The Friday Poem ‘The Way It Is’ by William Stafford

“There’s a thread you follow.” opens this week’s Friday Poem, ‘The Way It Is’, from poet, writer, and photographer William Stafford.

As a conscientious objector during the second World War, Stafford worked in civilian public service camps for the U.S. Forest Service in Arkansas and California. In 1948 he moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College.

In 1963 he was selected to receive the National Book Award from a group of nominees including William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970, a position that today carries the title of Poet Laureate.

In addition to his 65 volumes of poetry and prose, he left a collection of 16,000 photographic negatives to the archive at Lewis and Clark College. In a 2014 interview for Oregon Public Broadcasting, his son, Kim Stafford commented on his father’s discomfort with the spotlight. “When he became famous, the camera allowed him to leave the center of the circle and document the other writers.”

His lifetime spanned decades of dramatic change, and yet he stayed true to his values. His accomplishments and awards did not distract. “…You don’t ever let go of the thread”.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford   ‘The Way It Is’   Graywolf Press, 1999

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Photo credit: Kim Stafford

The Friday Poem ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo

April is National Poetry Month and next Thursday, April 27 is ‘poem in your pocket day’. Download your favorite poem or one from the Academy of American poets site, carry it around with you for the day and share it with friends and colleagues.

The Friday Poem this week comes from the Academy’s selection, ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo.

Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.
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The Friday Poem ‘Baseball’ by Gail Mazur

The Friday Poem this week is for those whose workplace is the ballpark. It’s the first week of April and the dream of a World Series Championship is possible for each of Major League Baseball’s thirty franchises and their fans.

Our ‘national pastime’ has often been used as a metaphor for life. Poet Gail Mazur shared her connection to the diamond with her poem ‘Baseball’.

“Well, of course, baseball, to the ardent fan, IS a metaphor and more. I couldn’t write that poem until I thought of denying baseball was a metaphor, then I could go all out. Everything about the game and the park seemed like metaphor. And a fan’s sense of loss—or exhilaration—no matter how intense, is more bearable than the real losses in our lives. But still, but still, one feels one lives and dies, as the saying goes, with one’s team! After the first line, I wrote it in a few minutes, one of those gifts”

Baseball
for John Limon

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it’s not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner
to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel’s Icarus,
or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other and moving up and down
continuously for more beer

and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories
sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping
each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I’m trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away

Gail Mazur  ‘Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems’ 1978

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‘To Inez Milholland’ a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

On this last day of March, the Friday Poem is ‘To Inez Milholland’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay; reminding us to “to take up the song; forget the epitaph”.

In 1987 Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. Thirty years later, the month has not been a good one for women, with one bright exception. On March 23 the State of Nevada ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, thirty-five years after the 1982 deadline set by Congress.

March is also the time of year that hundreds of U.S. school children visit Washington D.C. and traverse the Capitol rotunda. For many it’s their first encounter with the history of the women’s suffrage movement, as they pass the portrait monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Missing from the statue is Inez Milholland Boissevain. “A rare woman, she earned a Law degree at NYU and promptly became involved with the labor strikes of the Women’s Garment Workers and the Triangle Shirtwaist factory struggle. Throughout her life, Inez worked and fought for the underrepresented and the oppressed.”

In 1916, Inez was on a cross country campaign in support of a federal suffrage amendment when she collapsed and died while delivering a speech in Los Angeles. Her last public words, “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”

On Sunday, November 18, 1923 a ceremony was held in the Capitol to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the women’s rights movement. Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay Boissevain (yes, she married Inez’ widower) was part of the group of 200 women who participated in the event. The day before they had presented proposed new legislation, written by Alice Paul to the president – The Equal Rights Amendment.

“The “poem” that Edna read is the sonnet “The Pioneer,” which encouraged women to continue to fight for equal rights. It is unclear if Edna wrote the lines about Anthony, Stanton, and Mott (the pioneers in the marble statue) or about Inez — or about all of them. However, by 1928, Edna had retitled the sonnet “To Inez Milholland.”

To Inez Milholland

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more; —
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.

Edna St. Vincent Millay 1923

Three additional links of interest @the end of Womens History Month

‘A Trove on the Women’s Suffrage Struggle, Found in an Old Box’ The New York Times, March 29, 2017

New York Historical Society Center for Women’s History

Inez Milholland ‘Forward Into the Light’

The Friday Poem: ‘Today’ by Billy Collins

Spring arrived earlier this week. Time to take a break from your week@work and venture out beyond the confines of your work space. Cited by the Guardian as one of the ten best about spring, The Friday Poem is ‘Today’ by former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins.

“There is a delightful playfulness here – a sense of being, in spring, a mini-God within the kingdom of one’s own front room.”

Today
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Billy Collins  Poetry Magazine, April 2000

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The Friday Poem ‘Drowning the Shamrock’ by Frank Delaney

“How many Nobel Laureate does Dublin have? Four!” is the question posed and answered by the late author and broadcaster Frank Delaney in his poem for St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re one of the many who have often wondered why it’s OK to employ every imaginable stereotype of the Irish each March 17; this one’s for you.

The Friday Poem was composed for NPR’s Weekend Edition in 2012.

Mr. Delaney died last month in Connecticut.

“He had wanted to be a novelist since childhood, he said in a 2014 interview timed to coincide with the Dublin Writers Festival. “I’ve always relished the power of the tale,” he said, “how it grabs us and then absorbs us, and casts a spell over us, and teaches us.”

He was a radio and television reporter in Ireland; created the “Bookshelf” and “Word of Mouth” programs on BBC Radio and “The Book Show” on Sky News; and wrote “The Celts” for the BBC, the screenplay for the 2002 adaptation of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” the novel “Ireland” and nearly two dozen other fiction and nonfiction books, both in Britain and after moving to the United States in 2002.”

“Drowning the Shamrock” is Delaney’s irreverent “James Joyce-ian” take on St. Patrick’s Day, filled with Irish pride.”

Drowning the Shamrock

“Hail glorious Saint Patrick dear saint of our isle
On us thy poor children look down with a smile -”
But I’m not singing hymns and I’m not saying prayers
No, I’m gritting my teeth as I walk down the stairs
And into the street with these louts fiercely drinking
And screeching and lurching, and here’s what I’m thinking –
They’re using a stereotype, a narrow example,
A fraction, not even a marketing sample
To imitate Ireland, from which they don’t come!
So unless that’s just stupid, unless it’s plain dumb,
All these kids from New Jersey and the five boroughs
And hundreds of cities, all drowning their sorrows,
With bottles and glasses and heads getting broken
(Believe me, just ask the mayor of Hoboken)
All that mindlessness, shouting and getting plain stocious –
That isn’t Irish, that’s simply atrocious.
I’ve another word too for it, this one’s more stinging
I call it “racism.” See, just ’cause you’re singing
Some drunken old ballad on Saint Patrick’s Day
Does that make you Irish? Oh, no – no way.
Nor does a tee-shirt that asks you to kiss them –
If they never come back I surely won’t miss them
Or their beer cans and badges and wild maudlin bawling
And hammered and out of it, bodies all sprawling.

They’re not of Joyce or of Yeats, Wilde, or Shaw.
How many Nobel Laureates does Dublin have? Four!
Think of this as you wince through Saint Patrick’s guano –
Not every Italian is Tony Soprano.

Frank Delaney    NPR Weekend Edition – March 17, 2012

 

The Friday Poem ‘Happiness’ by Raymond Carver

Imagine a week@work when the barrage of beltway news is silenced. A workday morning that arrives, not with cable news, but a cup of coffee; taking in the view from the window as the neighborhood comes to life.

This was the scene imagined by the short story writer and poet, Raymond Carver.

The Friday Poem is ‘Happiness’.

Happiness

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Raymond Carver  Poetry Magazine February, 1985

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The Friday Poem ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’

It’s Oscar weekend and the Friday Poem selection comes from the soundtrack of this year’s Best Picture Nominee, ‘La La Land’. ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ is nominated for Best Original Song.

‘La La Land’ is a career story. ‘Audition’ is it’s anthem; a universal argument to pursue your dream, no matter how foolish it may seem.

In January, Elizabeth Flock interviewed composer Justin Hurwitz about “what it takes to compose an Oscar nominated song.”

“Hurwitz said he began composing “Audition,” back in 2011, after Chazelle had finished the screenplay for “La La Land.” But the musical stalled for years, as it struggled to get studio funding for a genre considered nearly extinct.

As Hurwitz composed what would become the final version of “Audition,” he thought carefully about the shape of the scene, which begins with Mia telling the casting agents about her aunt, and then transitions to a tribute to all dreamers. The second stanza of the song begins: “She smiled / Leapt, without looking / And She tumbled into the Seine!” while the third starts very differently: “Here’s to the ones / who dream / Foolish, as they may seem.”

“It switches from ‘she’ to ‘we,’ and I thought that was a brilliant and beautiful switch in the lyrics,” said Hurwitz, which he wanted reflected in the larger shape of the song.”

Audition (The Fools Who Dream)

My aunt used to live in Paris.
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad and I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot.

She smiled…

Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame

She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker
I’ll always remember the flame

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She told me:
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back to then
Her, and the snow, and the Seine
Smiling through it
She said she’d do it again

Composer Justin Hurwitz, Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

The Friday Poem ‘Mourning What We Thought We Were’ by Frank Bidart

I’ve been making a list of things I’ve done since the Women’s March to oppose, not resist.

I’ve discovered only two degrees of separation connect me to a Syrian refugee family newly arrived in Dallas, Texas.

I’ve found it difficult to write, to reflect, on ideas away from the breaking news of the minute.

In the gap, poet Frank Bidart has captured this moment in our history. “We were born into an amazing experiment. At least we thought we were.”

The Friday Poem this week, from three time Pulitzer poetry finalist, and Bakersfield native Bidart, was published last month in The New Yorker.

Mourning What We Thought We Were

We were born into an amazing experiment.

At least we thought we were. We knew there was no
escaping human nature: my grandmother

taught me that: my own pitiless nature
taught me that: but we exist inside an order, I

thought, of which history
is the mere shadow—

*

Every serious work of art about America has the same
theme: America

is a great Idea: the reality leaves something to be desired.

Bakersfield. Marian Anderson, the first great black classical
contralto, whom the Daughters of the American Revolution

would not allow to sing in an unsegregated

Constitution Hall, who then was asked by Eleanor
Roosevelt to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before thousands

was refused a room at the Padre Hotel, Bakersfield.

My mother’s disgust
as she told me this. It confirmed her judgment about

what she never could escape, where she lived out her life.

My grandmother’s fury when, at the age of seven or
eight, I had eaten at the home of a black friend.

The forced camps at the end of The Grapes of Wrath
were outside

Bakersfield. When I was a kid, Okie

was still a common
term of casual derision and contempt.

*

So it was up to us, born
in Bakersfield, to carve a new history

of which history is the mere shadow—

*

To further the history of the spirit is our work:

therefore thank you, Lord
Whose Bounty Proceeds by Paradox,

for showing us we have failed to change.

*

Dark night, December 1st 2016.

White supremacists, once again in
America, are acceptable, respectable. America!

Bakersfield was first swamp, then
desert. We are sons of the desert
who cultivate the top half-inch of soil.

 

Frank Bidart from The New Yorker, January 23, 2017

The Friday Poem ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus

Most immigrants to the U.S. arrive by plane, bypassing the Statue of Liberty standing in New York harbor. Perhaps this detour has created a bit of amnesia regarding fundamental American values.

For the Friday poem this week, we travel back in time to 1883, when Emma Lazarus was asked to write a poem as part of fundraising effort to construct the pedestal for the statue.

Washington Post journalist Katie Mettler revisited Ms. Lazarus’ story on Wednesday, citing renewed interest in the sonnet in the aftermath of the executive order banning  U.S. entry to all Syrian refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries

“What the poet didn’t know at the time — as a woman whose work as a “poetess” had been at times the subject of condescension — was that it would be her words, lyrical and poignant, that decades later came to define the American vision of liberty.

More than a century later, in 2017, the words are rallying people against a controversial president and his policies and attitudes toward immigrants.”

It’s time for these words to be posted at every point of entry to the U.S. to remind all of our core values.

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus   ‘Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings’ (2002)

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