— James Thurber
— James Thurber
“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
— Robert Frost
from the American Life in Poetry: Column 421
This column originates in Nebraska, and our office is about two hours’ drive from that stretch of the Platte River where thousands of sandhill cranes stop for a few weeks each year. Linda Hogan, one of our most respected Native writers and Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation, perfectly captures their magic and mystery in this fine poem.
The Sandhills by Linda Hogan
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem reprinted from Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, Ed. by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, The Univ. of Arizona Press, 2011, by permission of Linda Hogan and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.
A Chair in Snow
As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol
Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.
When a student tells you they “can’t learn a poem by heart,” you can show them this 3-year-old reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins.
Happy National Poetry Month!
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.
~ Billy Collins
In his poem “The Trouble With Poetry”, Billy Collins points out several things that trouble him about poetry. Collins is usually not totally serious and always somewhat serious about things.
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
but we keep on writing the poems. When will it end? Maybe not until
…there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.
Like good little students.
And later in the poem, Billy repays with a poetic nod a debt that goes back to high school for an image (perhaps several images) he stole from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.
And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment —
the bicycling poet of San Francisco
little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.
Pay it forward, poets.
"Art is what remains when the pot is broken." —Chinese proverb I know we are bound to the earth, and the cracked heart, old terra cotta, surrenders to vine. Listen—I've seen wind stir the hair of the dead at Belsen, growing like art from the lacing grass; what is terrible, even, rises. The ruined pot dreams of ignition, each molecule coddles its flame. Enough alphabet for a torah sits on the tongue. And all shards from the winds' end gather again. I know we are bound to the earth by desire's green thread or the milk snake's slippery pass. Hepatica splits now from its leaf-wing. Out of the vessel's wreck, inwardness forms on the air and that ghost tenderly enters the soul of some mortal thing.
It’s appropriate that Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac will have Billy Collins as its voice starting in June.
Billy - who has been featured on the Almanac many times and been on Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion program - will be filling in for Garrison for several months (maybe longer).
So, you will hear Billy reading the almanac and poem each day on The Writer’s Almanac on NPR. Billy will selecting the poems, so if you get the almanac poems in the daily email version of the Almanac, that’s Billy’s choice.
Billy’s newest book of poems will be Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems which is due out in October. It combines fifty new poems with selections from his four previous books
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti
— Billy Collins, whose 72nd birthday is today, March 22
Rain gone. Hills are void.
Night air. Autumn now.
Bright moon in the pines.
Clear stream on the stones.
A bamboo noise –
who heads home?
The lotus stirs –
who sets out?
Spring scents always go.
But you –
you must always stay.
A spring poem by birthday boy John Updike born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932.
When winter’s glaze is lifted from the greens,
And cups are freshly cut, and birdies sing,
Triumphantly the stifled golfer preens
In cleats and slacks once more, and checks his swing.
This year, he vows, his head will steady be,
His weight-shift smooth, his grip and stance ideal;
And so they are, until upon the tee
Befall the old contortions of the real.
So, too, the tennis-player, torpid from
Hibernal months of television sports,
Perfects his serve and feels his knees become
Sheer muscle in their unaccustomed shorts.
Right arm relaxed, the left controls the toss,
Which shall be high, so that the racket face
Shall at a certain angle sweep across
The floated sphere with gutty strings—an ace!
The mind’s eye sees it all until upon
The courts of life the faulty way we played
In other summers rolls back with the sun.
Hope springs eternally, but spring hopes fade.
Not knowing where the temple was,
I traveled miles on hills of cloud,
Through ancient pines, no good tracks,
Towards bell sounds across deep gorges.
Stream’s noise where rocks are high.
Cool sun in fir branches.
Sit at night by the mountain pool,
Seeking to reign in the Dragon.
by Wang Wei