A YEAR IN POEMS 10/1/2021


“Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

WB Yeats, “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” 

There is something spellbinding about this poem. I think it is the twin repetitions, consonant yet contradictory. The heavens (or the heaven’s cloth) are represented by the interwoven word ‘light’ (echoed by internal rhymes ‘night’ and ‘feet’). The mundane reality of the poor besotted suitors is paradoxically scored by the repeated word ‘dreams’ as if his love can never be real.




It’s my birthday, again.

In a time such as this one, I shouldn’t be complacent about it. The passing of years is automatic. It is the compiling of them where the challenge lies.

Last year was a ‘big’ birthday, one whose number need not be named. At the beginning of 2020, we made Plans – travel, dine with friends, reengage my roots. The wild celebration had occurred the year before in the form of a raucous Seventies Party (not remotely germane, since I was neither seventy nor born in the seventies, but fun nevertheless). 2020’s Plans were scattered like ashes alongside everyone else’s.

So now it is this year. We made plans (writ small) – a modest trip home, a smaller supper, a few roots, our breaths held to make sure we could sneak past this milestone.

For some, birthdays are a time of celebration. For others, of sober reflection. My father used to send out a lengthy birthday letter (later e-mail) yearly until he could no longer focus his words into meaning. I’ve always been mindful at my own birthday time. There are a few poems that I recall writing (or fragments mercifully lost to anywhere but my swirling memory). I’ve always held my birthday in superstitious awe. Twenty-two is my so-called lucky number (still waiting for the luck to be attached). The eve before has always been one of waiting till midnight and then giving myself a silent nod of humble congratulation.

We write New Year’s Resolutions, using January 1 as the arbitrary day for everyone to reset the clock. But I think it should be our birthday that gives us the cue to review and rewind. We are not all really running the same race, or rather we are not running it in synchrony. We each have our own clock; a clock which once a year we should acknowledge with a nod, a wave, a laugh, a slice of cake, what have you – and then set aside as, with good fortune, our calendar continues to spin around.


A YEAR IN POEMS - 8/10/2021


“Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.”

Sara Teasdale, “Let It Be Forgotten” 

This beautiful but bittersweet poem finds relief in the soothing passage of intense memories, but at the same time it honors the beauty and passion of those experiences.


A YEAR IN POEMS 6/16/2021


“Come hither, Child! And rest:
This is the end of the day,
Behold the weary West!

“Sleep rounds with equal zest
Man’s toil and children’s play:
Come hither, Child! And rest.”

Ernest Dowson, “Villanelle of Sunset” 

My brother’s favorite non-classical poet and by extension mine. No poet ever, in my mind, was as skilled at turning sorrow into sweetness.


A YEAR IN POEMS 6/15/2001


“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.’”

Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven” 

There was a time when this poem was memorized by every school child in America and was often their introduction to poetry. The insistent rhythm and rhyme scheme, full of strange repetitions and dark corners create a deep and somber mood. I’ve never understood what was so scary about the subject. The image of the raven sitting on the bookshelf was more humorous than terrifying to me.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/27/2021


“Up with me! Up with me into the clouds!
                For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
                Singing, singing,
With clouds the sky about thee ringing,
                Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seem so to thy mind.”

Wordsworth, “To a Sky-lark” 

I have always admired Wordsworth’s attempt to achieve the lightness of a Keats poem in this ode. He tries desperately to rise weightless, and fails boldly, like an elephant thinking it is an eagle. 

(Parenthetically, I think skylarks have so much poetic press just because of their name. In nature, they are hardly the most ethereal or lofty of birds.)


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/24/2021


“At the time that turned the heat of the earth,
At the time when the heavens turned and changed,
At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
To cause light to break forth,
At the time of the night of Makalii (winter)
Then began the slime which established the earth,
The source of deepest darkness.
Of the depth of darkness, of the depth of darkness,
Of the darkness of the sun, in the depth of night,
                                It is night,
                                So was night born

Queen Lili’uokalani, “Kumulipo”  

A beautiful, stirring version of the Hawai’ian creation story, made more full of pathos by the historical reality of Queen Lili’uokalani’s personal tragedy. The web posting has the poem in native Hawai'ian and it is even more haunting with it's mesmeric repeated sounds, likes the waves crashing on the ocean shore.





“A draft brings sway to
Brittle leaves,
Curled limbs of gray
Death-dancing in its light breath:
Ribs exposed, an umbrella
Broken reaching for the canopy.

Small buds glistened once on
Delicate supple fingers
Cavorting with the green and red surround:
The whisper of life-
Shuffling, striving for the
Blue-polished sky.

Winter seized the playful boughs
Too sudden to elude
Too swift to understand:
The hollow, from tip
To root, dancing now with
The memory of life.”

K Mankin, “On a Dead Tree”:

Yesterday, arborists removed the sweet Japanese Maple from beneath my study window. This poem is about the illusion of permanence.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/20/2021


Ah, Fans, let not the Quarry but the Chase
       Be that to which most fondly we aspire!
For us not Stake, but Game; not Goal, but Race—
      THIS is the end of every fan’s desire.

Franklin P Adams, “A Ballad of Baseball Burdens”

    I cheated on this one. Started in the last stanza to get the gist and substance. The whole is a wonderful litany of baseball names and sounds of times past by a newspaper columnist (who says columns are not a form of poetry?).  I love the mock-ballad structure and tone of this piece and the way Adams incorporates the sounds of fandom (Else you shall feel the brunt of fandom’s ire/ Biff, bang it, clout it, hit it on the knob”).


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/20/2021


“Come, my Celia, let us prove,
While we can, the sports of love;
Time will not be ours forever;
He at length our good will sever.”

Ben Jonson “Song to Celia” 

Not his most famous Song to Celia, but an interesting and somewhat bleak version, redolent with whispers of mortality. The opening echoes Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd” to a degree that you wonder if this poem is in part a response to Marlowe’s death.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/18/2021


“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

I think of this poem as a counter balance to Fern Hill, where at the end, the poet sleeps and wakes to find his childhood has fled. This is the older and wiser poet, unwilling to be passive any longer.



A YEAR IN POEMS 5/17/2021


“The unconsecrated foe entered my courts,
Placed his unwashed hands upon me,
And caused me to tremble.
Putting forth his hand
He smote me with fear.”

Babylonian Cuneiform, “Ishtar” (transl by Lewis Spence)

Translation of ancient texts, especially in languages unknown, is a bit of an if-you-say-so experience. It is also an essay in desire; the desire to find the fluency in some dead language to understand their thoughts, their imagery, and their poetic sense.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/15/2021


“You want so badly to tell how it’s done
That you tell it to yourself each night before sleep,
Narrating a film that no one will see,
The sound of the rain like the beating of wings,
The applause you receive for keeping the secret.”

Paul Tayyar, “The Magician” 

I am drawn to poems and writings in the second person for any number of reasons. They are intimate and personal, almost like the author is there with you. They are rare as most authors prefer first or third, probably so they don’t need to worry about the implied invasion of privacy. Finally, it is remarkable how the pronoun pulls you in – I am no magician, and yet by being included in the narrative I can identify with the magician’s devotion and immersion and extrapolate to my own world.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/14/2021



“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

TS Eliot, “The Naming of Cats”

It is unclear how much life this deceptively childlike poem of Eliot’s would have without the arrival of the Broadway show “Cats” but there is a brilliant and miraculous playfulness in this and the rest of his “Practical Cat” poems. Eliot teased his readers in all his poetry – there was always a broad question of his intentions. To be sure in this verse, the end waxes serious as he contemplates the secret inner name that cats (and by extension all of us) possess. But that sobriety is just shadow behind the ebullient linguistic nonsense of his listing of names. ("Such as Munkstrap, Quaxo, or Coripat,/ Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum..."

(Photo of my nephew felines courtesy of A Mankin)


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/13/2021


“In the end,
it was nothing more
than the toy boat of a boy
on the local park’s lake,
where I walked with you.

But I knelt down
to watch it arrive,
its white sail shy
with amber light,
the late sun
bronzing the wave
that lifted it up,

my ship coming in
with its cargo of joy.”

Carol Ann Duffy, “Ship”

The sweet message of the final couplet of this light but wistful poem reflects the ebullience of the imagery. The verse is an elegant illustration of setting the scene - the verbal extension of a visual experience.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/12/2021


“If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.”

Marianne Moore, “I May, I Might, I Must” 

The sheer, ornery passion of this poem is breathtaking, betokened by the escalating assurance of the title. Although this may be about a specific geography where she happens to know a shortcut, I read it as any fen or any obstacle where she will be undaunted in her efforts. Just try telling this poet she can't!


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/9/2021


“I took her dainty eyes, as well
As silken tendrils of her hair:
And so I made a Villanelle!”

Earnest Thayer Dowson, “Villanelle of His Lady’s Treasures” 

Most of Dowson’s works are lugubrious and tortured. This poem is a confection. What upsweep of spirit put him in such a happy compositional mood?




“A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.

O Nash, “Reflection on Babies”

This tiny rhyme is almost an epitaph for Nash’s poems. The unexpected, absurd neologism that makes the rhyme and brings the chuckle is a hallmark of his brilliant light verses. Never (or seldom) acid, they have a ring of smartness without arrogance, as if they were something that you might have come up with, if only you had his ear, his cleverness, and his nerve.



“Put the fragrant mignonette and the last red aster
Here on the table.
Let us talk again of love,
As we did once in May.

Give me your hand, that I may squeeze in secret,
And if any see, we will not care.
Give me just one of your sweet glances,
As you did once in May.

Today, flowers bloom and sweeten each grave;
The one day of the year when the Dead are free.
Come to my heart, that I may have you here again,
As I did once in May.”

Hermann von Gilm, “Allerseelen” (transl. KPM)

The lyric to one of the most stirring of Richard Strauss’s remarkable lieder, the poem stands as a work of art in and of itself. Starting out as a paean to a familiar and intimate May-Day celebration, it ends up as a song of endearing and enduring grief. The connection between lyric and music is so strong in the great art songs, that we often forget the literary power of the words.



A YEAR IN POEMS, 5/2/2021


“Sleep, baby mine, Desire, nurse Beauty singeth,
Thy cries, O baby, set mine head on aching;
The babe cries, ‘Way, thy love doth keep me waking’.”

Sir Philip Sidney, “Sleep, baby mine, Desire” 

A raucous parody of a lullaby as the poet tries to lay aside his desire, treated here as an unruly child. But why are there so few lullabies, satire or serious, in the great poetic canon? Is it that we treat nursery songs as too frivolous to anthologize?


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/27/2021


“i count the morning
stars the air so sweet i turn
riverdark with sound.”

Sonia Sanchez, “Haiku [i count the morning] 

Haiku forces the poet to compress her imagery into versatile and breathtaking verbal offerings like “riverdark with sound." The image is almost synesthetic.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/23/2021


“Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.”

Edward Arlington Robinson, “Mr. Flood’s Party” 

Sympathetic and poignant, a portrayal of age and isolation as well as the strength of memories. Robinson's poems are small elegantly carved portraits that seem to capture the huge experience of each little life.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/22/2021


“…If you like-
I'll be furiously flesh elemental,
or - changing to tones that the sunset arouses -
if you like-
I'll be extraordinary gentle,
not a man, but - a cloud in trousers!

Vladimir Mayakovsky, “A Cloud in Trousers”

A lyrical portion of a rather brutal, long poem by the Russian Futurist. His imagery can be coarse and gritty, but the heart and soul are bared and vulnerable. One of the poems I would love to read in its original language since I fear some of its grace is lacking in translation.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/21/2021


“I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold”

William Carlos Williams. "This Is Just to Say"

I have an ongoing debate whether this is a poem or an actual note. It is elegant in its simplicity and in the way he brings the sensual into the mundane.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/20/2021


“The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then, moves on.”

Carl Sandburg, "The Fog" 

Oh, the audacity of this tiny poem! One image distilled into description and a small action. Almost haiku in its deceptive simplicity.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/19/2021


“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man in now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride”

In celebration of the original Patriot’s Day. This classic poem used to be memorization fodder and whole generations can recite at least the first stanza as easily as they can their name and childhood address. Like much of Longfellow, there is a clumsy charm and earnestness about the verse, but he is excellent at using the meter to convey motion and urgency. The words rattle along like the hoofbeats of a galloping horse. If you can forgive its historic inaccuracies, this is great patriotic pablum.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/18/2021


“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the leas,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”

Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

Somber and moving, this curious antiquity is frankly a chore to read. Gray’s lyricism, though – his carefully constructed metaphors and imagery (“incense-breathing morn” or “yonder nodding beech”) – make this poet the perfect introduction to the overwrought verse of the high Romantics. The meaning seems daunting until you stop to listen and read and then it is surprising in its self-evidence. I think that is why Gray’s “Elegy” remains high on the list of must-read poetry.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/17/2021


“Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

Wallace Stevens. “Emperor of Ice Cream” 

Since we are on the subject of Ice Cream. An elaborate play on a line from Hamlet ("Your worm is your only emperor for diet"), this clever poem is striking for its magnificent alliteration as well as its come-and-go rhythm and rhyme scheme.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/16/2021


“I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:


Jack Prelutsky, “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” 

The list goes on for twenty-eight poetic lines, each one a rhythmic orgy of color and sound. How can you resist “COTTON CANDY CARROT CUSTARD” or “CAULIFLOWER COLA MUSTARD” ice cream? 

There is nothing wrong with a bit of doggerel on occasion, even in comparison with heavy epic and powerful odes. Poetry is meant to free the language into a realm of pure oral expression – it is a joyous oral medium. The almost hypnotic flow of these absurd concoctions read aloud represents the height of freedom.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/15/2021


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”

Surely one of the most debated and notorious poems in the literature. The density of allusions and the sharp shifts in tense and focus are unsettling. This is a classic poetry class study poem – find the DIM within its sonnets. But even without teasing out the allusions, even without sorting out the myriad voices, there is lyricism and sensibility. The opening stanza itself foreshadows the mixed emotions of memory.

For personal reasons of loss, April was always a difficult time for me, so this opening line rang true from my first reading. I still visit The Wasteland infrequently and find more gems in its turbulent writing.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/14/2021


"To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!"

Langston Hughes, “Dream Variations”

Hughes has emerged from being a prominent Black poet to being one of the most recognized and revered voices among all American poets. His poetry wears that mantle uncomfortably in its self-conscious awareness of the enforced otherness of the Black voice in society. This poem can be read as a sonorous, joyous elegy to the beauty and promise of life, but its emphasis on “white day is done” in contrast to the offset lines “Dark like me” and “Black like me” in the next stanza is unmissable.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/13/2021


“Because I cannot sleep
I make music at night.
I am troubled by the one
whose face has the color of spring flowers.
I have neither sleep nor patience,
neither a good reputation nor disgrace.
A thousand robes of wisdom are gone.”

Rumi, “Ode 314” (transl. by C Barks and J Moyne)

Although ancient (mid-13th C. CE) there is a timelessness about Rumi’s poetry. The verse could be as comfortably from the 18th C. or written last week. That is the essence of Rumi’s creations. He found the universality in his own emotions, filtering them through the vista of the world at large. I find it comforting to see so much commonality of feeling across cultures and across time.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/12/2021


I know a thing that's most uncommon;
(Envy, be silent and attend!)
I know a reasonable Woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a Friend.
Not warp'd by Passion, awed by Rumour;
Not grave through Pride, nor gay through Folly,
An equal Mixture of good Humour
And sensible soft Melancholy.
"Has she no faults then (Envy says), Sir?"
Yes, she has one, I must aver;
When all the World conspires to praise her,
The Woman's deaf, and does not hear.

Alexander Pope, “On a Certain Lady in Court”

Eventually Pope would turn up in any list of poetry. This is not his most famous writing (“To err is human” and “Hope springs eternal” are far more renowned) but it is one of his most graceful and rhapsodic works with enough irony to recognize Pope’s hand but not enough sardonicism to bite. It also demonstrates a “roman a clef” – that maddening riddle that points to a certain, living person who will never be uncovered because of lost allusions and context. The 'certain lady' may be a satirical invention or she may be a real figure, but we may never know.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/11/2021



"i shall imagine life
is not worth dying, if
(and when) roses complain
their beauties are in vain

but though mankind persuades
itself that every weed's
a rose, roses (you feel
certain) will only smile”

E.E. Cummings, “i shall imagine life”

I once reviewed a poem for a high school literary magazine that included the line “not vain/ Like a flower.” I mistook the author’s meaning, or at least her punctuation, to imply that flowers are vain. Which of course they are. What other purpose is the color and the beauty except to call attention to itself: the very definition of vain.



A YEAR IN POEMS 4/10/2021


“We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon."

Gwendolyn Brooks. "We Real Cool"

This is the poem that taught me about free verse, although it's not really free verse, is it? It has meter and rhyme, both internal from the main body and external from the repeated pronoun at the end of each line. The freedom of the verse comes from the the choppy staccato of the text - it is almost a chant. The uneasy perching of the pronoun at each line's end gives the whole work a feeling of headlong rashness and unsteadiness, especially placed atop the unbalanced final statement. The striking and abrupt disappearance of the pronoun at the end, representing perhaps the loss of life and of self, leads the reader to return to the beginning for an air of futile inevitability. A whole tableau is established in eight brilliant lines.



A YEAR IN POEMS 4/9/2021


“Everyone grumbled. The sky was grey.
We had nothing to do and nothing to say.
We were nearing the end of a dismal day,
And then there seemed to be nothing beyond,
Daddy fell into the pond!

Alfred Noyes, “Daddy Fell into the Pond”

Nothing but a silly story poem for a fun if gray Friday. 

From a personal note, I have fallen into a pond (or pool) twice, once unwitnessed when I was testing the ice on the semi-frozen turtle pond in front of the Scarsdale Public Library and once to the wild amusement of my then 5-year-old son into a hot tub. Read the poem, laugh along with the children, the gardener, and even the geese. But be sympathetic to the Daddy’s side of the story as well.



A YEAR IN POEMS 4/8/2021


Beneath the blossoms with a pot of wine,
No friends at hand, so I poured alone;
I raised my cup to invite the moon,
Turned to my shadow, and we became three.

Li Po, “Drinking Alone in the Moonlight”

Is this small, spare poem about loneliness or the denial of it?


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/7/2021


“If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might we move
To live with thee and be thy love.”

W Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”

Why are we so blessed to have this poetic conversation when so many of Elizabethan poems are lost? What was the relationship between these two famous figures (Marlowe and Raleigh)? How did Marlowe react to the playful rebuke that Raleigh puts in his Nymph’s mouth, cutting through the seductive flattery to a rather cold dismissal? And how gratifying to for once hear the pastoral woman's point of view.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/6/2021

           “Come live with me and be my love,
            And we will all the pleasures prove
            That valleys. Groves, hills, and fields,
            Woods, or steepy mountain yields.”

Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” 

One of the most famous poems of English literature, and rightly so for its effervescent and lively meter and rhymes. If nothing else, it points to the versatility of the amazing Kit Marlowe, known at the time for his sweeping and epic tragic dramas. This poem reads more of a song, especially in the cunning clue of a line like “Melodious birds sing madrigals.” Was this a response to a challenge? Is there a horde of lyric poetry that history has hidden from us? What masterpieces might he have written had he not been murdered in his prime? These are questions that bring literature and history to life before our eyes.


A YEAR IN POEMS 4/5/2021


“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet XLII from Sonnets from the Portuguese”: 

What to make of this oft-ridiculed poem? It is deceptively simple, on its face a simple list of the types of love, although that feature in itself is both moving and powerful. Perhaps the aspect most frequently missed by the satirists is the sophistication of the prosody, with its complex shift of rhyme scheme for the final sesto and its stirring transition of the terminal rhymes from “faith” to “breath” to the final word “death”. As is often the case, there is one internal line (oft overlooked) which I think is timeless. “I love thee to the level of every day’s/ Most quiet need.” 

Beware what you parody. It is often the parodist who comes off looking the worst.