Category Archives: poetry

“Is the soul solid, like iron?”

The poet Mary Oliver continues: “Or, is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?” With these questions, Oliver opens the poem “Some Questions You Might Ask,” which has inspired artists, videographers, … Continue reading

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“There is a great deal of poetry written and published today that turns its back (sometimes with apparent disdain) upon the reader.”

Who is poetry for?  What is its purpose?  If you like fist fights and barroom brawls, go ahead and ask poets and professors these questions.  You’ll see two sides emerge: One will agree with “the noted American poet” who said … Continue reading

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“The secret of all art, also of poetry, is, thus, distance.”

Czeslaw Milosz, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, continues, “Thanks to distance the past preserved in our memory is purified and embellished.”  We can consider the past “without our former passions”  so we can find “details that had escaped … Continue reading

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“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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