The Friday Poem ‘August’ by Helen Hunt Jackson

The Friday Poem this week is ‘August’ by Helen Hunt Jackson. The poem was published in the August 1876 issue of The Atlantic. Ms. Jackson was a poet, historian, author and childhood friend of Emily Dickinson. As an activist, she would go on champion the rights of Native Americans.”

In 1884 she published ‘Ramona’, a fictionalized account of the plight of Southern California’s dispossessed Mission Indians, inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

The Friday Poem – because we all “Hath need of pause and interval of peace.”

 August

Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects’ aimless industry.
Pathetic, summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece
A blossom and lay bare her poverty.
Poor, middle-agèd summer! Vain this show!
Whole fields of golden-rod cannot offset
One meadow with a single violet;
And well the singing thrush and lily know,
Spite of all artifice which her regret
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!

H.H. 

Reprinted from The Atlantic, August 1876

 

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Image: William S. Jackson, Special Collections, Tutt Library, Colorado College

The Friday Poem ‘An Old Man’s Thought of School’ by Walt Whitman

It’s been a difficult time for those who go to work as teachers in America. Many are on strike, not just for a living wage, but for supplies and improvements to the physical spaces that foster learning. Many have faced threats and continue to teach in the aftermath of mass shootings.

Pundits are fond of quoting Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The Friday Poem this week is ‘An Old Man’s Thought of School’ by Walt Whitman reminds us that we have always struggled with the value of education in our society.

The poem was written three years after the New Jersey State Legislature passed ‘An Act to Make Free the Public Schools of the State’, providing free access to public schools “to all persons over five and under eighteen years of age.”

In 1874 poet  was recovering from a stroke at his brother’s home in Camden, N.J. At a public school dedication in early November he challenged his fellow citizens of the post-Civil War era:

“And you, America,
Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?

To girlhood, boyhood look—the teacher and the school.”

An Old Man’s Thought of School

An old man’s thought of school,
An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.

Now only do I know you.
O fair auroral skies – O morning dew upon the grass!

And these I see, these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,
Building, equipping, like a fleet of ships, immortal ships!
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the Soul’s voyage.

Only a lot of boys and girls?
Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
Only a public school?

Ah! more, infinitely more;
(As George Fox rais’d his warning cry, “Is it this pile of brick and mortar, these
dead floors, windows, rails, you call the church?
Why this is not the church at all—the church is living, ever living souls.”)

And you, America,
Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?
This Union multiform, with all its dazzling hopes and terrible fears?
Look deeper, nearer, earlier far—provide ahead—counsel in time;
Not to your verdicts of election days—not to your voters look,
To girlhood, boyhood look—the teacher and the school.

Walt Whitman   New York Daily Graphic, November 3, 1874

“Recited personally by the author Saturday afternoon, October 31, at the inauguration of the fine new Cooper Public School, Camden, New Jersey.”

Photo: Cooper Public School, Camden, N.J. circa 1910

 

The Friday Poem ‘Theme for English B’ by Langston Hughes

The headlines of the past week included coverage of the school teachers’ strikes in Oklahoma and Kentucky, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Often these events seem remote, not touching our daily lives. But they do.

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Theme for English B’ by author and poet Langston Hughes.

At the time Dr. King emerged onto the national stage, Langston Hughes was more well known. Until 1960 the poet and civil rights activist maintained a close friendship, ending when rumors of Hughes being a communist sympathizer appeared to threaten the future of the civil rights movement.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

     Go home and write
     a page tonight.
     And let that page come out of you—
     Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Langston Hughes   ‘Collected Poems’   1994

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Image: Pastel Portrait Winold Reiss, National Portrait Gallery

 

The Friday Poem ‘After Work’ by John Maloney

It’s Friday and the poem selected to start off this weekend is ‘After Work’ by stonemason and poet John Maloney.

There’s a line of demarcation, even in the 24/7 workplace, where we cross over from the identity we carry @work to perhaps the more authentic persona of how we see ourselves. It’s that transition space in a car stuck in LA on the 405, hanging tight on the subway in NYC or driving a pickup on the backroads of Tennessee. “No one can take away the contentment of the first few miles.”

After Work

They’re heading home with their lights on, dust and wood glue,
yellow dome lights on their metallic long beds: 250s, 2500s—
as much overtime as you want, deadline, dotted line, dazed
through the last few hours, dried primer on their knuckles,
sawdust calf-high on their jeans, scraped boots, the rough
plumbing and electric in, way ahead of the game except for
the check, such a clutter of cans and iced-tea bottles, napkins,
coffee cups, paper plates on the front seat floor with cords
and saws, tired above the eyes, back of the beyond, thirsty.
There’s a parade of them through the two-lane highways,
proudest on their way home, the first turn out of the jobsite,
the first song with the belt off, pure breath of being alone
for now, for now the insight of a full and answerable man.
No one can take away the contentment of the first few miles
and they know they can’t describe it, the black and purple sky.

The Friday Poem ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by Hal Sirowitz

Sometimes the Friday Poem is the perfect exclamation point for our times. This week’s selection is ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by poet Hal Sirowitz.

“If you’re not getting the benefits that most people get from acting stupid…”

The Benefits of Ignorance

If ignorance is bliss, Father said,
shouldn’t you be looking blissful?
You should check to see if you have
the right kind of ignorance. If you’re
not getting the benefits that most people
get from acting stupid, then you should
go back to being what you always were –
being too smart for your own good.

Hal Sirowitz  ‘Father Said: Poems’ 2004

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The Friday Poem ‘For My Daughter in Reply to a Question’ by David Ignatow

I was looking for a poem to capture both the sorrow and optimism in the aftermath of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. There’s not a ‘perfect’ poem, but there are these words from poet David Ignatow, published 50 years ago.  Described as ”a poet of the community, of people who work for a living”, the Friday Poem this week is his, “For My Daughter in Reply to a Question’.

“We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.”

For My Daughter in Reply to a Question

We’re not going to die,
we’ll find a way.
We’ll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We’ll think always on life.
There’ll be no fading for you or for me.
We’ll be the first
and we’ll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There’ll never be another as you
and never another as I.
No one ever will confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.

David Ignatow   ‘Rescue the Dead’ 1968 & ‘Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934 – 1994’  1994

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Photo credit: Poetry Foundation

The Friday Poem ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill

We need poets to convert obfuscation into clarity: to communicate, not “confuse, bewilder or stupefy”. The Friday Poem this week, ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill does just that.

Author, poet, playwright and musician David Budbill “took a workman’s attitude toward art and despised pretension. Asked about the sources of his inspiration, he said: “It comes from out of nowhere, from my imagination, from the voices I hear, from somewhere. In short, I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t care.”

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,
simultaneously.
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

David Budbill   ‘Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse’   2012

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Photo credit: Peter Miller

The Friday Poem ‘Why I Wake Early’ by Mary Oliver

The first Friday Poem of 2018 is for the early risers, the folks who ‘seize the day’ as first light tints the sky in pastels. Poet Mary Oliver shares ‘Why I Wake Up Early’.

“Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver   ‘Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver’ Penguin Press, 2017

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‘Open A New Window’ – Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman

The ‘Friday Poem’ this holiday week comes from the 1966 Broadway musical, ‘Mame’: the lyrics to ‘Open A New Window’ by Jerry Herman.

The musical, based on the 1955 novel ‘Auntie Mame’ by Patrick Denis, “opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 24, 1966. Three years later, it transferred to the Broadway Theatre, where it remained until closing on January 3, 1970. It ran a total of 1,508 performances and five previews.”

This was the play that produced ‘We Need A Little Christmas’, and the lesser known ‘Open A New Window’. Sung by Angela Lansbury to Frankie Michaels playing her nephew, it conveys some of the best ‘mentoring’ advice for the new year.

Open a New Window

Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That’s never been tried before;
Before you find you’re a dull fellow,
Punching the same clock,
Walking the same tight rope
As everyone on the block.
The fellow you ought to be is three dimensional,
Soaking up life down to your toes,
Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional,
Just put your thumb up to your nose.
And show ’em how to dance to a new rhythm,
Whistle a new song,
Toast with a new vintage,
The fizz doesn’t fizz too long.
There’s only one way to make the bubbles stay,
Simply travel a new high way,
Dance to a new rhythm,
Open a new window ev’ry day!

Jerry Herman 1966 (Original Cast Recording)

 


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The Friday Poem ‘A Copywriter’s Christmas’ by Margaret Fishback

One of my favorite novels of the year was ‘Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk’ by Kathleen Rooney. The title character was “inspired by the life and work of the poet and ad woman Margaret Fishback, herself the real highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world during the 1930s, thanks to her brilliant work for R.H. Macy’s.”

Macy’s holiday windows have become one of the traditions of Christmas in New York. The Friday Poem this week is ‘A Copywriter’s Christmas’ by Margaret Fishback. The photo above captures the 1933 window display, ‘Around the World At Christmas Time’. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression and FDR was in his first year as president.

A Copywriter’s Christmas

The Twenty-fifth is imminent
And every known expedient
Designed for making Christmas pay
Is getting swiftly under way.
Observe the people swarming to
And fro, somnambulating through
The stores in search of ties and shirts
And gloves to give until it hurts.

They’re eyeing gifts in Saks’ and Hearn’s
And Macy’s, not to mention Stern’s,
While earnest copywriters are
Hitching their copy to the star
Of Bethlehem quite shamelessly,
For they are duty bound to see
That Peace On Earth Good Will To Men
Gets adequate results again.

Margaret Fishback   ‘Out of My Head’ 1933

There was another Margaret at Macy’s in 1933, my great-aunt, Margaret Murray. Her 50 years of service is recognized on a plaque inside the 34th St. Memorial Entrance.

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Photo credit: Macy’s Christmas display, ‘Around the World at Christmas Time’ 1933 Image courtesy of Landy R. Hales papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution