Looking Back in My Eighty-first Year – Maxine Kumin


text and audio from Poems Out Loud

How did we get to be old ladies—
my grandmother’s job—when we
were the long-legged girls?

Instead of marrying the day after graduation,
in spite of freezing on my father’s arm as
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I’m not sure I want to do this,

I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine
the original manuscript
of Stendhal’s unfinished Lucien Leuwen

I, who had never been west of the Mississippi,
should have crossed the ocean
in third class on the Cunard White Star,
the war just over, the Second World War

when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over
a fence line. How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.

Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked

till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back
littering the runway with carbon paper…
Why didn’t I go? It was fated.

Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-legged girl.

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka died on Thursday the 9th at the age of 79. While others are more qualified to speak of the man and his work, I do want to take a moment to reflect upon Baraka. It was his readings that I discovered in college that later inspired the creation of this website. He, more than other poets I had heard at the time, showed me how a poem can be transformed by a performance. I thank him for that.

NY Times: Amiri Baraka, Polarizing Poet and Playwright, Dies at 79
NPR: Remembering Activist Poet Amiri Baraka
PotW.org: Amiri Baraka’s reading of “Dope”
PotW.org: Amiri Baraka’s reading of “Western Front”
PotW.org: Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”

And the City Stood in Its Brightness – Czeslaw Milosz


(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)

And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned,
And life was running out, Ruteboeuf’s or Villon’s,
Descendants already born were dancing their dances,
Women looked in their mirrors, made from a new metal,
What was it all for, if I cannot speak?
She stood above me, head like the earth on its axis,
My ashes were laid in a can under the bistro counter,

And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned,
To my home in the display case of a granite museum
Beside eyelash mascara, alabaster vials, and menstruation girdles of an Egyptian princess,
There was only a sun forged out of gold plate,
On darkening parquetry the creep of unhurried steps,

And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned,
My face covered with a coat though now no one was left
Of those who could have remembered my debts never paid,
My shames not forever, base deeds to be forgiven.
And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned.


Link Wednesday – Robert Pinsky, Rap Genius, Footnotes

Robert Pinsky >> No longer at Slate, the former US Poet Laureate has a new site for discussing poetry, joining the ranks of the WordPress many (link). The current discussion centers around parallels between Edgar Allen Poe’s “Fairy-land” and (potw.org favorite) Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Man Moth”. The comments are robust and engaging. The site is certainly worth bookmarking and visiting regularly.

>> The website Rap Genius crowdsources rap annotations, allowing users to login and supplement the text for lyrics to a range of songs. It has expanded to include close cousins “rock” and poetry. Here’s a link to Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet. Annotations range from “translating” to providing greater historical context to linking to YouTube videos. It is the Internet, after all (note the phrase, “Sometime too hot” links to this video “Attack of the Sun“).

>> Going in the opposite direction is this piece from the NY Times from 2011 that worries, “Will the E-Book Kill the Footnote?“. I personally (and happily) suspect the footnote to be a hardy soul. And we haven’t seen the final iteration of the e-reader. In the meantime, sites like Grantland are keeping footnotes alive and well on the web.

On Moral Leadership as a Political Dilemma – June Jordan


(audio from pennsound)
(Text from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan


Watergate, 1973

I don’t know why but
I cannot tell a lie

I chopped down the cherry tree
I did
I did that
I chopped down the cherry tree

and to tell you the truth
that was only in the morning

which left a whole day and part
of an evening (until suppertime)
to continue doing what I like to do
about cherry trees

which is
to chop them down

then pick the cherries
and roll them into a cherry-pie circle
and then
stomp the cherries
stomp them
jumping up and down

hard and heavy
jumping up to stomp them
so the flesh leaks and the juice
runs loose
and then I get to pick at the pits
or else I pick up the cherry pits
(depending on my mood)
and then
I fill my mouth completely full
of cherry pits
and run over to the river
the Potomac
where I spit
the cherry pits
47 to 65 cherry pits spit
into the Potomac
at one spit

and to tell you the truth some more
if I ever see a cherry tree
standing around no matter where
and here let me please be perfectly clear
no matter where
I see a cherry tree
standing around

even if it belongs to a middle-American of
moderate means with a two-car family
that is falling apart in a respectable
falling apart
mind-your-manners manner

even then
or even if you happen to be
corporate rich or
unspeakably poor of famous
or fashionably thin or comfortably fat
or even as peculiar as misguided as
a Democrat

or even a Democrat

even then
if you have a cherry tree
and I see it
I will chop that cherry tree down
stomp the cherries
fill my mount complete with the pits to
spit them into the Potomac
and I don’t know why
it is
that I cannot tell a lie
but that’s the truth