Sunday, June 25, 2017

Poems and Sandwiches

Like the bus passengers described in "The Moose," I feel a sense of awe when I read this poem. I worked in the tax management department of a publishing house in Washington, DC. The work was extremely tedious. My cubicle happened to be near a large conference room and whenever it was empty I’d take a shortcut through it on the way to the xerox machine or the library. Each time I walked through the conference room I’d think this would be perfect for a poetry reading. I started a poetry group that met during lunch hour. The large number of people who turned up for the first meeting surprised me. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who needed a break from tax legislation. I distributed copies of “The Moose” at this meeting. The poem’s exquisite craftsmanship and mystery still thrill me but I can’t think of it without remembering that huge conference table surrounded with kindred spirits, poems and sandwiches.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Getting Poetry

Yesterday, I was delighted to learn from the Academy of American Poets that they now have an embed feature on their website This means a poem that appears on their site may be shared on other websites. Thank you to those at the Academy responsible for this courtesy. Below is another excerpt from my personal anthology.

“What He Thought”
Heather McHugh

This poem begins with assumptions – “Of all he was the most politic--/and least poetic-- /so it seemed…” – and changes to enlightenment crystallized in its last two lines. McHugh uses enjambments to keep the poem moving forward and line breaks and parenthetical asides to cause pauses and emphasis. For example: “(we’d all put down our forks by now, to listen to/the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry” and the very last line of the poem is a one line stanza.

Except for fellow poets and several friends, people regard my writing poetry as some sort of hobby, like gardening or decoupage. In a culture as embroiled in consumerism and celebrity mania as America is, poetry is greatly undervalued. It is often thought of as something English majors and academics are fond of. It’s disheartening when I hear someone say “Poetry isn’t for me,” “I just don’t get poetry,” or “Are you still writing poetry?” But the next time someone looks askance when I say poetry matters, I’ll suggest they read Heather McHugh’s stunning poem.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Poet's Anthology

Several years ago I participated as a student and a teaching assistant in a poetry MOOC (massive open online course) taught by former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky. At the completion of "The Art of Poetry," each participant compiled an anthology of favorite poems. Over the next few weeks I'll post excerpts from my anthology. Some of the poems are very well-known as in this first post about "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry. Other selected poems are fairly obscure. The link to each poem follows my response to it. Occasionally, an entire poem appears by permission of the poet, or because it is in the public domain.

I hope you will enjoy reading the poems I chose for my anthology and my shared thoughts.


“The Peace of Wild Things”
Wendell Berry

In this one stanza free verse poem Wendell Berry speaks in the first person and he is speaking about the healing power of nature. Several years ago, I had a terrifying nightmare that left me nervous and upset. The following day I took my little dog for a walk in a nearby park. Suddenly, I heard the sound of pounding hooves so close I felt the vibrations in the ground caused by their power. Four beautiful white-tail deer galloped by! Awestruck, I stood very still and watched them till they disappeared in the woods. My dog was also still. No longer startled, I felt calm but not an ordinary calmness, something deeper and not easily described. The last line of “The Peace of Wild Things” came to me – “I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” I don’t remember the nightmare. I do remember the deer and Wendell Berry’s poem.

To read the poem click here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Remembering My Irish Grandmothers

In 1882, on a voyage from Ireland to America, my great grandmother Celia Sheridan died giving birth to her son, who also died. She was survived by her husband John Sheridan and their daughter Beatrice.

At Sea

for Celia Sheridan

Your husband holds your daughter’s hand
as he mumbles something about heaven,
angels very near them both, still,
listening, like sailors on watch.

I imagine you slender, with long hair,
laughing softly, even when so ill.
That is the silly thing we are taught,
to be brave instead of sad.
Were you a devout Catholic
or did you read the Tarot,
trembling when the death card turned?

Your gentleness which I am
suddenly certain of
is like a white rose in a clear vase.
I like to think you owned
at least one beautiful dress,
a young girl’s princess dress, soft, lace,
and so feminine those who saw you smiled.

I wish I had a photograph of you
in that perfect dress, young,

Irish, and susceptible to dreams.