Today in 1862
Claude Debussy was born.
I remember where I was and what I was doing
one hundred years and two months later:
elementary algebra, trombone practice,
Julius Caesar on the record player
with Brando as Antony, simple
buttonhook patterns in football,
the French subjunctive, and the use
of "quarantine" rather than "blockade"
during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was considered the less belligerent word.
Much was made of it in 1962,
centenary of Debussy’s birth.
And if today I play his Rhapsody
for Saxophone and Orchestra

for the ten minutes it requires of
my undivided attention, who will attack me for
living in Paris in 1908 instead of now?
Let them. I'll take my stand,
my music stand, with the composer
of my favorite Danse Tarantelle.

Copyright © 2013 by David Lehman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

I am arguing with an idiot online.
He says anybody can write a poem.
I say some people are afraid to speak.
I say some people are ashamed to speak.
If they said the pronoun "I" 
they would find themselves floating
in the black Atlantic
and a woman would swim by, completely 
dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, 
until the ashamed person says her name
and the woman becomes wet and drowns
and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp,
white in the black water.
He says that he'd still write
even if someone cut off both his hands.
As if it were the hands that make a poem,
I say. I say what if someone cut out
whatever brain or gut or loin or heart
that lets you say hey, over here, listen, 
I have something to tell you all,
I'm different.
As an example I mention my mother
who loved that I write poems
and am such a wonderful genius.
And then I delete the comment
because my mother wanted no part of this or any
argument, because "Who am I 
to say whatever?"
Once on a grade school form
I entered her job as hairwasher.
She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad.
"You should have put receptionist."
But she didn't change it.
The last word she ever said was No.
And now here she is in my poem,
so proud of her idiot son, 
who presumes to speak for a woman
who wants to tell him to shut up, but can't.

From The Animals Are All Gathering by Bradley Paul. Copyright © 2010 by Bradley Paul. Used by permission of The Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

                 *

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

                  *

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

From Sentences by Howard Nemerov, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1980 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov. All rights reserved.

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.

Directions 

Let some one hold the book, and ask one of the questions. The answers being all
numbered, the girl or boy who is questioned chooses a number, and the person 
who holds the book reads the answer to which that number belongs, aloud. 
For instance: 

Question. What is your character? 
Answer. I choose No. 3 

Questioner reads aloud: 

No. 3. Gentle tempered, sweet and kind, 
           To no angry word inclined. 

 

            What Will Be Your Destiny?
              FORTY-THREE ANSWERS

1. Just as you think you’ve gained great wealth,
    Something will make you lose your health.

2. Your hair will be white in a single night,
    From having an unexpected fright.

3. You will enjoy a sweet old age,
    So kind and pure, so long and sage.

4. You will fall down at eighty-four,
    And break a dozen ribs or more.

5. You will finish your dayswith God for your friend:
    Who would not be glad of so blissful an end?

6. You will be ever absorbed in books,
    And never give a thought to looks.

7. In peace and plenty you will lie,
    And in the arms of friendship die.

8. You will have cause for many tears,
    To cloud the beauty of your years.

9. Ah, is it so? when you are old,
   you will be very poor, I’m told.

10. In the night-time you will weep,
      And your painful vigils keep.

11. Nothing dreadful, nothing sad,
      Comes to you; for this I’m glad.

12. You always will have an excellent table,
      And full of horses will keep your stable.

13. The Sibyl says you’ll die in Rome,
      Which for a time will be your home.

14. Your plenty and peace
      Will never cease.

15. You will suddenly die in the crowded street,
      If the age of a hundred years you meet.

16. You will ride in your carriage-and-four,
      And be very kind to the suffering poor.

17. Never murmur, never care,
      You will be a millionaire.

18. Sick at heart, and sick at head,
      You will wish that you were dead.

19. As the might of God you see,
      Religious you will ever be.

20. To California you will go
      To get the shining gold, you know.

21. Brightest pleasures you will see,
      And happiness your portion be.

22. Love will gild your joyous life,
      Free from pain and care and strife.

23. Don’t despond, and do not care,
      You will be a nabob’s heir.

24. To California you will be sent,
      But will return as poor as you went.

25. A missionary you will be,
      Far o’er the billows of the sea.

26. It is your destiny to rule,
      And you will keep a village school.

27. Ball and parties you will find
      Alone are suited to your mind.

28. Through the vista of the years
      I see you mourning and in tears.

29. A country life at length you’ll lead,
      Rejoicing in your ambling steed.

30. Fair in the wild and prairied west,
      Your tired frame at length you’ll rest.

31. A public singer’s place you’ll take,
      And a sensation you will make.

32. You’ll only love your native home,
      From which you will not care to roam.

33. A great pianist, you will gain
      Bright laurels from the admiring train.

34. A kitchen garden you will keep,
      And sell fresh vegetables cheap.

35. To higher virtues you will rise,
      Until you’re ready for the skies.

36. To the city’s crowded street
      You’ll direct your willing feet.

37. In digging in a worn-out field
      You’ll see a box, securely sealed,
          Half buried in the ground;
      And therein jewels bright, and gold,
      And bank-notes, in large bundles rolled,
          Will joyfully be found.

38. A music teacher you will be,
      This is your tuneful destiny.

39. You will travel in your prime,
      And view the works of art sublime.

40. You will journey the whole world o’er,
      And gather relics from every shore.

41. The most of your time will be passed on the sea,
      But wherever you are, you will happy be.

42. On an island will you live,
      And nice pleasure-parties give.

43. You will spend your leisure hours,
      In a garden tending flowers.
 

This poem is in the public domain.

I feel myself in need
   Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore,
My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed,
   And all the world explore.

I know that I am old
   And never can recover what is past,
But for the future may some light unfold
   And soar from ages blast.

I feel resolved to try,
   My wish to prove, my calling to pursue,
Or mount up from the earth into the sky,
   To show what Heaven can do.

My genius from a boy,
   Has fluttered like a bird within my heart;
But could not thus confined her powers employ,
   Impatient to depart.

She like a restless bird,
   Would spread her wings, her power to be unfurl'd,
And let her songs be loudly heard,
   And dart from world to world.

This poem is in the public domain.

I'm calling out from pictures to your vision creating it
turn right, that dream building cutglass window in door.
Automatically inside their apartment, you don't have
to get there. This is before the lost sacred corpus vision,
someone says Look at my author photo. I
don't really want to I'm turning to defiant metal
not a dream part, can you see it where the movement of
images turns back towards me I want a
different, how I'm portrayed because you can't
see me, visage. Look at me please. The soul is so thick
larger than the portrait what you'd call madonnaesque,
and then there was more hoax a view as I am
the rose here. And you never wanted to be that, did I?
I was waiting to see what I would be. Blackness
eats you but your soul eats it without your knowing that
figure, because it is causing your appearance to the world.
They arrange me in clothes of Easter, or of
the first day of classes, but I'm projecting pigment
cracked gold on fire, thinking braver thoughts.
It takes courage to get to the ancient altar
of the moment where I create individual time.
The picture body untremblingly stares large-eyed
I also create the tablets of exponential seeing: it brightens
all around it, as I'm the apparatus of what there is to be;
and I am making it, my time visibly becoming me.

Copyright © 2013 by Alice Notley. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

To lie on these beaches for another summer
Would not become them at all,
And yet the water and her sands will suffer
When, in the fall,
These golden children will be taken from her.

It is not the gold they bring: enough of that
Has shone in the water for ages
And in the bright theater of Venice at their backs;
But the final stages
Of all those afternoons when they played and sat

And waited for a beckoning wind to blow them
Back over the water again
Are scenes most necessary to this ocean.
What actors then
Will play when these disperse from the sand below them?

All this over until, perhaps, next spring;
This last afternoon must be pleasing.
Europe, Europe is over, but they lie here still,
While the wind, increasing,
Sands teeth, sands eyes, sands taste, sands everything.

"Late August on the Lido" is reprinted with permission from Selected Poetry, Copyright © 1993 by John Hollander. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

        When I stop and think about what it's all about I do come up with some answers, but they don’t help very much.

        I think it is safe to say that life is pretty mysterious. And hard.

        Life is short. I know that much. That life is short. And that it’s important to keep reminding oneself of it. That life is short. Just because it is. I suspect that each of us is going to wake up some morning to suddenly find ourselves old men (or women) without knowing how we got that way. Wondering where it all went. Regretting all the things we didn’t do. So I think that the sooner we realize that life is short the better off we are.

        Now, to get down to the basics. There are 24 hours a day. There is you and there are other people. The idea is to fill these 24 hours as best one can. With love and fun. Or things that are interesting. Or what have you. Other people are most important. Art is rewarding. Books and movies are good fillers, and the most reliable.

        Now you know that life is not so simple as I am making it sound. We are all a bit fucked up, and here lies the problem. To try and get rid of the fucked up parts, so we can just relax and be ourselves. For what time we have left.

From The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, edited by Ron Padgett. Copyright © 2012 by The Estate of Joe Brainard. Reprinted with permission of The Library of America. www.loa.org. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2013.

                                       Man has lost his gods.
                                       If he loses his dignity,
                                       it’s all over.



I said that.

What did I mean?
First, that the belief
in divinity has almost
disappeared.

By dignity
I meant mutual
self-respect, the sense
that we have some right
to be here and that
there is value in it.
(Values are where
the gods went
when they died.)

My dog Susie doesn’t seem
to have any values, but she does
have Pat and me, gods
she gets to play with and bark at.

"Lost and Found" is reprinted by permission from Collected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Ron Padgett.

for James Schuyler

Pink dandruff of some tree
afloat on the swimming pool.
What’s that bird?
I’m not from around here.
My mail will probably be forwarded
as quietly as this pink fluff
or a question or morphine
or impatience or a mistake
or the infinite method
established by experience
but never in this world.
I’ve always wanted to use
malarkey and henna in a poem
and now I have.
Oh Jimmy, all you ever wanted
was to see the new century
but no such luck.
You never saw a century plant
either, or you would have
taken another drink.
They grow for one hundred years,
bloom in their centenary spring
then die forevermore.
The stalk is ten feet tall
(you’d be jealous) rising
out of a clump of cactus leaves
(think yucca) then busting into
creamy ovoids flaming
on the candelabrum.
I was in an air-conditioned car
when I saw it but still felt
the heat of its beauty,
I wanted to stop and talk to it
but we sped on, so tonight
I’ll xanax myself to sleep
with the sweet thought that
today and every day is a
century plant of its own
seeded awful long beginning
blooming in drive-by yelps
of love and helplessness
and you saw plenty of them,
spectacular and sad as
a head of hennaed hair,
a lot of malarkey
if you ask anybody
other than us.

Copyright © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on May 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don't, and see what happens.

That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.

In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I'm not—

all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine

if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn't about happiness it's about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how

to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,

and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad

and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I've got
rachel Zucker here, she's happy,

I'll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before

we'd read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr's
poem about crying while driving while listening to

the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to

news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward

Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
"I don't believe in happiness"—you're such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.

Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly

there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I've never seen.

And that's when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn't about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped

her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a cold
but otherwise was and that's when he said,

next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don't, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian's sixth birthday, Deborah went

to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other

unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I've never seen. That was last week and now
I'm here, in bed, turning toward something I haven't felt

for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled

the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say

how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.

From Museum of Accidents. Copyright © 2009 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted by permission Wave Books and the author.

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg. This poem is in the public domain.


I always tell my dancers. You are not defined by your fingertips, or the top of your head, or the 
bottom of your feet. You are defined by you. You are the expanse. You are the infinity. 

—Judith Jameson
 

Elizabeth Alexander in The Black Interior writes about beauty, and how black artists 
resist monstrousness by their own self-definitions.  

I’m interested in this repair, too, but find comfort in the ugly.  I love monsters.
We both consider Brooks.  In the poem, “The Life of Lincoln West,” when Elizabeth 

hones in on two white men describing little, black Lincoln, specie, I zip to the poem’s 
end, to what I read as Lincoln’s release: “it comforts him to be the real thing.” 

I align after June Jordan, whom am I when pinched, patted, and bent?
Get behind her defense of Black English in On Call: How can I be who I am?

We do with what’s given.  I suppose, I may not share viewpoints, but still, 
I connect.  Of prose, Meena Alexander says she uses it to clear the underbrush 

to make space for the poem.  Vacate fields, ropes, a body.  Don’t hate on Elizabeth. 
Do you.  Frame how she pairs Brooks with Lawrence and Bearden.  

To argue, she opens walls, and living rooms.  So, you like death?  Is your project 
Fanon’s?  Is this all a setup?  Fan  – on – it was a jolt in perception, then.

Pieces of this, repeat.  Toni Morrison, where she writes: the remains of what were left
behind to reconstruct the world these remains imply.

Ties to Brooks’s litany of the black body that endures, a stream of violent verbs
to enter, under buzz and rows of halogen: burned, bricked, roped to trees, and bound.

Now, what contexts shift in the stacks that glare before you?  And how do you return,
after, to what seized Brooks at Fisk, standing to face all those Blacks?  

Copyright © 2014 by Ronaldo Wilson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 16, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

  At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of speech and the vertigo of death;
  the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena in submarine gardens;
  the laughter that sets on fire the rules and the holy commandments;
  the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
  the despair that boards a paper boat and crosses,
  for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-sorrow desert;
  the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self;
  the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors; the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and the garden of Netzahualcoyotl;
  the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the cave of thought;
  the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
  the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on the waves of language;
  the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid: the love in love.


Syllables seeds.

From The Collected Poems 1957-1987. Copyright © 1986 by Octavio Paz and Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

   Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
   bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
   it down, skim, and boil
   again, dreams, history, add them and boil
   again, boil and skim
   in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
   the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
   by the pencil sharpener
   who looked at you, looked away,
   boil that for hours, render it
   down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
   the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
   and sperm, and a bead 
   of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
   as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
   the fire, boil and skim, boil
   some more, add a fever
   and the virus that blinded an eye, now's the time 
   to add guilt and fear, throw
   logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
   two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
   used for "clearing"), boil and boil, render
   it down and distill,
   concentrate
   that for which there is no
   other use at all, boil it down, down, 
   then stir it with rosewater, that 
   which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
   which you smear on your lips 
   and go forth
   to plant as many kisses upon the world
   as the world can bear! 

From The Cradle Place by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

Aren't there bigger things to talk about
Than a window in Greenwich Village
And hyacinths sprouting
Like little puce poems out of a sick soul?
Some cosmic hearsay—
As to whom—it can't be Mars! put the moon—that way....
Or what winds do to canyons
Under the tall stars...
Or even
How that old roué, Neptune,
Cranes over his bald-head moons
At the twinkling heel of a sky-scraper.

This poem is in the public domain.

Orpheus

When I wrote of the women in their dances and 
      wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, god-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
      down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
      myself.
	  
There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
      child
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

From Muriel Rukeyser: Selected Poems by Muriel Rukeyser. Published by Library of America (American Poets Project). Copyright © 2004 by William Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of William Rukeyser. All rights reserved.

On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row. To the right, a field of wheat, a field of hay, young grasses breaking the soil, filling their allotted land with the rich, slow-waving spectacle of their grain. As for the farmers, they are, for the most part, indistinguishable: here the tractor is red, there yellow; here a pair of dirty hands, there a pair of dirty hands. They are cultivators of the soil. They grow crops by pattern, by acre, by foresight, by habit. What corn is to one, wheat is to the other, and though to some eyes the similarities outweigh the differences it would be as unthinkable for the second to commence planting corn as for the first to switch over to wheat. What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs, they say, so long as the plough stays out, the weeds stay in the ditch where they belong, though anyone would notice the wind-sewn cornstalks poking up their shaggy ears like young lovers run off into the bushes, and the kinship of these wild grasses with those the farmer cultivates is too obvious to mention, sage and dun-colored stalks hanging their noble heads, hoarding exotic burrs and seeds, and yet it is neither corn nor wheat that truly flourishes there, nor some jackalopian hybrid of the two. What grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected, even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road, few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk's descent from the lightning-struck tree. You've passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?

From No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, edited by Ray Gonzalez. Copyright © 2003 by Campbell McGrath. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

Close to the sod
   There can be seen
A thought of God
   In white and green.

Unmarred, unsoiled
   It cleft the clay,
Serene, unspoiled
   It views the day.

It is so holy
And yet so lowly.
   Would you enjoy
      Its grace and dower
   And not destroy
      The living flower?
Then you must, please,
Fall on your knees.

This poem is in the public domain.

            and i was thinking about this while i was flying
 toward iowa and thinking about how everyone was going to be
trying to locate the avant-garde      and about how almost
 everyone was going to agree that it would involve either
shocking or making it new      and and that i was supposed to be
 talking about this too      and i realized i was going to be
  confused      because practically every role classically
attributed to the avant-garde has been preempted by something
 else      and i reflected that i myself have never really had
a clear image of what it was to be avant-garde      though ive
 been thrust into the role often enough to know what it feels
 like to be avant-garde

                             a friend of mine had written a book
  marjorie perloff had written a book dealing with american
poetry as a kind of french connection      as opposed to the
 english connection which is conventionally supposed for it
  in the schools      now i personally think there are many
roots to contemporary american poetry      certainly my poetry
 and the poetry i admire      but i also know what writing a 
  book means      in a book you have to organize your ideas
 pretty much one thing at a time      if its an important thing
and you want to really get it done      and this is a book
  designed to challenge what i have always thought of as the
 anglophiliac model of american poetry that is so dominant in
 those literary strongholds east of the mississippi      or the
connecticut river      north of the monongahela      that are so
 strongly devoted to an anglican passion      that they give
  the impression of some kind of outpost in a novel by huxley
 or evelyn waugh      where the people are sitting around on a 
veranda sipping their gin slings in the shade of the local
 textile factory or integrated circuit fabricating plant
  dreaming of playing polo or cricket or rugby in the greener
 older playing fields at eton or harrow      which they may
  never have seen      being often second generation eastern
european jews from brooklyn or queens      or lithuanians from
  indiana or lutherans from wisconsin      and somehow there
  they are gathered on the veranda in new haven or manhattan
in memory of the british empire      of which they are among
 the last supports      and several columns of which this book
  is probably intended to take away
                                             or maybe more precisely
      this books is only bringing the news to these outposts
that the british empire has long since passed away      and
 that the messages from england would no longer be coming and
 had not been coming for a long time      and that there was a 
french connection as there is a russian connection and a
 spanish connection      and for many a chinese connection or
japanese connection      there are lots of connections in this
 world      but in a book you have to do one thing at a time
  the world may not happen one thing at a time but in a book
you have to tell one thing at a time
                                              and my friend was invited
 to washington to be part of a discourse with some of these
english emigres and refugees      among whom were numbered
  harold bloom and john hollander and richard howard      who
are certainly distinguished members of the refugee community

            now marjorie was giving a talk based on the
 last chapter of her most recent book      the poetics of
indeterminacy      the last chapter of which happens to deal
 with john cage and with me
                                     and whatever differences there may
  be between cage and me      and these are considerable      we
 were both obliterated by the righteous wrath of harold bloom
    who had hardly heard more than our names      when he
 denounced the proceedings as ridiculous and us as nonpoets
and stormed off the stage
                                  i was told about this performance of
  blooms and though it was wonderful and forgot about it
    but it was not long afterward that i was invited out to
 the very same place to do a talk performance on the folger 
librarys little shakespearean stage      and it happened that
 when i came to do the performance i had something serious in
  mind      because a friend of mine had died two or three days
before      after a sudden and unexpected hospitalization from
 which we had all hoped she would come out alive      and i
 wanted to make my piece a kind of homage      a mediation and
speculation on the nature of her life and death

            so in the course of things i told her story
    or what i knew of it      and i tried to consider the
 nature of the fit      between the life we lead and the death
we get      and what i wanted to think about was whether there
 was such a fit and if there was      what kind it was      and i
 did the best i could      under the circumstances      of being 
there      then      which is my image of what an artist does and
 is      somebody who does the best he can      under the
 circumstances      without worrying about making it new or
shocking      because the best you can do depends upon what you
 have to do and where      and if you have to invent something
new to do the work at hand you will      but not if you have a 
 ready-made that will work and is close at hand and you want
 to get on with the rest of the business
                                                   then youll pick up
 the tool thats there      a tool that somebody else has made
    that will work      and youll lean on it and feel grateful
when its good to you      for somebody elses work      and youll
 think of him as a friend who wold borrow as freely from you
 if he thought of it or needed to      because there is a
community of artists      who dont recognize copyrights and
 patents      or shouldnt      except under unusual circumstances
            who send each other tools in the mail or exchange them
in conversation in a bar
                              though i had a couple of friends
 from whom i got a lot of things in the mail      who got very
nervous about exchanging things with each other because they
 had ileana sonnabend looking over their shoulders      and one
of them got so distressed because he had ileana looking over
 his shoulder forbidding him to collaborate with the other
  friend      that when he wrote the text for the others
 installation performance he never put his name on it      but
this is an unusual situation      and i only mention it because
 of that

From what it means to be avant-garde. Copyright © 1993 by David Antin. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

it'll be kept secret
from her four daughters

who'll be flying in
from three different countries

after years of absence
reunion ends



When the grandmother dies

it'll ruin summertime
for the grandkids who

in their mothers' grief will eat
okra each day

fresh & leftover
till it tastes like ash




When the grandmother dies

the groundskeeper will beg for cash
he comforts her he'll say

& the sisters
will reply

Were it not for you
the dead would have died

Copyright © 2013 by Fady Joudah. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Reality cons me as it spur(n)s me.
This is the road to eternal
Consanguinity, eloping with
Hope and leaving me to pick
Up the proverbial bag.
But that's the argument for.

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Bernstein. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title. 
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now 
so immediately the poem has my attention, 
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve. 

And I like the first couple of stanzas, 
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing 
that runs through the whole poem 
and tells us that words are food thrown down 
on the ground for other words to eat. 
I can almost taste the tail of the snake 
in its own mouth, 
if you know what I mean. 

But what I’m not sure about is the voice, 
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans, 
but other times seems standoffish, 
professorial in the worst sense of the word 
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face. 
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do. 

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas, 
especially the fourth one. 
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges 
which gives me a very clear picture. 
And I really like how this drawbridge operator 
just appears out of the blue 
with his feet up on the iron railing 
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging— 
a hook in the slow industrial canal below. 
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s. 

Maybe it’s just me, 
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem. 
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars? 
And what’s an obbligato of snow? 
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets. 
At that point I’m lost. I need help. 

The other thing that throws me off, 
and maybe this is just me, 
is the way the scene keeps shifting around. 
First, we’re in this big aerodrome 
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles, 
which makes me think this could be a dream. 
Then he takes us into his garden, 
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose, 
though that’s nice, the coiling hose, 
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. 
The rain and the mint green light, 
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper? 
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery? 
There’s something about death going on here. 

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here 
is really two poems, or three, or four, 
or possibly none. 

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite. 
This is where the poem wins me back, 
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse. 
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before, 
but I still love the details he uses 
when he’s describing where he lives. 
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard, 
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can, 
the spool of thread for a table. 
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work 
night after night collecting all these things 
while the people in the house were fast asleep, 
and that gives me a very strong feeling, 
a very powerful sense of something. 
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that. 
Maybe that was just me. 
Maybe that’s just the way I read it. 

"Workshop" from The Art of Drowning, by Billy Collins, © 1995. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

I know you know
how to shame into obedience
the long chain tethering lawnmower
to fence. And in your garden
are no chrysanthemums, no hem
of lace from the headscarf
I loose for him at my choosing.
Around my throat still twines a thin line
from when, in another life, I was
guillotined. I know you know
how to slap a child across the face
with a sandal.
Forgive me. I love when he tells me to be
the water you siphon into the roots
of your trees. In that life,
I was your enemy and silverleaf.  
In this one, the child you struck was me.

Copyright © 2017 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.

But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.

The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy. 

Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thirsty? They race across ampersands,
scrolling. He isn't sure it's his head.
There's a delay right now. Smoke backed up.
Ladies please remove hats.

It was all over by morning. The village idiot
was surprised to see us. "...thought you were in Normandy."
Like all pendulums we were surprised,
then slightly miffed at what seemed to be happening
back in the bushes. Keep your ornaments,
if that's what they are. Return to sender, arse.

At the intersection a statue of a policeman
was directing traffic. It seemed like a vacation,
halloween or something. Process 
was the only real thing that happened.
We wove closer to the abyss, a maze of sunflowers.
The dauphin said to take our time.

From Quick Question, published by Ecco/HarperCollins. Copyright © 2012 by John Ashbery. Used with permission of the author.

This poem previously appeared in jubilat, issue 21.