Poetry is a deliberate genre--one cannot skim or rush through the reading of a poem. It requires time and attention, things that there's never enough of. So I appreciate that each April (aka National Poetry Month) we can be surrounded at every turn with things that ask us to simply take a moment.
Years ago, I signed up for Knopf's Poem-A-Day newsletter, and I always enjoy the daily offerings in my inbox. Throughout the month, there appear new poems by some of my favorite poets, work by poets I've never heard of, and lesser-known works by classic and big-name poets. Even reencountering a poem I know is a pleasant way to greet each day.
In the interest of continuing to spread the poetry love as thick as it'll get in the remaining days of this month, here are a few of my favorites from this year.
by Jane Hirshfield
The dog came in
and shook off
water in every direction.
A chaotic rainstorm,
walking on four big paws.
The outside rain
in parallel lines
from a child's drawing.
Windless, blunt, and cold,
that orderly rain,
like a fate
uninterrupted by late love.
by Kevin Young
I am no longer ashamed
how for weeks, after, I wanted
to be dead - not to die,
mind you, or do
myself in - but to be there
already, walking amongst
all those I'd lost, to join
the throng singing,
if that's what there is -
or the nothing, the gnawing -
So be it. I wished
to be warm - & worn -
like the quilt my grandmother
must have made, one side
a patchwork of color -
blues, green like the underside
of a leaf - the other
an old pattern of the dolls
of the world, never cut out
but sewn whole - if the world
were Scotsmen & sailors
in traditional uniforms.
Mourning, I've learned, is just
a moment, many,
grief the long betrothal
beyond. Grief what
we wed, ringing us -
from my father's hot house -
the quilt heavy tonight
at the foot of my marriage bed,
its weight months of needling
& thread. Each straightish,
pale, uneven stitch
like the white hairs I earned
all that hollowed year - pull one
& ten more will come,
wearing white, to its funeral -
each a mourner, a winter,
gathering ash at my temple.
[Note: Brooks Haxton's Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms connects poems to their roots in prayer. Each poem in Haxton's book is a response to a psalm.]
Fists I Thought Were Made To Hold the Reins
by Brooks Haxton
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse . . . He maketh peace . . . - Psalm 147
Catfish, lacking scales, are beautiful
in their repulsive way, but they will give you
an infected wound if you're not careful.
The filets I rubbed with cayenne, chili, salt,
and ginger, skillet hot and dry, then drowned
with lemon. Even the kids, who don't eat fish,
left none. My wife and I stopped brooding,
and my right hand opened with me staring
into the empty palm, long having, if I ever
knew,forgotten when and how the reins
slipped free. I love equestrians,
but I let go the reins, unlike my heroes,
lacking their authority, and wishing now
to lack my lack as well. An unimaginable horse
is rippling at a gallop far away, unshod,
with hoofbeats as impermanent as stars.
If you're a fan of discovering new poems each day, I recommend subscribing to Poetry Daily, where you can enjoy a daily dose of verse all year-round. Here is a recent one from them that I love:
by Rachel Mennies
The rank one, the sharp one, the one
always in need of other flesh
for company, Grandfather searches for onions,
eats them with every meal. Red shards
in tomatoes, naked but for salt, the yellow ones
sighing pleasurably into schmaltz.
Turned and turned by the spoon
of my grandmother, he fishes them
one half-moon at a time
from the scalding fat barely rendered.
His brittle skin peels. A plume of hair
flies above the taut tan dome of his skull.
Grandfather of the pickled tongue, vinegar
and capered tongue, he drapes lox
the color of surprise on top of onions,
seeking the stink of Jewish food,
its herrings and its livers, its complicated
briny odors, its conversations
between skin and sea. He sheds tears, a matter
of course, another sort of craving: tears for
the stirrer, the learned sting
that comes with marriage, with peeling
back its skin and slicing it deeply. They must
know the lessons of each generation, feel
that thick, stinging pleasure in their eyes.
What poems have come into your lives this April? (Share them with us in the comments!) Where do you go to find them? Online? The library? The latest issue of Ruminate?
Though I may have to work a bit harder to seek out new poetry on May 1st, I'm not worried about running out of reading material once Poetry Month is over, because May 15th is the deadline for the Janet McCabe Poetry Prize, which means I'll soon be awash in submissions from our readers and fans. We welcome you to add your work to the batch, and we look forward to reading your work.
In the meantime, enjoy the last few days of poetry month—share a poem, write a poem, attend a poetry reading! Here’s one more to send you off (from the latest issue of Ruminate):
by Laura Sobbott Ross
Like a field of snow—an element
this boy has never seen or touched, the white
page waits for him to lay down his words—
awkward as angels flapped in the drift—
images I scribe for him with my workable hands.
His have gone slack, no pencil grip honed
between baby fingers left flimsy with tactile
cravings. Abandoned in his crib for days at a time,
he’s learned to hold things loosely. Illegible—
the word sounds like a transgression, I think
as I listen to him write out loud and hope
at least there were patches of sun that flickered
across a quilt. And music. The other kids wishing
they’d built a snowman as gigantic as mine, he tells me
to write, adding a carrot for the nose. He stutters
on the word dance, tells me when to indent
and when to pause. He smiles without making
eye contact, as we move together, an uncertain
syncopation across the page, my pencil
point adhering to the lines and margins
he cannot keep himself from scrawling over.
The word he whispers the softest: because
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