Category: poetry

langston hughes 513 anthology

Poet Of The Day — Langston Hughes

Poet Of The Day — Langston Hughes

Today’s poet and poem of the day is Langston Hughes, one of the cornerstone poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

langston hughes anthology 514 langston hughes 513 anthology

I’m a huge fan of the Harlem Renaissance movement in poetry. One of my earlier posts referenced Claude McKay and the meaning behind these poets’ style and choice of words. Langston Hughes is in a league of his own regarding style. He wrote gospel and jazz lyrics as well as long ballad poems. But perhaps the poems most indicative of the style of the movement were his poems like ‘To You,’ below.

This poem is classic Harlem Renaissance. The simple rhyme and the poem’s succinct method of delivery are key. The message is clearly a call-to-action for people who are sick of the oppression and injustice faced at the time (and unfortunately, to this day). With ‘Dinner Guest: Me’ just on the next page it’s almost a scoff by the publisher at how little has been done.

langston hughes anthology 516 to you

 

codinome beija flor in english

Codinome Beija flor

Codinome Beija flor

“If someone calls you hummingbird in the street, do not answer. Only I should be allowed to call you that.”

Although not technically a poem, the song of the day is Cazuza’s Codinome Beija Flor, or Codename, Hummingbird.

codinome beija flor in english

The song, and especially the line above, always spoke to me because people have called me a hummingbird before. I mean, the similarities are uncanny. As the smallest bird, the hummingbird is always just a few hours from starving to death because its’ metabolism is so fast. I have some experience in this area.

Cazuza’s sentence structure and the way he wove these lyrics together is especially beautiful, I’ll try my best to translate them.

 

‘What’s the point  of lying?
Or pretend to forgive?
What’s the point of being friends
The passion is gone.
Love is a funny coincidence
Our music will never play again

Why bother to figure out
Our hidden intentions?
The nectar we had between us
Was slowly dissipated
From flower to flower
Amoung my enemies
My hummingbird.

I protected your name out of love
Using the codename ‘hummingbird.’
If someone calls you hummingbird in the street, do not answer, never

Only I should be allowed
Into your icy ear
Whisper secrets that will melt you.
You dreamed while awake
In a way so as not to feel the pain
You would cry inside,
But pour out a generous love

You would cry inside,
But pour out a generous love.’

 

Ao my translation leaves something to be desired, but I hope the message is clear. I don’t speak Portuguese that well, so I’m sorry for any mistakes I made. It’s very difficult to translate Codinome Beija Flor because Cazuza’s lyrics are very complex. Combined with the music, this song is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. Please go and have a listen!

Sand and Foam Kahlil Gibran

Sand And Foam — Poem Of The Day

Sand And Foam — Poem Of The Day

Today’s poem of the day is Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam.

Sand and Foam Kahlil Gibran

“I am forever walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam,
But the sea and the shore will remain.
Forever.”

I can’t retype the whole poem because it’s very long, but I love the above line. It is the very opening of the poem.

Recently I was talking with someone about the psychology behind wanting to leave a footprint in the world. People have many different fears, but I think the greatest is being forgotten. It is not so much that people want to be famous, or be revered, as they want to leave their mark. Human psychology and fears are fascinating to me. Why do we fear being forgotten? When discussing this poem specifically, I argued that people who fear being forgotten aren’t truly confident in their purpose in life. Sand and Foam is all about leaving behind something, just so it can be wiped away, like a Mandala. The practice of this really forces us to learn that what is most important is within us all the time. A lesson I need to re-learn constantly.

I have another favourite quote from Sand and Foam:

“It takes two of us to discover truth: one to utter it and one to understand it.”

Completely unrelated to the above, it means we have to really listen to grasp the meaning of something. And it also harks back to the concept of ‘is something real if we don’t believe it;’ something I talked about in-depth in this post.

Kahlil Gibran goes on to say that we are present in everything. The universe is comprised of all of us. Maybe this is what our lives mean after all.

John Ashbery Some Trees

Poem of The Day — Some Trees

Poem Of The Day — Some Trees

The poem of the day is one of my favourites of all time: Some Trees, by John Ashbery.

John Ashbery Some Trees

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

 

John Ashbery was a member of the New York School along with Frank O’Hara (Lunch Poems) and many others. This movement popped up around the same time as The Beats movement was happening in San Francisco. While The Beats poets were very fiery and passionate, New York School poets were a little more detached, less emotional.

They were heavily influenced by Imagism; their poetry used all the senses to connect the images in the poem. They used symbolism, association, and narrative to link one word with the next.

Some Trees is my favourite because not a word is wasted here.

The lines that stand out the most are:

‘To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try’

What does he mean by this? It’s very complex, yet every word is linked. My opinion is that they both share a view on the world that maybe isn’t mainstream. And it was through this ‘rebellion’ that they met and fell in love.

Someone asked me to read this poem at a wedding, but I had to decline because it isn’t a very good love poem. The last lines speak to this:

‘Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.’

 

I’ll leave it up to you to try to figure out what he meant ;))

rilke

POEM OF THE DAY – RILKE

POEM OF THE DAY – RILKE

rilke

RILKE the German poet is today’s poem of the day.

‘I’m not sure yet when
you’ll have my response.
But, listen: a rake at work this early.
Above, alone, in the vineyard, a man
is already talking with the earth.’

(Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann translation)

 

This poem is almost imagist, reminding me of the likes of William Carlos Williams, where painting a picture with the simplest language is important.

Whenever we discussed poetry in any of my classes, our professors made us dissect every word and piece of punctuation. In the case of Rilke it is vital. I usually hate reading translated poems because I feel like I’m reading the translators’ take on it. This poem is so short however, that it’s pretty easy to guess what the German version says. Since German language is vastly different from English, the punctuation really drives home the point.

The third line especially: ‘I don’t know when you’ll have my answer, but listen…’ could it be that the answer is already out there? Or you already know it?

What do you guys think is the Antwort?

poem of the day

Poem Of The Day

Poem Of The Day

poem of the day

I’ve written about this poem before, and my post can be found here. I feel very strongly about this issue. It pertains to our current struggle today with racism and the systematic killing of African-Americans.

When we discussed Claude McKay’s poem ‘If We Must Die,’ our professor brought up an interesting point about the line ‘O Kinsmen.’

Why did he choose such a phrase? Was he talking to his peers? People who were like him in some way? We argued that no, he wasn’t; he was talking to us. The line “O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe” is directed towards all of us, all the people in the world, who have a moral obligation to stand up when an injustice occurs. The common foe is racism, hatred, and narrow-mindedness.

The poem is a classic Shakespearean Sonnet. African-Americans in the 1920s were not very well-versed in Shakespeare. But white people were. When we discussed this poem, we came to the conclusion that this sonnet was not written to rile up other black people; it was written to rile up “us,” the “others.”

Poem of the Day is another series I wanted to start, discussing poetry and its’ meanings. Please leave me a comment about what you think of all this, and I hope it inspires you in some way!

Yevtushenko 301

Yevtushenko – an unsolicited review

Unsolicited Book Review — Stolen Apples, poetry by Evegeniy Yevtushenko

Yevtushenko is a Soviet-era poet who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s.

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He is also a careerist, pandering to a western audience. He’s received a lot of criticism from the likes of Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and Brodsky for his inability to be brave, stare into the face of adversity, and speak up. He has always been seen as a kind of ‘safe poet’ by Soviet standards. He was never imprisoned or exiled, and because of this (I know it sounds horrible), I feel like he’s not authentically a rebel poet. His poetry has all the qualifications, but in the final moments, he backpedals and excuses himself from true revolutionary status.

Soviet poets are so popular because of the terrorism they faced on their own land. Many poets were imprisoned and then exiled upon their release. While this is certainly not necessary to criticize the Soviet regime, over time I find myself not taking seriously the poets who were never ostracized this way.

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Stolen Apples

Stolen Apples was written in Russian and English. On the back Yevtushenko wrote a nice letter to multiple Western poets asking them to translate his work. What poet worth his salt asks to be translated? Pushkin, Chekov (although not a poet) all wrote their work with such intricacies so as to make translation impossible.

I always feel that when I read a translated poem, I’m reading the translator’s poem. I was excited to read John Updike’s take on Yevtushenko. But after reading the poems in Russian, it became perfectly clear that Yevtushenko explained to Updike exactly what he wanted to say. Again, what poet worth his salt explains himself? The most beautiful poetry is beautiful for the meanings we assign it while reading.

His poems are for you. Yevtushenko’s poems about Central Park, Chelsea Hotel, the Statue of Liberty, Kent State shooting, they’re all for Americans. Soviet era Russians never possessed the same comprehension of freedom as Americans had. It wasn’t until I came here that I understood how truly horrible violations of human rights are. In Russia it was just business as usual. Our upbringing was different, and for Yevtushenko, someone behind the iron curtain during his formative years, the differences must have been profound. What business does he have writing about these topics?

One perfect example comes to mind. In high school we studied the Kent State shootings. After our class, one of my Russian friends asked what the big deal was. ‘Only four people died,’ she said. Growing up in Russia like me, she never had the right to peacefully assemble. The police violating that right was foreign to her. Freedom was never part of our upbringing. Yevtushenko comes from the same stock. We had a very different definition of what it meant to be free.

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Babii Yar

Yevtushenko 300 Yevtushenko 303

I remember one time at university there was a rally supporting gay rights. One guy had a picket sign, it said ‘Love is Gay’ in big letters, and underneath it ‘or straight like me’ in much smaller letters. I always wondered why he needed to add that to his sign. Why did he want to make sure everyone knows he’s straight?

Babi Yar is Yevtushenko’s most famous poem. It is truly beautiful. He speaks so eloquently of the horrors that happened during the Holocaust. But at the end of the poem he adds two lines, reminding the reader that he is not Jewish. Yes, he is hated by the anti-Semites as a Jew, but he is not Jewish. Why did he feel the need to add that?

That last line always brought me back to the student at the rally. Their reasons were the same: cowardice. Yevtushenko’s last lines are there as if to say: ‘I wrote this poem to speak about an injustice, but just in case anyone is checking, I am actually not part of that group.’

My mom would argue and say that the last lines were vital to Yevtushenko’s safety, and she’s right, but during the 1960s in Russia many poets threw safety to the wind and went for it. Yet he didn’t. His most famous poem is pandering to Americans. He’s not genuine or authentic.

Stolen Apples highlights his shortcomings beautifully. I recommend it to anyone who loves poetry. And if you love to hate Yevtushenko, like me, please leave me a comment so we can discuss this further ;))

if we must die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
— Claude McKay
Red Summer, 1919

 

I am truly horrified and saddened by the race relations in our country. Perhaps even more terrifying is the indifference I see almost daily on behalf of those “not affected” by racism. We should all be driven to action by this indignation.

 

I remember a time in a restaurant when I screamed at a man who was saying racist shite about someone to his friend. I was kicked out of the restaurant. My friend described my reaction as ‘frenzy.’ To this day I don’t understand why my reaction was considered so unusual. I think it should be standard. Inaction is far more detrimental. My frenzy eventually subsided, but there is no limit to inaction.

Claude McKay’s poem was written during the racism-fueled massacre known as the Red Summer, in 1919. Nearly one hundred years ago. Yet when I read it, I feel it could have been written yesterday. I can’t say I like that. I want to read something about racism from the 1920s and think, “I can’t believe life was like this in the past.”

Why did McKay choose this specific style? The poem is a classic, by-the-book Shakespearean Sonnet. Is it because African Americans in the 1920s were very well-versed in Shakespeare? No. It is because white people were. When we discussed this poem, we came to the conclusion that this sonnet was not written to rile up other black people; it was written to rile up “us,” the “others.”

The line “O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!” is directed towards all of us, all the people in the world, who have a moral obligation to stand up when an injustice occurs. The common foe is racism, hatred, and narrow-mindedness.

It is silly to think racism doesn’t affect “you.” It is “man’s gravest threat to man — the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” (A.J. Heschel) It is a death sentence to us all.

How can we mildly sit by and watch the systematic killing of black people by the police? I am repulsed by all the excuses that somehow any of those people deserved it. Anyone who has broken the law still has rights, that is the beauty of this country.

This is the land of freedom, but when that freedom is taken away from certain people on the grounds of race, it is slowly but surely being taken away from every single one of us.

This must stop now.

to the truly creative mind…a lover is a god

His eyes were the sky

His rain, wind, the sun

Like Indra, of weather and war

A God; he creates and destroys

I wait and I wait. I don’t beg —

Anymore

 

Unfounded dreams, a sigh in the night

He waits, and he waits. He won’t beg —

Anymore.

He makes his choice.

Futile and empty

The candle still burns —

Unwavering.

Through the blizzard he walks.

 

There is that town where the sun shines so bright.

The sky so blue, his eyes —

the same.

That place, it exists,

when you come here I’m here, waiting for you —

I’m the warm reprieve.

The need and the want together in one

the blue of the sky is there in my heart

the warmth of the sun I hold in my hand

It’s yours, Varuna,

the sky in your eyes,

the wind at your feet

a poem i wrote in ninth grade

I am not you

I wonder what you wonder

I hear what you hear

I see what you see

I want what you want

I am not you

 

I pretend when you pretend

I feel when you feel

I touch when you touch

I worry when you worry

I cry when you cry

I am not you

 

I understand that you understand

I say that you say

I dream that you dream

I try that you try

I hope that you hope

I am not you.

 

–I always felt different from everyone else. 15 years later i realize what a blessing it is to stand out.