As I wrote in my previous blog, reading rewires your brain by forcing you to live through the experiences of a stories protagonist. Would Zimmerman have shot Martin if he’d read To Kill a Mockingbird? Who can say? I do believe though, that if we try to empathize and put our preconceived notions aside, this world would be a better place.