Find poems and commentary from our 2023 National Poetry Month celebration here. For today’s poetry selection visit the 2023 30 Days, 30 Poems page.
April 1, 2023
We like to kick off 30 Days 30 Poems with a poem about poetry. The right thing to do would have been to pick a poem for this purpose that comes from a poet who comes from a marginalized community. But when we found this poem we just couldn’t stop laughing and so here you are and we’ll do better next year.
What’s so striking about this poem is twofold. One, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Or at least it was to me when I read it. Two is the graceful way in which it handles that ubiquitous worry that poetry is no longer relevant in the world… but it takes the form of a poem that nobody could argue is irrelevant. It’s too silly; too sweet; too down-to-earth. It reads like a pitch for a sitcom but without being insipid.
The third thing–did I say twofold? I meant threefold. It’s fine. We’ll edit that out in post–is that I can picture myself at the poetry reading with him. There is something about a poetry reading. You can’t listen to every poem with full attention. Sometimes that’s because there are just too many of them for your attention span. But sometimes it’s because you’re excited to be there and your creativity is firing on all cylinders and you just have to jot something of your own down. Maybe you’ll even read it right there at the same reading in all its rawness and newness.
I’d like to think that he read that poem at that reading. And, when he was done, someone with very, very nice legs walked up to him and slapped him full in the face, spilling his flute of white wine and knocking his horn-rimmed glasses to the floor.
Welcome to 30 Days 30 Poems.
(Erika says ‘hi.’ This is mostly her project so it’s not like you won’t see her if you stick around.)
April 2, 2023
This morning, as I was eating breakfast, Facebook messenger interrupted me with a “ding.” It was my friend Laura, responding to a message I’d sent her last night. One of those pictures where you don’t actually have to explain why you’re sending it, the other person just knows. Later, she tagged me in the comments of someone’s Facebook post, and I just knew why.
Tonight, the partner of a friend (okay, an ex) put aside their differences, their worries about any intentions I might still have (none, but it’s kind of nice to know that whatever has been said about me makes someone worry like that,) to make sure I was aware of some very sad news regarding my ex’s health, because that’s what my ex wants. And although it took time after our breakup, it’s always been another one of those “you just know” kinds of relationships.
And in between, I exchanged messages with other friends. Things that made us laugh, things that made us say “how can I help,” or even just “hi, I haven’t talked to you for a while.”
To have friends like these, passionate, deep, loving friendships, like Tolkien’s Merry and Pippin, is one of the things that makes life so beautiful.
I hope that you, too, have people in your life who you say these words to, and who speak the same about you.
I know you
I see you
I hear you.
April 3, 2023
This is a hard piece for me to talk about because I used to write poetry in the same style as this. But this one is better. Leonard Cohen’s most famous two or three songs (“Bird on a Wire,” “Hallelujah,” “Democracy is Coming to the USA,” etc.) get used out of context in mainstream films so often that it’s easy for the… Jewiness of his work to occasionally take you by surprise. I would posit that this song–these lyrics, I mean–cannot be understood except in the context of Hebrew praise-poetry, whether from the medieval era or even earlier. Here’s an example from the Book of Jeremiah:
O House of Israel, can I not deal with you like this potter?—says the LORD. Just like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in My hands, O House of Israel!
The translation is a bit stilted, but notice the rhythmic repetition, the use of metaphor. Jeremiah is powerful stuff, but you find yourself wishing as you read something like this that someone could take that prophetic fire and bring it directly to English, without a bunch of translators–those ham-handed stevedores–roughing it up in the process. Well, you’re in luck…
April 4, 2023
Justice is on my mind today. It’s the fifty fifth anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also the day that in America we are experiencing an unprecedented historical event–the indictment of a former president. There’s also a judicial election in Wisconsin today. I went through a lot of options, to find the right poem about justice, but came back again and again to one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes. I’ve shared it on July 4th on my own Facebook a few times.
I love this poem because it’s both truthful about the ways America is not a just society, about where we fall short, but it does that while still holding on to the idea that we have the capacity to be better. “America never was America to me,” immediately followed by “And yet I swear this oath–America will be!” Critical and hopeful but also bearing responsibility for being part of the solution.
Poetry captures moments, and today I wanted to capture thoughts about justice. It tells our stories, and today is full of them. But what about the stories we aren’t told? When we study poetry or literature, what we don’t learn is as telling as what we do. We study Whitman, but we may not learn about the queer parts or the fascination with Black bodies for sale. We study Baldwin, but he’s taught as a Black writer but not as a revolutionary queer writer. We often study Langston Hughes as a great Black writer, but don’t hear much about his travel through the USSR or his involvement with socialist and Communist causes, even though he testified before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. We don’t talk much about putative policing and the story “Thank You Ma’am.” What nuance and meaning do we lose when we talk about these poems without that context? How much richer might our conversations be if we remembered it?
-Erika Grumet, MSW
April 5, 2023
It’s always a humbling experience to read poetry in translation. It’s an invitation to learn.
Learning is always simultaneously a humbling and exalting experience. It transforms you into a child again, and, like a child, gives you the ability to grow. And the ability to grow is what makes us human.
But just because it is in another language does not mean it stops being a poem. There are the linguistic issues (most of them insoluble without becoming proficient in Urdu, and some of the insoluble even then). And then there are the poetic issues. Faiz’s dismal view of autumn, so different from the way poets normally depict that season, reflects a sliver of truth we don’t often confront. Autumn is traditionally a time of joy because it is associated with harvest; with having enough food to survive the winter. But in Faiz’s hands, it comes to evoke war and the reaping of innocent human bodies. And it becomes the occasion for a religiously inflected outcry against the cycle of violence that war brings.
There is so much to discuss here. But all I will say is that reading this poem broke my heart. That’s not the only function a poem can perform, but it is a valuable function. A broken heart can heal and grow in ways that an unbroken heart cannot.-
Adam Katz, PhD
April 6, 2023
There are so many poems and poets I love that I couldn’t fit them all in and have space for Adam’s choices and for the poems nominated by our readers. If I kept all of the thirty days for myself, I’d be sabotaging some of the reasons I created this project in the first place. Still, tonight I was on my own for making a selection and no matter what I read, nothing fit tonight. I read through offerings from many of my favorites. And then I read through my list of other poems that I might want to use for the year. And the list of nominations from our readers. Nothing stood out. Nothing said “Tonight is the night to share your thoughts about me.” I was getting very frustrated. Not only could I not find a poem but I also haven’t been able to get through the other work I’m trying to finish. .
I was feeling the pressure of time. I still am. I have a deadline for Friday. Time is running out on a difficult conversation I need to have.. And it’s a year when Passover, Easter and Ramadan all happen at the same time.(which happens only about once every thirty years.) All different ways we mark time. And while I was thinking about this, I was thinking about how much I want to make sure to include Khalil Gibran.
I first read Khalil Gibran just before I left for my first year in college. My high school best friend and I were exchanging gifts just before I left for school. I gave her a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. She gave me a copy of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. Clearly, we were both thinking about wisdom that would take us through the rest of our lives, about love, loss, time and friendship.
I’ve read The Prophet again and again, when things are going well and when they aren’t. The whole book is a deep reflection on spirituality and meaning, and finding your place in the universe. Tonight, I just want to look at one small piece. Just a few, short lines.
“You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.”
“Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,”
We can mark days on a calendar, hours on a watch, minutes on an egg timer, and still not know how much time we have. Like space we don’t know when it begins, or when it ends. And in our own lives, which are only a small measure of time overall, we don’t even have the consciousness to remember our beginnings, to mark the start of our own time. We rely on others to mark that time. And by that same token, we can’t mark our own endings either. We can’t share our endings with the people we love because they’re our endings, and our loved ones are left to mark them without us.
The difficult conversation I have to have will mark another transition in my life. It’s the beginning of a path to a great loss. An unavoidable one. I cannot ignore the fact that no one can measure the time I have left to do it, only that the time to do it is limited.
For tonight, I will use some of my time to share a poem. Which is something I love. And which, perhaps, will help me make sure to make the time to stop avoiding the difficult conversation before the time runs out.
-Erika Grumet MSW
April 7, 2023
Scott’s MInstrelsy of the Scottish Border first came out in 1802, with the editions getting bigger and bigger until his death 30 years later. I’ve followed my usual approach as with other poetry–I have read deeply rather than broadly. So I’m not an expert in the Scottish border ballads. But this one at least I have read so many times that I have it memorized.
The thing that comes across most clearly is that places that are now considered more-or-less geographically stable are anything but. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for over four hundred years (they didn’t always call it the UK). But before that it was a constant war-zone as English and Scot vied for control of important rivers and defensible places. Of course it was those too poor to avoid military service or to afford a decent set of armor who suffered most.
And out of that uncertainty comes a poetics of uncertainty. Is the Wife of Usher Well a witch? Are her three boys ghosts? Why did they go over the sea? War? Trade? Maybe even exploration or whaling? Yes this poem is a fragment and perhaps these questions would be answered in a more complete version. What “sair pain” awaits the boys? Are they condemned to hell or just obligated by rules different from those that apply to the living?
This poem reminds me of nothing so much as that short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs in which a lost loved one returns only long enough to remind his family how griefstricken they are by his passing.
My overwhelming feeling when I read or recite this poem is that of consolation. Consolation that there are others who have felt grief so hard that it seemed to them a lost love or family-member was in the room… until the moment passed and the loss felt deeper than ever.
April 8, 2023
For poets, work is art is work. The relationship becomes very complicated. It becomes difficult, perhaps impossible even, to separate yourself from that work. While I’m hesitant to call myself a poet, I find that I’m constantly feeling the pull towards the work of creating. Sometimes it’s the need to capture a photograph or the way that my cats breathe in perfect rhythm with each other. Sometimes it’s a perfect sentence that doesn’t actually fit anything but if I don’t make a note about it, I know I’ll regret it later.
But when your work is your art is your work, how do you set healthy boundaries? Respect your own limits? Make time for self-care? (We’re big promoters of self-care here, as an essential tool for creativity.) Where is your work/life balance? How do you make sure to maintain time for yourself?
I love the business of this poem. I can feel the pressure to keep up, to create, to just get a little bit of everything. Then the forgetting. We always get interrupted by something. There’s always something else to grab at our attention. I also think the way the poet turns so many things into verbs that aren’t usually verbs. “I muscle memory.” “I stutter the page.” I can feel my body racing along with the poet’s words as I read.
But the therapist? That’s someone who will listen, without an agenda. Someone who is looking out for the wellbeing of the poet, who gets lost in the rush, the work, the need to create. And at the end, the poet figures out how to find peace, to reconnect with the self, and how to just be present in the moment.
Truly though, I think what it comes down to at the end is just that my poet’s heart finds something romantic about the idea that “today we are possible.” Sometimes that’s all I need.
To hear more commentary on the poem check out Poetry Unbound.
April 9, 2023
Today’s poem is presented a little differently from our other poems. In honor of Easter, I reached out to our friend and 2 Rules contributor, Laura Viau, (aka Pastor Laura Viau,) who offered today’s poem, and commentary. Because the text is not directly available online, we have made a photo of the text, as contained in the book Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community. -Erika
Even before I was ordained to Christian ministry as an elder then pastor of a congregation, I had learned the joys of navigating a patriarchal institution while female. The gendered groupings for all manner of events, the mansplaining. And of course. the unnecessarily masculine references and Capitalized Masculine Pronouns for the ineffable Divine. Sigh. I started preaching soon after starting seminary, and my biggest fear was that I would be expected to adopted a “preacher voice.” I was relieved to have a mentor who reminded me that my voice was the one being called into the work. My voice, which is so much more than air pushed through vocal cords and shaped by teeth and tongue. My voice has a storyteller’s narrative bent, a poet’s rhythm, and a bard’s tonality. My voice has a survivor’s tenacity and a teacher’s clarity. My voice requires me to preach like a girl, which is to say, like the women who were the first to tell the story of an empty tomb. And then say “I told you so” a little while later. The poem I chose is from Pádraig Ó. Tuama’s book of prayers for the Corrymeela community. There is something about the way he plays with words that feels like home to me. He writes to the cadence of my heart and in the colors of my imagination. The playful seriousness of his prayer poem is casual enough to invite the reader to relax and ponder, to begin to imagine their own conversation with the writer and the One Who Listens to our prayers.
You may also enjoy the podcast Poetry Unbound, hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama..
April 10, 2023
If “Tintern Abbey” is one of the first poems I remember loving as an adult, then “Marriage” is one of the first poems I remember loving, period.
So what is there in a poem about marriage to attract the interest of a twelve-year old? And to hold his interest some twenty-five years later? I was not in a position to be contemplating my own marriage at that age. Nothing could have been further from my mind… except. Most of the adult-people around me seemed to be married. How did they get that way? And why had my parents gotten divorced a few years earlier?
I think what appealed to me then was that this poem is very much a child’s perspective on marriage. It is concerned with what other people think and how to fit in and what society expects. And it is given to frequent outbursts of nonsensical word-clusters, like the tone-rows of an atonal composer: “Penguin dust! I want penguin dust! Bring me penguin dust!”
But what I keep coming back to is the profound sense of not fitting in. Of not knowing what is right and so going through one’s choices as methodically as inexperience allows.
I am also impressed by the rich picture it paints of boring middle class life in the 1950s. There are so many excellent details for the would-be novelist or historian.
And finally, I think I wouldn’t trouble myself to read this poem as often as I do if it didn’t make me laugh–big fat donkey-braying belly-laughs–every time I read it. There’s something to be said for that.
-Adam Katz, PhD
April 11, 2023
The first time I encountered the poem was about twenty years ago. Slam poetry was incredibly popular, HBO even carried a series called Def Poetry Jam. I would DVR the episodes and watch them repeatedly when I was home alone. I loved hearing poetry read aloud by the poets. Not just big names like on the TV, but at local, amateur slams, too. I was living in Washington DC and working in the lobbying office of a labor union. My job meant dealing almost daily with untangling the language of government activity. In a sense, “coded language.”
I came back to this poem recently though, because I was thinking about how much code switching I do right now. I speak differently with the nurse practitioners and doctors and administrators here than I do with nurses and CNAs. Not because I respect them any less, but because of the relationship I have with them. I often find myself switching pronouns when talking about important people in my life. Out of concern for my own well-being, I’ve been pretty closeted during my ongoing rehab stay. My own language is more obscured than it has been for a long time. I can’t help but think about that does to the human connections, to the relationships I am creating when I can’t be fully myself.
There’s so much here about the potential for things to happen. For each of us to be fully ourselves. For us to create truly loving, supportive relationships and communities. For us to really make strides in the work of repairing the world. In order to do this, though, we are challenged by this poem to unpack what’s holding us back from that. What are the distractions we are placing in front of ourselves? How do we help break free of those patterns?
I was completely entranced by the lines:
“We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun
We are not afraid of the darkness, we trust that the moon shall guide us
We are determining the future at this very moment“
the very first time I read the poem. “Unraveling our navels” takes me back to an endearing story about from my childhood, (which I do not have her permission to tell, but it did involve untying bellybuttons.) Really what it says is to create we must destroy.” But what? What must we break down within ourselves to be able to go forward?
It’s scary to me, but I’m going to keep trying. How about you?
-Erika Grumet, MSW
April 12, 2023
There are some poets I remember encountering for the first time. Sylvia Plath. Allen Ginsberg. Blythe Baird. And there are others whose work is just so much a part of me that I have no idea how they got there, but I’m glad they did. Adrienne Rich is that second kind of poet. She’s one of the incredible voices of Second Wave Feminism , the feminism of my childhood, where she chafed at the re-domestication of women after World War II and the conflict between wanting more than being a mother and a wife. And it was really hard to choose one poem to share. My notes for 2023’s 30 Days, 30 Poems have had
“Adrienne Rich–what???” on them since last summer. I read her poems and I get it. I don’t have to think deeply about the meaning because they make sense to me. The loss of your connection to yourself as your family roles and responsibilities change. The importance of intersectionality in feminism and as a mechanism for social justice. The role of sexuality as political, not just personal. I think it was in her work that I first came across the phrase “compulsory heterosexuality” She writes about science and art and love and doesn’t hold back.
I don’t really think about the legacy I might leave as a writer, but I do believe in the role of the poet as Adrienne Rich described it.
“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”
I suppose the question really should be, “how can I not love or at least kind of look up to another queer, disabled, Jewish, feminist poet?”
Adrienne Rich is definitely better known for other poems, like “Diving into the Wreck,” but this is the one that I come back to again and again. It was the first thing I turned to when Adam sent me a copy of The Dream of a Common Language a few months ago. Upper Broadway is about the importance of maintaining a sense of self, of claiming your own identity. It’s about creativity and aging and love and struggling with your own self-confidence. It’s me, captured in a poem, but the kind of poem I could never write myself because it’s impossible to turn a lens on yourself that way without the image becoming blurry. I feel seen, and even though the image is flawed, I’m glad to be seen here.
-Erika Grumet, MSW
April 13, 2023
I was so excited when my friend Hafsa submitted this poem with our nomination form. Ocean Vuong is an incredible writer. His 2019 debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous had me weeping over the story of generational trauma and love and family. It was a great relief to have someone else choose which of Ocean Vuong’s poems to share.
“I didn’t know God saw in us a failed attempt at heaven.”
is one of the most stunning lines in the poem to me–about the cycle of our disappointing the Divine and our disappointment in the actions of that same Divine being.
How can we find peace, how can we make peace if we’re caught in that trap?
Hafsa brings a different perspective to the piece, as you’ll see:
When I read this poem for the first poem last year, I took a picture of it and sent it to a dear friend from my home town. He asked me, “ye kisi kashmiri poet ne likha hai” which translates to: “is this poem written by a Kashmiri poet?” To which I said, “No, but it reminded me of Kashmir as well.” We both knew that we were talking about the ongoing war and its consequences in Kashmir. We both knew that we were talking about hundreds and thousands of people we have lost over these years. Death, helplessness, and how, in surviving and dreaming, you feel that you are betraying your own people. Any news of death from home still fills me up with shame and guilt. I am certain that our lived experiences play an important role in understanding and appreciating any piece of literature, be it prose or poetry. We are forced to read western literature, including poets, from very early on in life. I never liked any of the poems from my English text book. I especially remember reading Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and wondering how can someone praise a flower that grows in graveyards. That is absurd. The context is that in Kashmir Daffodils are mostly grown in graveyards and is called “marguzar posh,” graveyard flower. Ocean Vuong is closer to home, and his poetry takes me home. When I read the title of the poem for the first time–“The Last Dinosaur”–I thought of all the times I was scared thinking: “What if the war kills all of my friends and family and I will be left alone?” Ocean fulfills the promise of poetry being democratic throughout his collection of poems Time is a Mother. Here is my favorite sentence from the poem: ” O human, I am not mad at you for winning but that you never wished for more.” God! Only a Buddhist poet can write such a beautiful sentence.
April 14, 2023
This poem abrupted onto my consciousness when I was eighteen.
The poem was passed out in facing translation, English and German. I read it first in English, then in German. The German is fairly simple; simple enough that I could understand it, despite only knowing a few words of the language.
I’ve since read the poem enough times that I see how it is like a fugue. Subjects are introduced, transformed, combined, deconstructed. All the while the rhythm of the poem speeds up and gets more frenetic. But that first reading I didn’t think about the structure. I thought about the effect. Or rather I felt the effect.
So. Yom Hashoah–an annual Jewish holiday for remembering the Holocaust–is in four days. My grandmother, who was a refugee and survivor of the Holocaust, died in 2016. She was 93. I’m going to be blunt and say: we’re running out of people who saw and experienced these horrors. You can no longer look in my grandmother’s clear blue eyes as she tells her story. About how she was running through the streets of Stuttgart during Kristallnacht and tried to hide in the nunnery where she went to primary school. But the nuns, in their Christian charity, left her to her own devices. Kristallnacht took place in November of 1938. She had turned 15 in August.
I will say that my grandmother was a difficult woman. But I was always proud of her volunteer work in the local schools and libraries. She lived in a neighborhood that was mostly Italian and Black. It was a gerrymandered carve-out from the wealthy school districts surrounding it. A lot of people responded to the Holocaust by turning inward and committing to Jewish charities, but not her. She worked to cultivate justice exactly where she was by whipping votes to help the local school board to pass its budget, and by working with kids on their homework and literacy.
She’s no longer here to tell her story face to face. If you want to hear it you’ll have to talk to the people who knew her and who carry her travails with us as a reminder not to put your faith in demagogues and quick solutions at the expense of people’s lives and dignity; but rather to look around you and build and maintain communities based on love and justice.
-Adam Katz, PhD
April 15, 2023
This beautifully hopeful poem was recommended to us by our subscriber Monique. Her introduction to the poem is short and sweet so our introduction to her introduction will likewise be to the point.
Note: This is not the same Maggie Smith who plays your favorite cranky old women on film.
I love the novel way the poem highlights the premise that children are our future. That there is still reason to work for better, to teach that it could be better, that there is every reason to hope that that is a possibility.
April 16, 2023
I have a friend who lives in Sweden. They’re another polyglot and poetry lover, someone who is also living in a place that doesn’t feel like home.
Sweden is six hours ahead of the time where I am, and sometimes that can make connecting directly difficult. I’m grateful for asynchronous communication.
Text messages. Long, flowery poetic, emails. But sometimes when one of us is awake in the middle of the night on our side of the ocean, we’ll send a text message and get an immediate response. And sometimes that’s followed with a phone call. One of those phone calls is how I learned of this poem. First a text asking if I’m awake, then an inquiry as to whether I’d like to read some poems together.
This was the first one my friend picked out that night. At four AM, while I sitting in my bed, they read me this poem. It’s by a Russian poet and was originally written in Russian, but we read it in translation (and that’s how I’ve linked it here.)
It’s not a long poem, but there was something about it that made me ask “would you please read it again?” And so they did.
We had a long discussion about rain. How it feels. Different kinds of rain. The importance of balance between too wet and too dry. The wonder of a toddler who wanders out into the rain, turns their palms to the sky and says, “Wow.”
We talked about love. And how a rainy day with a lover is the kind of thing where you imagine comfort but sometimes there’s that feeling of too much closeness. And when that happens, then what? You have an abrupt ending, just like this poem. (That ending is one of the things that we talked about at length when we discussed the poem.) Sometimes that ending might be just for that moment, that activity, that day, and sometimes it may be for good.
But then perhaps, the rain the poet speaks of here is also about renewal, too, no?
April 17, 2023
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) began tonight at sundown. A few nights ago, Adam shared a poem in honor of this somber day. (You can read his commentary on our archive page.) What comes after tragedy or a crisis? What comes after the unspeakable horror of a an event like genocide?
Rebuilding. Repairing. Renewing.
“To love is to tell the story of the world.”
With poems we tell the story of each moment of rebuilding. The ones where the plans make sense and when misplace our instructions and put the pieces together backwards. We can recognize our own brokenness in the words, and perhaps feel comforted that we are not alone in those feelings. Perhaps also we find hope, and connection to something that grounds us enough to begin or to continue rebuilding.
“It is not as if,” the philosopher writes, “an I exists independently over here and then simply loses a you over there.”
We are in fact, tethered together. We feel profound pain and grief. We feel shame and horror. And each of us has to pick up the pieces, dust them off. To find the way we connect with each other, with the planet and with our obligations to keep repairing the world.
This poem connects each of us with those feelings of disconnection and finding our way back to each other, We connect to our universal human experience here. That connection is vital. We are all part of the universal fabric of the world, whether we are very social creatures or mostly solo creatures. Sometimes, like today, we need to pause and remember to take that in.
P.S. One of the most incredible examples of that connection between people takes place in Israel every year at 10 am, on Yom Hashoah, when the entire country stops for two minutes as a siren blares. People stop in the street. Trains stop on the tracks. Cars stop in the middle of the highway and people get out, stand quietly and listen. It’s a moment of shouting connection, strength and rebirth to the rest of the world. Give yourself two minutes to watch, and see if it takes your breath away the way it takes mine away.
April 18, 2023
This poem comes to us from Blossom, a member of our community from Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He writes:
Something about it resonates with the way I often contemplate he human cycle of life, and how the human mindset is most times groomed by the things around it and not by its own self.
April 19, 2023
When I opened up our nomination form and saw that our subscriber Mark Danowsky had submitted a poem from Danez Smith, I was very excited. I think I first heard Danez Smith read their poetry on a YouTube video, and I immediately buried myself in every one of their books because I was so absolutely struck by the way they talk about a life so unlike mine, and yet do it in a way that I can completely connect to. I’ve watched countless lectures that they’ve given and even keep a quote from them that describes so much of how I write poetry on my desktop and as my pinned Tweet.
My choice for a Danez Smith poem would have been My President, but in light of recent events, namely the shooting of sixteen year old Ralph Yarl when he rang the wrong doorbell as he tried to pick up his younger siblings I think Mark’s choice stands out even more than mine would.
Mark’s recommendation for this poem very much mirrors my experience reading Danez Smith’s work.
“I remember when this poem was published in POETRY Magazine in 2014. It was hard to describe the feeling but I get a related “Wow factor” each and every time I read the poem. Only the best poems stand the test of many many re-reads.”
And he adds:
“Poetry is both the simplest and most complex form of art. It can be a single word, or it may tarry on for days. Poetry is for everyone.”
As of 4/19/2023, the man who shot Ralph Yarl has been arrested, arraigned, pled not guilty and is currently out on bond. I hope you will continue to follow the case and that Ralph Yarl gets the justice he deserves.
April 20, 2023
Earth Day this year is April 22 this year.
I wanted to pick this poem because it best communicates the ways people get locked in bad habits. Donald Trump memorably ran on a platform of bringing mining jobs back to coal country. This was a popular position because the people who lived in that part of Appalachia presumably remember being able to bring home a good wage and provide for their families accordingly.
But those wages were won through a grim war of attrition between miners and management. And they can be worn away in just the same way: a thousand coal workers are on strike even now, and have been for more than two years. Not surprisingly, they’re striking for fair wages, schedules, healthcare, and safety. The very things the miners were fighting for through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I even wrote about the current strike for a different website when the strike was in its infancy.
The point is it’s all connected. People get trapped in one way of thinking. So we all get trapped using technology that cuts the very ground out from under us, and blackens the air besides. And workers get trapped in jobs that force them to get old before their time. And the poorer and more marginalized the workers are, the worse it gets for them.
Do one thing for Earth Day. Call your representative. And tell them you want your descendants to inherit a world that is not only livable… but thrivable.
-Adam Katz, PhD
April 21, 2023
Most of the time, when we write essays for this website, we write separately. During 30 Days, 30 Poems, we generally take turns selecting, and commenting on the poem for each night on our own, too. But we’re a writing community. That’s the secret third rule. To that end, we choose one poem together during the National Poetry Month and share our individual thoughts on it.
After considering many possibilities for today, we came back to Rainer Maria Rilke. One of the few perfect books in existence is Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. And we almost decided to go with one of the letters, but instead we decided on this poem.
A poem like this succeeds or fails on whether its last line is as impactful as it’s intended to be. The very first time you read this poem, it punches you in the gut like the great twist ending to a great detective novel. But that’s not enough unless it holds up to rereading again and again. And this poem does. Twenty years and counting, for me.
Each time I read it, I’m struck by how quickly Rilke moves from briefly setting the stage to blowing your mind. This is an entire book-length essay on the philosophy of visual art compressed down to the length of a sonnet.
It’s probably been twenty years since I first read this poem. And I remember the thing that concerned me the most back then–as if reading this poem were an event in my life, on par with my bar mitzva–was: where does that last line come from? How does the statue see me? And why does the statue, having seen me, say what he says to me?
I have answered that question for myself; but I would not deprive you of your own version of the journey that was so important to me.
Rilke spent a couple of years doing administrative work for the sculptor Auguste Rodin, who had all kinds of Greco-Roman sculpture-fragments in his workshop. And Rilke had many hours to study these pieces. To imagine what the statues looked like when they were whole. But also to appreciate the beauty in things that are broken. They’re beautiful as they are–not in spite of, nor because, of their brokenness. Just that they are beautiful.
Rilke spent a lot of time meditating on the nature of sex and love, of solitude and creativity. While he may not have had the vocabulary to describe it, his perspective is definitely not heteronormative. He gives us this incredibly homoerotic description of the statue and the power radiating from it. The statue of Apollo has power in both his strength and in his beauty. He cannot separate those two characteristics. They are intermingled just as sex and love, or solitude and creativity. Or perhaps even sex and creativity, as poet and novelist Erica Jong suggests: “If sex and creativity are often seen by dictators as subversive activities, it’s because they lead to the knowledge that you own your own body (and with it your own voice), and that’s the most revolutionary insight of all.“
To Rilke, being a poet can make life difficult, but it is also good. To experience the depth of emotions as Rilke did–the highs and lows–it’s hard on a person. At least it is on me. I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m too sensitive. But being less sensitive would also, I think, take away from the way I see the world. Through a poet’s eyes. Where I can see beauty in the broken.
And at the end? We are told that we are both seen and judged. And then we’re almost threatened with the idea that we must change our lives. We must move from the known to the unknown in order to continue to access the depths of our creativity. And we’re challenged to do just that. Rilke writes poetry for poets, and in that, there is a special kind of beauty.
April 22, 2023
Sea shanties were work songs, which were sung by sailors while doing certain actions or jobs on a ship. They could help keep time among groups of sailors, coordinate physical movements like hauling ropes and raising sails, and relieve the boredom of long, repetitive tasks. Work songs have also been used in agriculture, by cowboys, and in industrial settings. Contemporary artists like Midnight Oil, Billy Bragg, Donna Summer and Dolly Parton have all also recorded work songs. During the COVID-19 lockdown, sea shanties saw a resurgence in popularity perhaps as a way to keep the rhythm of work going at home going, or perhaps just to keep us in some kind of rhythm with our quarantine bubbles. Nathan Evans is perhaps the best known of the COVID sea shanty artists.
Today’s poem, a sea shanty, was sent to us by 2 Rules community member Amy Shellaine Smith, who writes:
“It’s my favorite one about cannibalism, but the irreverence means it’s a refrain I recite to myself when I feel overwhelmed by life and my to-do lists.“
April 23, 2023
With apologies to Shakespeare and his fans,, on this, the anniversary of his death, and possibly his birth, too. We’ll certainly feature him before the end of the month, but tonight, this space needs to belong to someone else.
I lost a beloved friend this morning to cancer. A former romantic partner, someone who loved me in a way that was deeper, harder, more exciting, than the love I had experienced before, or since, and in turn, allowed me to learn to love that way. Someone who loved me enough to take on the grief of ending a relationship where the love is still present, still strong, to acknowledge that no matter how strong our love was, being at radically different places in our lives meant letting go in order to allow us both to grow. And who was brave enough to look beyond that hurt and reach out later on when we had grown, so that we could share our lives again, as friends.
There are thousands of poems about love, grief and loss that I could have reached for, but one of my favorite memories of her is running through Central Park, pushing a baby stroller with her infant daughter, trying to find my sister and to get to an Ani DiFranco concert.
I have always loved this particular spoken word piece by Ani DiFranco. The acknowledgement of impermanence of things (“My body is borrowed, I got it on loan,” “We live in a breakable, takable world,”) but also the need to scream and rage and rail against that impermanence. To not only leave your mark but to leave it in a way that makes change (“You’re only as loud as the noises you make,” “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”)
So tonight, I give you Ani DiFranco. I give you the highs and lows. May you love as hard and be loved as hard as I was. As I did. Fuck cancer. And thank you, Julz. Love, Ziskeit.
April 24, 2023
Sometimes, it’s very easy to describe the things we love about a poem. Tonight’s poem, nominated by 2 Rules of Writing community member J. Pagaduan, is one of those poems. The question “What do you love about the poem,” was answered with just one sentence:
“It reminds me of past relationships.”
Relationships are a favorite topic for poets. We try to capture the beauty of a single moment, as if you had snapped a photo just at that second, that unrepeatable second, or painteed an image that you won’t forget of it. This poem, in its simplicity, captures a moment when the poet sees both the comfort and warmth we get from connecting intimately with another person and also the way we hold onto our independent selves as we love.
April 25, 2023
So. What’s a sonnet? One of the interesting things about literature is that history winnows away so much of it that we lose all sense of why a work was good in the first place. We may find our own reasons but it’s always interesting to see why they liked it all those hundreds of years ago.
I once had a literature professor explain the sonnet to me thus: A typical sonnet says: I love her; she won’t sleep with me; I’m miserable. Shakespeare’s great innovation was: I love her or at least I like her a whole lot; she sleeps with me plenty; I’m still miserable.
When you dig a bit you find other variations. Spenser’s poems (published about 15 years earlier than those of Shakespeare) can be summarized as: I love her; she loves me back; I’m perfectly content; thank you for asking. And Sidney’s take the usual I’m miserable stance, but his poems are more tongue-in-cheek.
I don’t know what else to say about this poem. It’s pure joy from beginning to end. The only thing you really need to know to appreciate this poem is that, in addition to being a pun on the author’s first name, “will” was 16th century English slang for either a penis or a vagina. So the first line, “Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will” (notice the word ‘her’ which is nowadays so rigidly used as a feminine pronoun being used in a gender-neutral sense) means: “You’ll bang just about anyone… so why not me?” I mean… There’s a reason Shakespeare is seen as one of the masters of the love story. If that line doesn’t work on you you’re probably made of stone.
Also, click on the name (or here… here’s fine) to read my article on why Shakespeare is really Shakespeare… and to learn a bit about Shakespeare, his life and times, and how literary history works.
Adam Katz, PhD
April 26, 2023
It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And usually that’s Erika’s thing because she’s got a master’s degree in social work (with an emphasis on reproductive health). Oh, and also because she has lived experiences in the area that exceed my darkest nightmares. But it’s not enough for just the experts and the survivors to talk about sexual assault. So pop some popcorn and let’s talk about the genre of douchebag poetry.
You know the type. A friend of mine once summed up with the phrase: “You’re not too good to put out for a sonnet.”
Read this poem, for example. I picked it because it has that gorgeous opening line “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” which, out of context, you could imagine someone reciting at a funeral. But then there’s the rest of the poem.
What continuously leaves me in awe of poems like this is how erudite and even beautiful they are in their douchebaggery. This one invokes the ages of man (that theory that the golden age is succeeded by the silver, then bronze, then iron, each representing a step downward) to get a girl out of her knickers. Another douchebag poem, John Donne’s “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star,” uses a succession of heartbreakingly beautiful images to lead up to the punchline: “No where / Lives a woman true, and fair.” i.e. A woman can either be faithful or good-looking… but not both. And for all that, it’s a beautiful and funny poem, and I… I just don’t get it. Imagine working that hard to adorn a sentiment that childish. It’s like putting gold filigree on a playskool playpen.
I have to assume that these poems for the most part came out of university culture and similar atmospheres. Donne, in particular, wrote his getting-laid poems when he was at the Inns of Court, essentially guildhalls where young lawyers would live and apprentice and start their careers. Many great poems and plays came out of the Inns, as is to be expected when you put hundreds of young and clever people in one place. But… it was also a total boys’ club. Herrick, similarly, fell in with a crowd of poets when he was at University.
So you can imagine a scenario in which there were genres of poetry–like the classic “time is short; let’s fuck” linked here–that all young university wits felt like they had to try their hand at. We see inversions and subversions of the genre from more brilliant poets like Shakespeare, Spenser, and Marvell. But for every excellent poem in this genre, one can imagine a thousand thousand jokers and poetasters adding their crumpled sheets to the dustbin.
This is all very well. I’m the last person to turn my nose up at a bad poetry contest.
But jokes are never just jokes. They are funny precisely because they strike a chord. And they strike a chord because they say something we think is essentially true. Like, for example, that a woman’s best years are her young ones when she is pretty; and not her older ones when she is surrounded by accomplishments, grandchildren, the skulls of her enemies, and a cat.
None of which is to say: “Don’t make jokes.” By all means. Make jokes. And continue using poems as foreplay, because–well. If you know you know.
But the question to ask is: are the women and other marginalized people laughing or at least nodding along? If your joke or come-on is effective only because it’s mean to one group or another, maybe it’s not as lighthearted as you think. Maybe it’s a form of bullying designed to reinforce the obsolete idea that a woman’s only worth is visual and sexual. And if that’s the case then maybe you should get some new material.
-Adam Katz, PhD
April 27, 2023
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I’ve written a great deal about my own experience with rape here on our website, and shared poetry of my own about the subject at our poetry readings. And at my urging, last night Adam, too, shared a poem about sexual assault. I could have passed on the opportunity to share a poem specifically for sexual assault awareness month and no one would think anything of it. Especially with the traumatic loss I suffered a few days ago. But it wouldn’t sit right with me. As a survivor (not a victim) it’s important for me to claim the space for my voice whenever I have the opportunity.
Rape and sexual assault should be one of the easier things for me to find a poem about when we feature it during 30 Days, 30 Poems. I have an ever-growing list of poems saved about the topic. It turns out not to be so easy though, because I feel compelled to choose just the right poem for wherever my head is at on the particular day that I choose to honor the theme of the month.
So why this poem this year? There are a few reasons. There’s the technical reason. I’ve become fascinated with a style of poetry called cento, which takes lines from other poems and assembles them into a new poem, and this poem reminds me of that style of poem. Also because I’m working on a poem in a similar style to this one–one that feels (or in my case, is) very organic in the way it develops. There’s the ongoing civil trial where former President Trump, whose rape jokes are well known to the public, is accused of rape. And there’s also my own rage. Day after day, year after year, I find myself screaming about toxic masculinity and responsibility and why we aren’t we teaching “don’t rape” instead of “don’t get raped.”
I chose this poem long before I’d asked Adam to choose a poem about sexual assault. I don’t think he had any idea that I had also selected a poem about rape jokes. To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time was written over three hundred years before Patricia Lockwood wrote this poem. In all of those years, have the conversations about rape jokes ever stopped?
I chose this poem, out of all of the sexual assault poems I’ve collected because it was painful for me to read. Because I saw my own experience reflected back at me in so many of the lines. And it was reassuring to see someone else describe so many familiar things. I read this poem and I felt seen. Felt validated. Because I could say, “Yes! That happened to me!”
Even with so many people experiencing sexual violence, being a survivor is really lonely sometimes. I wish there wasn’t anyone else who had to recover from this trauma, but to find someone else who can put a voice to my feelings is powerful as a reader and as a writer. When people know it happened to you, you aren’t “the one who makes the best brownies in the world,” or “the funny one.” You’re transformed into “the one that got raped.” That label may fade, but it never disappears entirely.
Perhaps framing things that way helps other people protect themselves–if you’re the one that was raped, then it’s less likely to happen to them. Maybe it’s because we just don’t have rituals or traditions to tell us what to do after someone is raped. But when we look at statistics that suggest that one in three women will be raped, perhaps we need those rituals.
We need people to stand up and say “Stop raping,” and to take accountability for things that have happened.
That means remembering that rape jokes aren’t funny. That survivors and victims are real people, who need your compassion, and support, not your judgement or your pity.
To my survivor-siblings, I hope you find something that helps you feel seen. Whatever you’re feeling is valid. And I wish you peace, power and healing.
-Erika Grumet, MSW
April 28, 2023
Not too long ago, this poem suddenly began appearing in so many social media feeds. I have no idea what the genesis for that was, but outside of presidential inaugurations where poems like Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” or Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”, I don’t remember seeing a single poem catching the interest of so many people at once. When anything- a song, a book, a poem, can capture the attention of so many people at once I find it kind of exciting.
As a regular reader of poetry, I’m used to answering questions about why I read poetry. As if it were something stagnant, that we didn’t need anymore. Or sometimes people react as if poetry is difficult to read, as if it were some kind of complicated musical score or architectural blueprint. As if poetry were a foreign language that they don’t understand.
Maybe it is all of those things sometimes. But it’s also just someone capturing a sliver of time, a beautiful scene, a single important moment. Like a painter or a photographer creates a visual image to capture a moment, the poet captures it in words.
This poem takes us back to a moment in some mythical fourth grade classroom. To reflect on life lessons, you’ve learned without realizing they were the lessons. Things you learned from someone without realizing you learned them, but more importantly, things you had no idea you needed to know.
I thought I already understood the importance of those moments. Moments when I realized I’d learned from my mother things like how to write a thank you note, or how to make all the choices when burying a relative from my Dad. As a parent, I’ve learned to try and preserve those milestone moments that don’t seem significant. The day you get rid of the car seat. The day when you move the stepstool out of the bathroom. The last time you read a picture book for a bedtime story.
As we near the end of another National Poetry Month, and as another 30 Days, 30 Poems comes to a close, I know there are a few moments that I want to preserve like that. The day I read “I Waited For You Since Yesterday Morning,” (the poem we featured on April 16.) How much I loved getting to write about Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong and Saul Williams. How I cried when reading and writing about, and listening to Ani DiFranco when I wrote a tribute to lost love on April 23. Those moments are ones that have changed me as a as a teacher, as a poet, as a human being.
We remember lessons. We commit to memory things like 6×8=48. Sometimes we need to remember not just the fact, but the memory of how we learned it. That when you learned that multiplication fact you also learned a great deal about how to teach, how to encourage and how to inspire.
This poem was featured on the January 27 episode of the podcast Poetry Unbound. To listen to the episode, click here.
April 29, 2023
Sometimes you encounter a piece of art, a poem, some other creative work and you immediately feel like you have to read or see everything else you can find by that artist or writer. Other times, you’ll find one poem, or story or painting and it captures something for you, but when you look at that artists work it just doesn’t have that gasping-for-breath-this-person-has-just-changed-my-life feeling for you.
This poem is one of those. I like this poem. I’m lukewarm on the other poems I’ve read by this poet. I don’t dislike them, but I just don’t feel like I need to immediately go out and read everything else they’ve published, and look for their readings and lectures on YouTube and the commentary others have left about their work. I just like this one poem a whole lot. It captures some very particular feelings. “Living in the present tense,” is how a friend of mine would explain it. It’s about being seen and heard and validated, especially when you are speaking up as a quiet voice in the face of adversity or trauma. It was originally part of the Poem-A-Day series published by the Academy of American Poets on January 20, 2017, the date of the presidential inauguration. It has a not unfounded sense of warning, a sense of dread about what the next four years might bring but it also cries out and says “we were here. We mattered. We spoke up. Remember us as our voices are being silenced.”
It’s a very human thing to feel like we want to be remembered. To know we’ve somehow had an impact. And on the penultimate day of 30 Days, 30 Poems, I am hoping that something we shared this month has affected you. Maybe we’ve helped you find a poem or poet whose work you hadn’t read before. Maybe you’re new to reading poetry and having reassuring, plain language commentary about it has helped. Maybe you’ve found your way to our community and felt at home among our memes, silly commentary and promotion of underrepresented voices. Whatever it is, I hope you feel a little more seen or loved or supported on your journey. You are here. You matter. You are seen. Someone is changed, is better because of you.
-Erika Grumet, MSW
April 30, 2023
I’m never really sure how to end our 30 Days, 30 Poems celebration. Kicking it off with a poem about poetry makes a lot of sense. But ending it? That just doesn’t seem to have as logical a theme. Should it be something epic and well known? Should it be about endings? There’s just not a clear direction. I keep a list year-round, with poems and notes and suggestions and still find myself uncertain about the ending. In fact, tonight’s poem was a last minute deviation from my plan.
I started writing about the poem I’d planned to use and I realized that I was treating the poem in exactly the way I didn’t want 30 Days, 30 Poems to do. I don’t want 30 Days, 30 Poems to explain or interpret poems for you any more than is needed for our commentary. I want you to read the poems and understand them exactly where you are at, exactly in this moment. Even if that isn’t seeing some deeper, hidden meaning that we are assuming the poet was expressing.
Unless you’re the poet, or the poet told you so, the best you’re doing is guessing. You can’t know why I chose “green” instead of “verdant.” Maybe the “D” key on my computer was broken that day. Or maybe it was a choice I made on purpose to develop a rhythm, to make the poem take a certain shape or because when I read it aloud, I like the “n” sound better at the end than in the middle.
No. I want 30 Days, 30 Poems to be about you meeting the poems exactly where you are. You understand the poem exactly the way you are supposed to. Your feelings about each poem, love it or hate it, are exactly the right ones. A great poem is not great because some expert tells you it is but because of what it does, what it means to you. The lyrics of Grandmaster Flash or Bob Marley are just as great as Shakespeare, Keats or Yeats. Sometimes better.
The way you read a poem is just right.
I think, in my desire to find something “just right” to finish the month, I lost sight of that. I tried to write something about two other poems on my list. Two other poems I love. But tonight I couldn’t share them with you in a way that allowed you to experience the poem without my filters.
As I realized that for the second time, I went back to my list, determined to get out of the way this time. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I went back to the poem I’d thought about months ago as a final 30 Days, 30 Poems selection.
So. Let me get out of your way and let you find what you love in this poem, or any other, whether it’s one from our archives or something else completely different.
And while you find that poem that you fall in love with, let’s talk about this one.
I have been short on hope throughout this month, and have looked forward every day to 30 Days, 30 Poems, whether I was responsible for the poem that day or not. And I think that’s one of the things I love about poetry. The power it has to instantly change things. I knew every night that I’d either get to share a poem I love or read a poem precious to someone else. And that, I loved. Because it was about sharing the poems that matter, and that alone is a gift.
We’ve managed to cram love, sex, death, rape, racism, war, the feeling of not fitting in, and more into just a few lines each night. To be able to pull out that emotion in such a small space, that brings me joy. And to read this particular poem, to feel it transition from feelings of not fitting in to the amount of hope contained in this poem sends lightning from my feet throughout the rest of my body.
Sixteen lines. Not too difficult to memorize. And yet how much emotion is within those words? The poem glides between hope and reminiscence, with a touch of panic for good measure and arrives at ecstasy. There is pure love and joy exuding from those last two lines:
Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize you are. What a lucky sack of stars.
Take that love, that joy into the world. You are loved. You are wonderful.
I read this, and in my head I hear the closing song from the movie Fame, which share its title, and some of its lyrics with a Walt Whitman poem:
And I’ll serenade Venus
I’ll serenade Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire
Of ten million stars
And in time and in time
We will all be stars
You are the stars. Shine brightly as you illuminate the orbit of others.
I am so glad you chose to share your time with us.
(and Adam, too.)
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