Category Archives: poetry

“My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion.”

That the poet Walt Whitman was a rebel who celebrated democracy, nature, love and friendship is well known.  What isn’t well known is that Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, felt inspired by Whitman. Let’s … Continue reading

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“The world is too much with us.”

Two-hundred years ago, when William Wordsworth published the poem that begins with the line quoted above, critics were not impressed.  In fact, they ridiculed him for using the words “of the common man” instead of using a scholar’s proper poetic … Continue reading

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“To look closely with the attention of questioning changes everything.”

“It is,” Jane Hirshfield writes in this collection of essays about poetry, “if undertaken fully, revolutionary.”  More stimulating than a triple-shot of espresso, these essays show what can happen when a great poet sets out to describe how poetry is … Continue reading

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“If we are not fragile, we don’t deserve the world.”

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye is an expert on how fragile the world can be. She is an Arab-American who grew up in Ferguson, Missouri and Palestine. Perhaps she has never taken “safety” for granted. She describes how knowing “how … Continue reading

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“We should expect no one will understand this.”

Ed Bok Lee, who won the 2012 American Book Award for this moving collection of poems, is the son of Korean emigrants. The family’s transition from Seoul to North Dakota was difficult. He writes about getting stoned before and after … Continue reading

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“I raise my chin and say nothing.”

This is the final line in the poem “When Are You Coming Back? I’m Getting Tired of Waiting” from a collection of poems about grieving titled The Widow’s House by Sharon Chmielarz.  It is one example of how the poet … Continue reading

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“Only she who says she did not choose, is the loser in the end.”

Adrienne Rich was a revolutionary. As Margalit Fox wrote in the New York Times, Rich “accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for … Continue reading

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“Each night I sat on the porch and wished for some surge of feeling, some firelit stream of sound to lead me away from all that I had known.”

Can you love a poem that you don’t understand?  I think this question divides the poetry-reading public into two camps: those who prefer Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Ted Kooser on the one side, and those who prefer poets such … Continue reading

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“You won’t find 76 trombones in this poem (that was Iowa)…”

This is the first line in the “Unofficial Missouri Poem” written by William Trowbridge, his state’s Poet Laureate. A recording of his reading of this poem includes laughter from the audience in 15 places. How refreshing! With the exception of … Continue reading

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Best of 2015 Books

2015 has been a wonderful year for publishers and readers. My “Best of 2015” list consists of the books that I am most likely to read again. In the memoir category, Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgaard’s fourth volume of My Struggle … Continue reading

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“Poems arrive ready to begin. Poets are only the transportation.”

So often, I see my students take an adversarial stance when they sit down to write. They use phrases such as “grinding it out” and “forcing it” to describe how they work. Sometimes that’s been my experience, too. But does … Continue reading

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“Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days behind them like a skein of old wool.”

Today is Thanksgiving Day — the perfect time to acknowledge with gratitude The Writer’s Almanac,  American Life in Poetry, and the Poetry Foundation. These organizations email poems to thousands of people like me who wish to read new work by new … Continue reading

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“Maybe I didn’t live but endured — cast against my will into something hard to govern and impossible to grasp…”

Zbigniew Herbert was 15 when Germany invaded Poland. It’s hard to imagine what it was like to grow up in the resistance. He became one of the most respected poets of Poland, and had a tremendous influence on younger writers. … Continue reading

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“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.”

This is the last line from the poem “Vocation” by one of my favorite poets, William Stafford. He was an advocate of the process of discovery. In Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, he writes, “A writer is not so much someone … Continue reading

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“The light tastes like laughter.”

This metaphor is simple, and yet it packs a punch. It’s from the poem “The Town Where I Belong” in Faith Shearin‘s new collection Telling the Bees. Part of its power comes from the way three of the five senses … Continue reading

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