The Final Day of #PoetryMonth

For the final day, a poem from my favorite poet, Wislawa Szymborska:

The End and the Beginning
BY WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA
TRANSLATED BY JOANNA TRZECIAK

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning” from Miracle Fair, translated by Joanna Trzeciak. Copyright © 2001 by Joanna Trzeciak. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: Miracle Fair: selected poems of Wisława Szymborska (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2001)

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All of Us or None

A German poet for the 29th day of #poetrymonth

All of Us or None by Bertolt Brecht

Slave, who is it that shall free you?
Those in deepest darkness lying.
Comrade, only these can see you
Only they can hear you crying.
Comrade, only slaves can free you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

You who hunger, who shall feed you?
If it’s bread you would be carving,
Come to us, we too are starving.
Come to us and let us lead you.
Only hungry men can feed you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Beaten man, who shall avenge you?
You, on whom the blows are falling,
Hear your wounded brothers calling.
Weakness gives us strength to lend you.
Come to us, we shall avenge you.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Who, oh wretched one, shall dare it?
He who can no longer bear it.
Counts the blows that arm his spirit.
Taught the time by need and sorrow,
Strikes today and not tomorrow.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
One alone his lot can’t better.
Either gun or fetter.
Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Literary Memes! Love!

So check out this meme floating around cyberspace:

poe amontillado

I thought this could be a great mini-assessment/fun idea for a “reading check” or to review short stories or share independent reading titles — have students create memes for the stories they’re reading!

Printing them out and putting them on the wall or a bulletin board would make for some great décor.  🙂 Plus, it’s a visual way to share texts to read and/or remind students what they’ve read!

James Baldwin, Nicky Finney, and Yusef Komunyakaa, NPM Days 26, 27 & 28

So this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending some Live Arts events in NYC to kick off the year of James Baldwin.  I attended a reading and discussion of James Baldwin’s poetry (based out of a book of poems just rereleased), which included 5 renowned poets on the panel.  So this Monday, the Poetry Month posting will be inspired by those poets currently at the top of their field. 🙂

Amen by James Baldwin

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yusef Komunyakaa, who was a gracious and incredibly sweet man.

From YouTube, his advice to young writers:

“To not be afraid of surprising oneself”

And one of my favorites:

Facing it by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

In addition, I met Nicky Finney, a 2011 National Book Award Winner in Poetry.

Here is her acceptance speech for that award (video includes introductions, speech begins around 4:45)

and a poem:

Heirloom by Nicky Finney

Sundown, the day nearly eaten away,

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step
into dying backyard light. Both hands

steal into the swollen summer air,
a blind reach into a blaze of acid,

ghost bloom of nacre & breast.
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple,

two piddling Radiator Charlies
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you,
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets,

well wedged beneath a two-by-four.

But I really didn’t think I would (ever leave),
stings before the ladder hits the ground.

I swat the familiar buzz away.
My good arm arcs and aims.

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day’s

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need.

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

Slacker Poster, Time for Poetry Catch-Up, NPM Days 17-25

As I’m sure you’ve noticed (or not . . .visitor numbers are low :)), I neglected NPM postings during Spring Break.

First, in honor of a belated birthday, that of Billy Shakes:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

And now . . . let’s play catch-up:

1. From the Poetry Foundation (and Target, apparently), a Teacher’s Poetry Guide for Black History Month.  It deals in three main subjects: Love and Compassion, Heritage and History, and On Being Black.  It includes poems and activities for students: Poetry Foundation Black History Month.

You could use this as it is or extend the subjects out to other poems and poets – other poets writing about identity, heritage, and compassion.

2. Hit some global issues with an article by the New York Times, “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry” or this longer look at Afghan Women’s Poetry in this poetry foundation article (with poems).

3. Have students explore annotated poetry (click yellow text to see pop-up annotations) or annotate poetry themselves at Rap Genius’s poetry genius.

4. Check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Lesson Plans that combine music with the social, literary, and political going-ons of its time.  Selections include Langston Hughes and the Blues, Popular Music and the Civil Rights Movement, Music and Protest, Vietnam War, Cold War, etc . . .  (remember – music as poetry totally works!),   This is one of my favorite resources.

5. A video from EduTopia about Empowering Authentic Voice through Spoken Word Poetry  that looks at one student working with YouthSpeaks and learning how to use her life as her primary text.  Great to open a discussion about poetry, why we write it and perform it and how we find ideas for our poems.  Would work as an introduction to spoken word poetry or poetry in general.

6. YouthSpeaks’s Brave New Voices (featured on HBO) includes videos (watch here) of students’ performances at the finals.  It is nice for students to see what other teens are writing about and how they are performing.

7. The National Writing Project’s long list of resources (many are articles, but the ideas may spark something!) for Teaching, Reading, and Writing Poetry.

For Strength, Survival, Grief and Moving On . . . Day 16 of NPM

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Here’s an incredible “Dear World” site with messages and photos of survivors.  It’s just moving to see . . . there are longer messages accompanying the pictures, but the main message is written on the bodies of the survivors.  Might be interesting to share with students and open up a dialogue about strength, survival, grief, and moving on.

boston marathon

And a few poems that might suit those discussions:

Still Start by Kay Ryan

As if engine
parts could be
wrenched out
at random and
the car would
still start and
sound even,
hearts can go
with chambers
broken open.

Source: Poetry (May 2013).

 

A Nation’s Strength by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

 

I Have to Tell you by Dorothea Grossman

I have to tell you,
there are times when
the sun strikes me
like a gong,
and I remember everything,
even your ears.

Source: Poetry (March 2010)

 

We Are Seven  by William Wordsworth
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

 

I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

 

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

 

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

 

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

 

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

 

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

 

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

 

“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

 

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

 

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

 

“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

 

“The first that dies was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

 

“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

 

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

 

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”

 

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”