Thursday, April 10, 2014


Amiri Baraka

April is National Poetry Month.
In the last post, Women and Poets, I remembered and thanked women poets who have nurtured, inspired and taught me.
Today I remember and thank the male counterparts who have done the same.

your  intoxicating images
your intimidating and challenging ideas
...and your affirming phrases
 call me
to eat  your carefully crafted words
digesting them
like a last meal--
a precursor to the rest of my life
You serve a steady diet
of invitations to think
to read
to write...


In  The Golden Picture Book of Poems to Read & to Learn,  I met the first poet, the first man who seduced me with words- Robert Louis Stevenson.  I can still recite most of My Shadow from memory.  I never intentionally memorized it--I just read it so much that is seeped into my poetry bones.  Because I noticed shadows and their strange behavior as a kid, this poem resonated with me, along with the rest of poems about childhood, life and ordinary objects that this book contained.

Middle school brought the traditional studies, the myriad questions, and the potential to not understand, dislike, or even hate poetry. I wonder how many folks lost their appetite for poetry as they studied it in school..

Fortunately for me,  the  boredom and confusion experienced by some of my classmates passed me by, and I stuck around long enough with the verses and rhymes to discover that this "school poetry" was not the only kind of poetry.

 It was during this time that I discovered E.E. Cummings who ushered in a whole new perspective for me.   His poetry not only didn't rhyme, but looked exotic on the page, absent the punctuation and capitals that I had been told had to be there in each line. He invented words, combined symbols with letters, and placed them on the page in strange and puzzling ways.  2 Little Whos gives a taste of his uniqueness. See other poems by Cummings here.

The  beat poets of the 1950's, especially Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Alan Ginsberg showed me just how outrageous and  courageous, how controversial and honest-- how alive-- poetry could be. Discovering A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems was like coming home, yet visiting a new country simultaneously. Howl amazed me and took my breath away.  Can you really have these thoughts and write them down?

 This was definitely not the poetry we were reading  in school!

The poets of the Harlem Renaissance layed out the  pain, as well as the positives of Negro life in America.
Langston Hughes lamented our deferred dreams and also made us laugh .  Claude McKay spoke his  bold defiance in metaphors and similes.
Read Hughes's poem, Harlem (Dream Deferred) and McKay's If We Must Die.

The Black Arts Poets marched their pride, as well as their demand for rights and power, right down the middle of the Main Street and into the minds of a waiting Black America.  Their rhythms and words call us to hold heads high and claim our rightful places in history and American society.

Amiri Baraka  (Leroi Jones) was the only prince of poetry for me for many year and my personal introduction to this forerunner to rap and hip hop. We lost him this year -there is hole in my poetry landscape.
Read Baraka's Political Poem and History as Process.

As a child discovering poetry, I was fascinated with the notion that you could write about your ordinary walking-around life-  the situations in which your are involved, the people you encounter, the objects you see and touch... and the wonderings that haunt you.  As an adul,t Billy Collins and Samuel Hazo reinforced this truth.

Billy Collins  addresses the dreadful school poetry experiences I mentioned earlier in Introduction to Poetry. His Questions about Angels remains one of my favorite Collins' poems. That poem led me to buy my first collection of Billy Collins' poems and to continue to buy each new collection.

At a conference about ten year ago, I was sitting with friends after a full day of sessions, having a glass of wine, when I noticed a table of women all poring over the same book and laughing.  Each time they returned to the page the burst in new laughter.

 Finally, I got up and boldly went to their table to inquire -- I had to know  what they were reading.   Read the poem that had so captured them-- and me:  How Married People Argue by Samuel Hazo. What married person can read this and not nod and smile in recognition?

Once back in the exhibit hall, I went in search of The Holy Surprise of Right Now: Selected and New Poems the volume that contained this treasure.

 Several poets have taken me on journeys  to other lands --and into political and social situations not my own-- yet every body's.

Czelaw Milosz, writing through the lenses of his great faith,  bears witness to the political upheaval in his Poland and other parts of the world.
Read his poems Incantation and A Song on the End of the World.

Pablo Neruda brings his careful eye and beautiful words to his Chile. Against this political and geographic context he defines love and life, politics and war, leadership and writing.  My favorite volume of his poetry is   a bilingual collection.  I love comparing the original Spanish to the English translations.  Read one of my favorites, The Poet's Obligation, in both Spanish and English.

I continue to discover poets new to me.

My newest poet love--- Yehuda Amichai. His  lyrical, haunting poetry about his Israel is addictive.  I have been reading one of his poems each day.  They tend to be a bit long and one provides me  with plenty to think about for the remainder of the day.  Read his poem I Wasn't One of the Six Million: And What is My Life Span?  One Closed Open.

Much gratitude to you, gentlemen, for your words and work,  your ideas and inspiration, your truths and teachings.  You continue to inform my own poetry and writing.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

As we  continue to celebrate  National Poetry Month, reflect and remember those male poets that have offered you enjoyment, life lessons and writing insights.

Make a list of 5- 10 of these poets.

Which poems/books/lines have deep-reaching influence on you?

Write a thank-you letter to one of the poets on your list, letting him know just how much you have learned from him, ways you have applied the lesson,s and specific actions that his writing has fostered.

Write a poem to honor all of or one of the poets on your list.

No comments:

Post a Comment