Adios, Poetry Month! with Naomi Shihab Nye

I am going to sign off from this year’s National Poetry Month in an uncharacteristic fashion. No commentary, no hoopla. Just a bonus poem by one of the most beautiful poets alive today, Naomi Shihab Nye.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is a good word, rolling off the tongue;
no matter what language you were born with
use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say it, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears into your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.

Published in Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995).

Musical Bonus Track: Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving, But Drowning,” Sung by Tanita Tikaram

It’s been such an amazing weekend already, and it’s only Saturday evening. For now, as we come close to the end of this Poetry Month, 2018 here’s a flashback to a Saturday Song Feature with Tinita Tikarum’s deeply moving and beautiful rendition of a favorite Stevie Smith poem.

David J. Bauman

If I Ever

Back home from a long-ish work day and glad to finally be starting my weekend. I have the poem for tonight recorded, but I need to do some editing, after a much needed nap! So first I thought I’d share this gorgeous interpretation of Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving, But Drowning.” Stevie was our poet for yesterday’s reading, and you can check out my reading there if you’d like.

I had put a link to my old reading of this poem in yesterday’s post, but I just watched it and cringed the whole way through the commentary! lol So I’m not providing that link again. I might redo that one someday and the old version will just quietly disappear.

Tanita Tikaram gets it; she knows how this poem should be sung, and her voice just moves me so much. Sad to think this was only a B-side back in the mid-1990’s. I…

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NaPoMo, Week Three: Bird Poems by Edward Thomas

And a Certain Famous Poem by Robert Frost

On Wings of Song, poems about birds , everyman's library pocket poets and Bright Wings, an illustrated anthology of poems about birds
I found both of these poems today in that book on the left.

Already I’ve met the goal of reading poems by four poets I have never before recorded. But since I got excitable and couldn’t wait for week four, I counted that last one as a bonus.

So, now, officially for week four, I have two poems about my favorite creatures on the planet—birds. Both poems are written by Edward Thomas. One is about a bird of the daytime and one a bird of the night.

I’m actually a little surprised that I hadn’t recorded anything by Edward Thomas before. I remember reading “The Owl.” I think I heard it discussed on a podcast at some point, and possibly by Robert Pinsky. But I can’t seem to find that now. I remember being so impressed by it that I was eager to dig into it and try it out in my own voice.

Why I Record

Maybe you’ve figured that out about me by now; I either record a poem because I have fallen in love with it, or because it fascinates me, and I want to see how it works. Probably both. Language in action is what fascinates me, so reading, practicing the pauses, figuring out the pace, basically deciding on the right vocal interpretation is, in my opinion, is the best way to embrace a piece and understand it.

Maybe that’s true of singers and musicians too when there is a song they love. There is a deaf poet I know who brings his poems to life through sign language and I have to guess that the poems feel more complete to him once he’s done that. Just this morning I was discussing with a dear friend who reading my poems out loud is how I figure out where the bumpy spots are, what works and what doesn’t.

Good art makes you want to interact with it. And if it’s your chosen medium, like poetry is for me, you just naturally want to taste it. I swear, even reading poetry quietly in a waiting room, I’m hearing it in my head.

Edward Thomas and a Misunderstanding

But back to our poet for this last week of poetry month. Edward Thomas. You may or may not have heard of him. While some have referred to him as a war poet, it might be more accurate to say he was a nature poet who turned soldier and died as one. He was a Welshman who became good friends with American poet Robert Frost, who inspired him to turn many of the works in his notebooks into poems.

Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917), English poet and ...
Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917), English poet and nature writer, c.1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been speculated that the Thomas’ misunderstanding of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is what led to his death in the war. John Green covers the theory in this video. This article in the Guardian also deeply delves into it and discusses the influence Frost had on Thomas and highlights some of their interesting correspondence.

Frost himself, long before the recent book by David Orr, warned that the poem was “tricky.” To be fair, plenty of people have talked about this, and even I took up the discussion in the description section of a video on my YouTube channel back in 2012, three years before Orr’s book.

That doesn’t make me special or smarter than Orr, or any of the professors I’ve been listening to and reading for 25 years. They all said some version of the same thing about how people fail to understand this poem, simply because they fail to pay attention. It’s just that Orr was savvy enough to put out a book on the topic through a popular press.

Frost is being kind to us when he calls it “tricky.” There is no special trick to interpretation. All you have to do is what most people haven’t done; read more than the first few and the last few lines of the poem. Because in the middle you’ll find the speaker arguing with his own false claims when he says:

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Got it? Both roads were the same, and the unreliable narrator stops to confess this fact to us before he ends by saying, not what is true but what he will be telling himself years later:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one . . .

Yeah, he took the one that was exactly the same as the other one, and there was no way he could have known what might have happened had he taken the other.

But isn’t this how we humans are? We make up our history retrospectively to fit our current outlook. And that, dear friends, makes for a much better and more honest poem, than the bullshit “I-did-it-my-way” mantra of self-independence that our culture has told us it meant, mostly, because nobody took the time to read the whole poem and see it actually said.

Two Poems

I wasn’t going to get into all of that. Too late! I’ve tainted your idea of Edward Thomas. But regardless of what he may have misunderstood about his friend’s popular poem, Edward Thomas was a very fine poet himself. He was also a bit of a tortured guy who struggled with poverty and fought with his wife, though by all accounts they did love each other, and she spoke well of him after his death.  Look him up for yourself, and read some of his poems.

Here are two to get you started. I’ll save the close readings for our discussions in tbe comments. Happy Poetry Month!

The Hollow Wood
Edward Thomas

Out in the sun the goldfinch flits
Along the thistle-tops, flits and twits
Above the hollow wood
Where birds swim like fish—
Fish that laugh and shriek—
To and fro, far below
In the pale hollow wood.

Lichen, ivy, and moss
Keep evergreen the trees
That stand half-flayed and dying,
And the dead trees on their knees
In dog’s-mercury, ivy, and moss:
And the bright twit of the goldfinch drops
Down there as he flits on thistle-tops.

The Owl
Edward Thomas

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Bonus Poetry Month Footage

Gotta love the blooper Reel! Nice job, Micah. Feels like spring (finally!).

The Monkey Prodigy

This was filmed a couple days ago. It was so lovely. I would like to do it again. Anyway, here is me doing readings of poems by Christina Rossetti, Eleanor Farjeon, Jacob Nibenegasabe, and Ogden Nash.

And below the first video is a hilarious blooper from one of the Ogden Nash poems.

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Poetry Month: Week Four With Kaveh Akbar

Micah, reading a poem by one of contemporary poetry’s most ardent cheerleaders.

The Monkey Prodigy

This is the final week of poetry month. For the last week I recorded a poem by Kaveh Akbar. My father introduced me to his poetry this past year. His first book is titled Calling A Wolf A Wolf. Check it out!

A Boy Steps Into the Water by Kaveh Akbar

and of course he’s beautiful
goosebumps over his ribs
like tiny fists under a thin sheet the sheet
all mudwet and taste of walnut

and of course I’m afraid of him
of the way keeping him a secret will make him
inevitable I will do anything to avoid
getting carried away sleep nightly with coins

over my eyes set fire to an entire
zodiac mecca is a moth
chewing holes in a shirt I left
at a lover’s house a body loudly

consumes days and awaits the slow
fibrillation of its heart a lightning rod
sits in silence until…

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Best of NaPoMo: Williams, Koch, and Macfadyen

Micah and I are actually ahead of the game for this year’s National Poetry Month and can therefore offer some bonus tracks and flashbacks!

The deal was to record a reading each week by a poet we hadn’t recorded before (we’ve each recorded many) and then share it to our blogs.

Here’s a little flashback mix tape from 2012’s Poetry Month when I was, of all insane ideas, recording and writing about a different poem each day. It was supposed to be “30 Poets, 30 Days,” but I confess–I never told you–day 10 and day 20 were the same poet! I didn’t realize it until May or June and by then the deed was done.

Here’s Day 10: “Your Were Wearing,” by Kenneth Koch

I had been enjoying some of the video “readings” by Mathew Macfadyen which were actually performances, acting the poems out, rather than just reading them, like I normally did. So I thought I would give it a try.  So here is the poem, performed by Mathew that inspired Kenneth Koch to write the poem that I was inspired by Mr. Macfadyen (yes, that is how he spells it) to perform.

Day  19, Prequel and Bonus Track: “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams

Oh! And here’s Micah’s reading of this poem for last year’s PoMo. If you’ve ever been given a poetry writing assignment by an English teacher or a workshop leader, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked to write your own “Refrigerator Poem,” like that one. A note left for someone, saying more than the words on the page.

Kenneth Koch couldn’t settle on just one note, so he wrote the following, which was probably the most fun I’ve had in memorizing and performing someone else’s work.

Day 20: “Variations on a Them by William Carlos Williams,” by Kenneth Koch

So, whether you are one of those people celebrating National Poetry Month, or one grumbling, “Why do we need this? I read poetry every day!” I wish you more poems in your life and a very happy . . . um . . . April, 2018.