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“254” by Emily Dickinson

Back in Sunday school class many moons ago, we memorized Bible verses. That simple act of committing words to memory acted as both a game and challenge to my budding brain. If you didn’t go to Sunday school or attend church, how did memorization play its part in your life growing up?

What about now?

In exploring MFA poetry programs several years back, I researched the virtues of one program over another. Hours spent reading poets I *might* get to study with led to this nifty excel grid compiled of pluses and minuses, of stars and notes to self. One item that I starred for the MFA program at NEC consisted of a simple exercise that separated them from the others. The program required each student to memorize a poem per semester. This may not seem like a big deal, you’d say, poets memorize poems. To this I would counter and conjecture that the poetry they memorize is most likely their own.

When the semester began so did the poetry recitations. Students pulled aside one of the teachers to rattle off the poem in between seminars. Others recited them at the beginning of workshops in front of fellow students, one of which held the poem in hand and provided word prompts in case of flubs.

I think it holds an important place for each of us. Memorization stretches the muscle of the mind and tests my mettle. It lets the music of the poet and poem being memorized become part of us and perhaps even subconsciously suggest music for our own work. It asks us the hard questions: “Will I hang with the poem and let its rhythms coax their way into the recesses of my brain? Will I do the work to remember this in a week, a month, a year or is this going into the stores of short term memory?

Emily Dickinson inevitably holds a place in the library of most poets. My MFA friend Michelle deeply espoused Emily Dickinson and even began looking like her, albeit with blonde hair.  During my first semester at NEC, our band of poets carpooled to Amherst for a poetry reading. After the reading, most of us headed back to our cars and back to the campus. Later that evening, in the dorms, friends Sherry and Mercedes talked about wandering over to the graveyard after the reading and stumbling in the dark looking for the grave of  Emily Dickinson with two other poets. This later turned into a poem penned by Joe Gouveia and painted a story that kind of made me wish I’d been in their car.

Poem 254, “Hope is the thing with feathers” stands out among the poems memorized during my MFA program. This compact poem’s building weight lingers long after the final stanza “it asked a crumb of me” is read. Early on the poem brings to mind a bird and the freedom of wings and flight along with the tittering of a joyfulness. The second stanza edges into darker terrain as it must when hope is involved. Even in the midst of the storm, her language still evokes a certainty that is not completely sorrowful. But that changes in stanza three, as she positions “chillest land” and “strangest sea” as examples of where she has heard hope. This stanza has an overriding sentiment of loneliness to it that makes me the reader sad. It’s as if after all the things that hope can do and in which it can prevail, it doesn’t reach fruition for the speaker in the poem.

Scrawled by hand on a robin’s egg blue notecard above my desk hangs “254.” This poem’s importance to me cannot be underscored enough. The words came to me while lying still for an hour and a half recently in a plastic tube for an MRI. “Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul…” Aside from the classical music playing through headphones, the rag covering my eyes from seeing the curve of plastic inches from my face and my arms fallen against the narrow sides of the tube walls, against all of these things came Emily Dickinson’s words. And then a litany of prayers of gratitude for the people populating my life and giving me hope.

the complete poems of emily dickinson

254
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune-without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

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“Tucson” by Stephen Dunn

Poetry curated. Believing poetry can change the world, the intention here is to introduce and discuss compelling poems. My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul. When it happens, it can set your skin ablaze. In a good way.

Recently, my friend Jay came over for a Sunday afternoon poetry workshop. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while- enough time had passed to learn he is working on a screen play and I’m recently married. As we settled into our workshop time, we kicked it off with writing prompts. Later we exchanged poems, providing feedback and the conversation expected during a workshop. I highly regard him as a friend who writes poems in form and meter with litheness of pen, and he shared some tips for me as I set out in my exploration of writing in rhyme and meter.

If you ever get the chance to ask a poet what they are reading and what is inspiring them, stand back. The answers are mellifluous! Jay shared the poem below with me and I in turn am sharing it with you. Poetry is like that- it’s meant to be shared.

The poem “Tucson” by Stephen Dunn is not the kind of poem that shimmers with adjectives. I think the spare description in this narrative poem builds such a fantastic tension that’s augmented in the line “but I’m not important.” – the narrator wants all eyes on the scene unfolding. Even the line length seems like a stilted dance with some short lines and others that are long in this tight poem. The poet builds the climax by naming the frailty of the human body instead of naming the fight breaking out. “I’d forgotten / how fragile the face is, how fists too / are just so many small bones.” The dexterity of this line really calls out the humanity that is the point in this poem because there are a lot of people in the poem. And they are “Mexicans, Indians, whites.” The deft way the woman in question moves on to dance with another woman after the fight breaks out points to fights being a regular occurrence. Even the narrator’s hands “were fidgety, damp.” This poem encapsulates place by naming it after a city and using the scenario of a bar fight to describe the tensions among its inhabitants.

It’s an interesting way to consider writing a poem. If you were to write a poem about your city, how would you structure it? Where would it take place and what would be the core essence of your city you would want as a grand take-away?

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Tucson
by Stephen Dunn from “Loosestrife

A man was dancing with the wrong woman
in the wrong bar, the wrong part of town.
He must have chosen the woman, the place,
as keenly as you choose what to wear
when you dress to kill.
And the woman, who could have said no,
must have made her choice years ago,
to look like the kind of trouble
certain men choose as their own.
I was there for no good reason myself,
with a friend looking for a friend,
but I’m not important.
They were dancing close
when a man from the bar decided
the dancing was wrong. I’d forgotten
how fragile the face is, how fists too
are just so many small bones.
The bouncer waited, then broke in.
Someone wiped up the blood.
The woman began to dance
with another woman, each in tight jeans.
The air pulsed. My hands
were fidgety, damp.
We were Mexicans, Indians, whites.
The woman was part this, part that.
My friend said nothing’s wrong, stay put,
it’s a good fighting bar, you won’t get hurt
unless you need to get hurt.

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“Daisies” by Louise Glück

I know what you’re going to say, “Annelies, it’s not April anymore. Poetry month has passed us by.” I agree with you on the first point. The latter point would require conversation.

Life is rife with poetry- why subject it to only one month’s notice?

I have wrestled with the suitability of posting other people’s poems here, notably poems published in books. Hence why, it is now almost the end of June and I am just rolling around to sharing my second poem from my curated selection of poems for Poetry Month.  My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul.

There is no attempt at copyright infringement intended, just a wanting and trying to share the infectious thing that is poetry, so we shall proceed, unless and until I am asked to remove the poems.

The collection of poems found in “The Wild Iris” by Louise Glück is radiant. The persona poems within embody such lush beauty.  I’ve selected “Daisies” below as part of poetry curated. What I particularly appreciate about this poem is how the line length and syntax sort of arrest you. It’s not an easy poem to get through and this is akin to the struggle between the natural world and the industrial that occurs everyday. Don’t believe me? Try taking a long leisurely walk outside during your lunch break tomorrow rather than the typical one you might partake of behind the desk. In this poem, the natural world resembles something “sentimental” but it demands all of you. We give up our hold and the hold of the natural world upon us far too easily.

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Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

 

Daisies
by Louise Gluck, from “The Wild Iris”

Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden
is not the real world. Machines
are the real world. Say frankly what any fool
could read in your face: it makes sense
to avoid us, to resist
nostalgia. It is
not modern enough, the sound the wind makes
stirring a meadow of daisies: the mind
cannot shine following it. And the mind
wants to shine, plainly, as
machines shine, and not
grow deep, as, for example, roots. It is very touching,
all the same, to see you cautiously
approaching the meadow’s border in early morning,
when no one could possibly
be watching you. The longer you stand at the edge,
the more nervous you seem. No one wants to hear
impressions of the natural world: you will be
laughed at again; scorn will be piled on you.
As for what you’re actually
hearing this morning: think twice
before you tell anyone what was said in this field
and by whom.

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Poetry Curated: “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I know what you’re going to say, “Annelies, it’s not April anymore. Poetry month has passed us by.” I agree with you on the first point. The latter point would require conversation.

Life is rife with poetry- why subject it to only one month’s notice?

I have wrestled with the suitability of posting other people’s poems here, notably poems published in books. Hence why, it is now almost the end of June and I am just rolling around to sharing my second poem from my curated selection of poems for Poetry Month.  My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul.

There is no attempt at copyright infringement intended, just a wanting and trying to share the infectious thing that is poetry, so we shall proceed, unless and until I am asked to remove the poems.

The collection of poems found in “The Wild Iris” by Louise Glück is radiant. The persona poems within embody such lush beauty.  I’ve selected “Daisies” below as part of poetry curated. What I particularly appreciate about this poem is how the line length and syntax sort of arrest you. It’s not an easy poem to get through and this is akin to the struggle between the natural world and the industrial that occurs everyday. Don’t believe me? Try taking a long leisurely walk outside during your lunch break tomorrow rather than the typical one you might partake of behind the desk. In this poem, the natural world resembles something “sentimental” but it demands all of you. We give up our hold and the hold of the natural world upon us far too easily.

________________________________________________

Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

 

Daisies
by Louise Gluck, from “The Wild Iris”

Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden
is not the real world. Machines
are the real world. Say frankly what any fool
could read in your face: it makes sense
to avoid us, to resist
nostalgia. It is
not modern enough, the sound the wind makes
stirring a meadow of daisies: the mind
cannot shine following it. And the mind
wants to shine, plainly, as
machines shine, and not
grow deep, as, for example, roots. It is very touching,
all the same, to see you cautiously
approaching the meadow’s border in early morning,
when no one could possibly
be watching you. The longer you stand at the edge,
the more nervous you seem. No one wants to hear
impressions of the natural world: you will be
laughed at again; scorn will be piled on you.
As for what you’re actually
hearing this morning: think twice
before you tell anyone what was said in this field
and by whom.

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“The Guitar” by Federico Garcia Lorca

Poetry.

Maybe the last time you picked up a book of poems (if ever) was in high school. You might think they’re boring, inaccessible or just not for you and I’m not one to disagree with the last point. But hear me out for a moment: I have a hunch that given the right poem or hearing the right poet is akin to listening to your favorite musician for the first time. It’s a discovery, an epiphany of a world you didn’t know existed and you feverishly want more. Poetry as an artform does make its way into speeches, newspaper articles and particularly when paired with music, into song. So maybe it’s not poetry you’ve written off, just the idea of it.

April is national poetry month and I would like to be your curator composing my own Annelies anthology of poems. This is not your Norton’s Anthology, and by now, if you stop here often, you might notice I’m a fan of multicultural food, traveling to other parts of the world and international poetry. Shoot, I’m an associate editor for Poetry International, a fantastic annual journal of poems from around the world.

And I want to get you excited about, if not think twice about poetry.

I guarantee every poem will probably not resonate with you and that’s okay. But just maybe, you will hear something that rings true to you. Something that makes your pulse quicken or even makes you tear up. My appreciation for poetry’s complexity and simplicity only grows with time.

If you stick with me through the month, I will share a panoply of poems and think it will be quite a journey.  I may try to pair up poems with recipes- the story-telling need not stop because the form is shorter or different.

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The Guitar
Federico Garcia Lorca from Lorca & Jimenez

The crying of the guitar
starts.
The goblets
of the dawn break.
The crying of the guitar
starts.
No use to stop it.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It cries repeating itself
as the water cries,
as the wind cries
over the snow.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It is crying for things
far off.
The warm sand of the South
that asks for white camellias.
For the arrow with nothing to hit,
the evening with no dawn coming,
and the first bird of all dead
on the branch,
Guitar!
Heart wounded, gravely,
by five swords.