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 ‘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 ‘The Familiar Has Taken Leave’

Why are we always surprised when national events veer from a predicted trajectory? Maybe we’ve been spending too much time with analytics and not enough time with the poets.

Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic last week about the role of poetry in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Campaign in poetry; govern in prose,” the old adage goes. This moment, though, has in many ways flipped that idea: The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems…”

She interviewed Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine to discover why poetry was having a ‘moment’.

“Well, it’s always been speaking to people—and it’s always been speaking to people about the kinds of things they’re taking about now, because one of the things poetry is really good at is anticipating things that need discussion. Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air. Partly because that’s what they do—they think about things that are going on—but partly because they take their own personal experience and see how that fits in with what they see in the world. A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment.”

Perhaps next time, we should survey the poets, not the pollsters.

Until then, the events of the past 11 days brought me to a poem selected by Matthew Zapruder for the August 16, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

The poem, written by broadcaster, documentary filmmaker and poet, Richard O. Moore was part of a “sequence of sonnets about the consequences of losing his sight in old age”.

At its core, the poem is about change…and how we respond.

The Familiar Has Taken Leave

Responding to a world turned outside in
Requires a fresh agility of will
And a surreal mode of thought, both distant
When the world was visible and real.
The only carry-over is the sound:
The hollow clatter of the commonplace,
Ancestral voices, sepulchral complaints
From many sources now invisible.

This is the most dispassionate I can be.
The familiar has taken leave with all I know
And what is left is mostly echo fading,
Never to return. What takes shape then
Is virtual and is a world apart
Assembled half by memory, half by art.

Richard O. Moore (1920-2015) from ‘Particulars of Place’ April, 2015

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‘The Ageing Athlete’ a poem by Neil Weiss

As the Games of the XXXI Olympiad come to an end, a ‘Friday Poem’ to consider life after sport…and other career transitions.

The Aging Athlete

You’re through – no walking up and down,

you think of speed and dig your heels,

testing this soil and that for a start,

but it’s no go…Practicing for leaps,

you start forward but exhaust the push

and end up with a damaging rush,

arms hanging, hands twitching at your sides,

chin bobbing on your chest: no pride

that once sustained you as you leapt

the next hurdle, hair up then down,

the wind in your ears, the crowd beside

itself, shouting, Come on! Come on!

and you smashed the tape with your chest

and sank into the arms of many lovers.

Neil Weiss      Poetry Magazine, August 1956

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/USA TODAY Sports 8/15/16

‘Fear of Happiness’ a poem by A.E. Stallings

Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg posed a question to the Barnard Class of 2011. “What would you do if your weren’t afraid?” It seems like a good query to revisit this week as high school seniors consider college choice, college seniors compare job offers, and the rest of us plan our next career move.

“She described a poster on the wall at Facebook: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She said that it echoed something the writer Anna Quindlen once said, which was that “she majored in unafraid” at Barnard. Sandberg went on, “Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold. I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try. You’re going to walk off this stage today and you’re going to start your adult life. Start out by aiming high. . . . Go home tonight and ask yourselves, What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it! Congratulations.”

As you consider your answer, enjoy this week’s Friday Poem from A.E. Stallings.

Fear of Happiness

Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
Though someone always said I’d be all right—
Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
(The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

A.E. Stallings   Poetry, 2010

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‘Today’ a poem by Billy Collins

 

The signs of spring are around us. On Sunday we move the clocks ahead an hour and begin to fill in our NCAA tournament brackets. In the world beyond our workplace windows, nature quietly launches her ‘trickster season’.

“Spring has never been a reliable season. Some years it includes too much summer, some years too much winter, and some years too much of both.”

The Friday Poem this week comes from two time U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, who invites us to “throw open all the windows in the house” and enjoy the perfect spring day.

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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“Accessibility is not a word often associated with great poetry. Yet Billy Collins has managed to create a legacy from what he calls being poetically “hospitable.” Preferring lyrical simplicity to abstruse intellectualism, Collins combines humility and depth of perception, undercutting light and digestible topics with dark and at times biting humor.”  (TED 2012)

 

 

Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview, a poem by Gary Soto

Poet Gary Soto‘s work reflects his experience growing up in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California. “I’m one who provides portraits of people in the rush of life.” In his poem, ‘Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview’, originally published in the July, 2001 issue of Poetry magazine and later included in the collection, ‘One Kind of Faith’, he shares his perspective of job search.

The Friday poem is for all of you getting up this morning, heading out and hoping to find work.

Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview

Did you sneeze?
Yes, I rid myself of the imposter inside me.

Did you iron your shirt?
Yes, I used the steam of mother’s hate.

Did you wash your hands?
Yes, I learned my hygiene from a raccoon.

I prayed on my knees, and my knees answered with pain.
I gargled. I polished my shoes until I saw who I was.
I inflated my résumé by employing my middle name.

I walked to my interview, early,
The sun like a ring on an electric stove.
I patted my hair when I entered the wind of a revolving door.
The guard said, For a guy like you, it’s the 19th floor.

The economy was up. Flags whipped in every city plaza
In America. This I saw for myself as I rode the elevator,
Empty because everyone had a job but me.

Did you clean your ears?
Yes, I heard my fate in the drinking fountain’s idiotic drivel.

Did you slice a banana into your daily mush?
I added a pinch of salt, two raisins to sweeten my breath.

Did you remember your pen?
I remembered my fingers when the elevator opened.

I shook hands that dripped like a dirty sea.
I found a chair and desk. My name tag said my name.
Through the glass ceiling, I saw the heavy rumps of CEOs.
Outside my window, the sun was a burning stove,
All of us pushing papers
To keep it going.

Gary Soto   2001