Find all of the poems and commentary from our 2022 National Poetry Month celebration here. For today’s poetry selection, visit the 30 Days, 30 Poems page.
April 1, 2022
Poem for the First Day of the Poetry Unit in Language Arts
While many people approach poetry with trepidation, it doen’t have to be scary. I like the message in this poem about telling your story, your way because it’s a story that deserves to be told, no matter what you do with it. It seems like a good way to begin National Poetry Month. Enjoy-Erika
April 2, 2022
To hear Seamus Heaney read more of his work, check out this video.
Nominated by 2 Rules columnist Huiwen Shi, she chose this poem because, “‘Blackberry Picking’ is a great poem for teaching.”
The themes of youth, aging and nostalgia in “Blackberry Picking” go well with this thought on poetry in general that Wen shared with us, “For me, poetry is moments of powerful feelings and essential revelations. Crystalized life events sealed in a treasure box.”
Does this poem inspire nostalgia for you? Some thing else? Share your thoughts with us.
April 3, 2022
Many of us are familiar with some of Walt Whitman’s poems. Perhaps we’ve read O Captain, My Captain or Song of Myself.
My first exposure to Whitman was actually reading I Sing the Body Electric after seeing the movie Fame as a child.
This particular poem talks directly to readers and is filled with sensual language and imagery and really lets us connect with how much Whitman was focused on the eroticism of the physical body and the phsiycality of human connection. -Erika
April 5, 2022
2 Rules co-founder Adam shares his thoughts on The Iliad.
So. The Iliad. What is there to say about a poem that’s old enough to have had everything said about it? Only Gilgamesh is older (by a thousand years, no less) and the Mahabharata is conjectured to be around the same age.
If you’re reading this, you probably have heard of the Iliad but never got around to reading it. You’re curious enough to read this but are wondering why you should bother with some five hundred pages of politics and bloodshed between countries that can’t properly be said to exist anymore.
Ok. So here’s my first thought: you don’t have to. Nothing says you have to read the Iliad to be a good person or an educated person. You can also read a bit and then put it down. You can skip most of Book 2 the first time through. You can use an audiobook. You’ve got options.
But if you do try it, you’ll find that the central themes are still pertinent. Achilles is fundamentally just afraid to die. He is half-god. And he has been informed by his mother (the Goddess Thetis) that he has a choice: he can go to Troy and die with honor and live forever in name. Or he can live a long life and die in relative obscurity. Though there is no mention of this in the text, Achilles is the youngest of the Trojan heroes. So of course he thinks he is immortal already. So he chooses adventure.
Then he gets to Troy and finds out that war isn’t fun. Shocker. He’s good at it. But his commanding officers don’t respect him. And what’s the point of dying to win respect if he doesn’t get no respect?
My other favorite theme is that Achilles responds to this lack of respect by trying to act like a god. He removes himself from human concerns. His fellow soldiers are dying like flies on the battlefield. Troy’s greatest heroes are closing in. And Achilles is playing his lyre.
Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if we could just check out like that? But it turns out there is someone he cares about: Patroclus. And Patroclus is not able to remove himself from human concerns; or doesn’t want to. Which means that neither can Achilles. And so in the last third of the epic, he finds his way back to human concerns. He rediscovers his ability to care. He also tries to murder a river. Nobody’s perfect.
When I have been at my most numb. At my most removed from human concerns, it has often been just one or two people who have provided that link back to my authentic self. And if it does feel odd relating so heavily to a fictional character who lived some 3200 years ago and finally had his story written down some 2800 years ago… well, that’s life.
If you’re looking for an edition worth your while… most of them are. I happen to really like Stanley Lombardo’s translation. He developed it through live performance, which is how the Iliad was meant to be delivered. But that’s not to take away from the excellent renderings by Robert Fagles, Richmond Lattimore, and even the older ones like George Chapman (late 1500s). Still readable. Still powerful. Just like its source material.
April 6, 2022
There’s been a great deal of talk lately about queer people and visibility. Sometimes being out feels victorious. Other times it’s a struggle to balance being out and visible with the fear and stress that comes with that choice. As important as it is to recognize the need for queer kids to have queer role models, it’s also important to honor what that means to the adults who choose to be visible.
April 8, 2022
Nominated by 2 Rules follower Rob Edmunds (@RobEdmunds11) this poem shares with us a poet considering his own legacy. Here’s what Rob has to say about why he nominated it: “I have a couple of reasons for nominating this poem. The first is that I relate to it in terms of my own experiences as a writer in the “still night” when others are asleep. I often think of fellow writers doing the same thing as me at these times, looking for inspiration in the quiet early hours. I also have a geographic connection with Dylan Thomas. I work about half a mile from where he was born and grew up and I have an affinity for his work as someone from the same city as he was from.”
April 9, 2022
Another nomination from 2 Rules follower W.L. Willis Bell (@Twitz_end), this time from one of the great conofessional poets, Anne Sexton.
“I admire and am deeply moved by Anne Sexton’s courageous, confessional writing. I’m glad she contributed this poem with which countless women can identify.”
April 10, 2022
April 11, 2022
Today’s poem comes from 2 Rules co-founder Adam, who wrote quite a bit about the sonnets.
There are so many different ways to study a poet. You can study Shakespeare. And yes, that’s enough. But if you’re an academic looking to specialize, just reading Shakespeare’s works and interpreting them won’t get you published. Because that’s been done. So if Shakespeare is your jam, you start casting about for an angle. One angle might be reception history. And one facet of Shakespeare’s reception history that I wish I knew is: when did they start teaching Sonnet 20 in high schools? I remember learning it clear as day. But for all I know they began teaching it the previous year in my school. And in other schools, it’s 2022 and they still won’t touch it.
I remember this lesson because it surprised me that the poet of this sonnet was queer. And it surprised me that we were acknowledging it. Talking about it. Right there in English class. We discussed the fact that “A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted” is not something you’d say to a woman. Because that would be redundant? Perhaps to a girl who has grown up. Or perhaps to a boy whom the poet regards as being beautiful as a woman. The next line decides which of those options it must be: “The master-mistress of my passion.” This is without a doubt a sonnet to a man with a beautiful, effeminate face.
Shakespeare is a great example of a poet you could pretend is straight. If you put some effort into living in denial. None of his plays are explicitly about queer relationships. Contrast that with Shakespeare’s contemporary, Marlowe, who wrote a play about (one of) England’s queerest king(s). So you could easily read his thirty-something plays, his long poems, perhaps a heteronormative version of his biography. And you would think: he was married to a woman with three kids and maybe had some fun on the side the way showbiz-types often do. And that was it. You’d miss out on some of his best poems.
It’s not just the ones that are explicit, like this one is. Sonnet 20 is the gateway to wondering about the rest of his works. Where else in Shakespeare’s poetry do we see this side of him on display? Sonnet 30? (“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past…”) Sonnet 73? (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few doe hang…”)
Part of the fun of Shakespeare is conjecturing what he was thinking about when he wrote his works. We will likely never know for certain. But it’s still part of the fun.
In any case, it’s important to teach the whole writer. If a writer was queer, let your students, your readers, your children know. If a writer has some good poems and some bad? Show them. If a writer had a dark side? Even then. Try, as best you can, to teach the whole writer.
April 12, 2022
For my regular Monday column yesterday, I shared a piece called “Kissing Rosalyn”–an essay about the first time that I kissed a girl.
What I love about this poem is how it brings me back to many of the euphoric feelings I experienced in that moment. Not the shame or the fear, but all the good parts. It’s a poem I loved the first time I read it because of the instantaneous connection I had with the words. No guesswork. No looking for hidden meanings. Just that incredible feeling of a first kiss.
April 13, 2022
We use the ruins of Tintern Abbey as the photo-backdrop for several features of our literary enterprise, including our Facebook page and our Twitter page. That’s not by accident. “Lines Written… Above Tintern Abbey” was one of the first poems I ever read in college. The first professor whose teaching I ever really fell in love with was a poetry professor, and she had a lot to say about all of the English Romantics, Wordsworth not least. So in a way, for me, Tintern Abbey was where it all started. It’s also, if you can manage to read and reread its 159 lines, a really beautiful explanation of how the human mind works from moment to moment.
Notice how the poem begins with the poet greeting the Welsh countryside: the Wye River, the woods near Tintern Abbey. But immediately his mind drifts to other times in his life where the cares of the world forced him to seek a moment’s peace and solitude. And when that need arose, his mind, so he says, drifted back to his memories of the Wye River and the woods near Tintern Abbey.
He’s there, though. He’s right there. From the perspective of the poem, he is bodily present in the woods near Tintern Abbey. He should not need to remember being somewhere else, remembering where he already is. And yet that’s how his mind works. The thoughts that cross his mind are of his memories of the place where he is currently located, which he would recollect while he was elsewhere.
And this is exactly right. Apart from any religious sentiments Wordsworth supports, he seems to invest in an idea of holiness that is cultivated rather than fixed. Instead of venerating Jerusalem or Rome or Wittenburg, it’s the Wye, the abbey, and the woods that are the bedrock of his life. His infrequent visits reinforce each other. And they reinforce the memories he has of them when he is away. And those recollections, no, the memory of those recollections, further serves to reinforce his love of this place. But he does not neglect the fact that he is here, making new memories. So he also thinks about how, in the future, he will be able to access the new memories from this very visit and so ease his hours. And also strengthen his connection to the land.
A third piece to this already-complicated prism is the fact that his sister has joined him on this pilgrimage. She has never been here before, and so he can see the place as if with fresh eyes, thanks to her.
Next time you are in a place you really want to be… having lunch with a dear friend perhaps? Or visiting a beloved landmark? Or even sitting in your Covid-enforced seclusion listening to a favorite song. You may take a moment to interrogate whether your thinking works this way, too. Do you, like Wordsworth, think back to the last time you experienced this friend, this landmark, this piece of music? Do you, like Wordsworth, take it one step further to include someone else’s experiences in your own? And do you take it yet another step further to imagine where you will be the next time your memories of this event return to you? What maladies and miseries those memories will soothe?
Give it a try. What do you lose by trying? You only live once. Or maybe that’s not true after all. Maybe you live multiple lives simultaneously, and there is poetry in seeing how those strands reinforce each other. -Adam
April 14, 2022
Nominated by 2 Rules reader Rob Edmunds (@RobEdmunds11) this seems like a fitting message as we head into holiday observances for many people. Of the poem, Rob says, “I’d like to nominate this poem for the wealth of advice that is offered within it. My parents had a copy of it in their bedroom and I would often read it as a child and think about the guidance it offers about how to live, perceive and contribute to the world around you. It may not be the most lyrical or poignant poem, but for the messages, consolations and encouragements within it, there is none to match it, at least not in my view.”
April 15, 2022
Contrapuntal poetry is a fascinating and complex piece of art. Two columns, side by side, which can be read individually or straight across.
It’s a fascinating style of poem to read, but a totally different experiece when read aloud (in this case, by the poet.)
Are you familiar with this style of poetry? How do you approach reading it when you see it on the page for the first time?
April 16, 2022
Today’s poem was chosen by Adam, who also contributed the translation.
Content Warning: Sexual Assault.
What do you do when your favorite poet lets you down?
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So. Some twenty years ago, in the exuberance of youth, I memorized a poem in Spanish: “Tus Pies” by Pablo Neruda
Cuando no puedo mirar tu cara
Miro tus pies
Tus pies de hueso arqueado
Tus pequeños pies duros
Yo sé que te sostienen
Y que tu dulce peso
Sobre ellos se levanta
Tu cintura y tus pechos
La duplicada púrpura de tus pezones
La caja de tus ojos que recién han volado
Tu ancha boca de fruta
Tu cabellera roja
Pequeña torre mía
Pero no amo tus pies
Sino porque anduvieron
Sobre la tierra y sobre
El viento y sobre el agua
Hasta que me encontraron
Translation (by me… but it’s similar to a lot of sources on the internet, because the language of this poem is very simple): When I can’t look at your face, I look at your feet. Your feet of arched bone. Your strong little feet. I know that they sustain you and that your sweet weight hovers over them. Your waist and your breasts. The double-purple of your niples. The sockets of your eyes that have just flown away. Your wide fruit mouth. Your red hair. My small castle. But I don’t love your feet except that they walked over the land and over the air and over the water until they found me.
To my ears it’s an odd poem. And it gets odder with the distance of memory. It feels so grounded and affectionate that the little notes of what sound to my ear like surrealism (but might just be idiomatic Spanish that I don’t understand) feel jarring. What does “The sockets of your eyes that have just flown away” mean? Have the eyes flown away? The sockets? How have they…?
But that’s not why I’m bringing it up. Neruda was considered a great man. Poet. Politician. Figure for the Chilean resistance against fascism. And while he was in diplomatic service in Sri Lanka, he raped his Tamil housekeeper. And then he wrote about it in his memoirs. The episode takes up a few lines and concludes with: “she was right to despise me. The incident was not repeated.” So much for apologies. I assume she had to continue to work there for as long as his residence lasted. And perhaps to occasionally read about him (after he left) in Tamil-language newspapers. It’s sickening.
I used to love the way his poems felt in my mouth as I recited them.
I don’t yet know what to feel about a person who opposes fascism but practices this kind of tyranny and brutality in their personal life. But at the very least let such a person be undistinguished. Let such a person not rise to the top of a movement; become its figurehead; ultimately, its liability.
April 17, 2022
The first poet most people think of when they hear the phrase “Beat Poet” is probably Allen Ginsberg, “Howl” is probably one of the first Beat Poems we read or hear as we begin to study Beat Poetry. In fact, most of our study of Beat Poetry seems to be dominated by the voices of men. We think of Gregory Corso or Lawrence Ferlinghetti alongside Ginsberg.
My introduction to Beat Poetry began with Ginsberg’s Howl and grew from there-Ferlinghetti, Corso, Amiri Baraka, along with the stories of Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouack. And at the same time I began exploring Beat Poetry, I was also beginning to read more poetry by contemporary women, beginning with voices like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I loved getting to know the voices of women a little more, to feel more of my experience reflected in the words I was reading. Still, there was a formality to their words, as if they were following rules about how to write a “real” poem. The poems were good, but they felt constrained. Restricted in a way.
And then I happened across Diane DiPrima in an anthology of Beat Poetry. Today’s poem, “Song for BabyO, Unborn” was like fireworks. I’d never quite read anything like it. Something that said to me, “Good poetry can move you and doesn’t require that you follow rules or color inside the lines.”
Reading Diane DiPrima gave me persmission to write poetry in a new way. In a sense, her poem about an unborn baby gave birth to a new vision of myself as a writer and a poet.
April 18, 2022
When I first began to envision this 30 Days, 30 Poems project, I had a few goals in mind: to encourage more people to read poetry, to encourage those who might already read poetry to read work from poets they were unfamiliar with, and to encourage people, including myself to dig deeper into the work of familiar poets.
For today’s poem though, I’ve chosen something very familiar. Today is the birthday of someone very special, and ever since they were about four years old, we’ve read this poem today, on their birthday. Poetry is a great tool to help teach the skills needed to read. Patterns, rhyming words, rhythm are all important for readers, and poetry helps make that accessible.
April 19, 2022
2 Rules reader Mark Danowsky submitted a nomination for Mary Ann Samyn’s poem, “I want you to Scream It” with the comment, “It’s perfect. This captures MAS’ understated humor.”
I was looking forward to reading it, but alas, it wasn’t available online anywhere. After exchanging a few messages, Mark suggested “West Virginia, or what do you want me to say” as a poem to link to but strongly advises us to read more of this poet’s work. The original poem he suggested can be found in the book, Beauty Breaks In.
April 20, 2022
Friend of 2 Rules Bente Videbaek (who also provides excellent recommendations for sci-fi, fantasy and early modern drama) sent this recommendation for seventeenth century satirist and metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell. Her note to us said, “Andrew Marvell wrote four ‘Mower’ songs. This is my favorite. Juliana has the same effect on the Mower (Daemon) as his scythe has on the grass of the meadow. The poem both reflects the effect of the woman on our Mower and his reluctant accept of being ‘mown down’ by her. Enjoy!”
Are you familiar with Andrew Marvell? With work beyond “To his Coy Mistress?” Which of the Mower songs do you enjoy most?
April 21, 2022
Tomorrow is Earth Day. When I considered the options for a poem or poet celebrating something that made me think of Earth Day, I was absolutely oerwhelmed. I could have drowned in the options, never actulaly making a decision. Nature, after all, is the inspiraion for so much poetry–even my own sometimes. I had a few things in mind though, and decided I’d wait and see what kind of mood I was in when it was time for me to post the daily poem, and what spoke to me most on that day. As I do most days though, I checked out the video from Button Poetry on YouTube. Well, my plans flew right out the window when I heard this poem from Andrea Gibson. Not only do I love reading their work, but listening to them perform their work is like meditation to me. Gibson’s poems often feel like a journey through my own history, expressed far more beautifully than I am able to.
I hope you’re as moved by this poem as I was.
April 22, 2022
Ginsberg was probably the first poet I encountered outside of the classroom. I was in 7th grade. I had no context for what he and his cronies were rebelling against. I didn’t know that “beat” was an adjective or what it meant. I wasn’t much into pot or heroin (still am not). But what I knew was that poems like “Marriage” by Corso and “America” by Ginsberg and “Song for Baby-O Unborn” by Diane DiPrima were fun. They felt good to pronounce. There was something in my body that celebrated being able to recite such poetry.
But for me, Ginsberg will always be associated with Beat Poetry Night at Columbia. We used to gather in a little room in the basement of St. Paul’s Chapel and just read each other poetry for hours. Then finish the whole evening off at the stroke of midnight by reciting “Howl” at the top of our voices from the steps in front of Low Library. How much did our voices carry? Depends on what you mean. I doubt that we could be heard on the other side of the campus. But I can still hear us. -Adam
Adam and I collaborate well on many projects. Our taste in poetry however, is quite divergent. I’m an avid reader of contemporary poetry, something which he freely talks about not connecting with. One of our first really intense conversations about literature that wasn’t part of our student-teacher dynamic though, centered on the work of Allen Ginsberg. As a teenager, I found my way to his work after reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Naked Lunch–I wasn’t an avid poetry reader at the time, but it was, in part, tumbling into the words of Ginsberg, sitting with friends reading “Howl” aloud together that drew me into the world of reading modern and contemporary poetry. I can only imagine how reading it must have helped improve the melancholy, self-centered and awkwardly adolescent poetry I was writing at the time, too. Ginsberg’s “Howl” drew me into a world where poetry didn’t have to follow the rules I thought it did. It told stories the way the Odyssey or Iliad were supposed to but in ways that I connected with, unlike the ancient poetry.
This particular poem talks about the edge between crisis and empowerment. I first encountered it around the time that we were entering the first Gulf War–at a time when I was figuring out how frustrated and powerless I felt at being almost but not quite old enough to vote. It was a time when optimism drove the idea that I might someday have the power to make real change that mattered or to see real change in the world. Some thirty years later, I look back and see what that changed landscape really looks like. And I wonder too, about “the best minds of my generation.” -Erika
April 23, 2022
Lord Alfred Tennson’s “Ulysses” comes to us today, courtesy of 2 Rules reader Louise.
I was introduced to my favourite poem, Ulysses, in the book To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Science Fiction writer, Robert Heinlein. That title was from a line in Ulysses, a poem about an old warrior.
… for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It’s been a long time since I read Heinlein, except for a recent nostalgic foray, and his writing is pretty dated now. But if you can get past the patriarchy, his stories are brilliant.
If memory serves, he had a few quotes from Ulysses in there.
And if he didn’t, I’ll still love this segment:
I am a part of all that I have met; We are made up of all our experiences
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades A glimpse into the world of the creative
For ever and for ever when I move.
Poetry is all about evoking emotion. Evoking emotion in as few and simple words as possible. The thing I love about this poem is the most simple of words that Tennyson uses to express the most complicated of emotions.
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
…To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
And these final lines:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Simple words, simple language, to express the most elegant of thoughts. This to me is the essence of poetry. Simple words, like bricks, used to build a shining palace.
I believe that Tennyson was speaking of himself too, in this poem, and we can all relate. If we don’t start off as old warriors, by the time Life and the world get finished with us, we are.
“Ulysses” is well worth the read and reread. And contemplative reread after that.
Try it and see.
April 24, 2022
We’re coming to the close of our celebration of National Poetry Month and it’s been an exciting trip. We return to another suggestion from 2 Rules reader W.L. Willis Bell (Twitz_End) today with Margaret Atwood’s “Asparagus.”
We’re so grateful to our readers and followers who took time to share their favorites, along with commentary like this, “I love the vibrant imagery and the flow of the poem and the narrator’s unconventional take at the end. This is one of my favorite Margaret Atwood poems.”
April 25, 2022
In addition to being National Poetry Month, April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I’ve written several pieces for 2 Rules about my own exerience as a survivor. DIscussions about sexual assault are often framed in very binary ways-men are perpetrators, women are victims. We know that sexual violence can happen to anyone.
This poem was not easy for me to listen to. The feelings were all too familiar, the questions were ones I’d been asked or asked of myself. It’s personal, intense and powerful while bringing to the forefront the strength of a survivor. I only hope my words are healing and helpful the way these words have been for me.
April 26, 2022
This poem comes to us from our friends at the Jewish Poetry Project, which is part of Ben Yehuda Press. It was one of the first nominations sent to us, and while I loved the poem, I couldn’t figure out what to say about it when I shared it. Then I wrote yesterday’s column, and it turned out there was a reason I hadn’t figured out how to share the poem yet–today was the day I needed to read about forgiveness.
April 27, 2022
While chatting with 2 Rules friend (and OneArtPoetry Editor in Chief) Mark Danowsky about his nomination of Mary Ann Samyn, he mentioned that he’d also like to nominate today’s poet, Natalie Homer. Once again, he left the choice of poems up to me. As someone who pays attention to small details, this poem stirred some strong emotions for me.
April 28, 2022
Recently I was introduced to the work of Yehuda Amichai. Born in Germany, he fled to Israel at age 12 with his family to escape Hitler’s rise to power. His poetry, translated from Hebrew, shares similarities with some of my favorite modern English language poets.
While he has written poems specifically addressing the Holocaust, and it would certainly be fitting to share one of those today, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Rememberance Day) it is not only on Yom HaShoah that we must heed the refrain “Never again,” but we must do it every day. And so, I bring you this poem, one that asks us to look at who we are all the time, and to make sure that we are the kind of people who will always remember how to live “Never Again.”
April 29, 2022
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is probably one of the first really spooky pieces of classic literature we interact with. Our friend Morgan Sloan nominated it for us today and provided a wonderful reading of it if you refer to listen to poetry or to listen while you read.
Do we really understand the madness? The grief? Is the thrill for us on first reading the frightening nature or a connection with the story being told? Does it matter?
And did anyone else hope that the cry of a raven really did sound like “nevermore?”
April 30, 2022
When I thought about the final day of National Poetry Month and how to end our 30 Days, 30 Poems project, I thought about something spectacular like Chaucer. But then I thought, “how do you talk about everything that Chaucer means in just this small space?”
There’s no way that I could have done it on my own, and certainly not once I invited Adam’s commentary in as well. We’ll have to talk Chaucer another time, but in the meantime, go read Canterbury Tales. I’m sure Adam can recommend a good edition. Just Tweet us or something.
I was still left with the question of how to conclude this month of celebrating poetry.
As I thought about it, I realized that for me, poetry is about possibilities. It’s different from reading stories which wrap up their endings neatly. Poetry leaves questions on the table, room for uncertainty and interpretation. And so, for this last day, I’m sharing this Mary Oliver poem, which centers on nature (a common theme in poetry) but simultaneously asks us to consider how we have lived already and what our possibilities are for the future.
May you have adventures as vast as the stars in the sky and always find just what you need. Thank you for sharing this month with us. -Erika