Maya Angelou1928 to present:She is a writer, dancer,television director, radioshow host, and anAfrican-Americanactivist. She has writtenfive autobiographies.
Poor GirlYou’ve got another love You’re going to leave her too and I know it and I know itSomeone who adores you She’ll never know just like me what made you goHanging on your words She’ll cry and wonder like they were gold what went wrongThinking that she understands your soul Then she’ll beginPoor Girl to sing this song Just like me. Poor Girl Just like me.You’re breaking another heart and I know itAnd there’s nothing I can doIf I try to tell her what I knowShe’ll misunderstand and make me goPoor Girl Just like me.
On Reaching FortyOther acquainted yearssidlewith modestdecorumacross the scrim of toughenedtears and to a stageplanked with laughter boardsand waxed with rueful lossBut fortywith the authorizedbrazenness of a uniformedcop stompsno-knockinginto the scriptbumps a funky grind on theshabby curtain of youthand delays the action.Unless you have the inbornwisdomand graceand are clever enoughto die at thirty-nine.
TearsTearsThe crystal ragsViscous tattersOf a worn-through soulMoansDeep swan songBlue farewellOf a dying dream.Sounds Like PearlsSounds Like pearlsRoll of your tongue To grace this eager ebon ear.Doubt and fear, Ungainly things,With blushings Disappear.
Gwendolyn Brooks1917-2000:She was born in Topeka,Kansas. In her early writings,she used a strict technicalform and lofty word choice.In 1967 her work achieved anew tone and vision, as shechanged to a more simplewriting style so that herthemes could come acrossmore strongly.
Martin Luther King Jr.April 4, 1968A man went forth with gifts.He was a prose poem.He was a tragic grace.He was a warm music.He tried to heal the vivid volcanoes.His ashes are reading the world.His Dream still wishes to anointthe barricades of faith and of control.His word still burns the center of the sun, above the thousands and the hundred thousands.The word was Justice. It was spoken.So it shall be spoken.So it shall be done.
Best FriendsGetting to home means joiningVery Best Friends –from the very wide shelfmy father put on a wall for me.One Friend, or another, knows what to say to meon Monday, or Thursday,for Monday or Thursday need.If I want Repairing –or something to lock me up –or a happy key to open me –or fire when school has made me crispy-cold –coming homeI choosefrom Very Best Friends on the very wide shelfmy father put on a wallfor me.
We Real CoolWe real cool. WeLeft School. WeLurk late. WeStrike straight. WeSing sin. WeThin gin. WeJazz June. weDie soon.
Billy Collins1941 to present:Using a sarcastic, funnywriting voice, he createssimplistic stanzas to try tocreate images that pullthe reader away from reallife. Bruce Weber of theNew York Times calls himthe most popular poet inAmerica.
On Turning TenThe whole idea of it makes me feellike I’m coming down with something,something worse than any stomach acheor the headaches I get from reading in bad light –a kind of measles of the spirit,a mumps of the psyche,a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.You tell me it is too early to be looking back,but that is because you have forgottenthe perfect simplicity of being oneand the beautiful complexity introduced by two.But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.At four I was an Arabian wizard.I could make myself invisibleby drinking a glass of milk a certain way.at seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.But now I am mostly at the windowwatching the late afternoon light.Back then it never felt so solemnlyagainst the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garageas it does today,all the dark blue speed drained out of it.This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,time to turn the first big number.It seems only yesterday I used to believethere was nothing under my skin but light.If you cut me I could shine.But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,I skin my knees. I bleed.
Introduction to PoetryI ask them to take a poemand hold it up to the lightlike a color slideor press an ear against its hive.I say drop a mouse into a poemand watch him probe his way out,or walk inside the poem’s roomand feel the walls for a light switch.I want them to waterskiacross the surface of a poemwaving at the author’s name on the shore.But all they want to dois tie the poem to a chair with ropeand torture a confession out of it.They begin beating it with a hoseto find out what it really means.
PassengersAt the gate, I sit in a row of blue seatswith the possible company of my death,this sprawling miscellany of people –carry-on bags and paperbacks –that could be gathered in a flashinto a band of pilgrims on the last open road.Not that I thinkif our plane crumpled into a mountainwe would all ascend together,holding hands like a ring of sky divers,into a sudden gasp of brightness,or that there would be some common spotfor us to reunite to jubilize the moment,some spaceless, pillarless Greecewhere we could, at the count of three,toss our ashes into the sunny air.(continued)
It’s just that the way that man has his briefcaseso carefully arranged,the way that girl is cooling her tea,and the flow of the comb that womanpasses through her daughter’s hair . . .and when you consider the altitude,the secret parts of the engines,and all the hard water and the deep canyons below . . .well, I just think it would be good if one of usmaybe stood up and said a few words,or, so as not to involve the police,at least quietly wrote something down.
Rita Dove1952 to present:She speaks with a directvoice in her poems andwith dramatic intensity.In addition to writingprose and poetry, she haswritten text for musicalcomposers and is anaccomplished moderncello musician.
Variation on PainTwo strings, one pierced cry.So many ways to imitateThe ringing in his ears.He lay on the bunk, mandolinIn his arms. Two stringsFor each note and seventeenFrets; ridged soundHumming beneath callousedFingertips.There was a needleIn his head but nothingFit through it. Sound quiveredLike a rope stretched clearTo land, tensed and brimming,A man gurgling air.Two greased stringsFor each pierced lobe:So is the past forgiven.
HappenstanceWhen you appeared it was as ifmagnets cleared the air.I had never seen that smile beforeor your hair, flying silver. Someonewaving goodbye, she was silver, too.Of course you didn’t see me.I called softly so you could choosenot to answer – then called again.You turned in the light, your eyesseeking your name.
Heart to HeartIt’s neither red I want, I want –nor sweet. but I can’t open it:It doesn’t melt there’s no key.or turn over, I can’t wear itbreak or harden, on my sleeve,so it can’t feel or tell you frompain, the bottom of ityearning, how I feel. Here,regret. it’s all yours, now – but you’ll haveIt doesn’t have to take me,a tip to spin on, too.it isn’t evenshapely –just a thick clutchof muscle,lopsided,mute. Still,I feel it insideits cage soundinga dull tattoo:
Robert Hass1941 to present:He writes in a manner thatallows clarity ofexpression, conciseness,and strong imagery.Topics are those found ineveryday life. He is alsovery fond of Japanesehaiku poems.
Child Naming FlowersWhen old crones wandered in the woods, I don’t know how we survive it.I was the hero on the hill On this sunny morningin clear sunlight. in my life as an adult, I am looking in a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.Death’s hounds feared me. It is all the fullness that there is in light. A towhee scratches in the leavesSmell of wild fennel, outside my open door.high loft of sweet fruit high in the branches He always does.of the flowering plum. A moment ago I felt so sickThen I am cast down and so coldinto the terror of childhood, I could hardly move.into the mirror and the greasy knives,the darkwoodpile under the fig treesin the dark. It is onlythe malice of voices, the old horrorthat is nothing, parentsquarreling, somebodydrunk.
Emblems of a Prior OrderPatient cultivation,as the white petals ofthe climbing rosewere to some mana lifetime’s careful work,the mess of petalson the lawn was bredto fall there as a dogis bred to stand –gardens are a historyof art, this fin-de-siècleflower & Dobermann’spinscher, all deadlysleekness in the neighbor’syard, were born, brennendeliebe, under the lindensthat bear the morningtoward us on a silver tray.
MeasureRecurrences.Coppery light hesitatesagain in the small-leavedJapanese plum. Summerand sunset, the peaceof the writing deskand the habitual peaceof writing, these thingsform an order I onlybelong to in the idlenessof attention. Last lightrims the blue mountainand I almost glimpsewhat I was born to,not so much in the sunlightor the plum treeas in the pulsethat forms these lines.
Ted Kooser1939 to present:It is said of Mr. Kooser thathe has written more perfectpoems than any other poetof his generation. He isacclaimed for hisplainspoken style, gift ofmetaphor, and of his findingbeauty in ordinary things.He is currently an Englishprofessor at the Univ. ofNebraska at Lincoln.
SparklersI scratched your name in longhandon the night, then you wrote mine.I couldn’t see you, near me,laughing and chasing my namethrough the air, but I could hearyour heart, I think, and feel your breathagainst the darkness, hurrying.One word swirled out of your handas you rushed hard to write itall the way out to its endbefore its beginning was gone.It left a frail red linetrembling along on the darkness,and that was my name, my name.
Walking to WorkToday, it’s the obsidianice on the sidewalkwith its milk white bubblespopping under my shoesthat pleases me, and upon ita lump of old snowwith a trail like a comet,that somebody,probably falling in love,has kickedall the way to the corner.
Daddy LonglegsHere, on the fine long legs springy as steel,a life rides, sealed in a small brown pillthat skims along over the basement floorwrapped up in a simple obsession.Eight legs reach out like the master ribsof a web in which some thought is caughtdead center in its own small world,a thought so far from the touch of thingsthat we can only guess at it. If mine,it would be the secret dreamof walking alone across the floor of my lifewith an easy grace, and with love enoughto live on at the center of myself.
A Birthday PoemJust past dawn, the sun standswith its heavy red headin a black stanchion of trees,waiting for someone to comewith his bucketfor the foamy white light,and then a long day in the pasture.I too spend my days grazing,feasting on every green momenttill darkness calls,and with the othersI walk away into the night,swinging the little tin bellof my name.
Stanley Kunitz1905 to 2006:He is considered to bethe most distinguishedand accomplished poetin our country. At age 95he became the oldestperson to receive thetitle of United StatesPoet Laureate.
TwilightI wait. I deepen in the room.Fed lions, glowing, congregateIn corners, sleep and fade. For whomIt may concern I, tawny, wait.Time flowing through the window; daySpilling on the board its brightLast blood. Folding (big, gauzy, gray),A moth sits on the western light.Sits on my heart that, darkened, dripsNo honey from its punctured core,Yet feed my hands and heeds my lips.The Moon, the Moon, is at the door!
Hermetic PoemThe secret my heart keepsFlows into cracked cups.No saucer can containThis overplus of mine:It glisters to the floor,Lashing like lizard fireAnd ramps upon the wallsCrazy with ruby ills.Who enters by my doorIs drowned, burned, stung, and starred.
ChangeDissolving in the ceramic vatOf time, man (gristle and fat),Corrupting on a rock in spaceThat crumbles, lifts his impermanent faceTo watch the stars, his brain locked tightAgainst the tall revolving night.Yet is he neither here nor thereBecause the mind moves everywhere;And he is neither now nor thenBecause tomorrow comes againForeshadowed, and the ragged wingOf yesterday’s rememberingCuts sharply the immediate moon;Nor is he always: late and soonBecoming, never being, tillBecoming is a being still.Here, Now, and Always, man would beInviolate eternally;This is his spirit’s trinity.
Mary Oliver1935 to present:She often writes about thequiet side of nature,noticing the smallest ofdetails. She was goodfriends with Edna Millay’ssister and helped organizethe late poet’s papers afterher death. The New YorkTimes once described Ms.Oliver as America’s best-selling poet.
The JourneyOne day you finally knew It was already latewhat you had to do, and began, enough, and a wild night,though the voices around you and the road full of fallenkept shouting branches and stones.their bad advice – But little by little,though the whole house as you left their voices behind,began to tremble the stars began to burnand you felt the old tug through the sheets of clouds,at your ankles. and there was a new voice“Mend my life!” which you slowlyeach voice cried. recognized as your own,But you didn’t stop. that kept you companyYou know what you had to do, as you strode deeper and deeperthough the wind pried into the world,with its stiff fingers determined to doat the very foundations, the only thing you could do –though their melancholy determined to savewas terrible. the only life you could save.
The Sun Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful than the way the sun, every evening, relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizonand into the clouds or the hills, or the rumpled sea, and is gone – and how it slides again out of the blackness, every morning,on the other side of the world, like a red flower
Streaming upward on its heavenly oils, say, on a morning in early summer, at its perfect imperial distance – and have you ever felt for anything such wild love –do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you as you stand there empty-handed – or have you too turned from this world – or have you too gone crazy for power, for things?