If we but give it time, a work of art
'can rap and knock and enter our souls'
and re-align us – all our molecules –
to make us whole again.
– P. K. Page, Canadian poet and painter
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13 poets born this week,
seekers of the telling detail,
journeyfolk and masters
in the art of attention
1878 – Amelia Josephine Burr born in New York City; American poet and playwright. A graduate of Hunter College, she worked for the Red Cross during WWI. Her poetry collections include In Deep Places; The Roadside Fire; and The Silver Trumpet, a collection of poems about WWI. She died in 1968.
by Amelia Josephine Burr
We shall not shiver as we vainly try
To stir cold ashes once again to fire,
Nor bury a dead passion, you and I.
The wind that weds a moment sea and sky
In one exultant storm and passes by,
Was our desire.
“Typhoon” is in the public domain.
1942 – Sharon Olds born in San Francisco, CA; American poet who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Stag’s Leap, and the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for The Dead and the Living. She teaches creative writing at New York University. While not initially involved the Women’s Movement in the late 1960s, a time when she was married and had her first child, the movement did cause her to realize that “I had never questioned that men had all the important jobs. And that was shocking ...” When Olds first sent her poetry to a magazine in the 1970s, the reply was: “This is a literary magazine. If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest the Ladies’ Home Journal. The true subjects of poetry are ... male subjects, not your children.” She published her first collection, Satan Says, in 1980 when she was 37 years old. Since then, she has published more collections, including Blood, Tin, Straw; The Unswept Room; Arias; and Balladz. In 2005, she declined an invitation from First Lady Laura Bush to the National Book Festival, in an open letter published in The Nation, “So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.”
by Sharon Olds
When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.
“First Thanksgiving” from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002, © 2004 by Sharon Olds – Alfred A. Knopf
1910 – Pauli Murray born in Baltimore, Maryland; Black American civil and women’s rights activist, lawyer, and author. Orphaned very young, she was raised by her maternal grandparents in Durham, North Carolina. At 16, she went to Hunter College in New York, earning a BA in English in 1933. During the Depression, she worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps at an all-woman camp founded but Murray later clashed with the camp’s director after he found a Marxist book among her belongings, and he disapproved of her relationship with Peg Holmes, a white counselor. They both left the camp in 1935, and traveled the country on foot, hitching rides and hopping freight trains, before finding work – Murray with the YWCA. In 1940, Murray was arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a Virginia bus. After this incident, and her involvement with the socialist Workers’ Defense League, Murray enrolled in the law school at Howard University after being denied entry to the University of North Carolina because of her race. At Howard, her awareness of sexism increased, which she called “Jane Crow.” She graduated first in her class, but was denied entry to Harvard for post-graduate work because of her gender. In 1964, she delivered her speech “Jim Crow and Jane Crow” in Washington DC. After earning her masters at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 she was the first African American with a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School. As a lawyer, Murray took on civil and women’s rights cases. Thurgood Marshall, thenthe NAACP’s chief counsel, called her 1950 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, the “bible” of the civil rights movement. Murray taught law at Brandeis University (1968-1973), then in 1977, at age 67, she was the first African American woman ordained as a priest. She worked in a parish in Washington DC. until 1984. Murray died in 1985 of pancreatic cancer.
To the Oppressors
by Pauli Murray
Now you are strong
And we are but grapes aching with ripeness.
Squeeze from us all the brave life
Contained in these full skins.
But ours is a subtle strength
Potent with centuries of yearning,
Of being kegged and shut away
In dark forgotten places.
We shall endure
To steal your senses
In that lonely twilight
Of your winter’s grief.
“To the Oppressors from Dark Testament and Other Poems, © 1939 by the Pauli Murray Foundation – Liveright Publishing Corporation
1950 – E. Ethelbert Miller born in the Bronx, NY; African-American poet, teacher, anthologist, and literary activist; author of two memoirs, co-editor of Poet Lore magazine, founder-director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series in the Washington D.C. area, and host of the radio show On the Margin. He was a commissioner on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (1997-2008). His many poetry collections include Andromeda; The Migrant Worker; Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators?: Whispers, Secrets and Promises; If God Invented Baseball; and How I Found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask.
by E. Ethelbert Miller
sometimes the deaf
hear better than the blind
when they first
heard her sing
were only attracted
to the flower in her hair
“Billie Holiday” from First Light: New and Selected Poems, © 1994 by Ethelbert Miller –Black Classic Press
1952 – Debjani Chatterjee born, Indian-born British poet, author, and translator. She came to the UK in 1972 after earning a BA from the American University in Cairo. She completed her education at English universities, earning a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Lancaster University in 1977. She later served as director of the Sheffield Racial Equality Council (1984-1994). In 2012, she was an Olympic Torchbearer from Sheffield to Rotherham. Her poetry collections include I Was that Woman, The Sun Rises in the North, Albino Gecko, Do You Hear the Storm Sing?, and Laughing with Angels.
A Winter’s Morning in Timarpur
by Debjani Chatterjee
The black and white cat snoozes in the play of light and shade
on the carport’s tin roof, under the crumbling mango tree;
tail twitching, it dreams of plump pigeon and tender blue tit.
The scent of a hilsa fish curry floats from the kitchen window;
infiltrates its dream and teases it awake till it yawns and blinks.
A family of sparrows hop in the pomegranate tree:
twittering delight at the young green of its leaves,
playing among the orange of its buds.
Frenzied bees weave among white lemon flowers
and crimson frangipani fragrance the air.
High on a branch of the drumstick tree a tailor-bird’s nest swings
in the November breeze, fresh with a hint of henna coolness.
The coral-stemmed white shefali flowers make alpona patterns
as they fall on the dew-damp grass.
The hibiscus still droops in prayer
to the early morning sun, its double petals
luscious red like much-kissed bridal lips.
A squirrel mother and child stir in their telephone-box nest
and milkmen balance heavy canisters on bicycle bars.
The roadside chaiwalla lights his charcoal fire biri
and the newsboy flings, with practised ease,
a rolled Hindustan Times to the third floor verandah.
Trucks and buses piled with raw produce and day labour
thunder imperially down the Grand Trunk Road
from the conquered pastures of Punjab and Haryana.
The black and white cat shadow boxes a Tiger Swallowtail
as a sleepy corner of Old Delhi wakes – and stretches.
alpona: a Bengali word for patterns drawn on the floor to welcome guests.
chaiwalla: someone who sells tea.
biri: a cheap Indian cigarette.
“A Winter’s Morning in Timarpur” from Namaskar: New and Selected Poems, © 2004 by Debyani Chatterjee – Redbeck Press
1842 – Jose Maria de Heredia born in Fortuna Cafeyere, Cuba, to a Cuban Father and a French mother, but he lived in France for most of his life from the age of 8; French poet, part of the Parnassian poet’s group which came between romanticism and symbolism, named for their journal Le Parnasse contemporain. He was granted French nationality in 1893 and was subsequently elected to the Académie française in 1894. He is primarily known for his collection Les Trophées (The Trophies), but he was also an editor, a translator, and wrote introductions to other author’s works. In 1901, de Heredia became librarian of Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, which later became part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. He died at age 62 in October 1905.
by José Maria de Heredia
A wide, triumphant blue, a dazzling sun:
The silver trireme pales the river’s flow:
And incense rises as the rowers row,
And flutes are heard as silken shivers run.
By pompous prow the fair and hawklike One
Leans out from royal place to see and know.
This Cleopatra proud, in evening show,
Seems like a mighty bird, with hunt begun.
In Tarsus waits a soldier’s quiet face.
And ancient Egypt’s queen, in eager space
Spreads out her amber arms—in purple, bright.
She has not seen, as sign of asking fate,
The godlike children whirl in subtle light:
Desire, Death. They play; they won’t be late.
– translated by Eli Siegel
Cydnus was the ancient name of the Berdan River in southern Turkey. The historic city of Tarsus lies at its mouth, and is said to be where Antony and Cleopatra began their love affair.
1922 – Maureen Cannon born in the Bronx, NY; prolific American poet of light verse; her father was an editor and theatre critic at The New York Journal-American. She earned a BA in English from Barnard College, and was writing poetry as a young mother, but didn’t submit any poems for publication until she was in her 40s. She went on to become a regular contributor to The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Light Quarterly, and Reader’s Digest. Over 1,000 of her short verses appeared in print during her lifetime. She died at age 84 in January 2007.
Politician in the Pew
by Maureen Cannon
His very public piety
Achieved such notoriety
That, just as he'd suspected,
In time he was elected.
Accomplishing his purpose thus,
He grew less sanctimonious
Until, a private citizen
Once more, he breathed his last 'amen'
And—never went to church again.
“Politician in the Pew,” © 2004 by Maureen Cannon, appeared in Light Quarterly in 2004
1953 – Marly Youmans born in Aiken, South Carolina, but her family moved to other places in the South, including New Orleans, where she learned some Cajun French; American poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist who currently lives in New York. She has written five collections of poetry, eight novels, and two novels for young adults. Her novel The Wolf Pit won the 2001 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction. Her poetry collections include The Throne of Psyche; The Foliate Head; and The Book of the Red King.
After the Pandemonium
by Marly Youmans
Now take your offerings to some temple gate,
Remembering the innocents, the wronged,
And those who bore a share of guilt but died.
There say some words of rue to banish hate,
Recalling names and that the dead once longed
To know a mother’s care, a father’s pride.
Remorse may well seem weightless next to fate
And mortal loss, or suffering prolonged:
But needful, never safely brushed aside.
© 2021 by Marly Youmans
1916 – P. K. Page born in Swanage, in Dorset UK; Canadian poet, author, scriptwriter, playwright, essayist, librettist,and painter. Her family moved to Canada when she was three years old, and her father became a Canadian army officer. After her marriage to diplomat W. Arthur Irwin, they were posted to Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala. Her poem “Planet Earth” was read in 2001 as part of the UN celebration of the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. Page wrote screenplays for Canada’s National Film Board, and published ten volumes of poetry, eight books for children, a novel, short stories, a collection of her non-fiction writings, and a memoir. She died at age 93 in 2010.
A Backwards Journey
by P. K. Page
When I was a child of say, seven
I still had serious attention to give to everyday objects.
The Dutch Cleanser
which was the kind my mother bought
in those days came in a round container
of yellow cardboard around which ran
the very busy Dutch Cleanser woman
her face hidden behind her bonnet
holding a yellow Dutch Cleanser can
on which a smaller Dutch Cleanser woman
was holding a smaller Dutch Cleanser can
on which a minute Dutch Cleanser woman
held an imagined Dutch Cleanser can…
This was no game. The woman led me
backwards through the eye of the mind
until she was the smallest point
my thought could hold to. And at that moment
I think I knew that if no one called
and nothing broke the delicate jet
of my attention, that tiny image
could smash the ‘atom’ of space and time.
“A Backwards Journey,” © 1969 by P.K. Page, appeared in Poetry magazine’s August 1969 issue
1949 – Gayl Jones born in Lexington, Kentucky; African-American author, poet, and playwright. After attending segregated schools in Lexington, she earned a BA in English at Connecticut College, where Robert Hayden was one of teachers. Her debut novel Corregidora was published when she was 26, and her The Healing was shortlisted for the 1998 National Book Award. Her poetry collections include Song for Anniho, The Hermit-Woman, and Xarque and Other Poems. However, she married a man who became mentally unstable, and he committed suicide when a SWAT team stormed their house to arrest him in 1998. There were long periods when she did not publish any work, but her novel The Birdcatcher was a 2022 finalist for the National Book Award.
by Gayl Jones
for B. H.
The blues calling my name.
She is singing a deep song.
She is singing a deep song.
I am human.
He calls me crazy.
He says, “You must be crazy.”
I say, “Yes, I’m crazy.”
He sits with his knees apart.
His fly is broken.
She is singing a deep song.
She is singing a deep song.
“Yes, I’m crazy.”
I care about you.
I care about you.
He lifts his eyebrows.
The blues is calling my name.
I tell him he’d be better
do something about his fly.
He says something softly.
He says something so softly
that I can’t even hear him.
He is a dark man.
Sometimes he is a good dark man.
Sometimes he is a bad dark man.
I love him……
“Deep Song” from Deep Song and Other Poems, © 2020 by Gayl Jones – independently published
1952 – Parveen Shakir born in Karachi, Pakistan; Urdu poet, teacher, and Pakistani civil servant; published six collections of poetry, often using the Urdu first-person, feminine pronoun in her verses which, though common in prose, was rarely used in poetry, even by female poets, before her; recipient of Pakistan’s distinguished Pride of Performance award for outstanding contributions to literature in 1976. She was killed at age 42 in a car accident in 1994.
When the Wolves Come
by Parveen Shakir
The wolves come
A sharp stench
Shoots through the woods.
Today, in my house too
My sixth sense
Has picked up
A similar stench.
In this short time alone
Three or four times already
Every corner of the house
With rose petals I have strewn.
These shields of roses
Will they save me
When the wolves come?
“When the Wolves Come” from Defiance of the Rose: Selected Poems by Perveen Shakir – translation ©2019 by Naima Rashid – Oxford University Press
1562 – Lope de Vega born as Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio in Madrid, Spain; prolific Spanish playwright, poet, and novelist, who was a key figure in Spain’s Baroque ‘Golden Age’ of literature. He is regarded as second only to Miguel de Cervantes in the Spanish literary pantheon. He produced about 500 plays, 3,000 sonnets, 9 epic poems, and 7 novels and novellas. He was reading Spanish and Latin by age 5, and translating Latin verse by age 10. He wrote his first play at age 12. At age 14, he ran away from school to join a military expedition in Portugal. He didn’t finish school, and eked out a living as a secretary to aristocrats and writing plays. At 21, he enlisted in the Spanish Navy, but after a tour of duty returned to Madrid and began his literary career in earnest, writing plays and love poems. But the woman who was the object of his affection spurned him for another suitor, and his vitriolic attacks on her and her family caused him to be banished from court and exiled for two years. He had many love affairs, often resulting in scandal, and another marriage, but his second wife also died young. He lived in Castile for a time, then joined the priesthood in 1614, but continued having love affairs. In 1627 he was admitted as a knight of the Order of Malta. He died at age 72 in August 1635.
by Lope de Vega
To faint, to dare, to be furious,
Rough, tender, liberal, elusive,
Emboldened, mortal, dead, alive,
loyal, treacherous, cowardly and courageous:
To find neither meaning nor rest beyond the bounds of good,
To act now happy, now sad, now humble, now arrogant,
Angry, courageous, fugitive,
Satisfied, offended, suspicious:
To turn your back at clear disappointment,
To drink of venom as if it were nectar,
To forget profit, and to love harm:
Believe there is heaven in hell;
To surrender life and soul to disappointment,
This is Love! He who drank of it knows.
– translator not credited
1924 – Takaaki Yoshimoto born as Ryūmei Yoshimoto, in Tsukishima, a section of reclaimed land in the Sumida Estuary in Tokyo, Japan; Japanese poet, philosopher, and literary critic; a founding member of Japan’s New Left, and at the forefront of the movement to force Japanese writers to confront their responsibility as wartime collaborators. His family were boatbuilders who had moved to Tsukishima from the southern island of Kyushu. At the start of WWII, he was a ‘militarist youth’ but by the end, he was exploring Marxism. He graduated in 1947 from the Tokyo Institute if Technology with a degree in Electrochemistry. He went to work for the Toyko Ink Manufacturing Company in 1952, but was also writing and publishing poetry. He won the Arechi Prize for new poets. He supported the Anpo protests against the 1960 revision of the U.S.- Japan Security Treaty, and joined student activists at protests. There was a violent confrontation with police in which one student was killed, and Yoshimoto was arrested and interrogated for three day before being released without charges. The treaty was ratified, and he was disillusioned with politics, and pursued jiritsusei, individual autonomy and responsibility. He was a co-founder and contributor to Shikkō (Experiment), a magazine which published anti-sectarian essays and criticism. He won the 2003 Kobayashi Hideo Prize for his book Reading Natsume Sōseki, and his collected works won the Fujimura Memorial Prize. He died at age 87 in March 2012. Most of his poetry remains unpublished in English translation.
by Takaaki Yoshimoto
Our words are charming.
"Flesh," once said;
we immediately cling to the earth.
"Spirit," if spoken;
we are already flying.
Our souls belong
to gravity and buoyancy,
to suspicion and aspiration.
The world is made of coercion,
causes and mistakes,
but surely, a blue the same as the sky
hangs deep in our skulls.
standing on fragile legs,
how could we ride the image of wings
to possess endlessly higher places.
– translated by Kijima Hajime and Nagatomo Shigenori