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today's poet
Lauren Camp

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About this Poem 

“Sometimes my poems are clearly focused on a single topic, but more and more they seem to need to be about many things because that’s how I experience the world. So much going on all the time. Given the chance, I’ll always try to make connections—in this case between jazz, love, humanity and potential error.”

—Lauren Camp

Playback

Lauren Camp

Let there be footfall and car door. Let me
be finished with fire. Let
the man get on a plane for his morning
departure, erasing each reverie. Soon
there will be only daylight,
maybe a blue envelope, torn. Maybe bracelets
of color from the petunias. I will need
to know how to recover
the familiar, how to open the door
in the evening. How to again lock it.
Almost everything about me goes unspoken,
but commas and colons. I live with this
heart rate, multiple times, its direction,
its tempo: my 4/4 with acceleration, sometimes
tuned to an alternate signature. Think of Brubeck’s
“Take Five.” Those blocky chords were the result
of an accident—dead on arrival, they said,
after he smashed to the surf. Think how
he switched it around, made his hands
do what he wanted to hear, and forgive me
for the analogy. May I never
rush a surge for a better experience.
Every Sunday all over the country,
apologies gather. When I’m not in this
small cottage, unreacting, I cascade sound
and a few sentences from a cramped
room to whoever will listen. I know some
people think it is sinful to love such temptations,
but I stay with my face soft against
microphone, announcing my moral
directions. Sometimes, I’m convinced my blood
needs all those crossings. I’m not after
absolution. The man I love taught me to want
without lyrics. Remember I haven’t
gone anywhere. I’m in a thirsty way
sort of possessive. I shouldn’t show you this
side of myself. Try to remember I’m also praised
for my kindness. We each need to learn
to turn off some dreams so we can play
hours without creases.

Copyright @ 2014 by Lauren Camp. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright @ 2014 by Lauren Camp. Used with permission of the author.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

Poets in Conversation

In this collection of conversations, poets talk with one another about what inspires them most about the art form.

collection

Poetry and Place

In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contemporary American poetry. Here you'll find a range of poems, commentary, and essays that revolve around what we mean by the idea of "home" or of "homelessness" resulting from travel or displacement. Some works deal with a specific time and location, while others focus on a more socially-constructed view of place through the lenses of pop culture and identity. In the end, we hope this collection both confirms and challenges your notion of place in American poetry.

For a more thorough exploration of our theme, check out W. T. Pfefferle's anthology Poets on Place: Essays & Tales from the Road.

poem

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Langston Hughes
1994
poem

from Gabriel

The evening with its lamps burning
The night with its head in its hands
The early morning

I look back at the worried parents
Wandering through the house
What are we going to do

The evening of the clinical
The night of the psychological
The morning facedown in the pillow

The experts can handle him
The experts have no idea
How to handle him

There are enigmas in darkness
There are mysteries
Sent out without searchlights

The stars are hiding tonight
The moon is cold and stony
Behind the clouds

Nights without seeing
Mornings of the long view
It’s not a sprint but a marathon

Whatever we can do
We must do

Every morning’s resolve

But sometimes we suspected
He was being punished
For something obscure we had done

I would never abandon the puzzle
Sleeping in the next room
But I could not solve it
 

Edward Hirsch
2014
collection

2014 National Book Award Contenders

This year's James Laughlin Award winner, Brian Blanchfield, and two of the Academy's current Chancellors—Edward Hirsch and Claudia Rankine—are among those included on the longlist for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry. Read their bios and a selection of work from their nominated books.

collection

On the Poetic Line

The poetic line is one of the most emphasized elements of form, the structural division of verse that can indicate patterns in meter, rhythm, and rhyme and influence the aesthetics and emphases of the poem. Examinations and discussions of the line abound, and we hope this collection, featuring books and essays by a variety of writers, provides a context for the use of the line in the history of poetic craft. 

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