Tag: american poetry

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Poetic Pragmatism: on Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Shampoo”

Too often young writers fall into the nebulous trap of attempting to be philosophical or spiritual without any practicality to ground them. As example, it’s not uncommon to see young poets write about clichéd themes with indistinct language, as their verse falls within familiar, tired tropes ultimately resulting in some limp attempt at poetry. Again, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to approach a poem, mind you, but when starting out, it’s typically better to start small, e.g., write about how much you enjoy drinking a cup of coffee, or what you notice while on line at the grocery store, or simply the pleasure you feel (for the gluten tolerant) when eating a bagel. Furthermore, it is important to keep mindful that all these pedestrian events can be philosophical if rendered well.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is regarded as a 20th-century poetic darling, who wrote much in the same vein as Marianne Moore, albeit less cerebral. Despite her thin output, Bishop managed to create several successful poems evoking a child-like eye, such as “The Map,” “The Moth-Man,” “The Moose,” “Questions of Travel,” and “In the Waiting Room,” among others. Her verse can be gentle and comforting, unpretentious and inviting, with all the while her narrative unfolding quietly and uniquely. Readers should be encouraged to study her Complete Poems (again, a thin output compared to many other poets), but her poetic approach can nonetheless offer some aid to the otherwise lost, disillusioned writer. […]

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A stylized photo of African American poet Robert Hayden, in sepia tones, wearing his trademark thick eyeglasses under a cloudy sky.

READ THIS POET: Four Poems by Robert Hayden

If there is one common denominator that remains imperative when applied to literature and poetry specifically, it is the demonstration of craft. After all, anyone can write a political screed, but that doesn’t mean such a work is well rendered. Rather, to be presented with a skilled mind that has not only put great thought into each line but also has consideration for the reader—well, this makes all the difference. Thankfully, Robert Hayden was this sort of poet and person. An African American who grew up in the slums of Detroit, Michigan, he spoke adamantly of not wanting to neglect his history and experience, nor to be limited by either. Much of his career seemed to involve a need for his own identity—to write what he wanted, rather than what activists might have expected of him. ‘There is no black poetry or white poetry, there is only American poetry,’ Hayden states in this interview, dated March 1975, wherein he also notes his opposition to the way Black writing is presented—that is, as sociological works rather than literature.

Much of Hayden’s poetry found online are his more historical leaning poems involving the Black experience, e.g., “Middle Passage,” “Frederick Douglas,” “The Whipping,” and “The Ballad of Nat Turner,” among others (including his great boyhood classic, “Those Winter Sundays”). However, this essay will not be discussing any of those wonderful poems. Rather, I wish to address those poems involving his more personal experiences, as well as how he used nature observation for his distillation. Why should these fine works be overlooked? Alas, one such poem is “Ice Storm”. […]

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A photo of a young, red-haired Bruce Ario in a hat, eating seafood.

The Revered Rebel: Bruce Ario’s “The Lovely Tree Branches”

It’s not uncommon for the artist to live in search of validation. After all, life’s navigation can be painful, especially when forced to interact with those unable to appreciate or recognize the value in one’s work. Just reading about Vincent Van Gogh and how his many peers thought him a nobody, or how Paul Cézanne’s father would rather his son have become a lawyer or banker—the frustration is evident. Sure, a parent wants his kid to make money, but at what expense? What if Cézanne had instead become Banker Paul rather than Painter Paul? What a loss the world would have suffered.

The life of an artist is one of sacrifice. To pursue it, one must be willing to adapt to the slog of overlooked, lower-rank jobs, and forgo the material. This is not to say that one must inevitably accept a life of poverty, but to expect a high-rank career is highly unrealistic, given such an occupation would likely leave one with little creative time. Yes, Wallace Stevens was president of Hartford Insurance, but he chose that job over an academic career because the work yielded little drain on his brain. While providing him with a comfortable living, selling insurance is far from glamorous. Moreover, Hart Crane was lucky enough to land a job as a copywriter, and Vivian Maier worked as a nanny, affording her the freedom to walk with her employers’ kids and photograph.

And as for me—even while spending several years working in a technical field, I recognized the lack of glamour in such a pursuit, but it paid the bills. This did not, however, stop me from encountering the small-minded and envious individuals who felt the need to reduce my writing talent to a moment of air quotes, dismissively referring to me as a “writer” who “took herself too seriously.” (Must I have the imprimatur of fame?) […]

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Three images of Carl Sandburg, including a bust of the poet.

The Grit and Dirt of Carl Sandburg (Four Poems Analyzed)

The first time I read Carl Sandburg I was in high school wherein the words, ‘Hog Butcher for the world,’ composed the first line of text, which is of course the first line to his famous poem “Chicago”. I recall not knowing what to make of the poem upon my teenaged read, as I always preferred to reexamine poetry multiple times. But I always remembered it. The poem puts me in mind of Upton Sinclair’s well-known novel The Jungle, which is also set in Chicago, and both Sandburg and Sinclair share a love for exposing the political underbelly of culture. It has been argued that Sandburg is a Neglected Poet in that, while his reputation is not obscure, it perhaps should be grander than it is.

At his best, Carl Sandburg is an excellent poet that does not steer away from the grit and dirt of life—the life of the struggling poor, or just his love of city and nature. At his worst, he can at times veer into preaching cliché (however minimally) and his lesser poems don’t hold the heft as those of someone like Robinson Jeffers or Wallace Stevens. But while Jeffers and Stevens are more philosophical, Sandburg is more social. […]