Tag Archives: Poetry

Remembering Peter O’Toole

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My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
by William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

I decided to use this poem today because as I was listening to NPR on my way home yesterday and heard an interview from when Melissa Block spoke to O’Toole in 2007. Recalling the interview, Block said that “the most memorable part of our conversation had to do with Shakespeare; in particular, with Shakespeare’s sonnets.” O’Toole said that he knows all 156 of them, and said:

They’re my life companion. They’re at the side of my bed. They travel with me. I pick them up, and I read them all the time. I find them endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful, endlessly – they say, they hit the spot so many times on so many things.

After some prodding, he recited one of his favorites, Sonnet 130, which is the poem above. I’ve always enjoyed this sonnet too; it’s almost the anti-sonnet, a parody. Yet, one may look at it in other ways as well. First of all, love is not what is on the outside,but what is on the inside. A second, for almost four centuries, questions have arisen about William Shakespeare’s sexuality. If you think of his description of the “lady” above she seems more masculine than feminine.

The only indication that Shakespeare may have been homosexual is found, not in his life, but in his writings. One of his most prominent works, his 154 Sonnets, is most often cited in such discussions. The majority of these sonnets deal with the author’s love for a young man, referred to in the works as his “beloved fair youth.”

Sonnet 154

The little Love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;
And so the General of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

The writer’s intense romantic feelings for this person have triggered many to believe that Shakespeare may have been gay. Even the dedication of another of his works, his poem “The Rape of Lucrece,” is strongly worded. “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end.”

It has not been uncommon for writers and musicians to substitute the sex of the object of their desire to hide their sexuality. So maybe Sonnet 130 is just that, the description of a plain woman instead of a tall, dark, and handsome young man that the sonnet nearly describes. It’s just a theory and probably a bad theory, yet, still let’s read this sonnet and remember two things:

Shakespeare was a wonderful poet, and should be read often.
Peter O’Toole was a wonderful actor who will be missed, yet we will always have two of my favorite movies to remeber him by: Lawrence of Arabia and A Lion in Winter.


Travel

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Travel
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

The way I choose poems is probably a mystery to a lot of my readers. Truthfully, there is probably no rhyme or reason to it. I choose what I like and post it. Today was a bit different. I came across the picture above and knew I wanted a poem about trains. I love traveling by train; it was one of my favorite things about Europe. Railway travel is honestly not very practical where I love in the South. However, when I saw the picture above, I immediately thought about how romantic it would be to be in a sleeper car curled up next to your lover as the trains rocks back and forth down the railway. So I knew I had to find a poem about trains and decide to do some research. After reading a dozen or so poems, I came across the beautiful poem above by Edna St. Vincent Millay. After reading is poem, I fell in love with the last two lines:

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

I feel the same way, especially if I was traveling with a lover. I have never enjoyed flying, so I much prefer train travel. There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it was going. Do any of you like traveling by train?

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, on February 22, 1892. Her mother, Cora, raised her three daughters on her own after asking her husband to leave the family home in 1899. Cora encouraged her girls to be ambitious and self-sufficient, teaching them an appreciation of music and literature from an early age. In 1912, at her mother’s urging, Millay entered her poem “Renascence” into a contest: she won fourth place and publication in The Lyric Year, bringing her immediate acclaim and a scholarship to Vassar. There, she continued to write poetry and became involved in the theater. She also developed intimate relationships with several women while in school, including the English actress Wynne Matthison. In 1917, the year of her graduation, Millay published her first book, Renascence and Other Poems. At the request of Vassar’s drama department, she also wrote her first verse play, The Lamp and the Bell (1921), a work about love between women.

Millay, whose friends called her “Vincent,” then moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, where she led a notoriously Bohemian life. She lived in a nine-foot-wide attic and wrote anything she could find an editor willing to accept. She and the other writers of Greenwich Village were, according to Millay herself, “very, very poor and very, very merry.” She joined the Provincetown Players in their early days, and befriended writers such as Witter Bynner, Edmund Wilson, Susan Glaspell, and Floyd Dell, who asked for Millay’s hand in marriage. Millay, who was openly bisexual, refused, despite Dell’s attempts to persuade her otherwise. That same year Millay published A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), a volume of poetry which drew much attention for its controversial descriptions of female sexuality and feminism. In 1923 her fourth volume of poems, The Harp Weaver, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to publishing three plays in verse, Millay also wrote the libretto of one of the few American grand operas, The King’s Henchman (1927).

Millay married Eugen Boissevain, a self-proclaimed feminist and widower of Inez Milholland, in 1923. Boissevain gave up his own pursuits to manage Millay’s literary career, setting up the readings and public appearances for which Millay grew quite famous. According to Millay’s own accounts, the couple acted liked two bachelors, remaining “sexually open” throughout their twenty-six-year marriage, which ended with Boissevain’s death in 1949. Edna St. Vincent Millay died in 1950.


Mending Wall

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Mending Wall
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

The image at the heart of “Mending Wall” is arresting: two men meeting on terms of civility and neighborliness to build a barrier between them. They do so out of tradition, out of habit. The poem seems to meditate conventionally on three grand themes: barrier-building (segregation, in the broadest sense of the word), the doomed nature of this enterprise, and our persistence in this activity regardless. But, as we so often see when we look closely at Frost’s best poems, what begins in folksy straightforwardness ends in complex ambiguity. The speaker would have us believe that there are two types of people: those who stubbornly insist on building superfluous walls (with clichés as their justification) and those who would dispense with this practice—wall-builders and wall-breakers. But are these impulses so easily separable? And what does the poem really say about the necessity of boundaries?

Frost’s poem is often listed as one of the great friendship poems, and I believe it speaks wonderfully of some of the intricacies of friendships. I have wonderful friends close to home and some who live far away from me and are part of my camaraderie of cyber friends. My friends closer to home are those I went to school with, work with, or met through family or acquaintances. All of my blog friends, who by the way mean as much to me as my friends who live nearby, live in far away places (with one or two exceptions). I think though that with all friendships we build walls. Just as the speaker in “Mending Wall” asks why we need the wall, I too ask why we need the walls. I don’t know that I have an answer for that, but I think I might have an idea. I know there are certain things in real life that I don’t share with my friends. Different friends I will reveal different things to. It’s not that I’m lying to them, at least I don’t see it that way, but it is because different friends share different parts of my life. Most of my friends know that I a gay, but not all of them. Why don’t I tell them? I really don’t know, but part of it is that the subject never came up. They may or may not know or may think they do know, but it really doesn’t matter to me. It is really not my defining characteristic, so why should it matter.

Yet, I am very honest about myself within the context of my blog. A lot of that has to do with the anonymity of writing a blog. Some people know me personally who read my blog. I am very honest and open with those people. I trust them to be open and honest with me and many of them are. Some have become my greatest friends, and they know who I am talking about. I love them dearly, and I hope they know it. Others I’m just getting to know. I feel as if I can often be more honest with them, but are their still walls involved? Of course there are, usually that wall is the great distance between us, but I still endeavor to be completely honest with them. Some may get to know me and not like my honesty or some other aspect about me. When that happens, I rarely know what it is, even though I wish I did know. If I knew what I said or did I might could mend things. Then again, I might just have a fundamental flaw that they see that I don’t, but I would lie, to fix it if possible. Sometimes, I just want to know what changed so suddenly in the friendship, but that wall is there and my southern upbringing taught me that it is rude to be impolite. The walls are around us, and I know that we don’t need them, just as the speaker in this poem states. Yet, you still have to wonder, do “Good fences make good neighbors”?

Hell, I think I got off the subject here, yet I chose this poem to speak about friendships. I do love the poems of Robert Frost. “Mending Wall” is one of my favorites. I can’t wait until we get to Frost’s poetry in the American Literature class that I teach. I have always enjoyed teaching the poets.

I want to add one more poem to end this post. It is also from a favorite poet of mine and it speaks for itself.

Dear Friends
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.


Eclecticism

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Eclecticism: a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.

I realize that my posts can be a bit eclectic at times. I post a Bible study each Sunday, a poem each Tuesday, and a “moment of zen” picture each Saturday. The rest of my posts can be about anything. I used to post more historically oriented posts, yet there is just so much that I can write about LGBT history without spending way too much time on this blog. After all, I do teach during the day, try to spend time working on my dissertation (maybe one day soon it will be finished), and I have, though limited as it is, a social life. So I wanted to do a post on who I am. At least, who I am intellectually.

I’m a simple history teacher, who also teaches government and English. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history (the M.A. was in American military history, believe it or not) and am currently working on my PhD in US History. I had minor fields in jurisprudence (undergrad) and gender and American literature for my graduate degrees. I have a wide range of interests. Some of them are things that I love, others are things that I wanted to understand more about myself, which leads me to the main point of this post. Some people mistake me for an English teacher, and others mistake me for a religious scholar. I’m neither. As I said, I’m simply an historian who teaches.

My posts are generally things that interest me, and I am always gratified when it interests others as well. I think that what makes a great teacher is someone who is intellectually curious and wants to share that knowledge. That might sound like I called myself a “great teacher,” I’m not. I constantly work hard to become a better teacher, but I enjoy sharing the knowledge that I have. So why do I write my posts on religion and poetry?

My posts on religion are for my study of the Bible and for those who want to go on that journey with me. I am by no means a religious scholar. I study the Bible to help me be a better person. I share these studies hoping that I will make a difference in this world, however small it may be. I know that some of my readers are not big fans of my religious posts, but I enjoy writing them. Those posts help me to deal with life. Just as hearing a sermon on Sunday morning generates warmth in my heart, so does writing my posts on religion.

As for my poetry posts, I happen to have a personal passion for poetry. I love the melodic structure of poetry and how a poem can resonate a special meaning to different people. For me, poetry is not about the literary analysis that so many people want to associate with poetry. Yes some of it does take a deeper look, just look at the poetry of Ezra Pound, some of which have so few words that each word must be dissected for its meaning. When I read poetry, I look at what it says to me, not necessarily what I am told that it is supposed to mean. Because of my love of poetry, my English students always get more poetry than they ever wanted to learn about. I often even use poetry when teaching history.

I am an eclectic person. I have always believed that a good historian has as much working knowledge of as many subjects as he or she can. Therefore, I always find it hard to find anyone to play a trivia game with me. It’s not that I am incredibly smart, but it’s that I have a wide range of trivia knowledge. It helps me make my lectures interesting, and to be able to answer questions that I get from students by using what I consider informed bullshit. I can generally come up with an answer to most question, but that does not make me an expert. There are really only two things that I would consider myself an expert on. Those two things have to do with topics of my master’s thesis and my PhD dissertation. Other than that, I am constantly adding to my repertoire of knowledge.

Anyway, that’s me, at least, the intellectual side. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I am an expert on anything I post. I think that I am credible because I do my research on my posts, but I hate for anyone to think that I provide “the” answer for anything.

Oh, and I didn’t address my other regular feature, my “moments of zen.” Those posts are eye candy to wind down the week. Thank you all for reading my blog. I will continue to endeavor to provide you with quality posts each day.

P.S. I hope that this is not just a totally narcissistic post.


Ode to Masturbation

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Ode to Masturbation
By Ocean Vuong

Pearled semen trickles from vessel
as the silence of possibilities dries
on the floor and inside my palm.

Even now, as the body trembles
from the pleasure of its making,
somewhere, a plane
is pregnant with death.

When starlight sparkling
on the surface of falling bombs
and flames turn muscle
into pompous, skin into ash,

the sound of a scream in mid-death,
straining to push the weight
of last words, can you blame the hand
for craving the softest parts?

Reach down, there is music
in the body, play yourself
like a lyre, insert the finger
into sanctum, feel
the quivering of crevices, skin
palpitating ripples as if stretched
over drumbeats.

Reach down. Let explosions be muted
by climaxes, the Holy Water
between your thighs flow
into rivulets of cleansing,
let it rinse the soil of drying blood.
Reach down, there is music
in the cunt, the cock,
the asshole. Grab your balls—
that grenade of white flowers.

Reach down as fathers destroy the sons
and daughters of other fathers,
as faces emerge from wombs
and exiled into memory.
Reach down as a thousand I love you’s
fail to reach the man caressing
the trigger’s black tongue.

Because even now, in a city shimmering
from shards of broken halos,
we are not holy, only beautiful.
Because even now as I kneel to wipe
this cooling pool of sperm,

down the hall—a man
is beating madness into a child’s skull,
and not once will I ask
my unborn children
to forgive
this hand.

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Born in 1988 in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong was raised by women (a single mother, aunts, and a grandmother) in housing projects throughout Hartford, Connecticut and received his B.A. in English Literature from Brooklyn College.

He is the author of two chapbooks: No (YesYes Books, 2013) and Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010), which was an American Library Association’s Over The Rainbow selection and has been taught widely in universities, both in America and abroad. A recipient of a 2013 Pushcart Prize, other honors include fellowships from Kundiman, Poets House, and the Saltonstall Foundation For the Arts, as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award. Poems appear in Denver Quarterly, Quarterly West, Passages North, Guernica, The Normal School, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Best of the Net 2012 and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize. Work has also been translated into Hindi, Korean, Vietnamese, and Russian.


Dear Friends

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Dear Friends
Edwin Arlington Robinson

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

If you are familiar with the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson then you probably know him for his poems “Richard Cory” or “Miniver Cheevy.” If you aren’t familiar with these two poems, I did a post about them nearly two years ago. In that particular post, I took these two poems and gave them a new personal meaning for me. I think that is the purpose of a lot of poetry. A poet may have a particular theme in mind when they write a poem, yet if it doesn’t resonate with the reader, then it really is just a personal exercise for the poet. Yet sometimes they have a special meaning for those who read them. Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poems always have a special meaning for me.

In “Dear Friends,” Arlington is explaining his craft of writing poetry. You can just picture his friends bemoaning his writing career. He was not particularly successful until later In life. It’s very sweet – their care – and very misdirected which is why I like his response to them in this poem – it’s still sweet and kind, but also firm as he says “this is my passion, so let me be.” As a teacher, people often wonder how I can stand my job. Yet, I truly love teaching. As Arlington says in the last three lines:

So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

Teaching is not about the money I make. I could do other things and make more money, yet my passion is to share my knowledge. So when someone disparages my career choice, I know that t was the calling that I was given. Yes, sometimes I might have felt like stepping outside my classroom and yelling, “This is not a classroom; it is Hell with fluorescent lighting!” Yet, this year I’ve taken a more positive approach, and it is slowly bit surely going to make this school year better.

I think, for those of us who tend to find their dreams at odds with popular tastes and are constantly torn between being true to themselves as square pegs and resigning themselves to whittling away at the corners in order to fit round holes, Robinson’s poem will resonate a lot. Not just as a teacher might I find it hard to fit expectations, but also as a gay man. Because I grew up in the South, there were certain expectations of me: get an education, get a good job, get married, have a family. Yet, I don’t fit those perfectly, nor will I ever. I am who I am, and that makes me the person I want to be. We should always remember that.


Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost wrote a number of long narrative poems like “The Death of the Hired Man,” and most of his best-known poems are medium-length, like his sonnets “Mowing” and “Acquainted with the Night,” or his two most famous poems, both written in four stanzas, “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” But some of his most beloved poems are famously brief lyrics—like “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which is condensed into only eight lines of three beats each (iambic trimeter), four little rhyming couplets containing the whole cycle of life, an entire philosophy.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” achieves its perfect brevity by making every word count, with a richness of meanings. At first, you think it’s a simple poem about the natural life cycle of a tree:

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.”

But the very mention of “gold” expands beyond the forest to human commerce, to the symbolism of wealth and the philosophy of value. Then the second couplet seems to return to a more conventional poetic statement about the transience of life and beauty:

“Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.”

But immediately after that we realize that Frost is playing with the multiple meanings of these simple, mostly single syllable words—else why would he repeat “leaf” like he’s ringing a bell? “Leaf” echoes with its many meanings—leaves of paper, leafing through a book, the color leaf green, leafing out as an action, as budding forth, time passing as the pages of the calendar turn….

“Then leaf subsides to leaf.”

As the Friends of Robert Frost at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Vermont point out, the description of colors in the first lines of this poem is a literal depiction of the spring budding of willow and maple trees, whose leaf buds appear very briefly as golden-colored before they mature to the green of actual leaves.

Yet in the sixth line, Frost makes it explicit that his poem carries the double meaning of allegory:

“So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.”

He is retelling the history of the world here, how the first sparkle of any new life, the first blush of the birth of mankind, the first golden light of any new day always fades, subsides, sinks, goes down.

“Nothing gold can stay.”

Frost has been describing spring, but by speaking of Eden he brings fall, and the fall of man, to mind without even using the word. That’s why we chose to include this poem in our seasonal collection of poems for autumn rather than spring.


Why Poetry Can Be Hard For Most People

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Why Poetry Can Be Hard For Most People
by Dorothea Lasky

Because speaking to the dead is not something you want to do
When you have other things to do in your day
Like take out the trash or use the vacuum
In the edge between the stove and cupboard
Because the rat is everywhere
Crawling around
Or more so walking
And it is doesn’t even notice you
It has its own intentions
And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were
Because life is no more important than eating
Or fucking
Or talking someone into fucking
Or talking someone into something
Or sleeping calmly and soundly
And all you can hope for are the people who put that calm in you
Or let you go into it with dignity
Because poetry reminds you
That there is no dignity
In living
You just muddle through and for what
Jack Jack you wrote to him
You wrote to all of us
I wasn’t even born
You wrote to me
A ball of red and green shifting sparks
In my parents’ eye
You wrote to me and I just listened
I listened I listened I tell you
And I came back
No
Poetry is hard for most people
Because of sound

 

About This Poem
“I wrote ‘Why Poetry Can Be Hard For Most People’ after reading and teaching some of Jack Spicer’s letters to Lorca. I became bewitched by the idea that we are always speaking to the dead when we write poems, especially Spicer’s line, ‘You are dead and the dead are very patient.’ I think the communication between the dead and undead is so full of real emotion because of its patience. Poetry is patient, too.”–Dorothea Lasky

About Dorothea Lasky
Born on March 27, 1978, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dorothea Lasky received her B.A. from Washington University. She continued her studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she received her M.F.A. She has also earned a masters degree in arts and education from Harvard University and a PhD in creativity and education from the University of Pennsylvania. Lasky is the author of two books of poetry, AWE (Wave Books, 2007), and Black Life (Wave Books, 2010). She has also authored numerous chapbooks and pamphlets, most recently Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). She lives in New York.


In a Station of the Metro

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In a Station of the Metro
by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

About this Poem
Though a very short poem, only fourteen words, this is the only Ezra Pound poem that many people will read in their lives. Why? Because it’s two lines long. “In the Station of the Metro” is an exercise in brevity. It is an Imagist poem, from a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. Pound wrote it after having a spiritual experience in a Paris metro (subway) station in 1912.

In 1916, Pound wrote about the process of writing the poem (Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916). Apparently, he originally thought he could best capture his vision in a painting. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a painter, which was a problem. So he wrote a 30-line poem, which he didn’t like. He pitched the long version in the waste bin. Six months later, he wrote a shorter poem, but didn’t like that one either and threw it away. Finally, a full year after the experience, he had been reading short Japanese poems called haikus, and he figured he would try to adapt this form to his vision in the metro. The result, which was published in 1913, is one the most famous, influential, and haunting works in modern poetry.

Pound packs a lot of meaning into these two lines and fourteen words. By linking human faces, an allusion for people themselves, with petals on a damp bough, the poet calls attention to both the elegance and beauty of human life, as well as its transience. A dark, wet bough implies that it has just rained, and the petals stuck to the bough were shortly before attached to flowers from the tree. They may still be living, but they will not be for long. In this way, Pound calls attention to human mortality as a whole – we are all dying. This is the essence of the poem.


To Electra

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To Electra
by Robert Herrick

I dare not ask to kiss,
I dare not beg a smile,
Lest having that, or this,
I might grow proud the while.

No, no, the utmost share
Of my desire shall be
Only to kiss the air
That lately kissèd thee.

About This Poem
“To Electra” is one of many poems Herrick wrote to a woman he calls Electra, whose appearance he compares, in another poem, to “broad day throughout the east.”

About This Poet
Robert Herrick was most likely born in London in 1591. Although it is not known when Herrick was born, he was baptized on August 24, 1591. Overshadowed during his lifetime by metaphysical poets like John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Herrick became more popular as his work was rediscovered in the 19th century. He died in 1674.

PS Sometime it’s nice to imagine a poem like the one above is between two men.


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