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13 poets born this week, as
May ends and June begins
1919 – May Swenson born in Logan Utah, American poet, translator, and playwright. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, and English was her second language. She was a poet-in-residence at several universities, and also a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Swenson published over a dozen books of poetry, including some for young readers, and translated poems by Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer. She won the 1981 Bollingen Prize for lifetime achievement. She died in December 1989 at age 76 from a heart attack after years of chronic asthma and high blood pressure.
Sleeping With Boa
by May Swenson
I show her how to put her arms around me,
but she’s much too small.
What’s worse, she doesn’t understand.
although she lies beside me, sticking
out her tongue, it’s herself she licks.
She likes my stroking hand.
even lets me kiss.
But at my demand:
“Now, do it to me, like this,”
she backs off with a hiss.
What’s in her little mind?
Jumping off the bed,
she shows me her behind,
but curls up on the rug instead.
I beg her to return. At first, she did,
then went and hid
under the covers. She’s playing with my feet!
“Oh, Boa, come back. Be sweet,
Lie against me here where I’m nice and warm.
Settle down. Don’t claw, don’t bite.
Stay with me tonight.”
Seeming to consent, she gives a little whine.
Her deep, deep pupils meet mine
with a look that holds a flood ...
But not my brand.
Not at all.
what‘s worse, she’s much too small.
“Sleeping With Boa” – © 1993 by The Literary Estate of May Swenson – appeared in Yale Review in January 1993
1874 – G.K. Chesterton was born in Kensington, west London; English author, poet, philosopher, Christian apologist, critic, and biographer; noted for his Father Brown mystery series. He attended the Slade School of Art, intending to become an illustrator, then worked as a freelance art and literary critic before becoming a weekly columnist for the Illustrated London News. During WWI, he worked at the War Propaganda Bureau writing pamphlets. In 1922, he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Beginning in 1931, he gave frequent radio talks for the BBC. In June 1936, he died of congestive heart failure at age 62.
Who Goes Home?
by G.K. Chesterton
In the city set upon slime and loam
They cry in their parliament 'Who goes home?'
And there comes no answer in arch or dome,
For none in the city of graves goes home.
Yet these shall perish and understand,
For God has pity on this great land.
Men that are men again; who goes home?
Tocsin and trumpeter! Who goes home?
For there's blood on the field and blood on the foam
And blood on the body when Man goes home.
And a voice valedictory ... Who is for Victory?
Who is for Liberty? Who goes home?
“Who Goes Home?” appeared in G.K. Chesterton’s novel The Flying Inn, published in 1914
1892 – Alfonsina Storni born in Switzerland, but her father started a brewery in Argentina, and she grew up there from the age of four; Argentinean modernist poet, journalist, and feminist, one of the first women in Argentina to become known as a writer and dramatist. Her father’s business failed, then he died in 1906, and she went to work at age 14 in a factory, but soon joined a traveling theatre company, then studied to be a teacher, but by 1912, she had moved to Buenos Aires. She worked as a journalist, but an affair with a married man left her pregnant, and she became a single mother. She wrote poetry, newspaper pieces, works for children, and dramas, often about gender roles, discrimination against women, and politics. Though her work gained critical attention and some popularity, she was never able make a reliable income. In 1935, she underwent a radical mastectomy, but the cancer returned in 1938. The cancer, a growing state of depression, and economic hardship led her to commit suicide by drowning in the sea at age 46 in October 1938.
by Alfonsina Storni
My melancholy was gold dust in your hands;
On your long hands I scattered my life;
My sweetnesses remained clutched in your hands;
Now I am a vial of perfume, emptied
How much sweet torture quietly suffered,
When, my soul wrested with shadowy sadness,
She who knows the tricks, I passed the days
kissing the two hands that stifled my life
“Sweet Torture” from Alfonsina Storni: Selected Poems – White Pine Press, 1995.
1874 – Josephine Preston Peabody born in New York City; American poet and playwright; won the Stratford-on-Avon prize for her drama The Piper. She published over a dozen books, including a retelling of folktales, several poetry collections and her plays. She died in December 1922 at age 48 of undisclosed causes.
by Josephine Preston Peabody
Belovèd, till the day break,
Leave wide the little door;
And bless, to lack and longing,
Our brimming more-and-more.
Is love a scanted portion,
That we should hoard thereof?—
Oh, call unto the deserts,
Belovèd and my Love!
“Envoi” from The Wayfarers by Josephine Preston Peabody – Palala Press, 2018 edition
1903 – Countee Cullen born in New York City, African American poet of the Harlem Renaissance, novelist and playwright; noted as a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He had a column, “The Dark Tower,” in the magazine Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. Noted for his poetry collections: Color; The Ballad of the Brown Girl; Copper Sun; and The Black Christ. He died at age 42 from high blood pressure and uremic poisoning in 1946.
by Countee Cullen
(For Eric Walrond)
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
“Incident” from My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, © 2012 by Amistad Research Center, Tulane University – Library of America
1912 – Elizabeth Coatsworth was born in Buffalo NY; prolific American author of fiction and poetry for both children and adults. Her first book, Fox Footprints, was a poetry collection for adults published in 1923. She won the American Library Association’s 1931 Newbery Medal for The Cat Who Went to Heaven. In 1968, she was runner-up for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's writers. In all, she published over 90 books. She died at age 93 in August 1986.
The Bad Kittens
by Elizabeth Coatsworth
You may call, you may call
But the little black cats won’t hear you.
The little black cats are maddened
By the bright green light of the moon;
They are whirling and running and hiding,
They are wild who were once so confiding,
They are crazed when the moon is riding
You will not catch the kittens soon.
They care not for saucers of milk,
They think not of pillows of silk;
Your softest, crooningest call
Is less than the buzzing of flies.
They are seeing more than you see,
They are hearing more than you hear,
And out of the darkness they peer.
With a goblin light in their eyes!
“The Bad Kittens” from Night and the Cat, © 1950 by Elizabeth Coatsworth – Macmillan Company
1939 – Al Young was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the rural South; an African-American novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter and professor; He was the Edward B. Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford (1969-1976) and California Poet Laureate (2005-2008). He was honored twice with the American Book Award, for Bodies and Soul: Musical Memoirs and Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000. He died of complications from a stroke at age 81 in April 2021.
Key to the Dollar Store
by Al Young
Just tell me who the hell am I?
What powers did I, do I hold?
What right have I to say “my”
or “mine” or “me” — all honey-
glazed, all bullet-proofed and
worshipful of any gangster “I”?
The key to the Dollar Store
hangs on my belt. Yes, “my”
again. And what of roof, of bread,
of loving laughter? What’s in?
My vinyl favorite Booker Little,
vintage, soothes me. He jars
our ears with trumpet joy and
stuff freed folks stash in cabinets.
Never one to make too much of
why we love and what, I love my
powers. I might put you in my will.
“Key to the Dollar Store” from The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000, © 2005 by Al Young – Loveletter Editions
1962 – Carolyn Srygley-Moore lives in upstate New York; she is the author of miracles of the BloG: A Series; Ode to Horatio and Other Saviors; and the digital chapbook Enough Light on the Dogwood.
by Carolyn Srygley-Moore
I used to sit at the bar, order scotch straight-up with a twist.
Isn't that a bit strong for a young girl
the bartender would say
or the man buying me the drink.
Skiffs set on the currents of my blood
as off the Atlantic coast, when he touched me, & I felt
everything as never precedent. Now, sober
as a hawk, always sober
but for when I laugh too hard
I can feel the attic looming dusk
in your touch, the burn of islands
you knew before me
that hurt you going down,
the women you had, that hurt you
arsonist strawberry fields arising.
“Scotch” by Carolyn Srygley-Moore appeared in The Smoking Poet online journal in Autumn 2010
1878 – John Masefield born in Ledbury, Herefordshire, England; English author and poet; UK Poet Laureate (1930-1967). Though now remembered mostly for his poem “Sea Fever,” Masefield wrote many other poems, not only about the sea, but about Lollingham Downs in Berkshire, where his family lived during WWI, a dozen novels, and several dramatic pieces. As part of his duties as Poet Laureate, he wrote a memorial ode on King Edward VII’s wife, Queen Alexandria, “So many true Princesses who have gone” which was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar. In 1967, he died at age 88 when gangrene developed in his ankle and spread.
by John Masefield
I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.
“An Epilogue” from Collected Poems, © 1929 by John Masefield – MacMillan
1940 – Katerina Gogou born in Athens; Greek poet, author, actress, and anarchist; her poetry is known for its vitriolic depiction of Athens, often chronicling its prostitutes, junkies, psychiatric patients, and petty criminals. Her first poetry collection, Three Clicks Left, published in 1978, was translated into English in 1983 by Jack Hirschman. In 1993, she committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills and alcohol at age 53.
They Will Come
by Katerina Gogou
The signal will be in the air
the white the gray the brown
jackets of the insane without sleeves
that will be snapping empty on the
fence-wires of Leros.
They will unhitch by themselves
with their pulled-out fingernails
the hook that hung them
on the ceiling of your earth.
They’ll have a uniform bruised color
and lobotomies instead of ears.
Out of sewers and prison cells
they will advance slowly.
They will enter with the slow step
with which terror proceeds
and glory bound together
brothers in blood
a bloody thread
will be bringing the news.
Leros is an island in the Aegean, where many political prisoners and “undesirables” were detained by the Junta, the military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.
– translated by Angelos Sakkis
“They Will Come” from Now Let’s See What You’re Gonna Do: Poems 1978-2002, © 2021 by A.S. – fmsbw press
1840 – Thomas Hardy born, English Victorian novelist and poet; his best-known novels are Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. His poetry collections include Wessex Poems, War Poems, Poems of Pilgrimage, and Time’s Laughingstock. He died of pleurisy at age 87 in January 1928.
by Thomas Hardy
Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.
She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.
Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
“The Self-Unseeing” from Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, by Thomas Hardy – Palgrave Macmillan, 2001 edition
1926 – Allen Ginsberg born in Newark, New Jersey; leading American ‘Beat’ poet of the San Francisco Renaissance; when his famous long poem Howl was published in 1956 by City Lights, publisher Laurence Ferlinghetti and his partner Shigeyosi Murao were arrested on obscenity charges; after a long trial, “Howl” is ruled not obscene. Ginsberg became a student of Tibetan Buddhist Chögyam Trungpa, and was active in the peace and anti-war movements, and against economic materialism, sexual repression, and in favor of legalizing marijuana. He died at age 70 of liver cancer and complications of hepatitis in April 1997.
by Allen Ginsberg
– Homage Kenneth Koch
If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran
I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,
I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie
Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail
Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.
– Boulder, April 26, 1980
“Homework” from Collected Poems, 1947-1980, © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg – HarperCollins Publishers