Friday, April 22, 2016

Poetry Friday - Dennis Craig

I have been reading nature poems with my eighth graders in preparation for Earth Day.  I don't remember where I found this poem, but I used it with my students for a few years before I realized that the poet, Dennis Craig, was from the Caribbean (Guyana).  I love this poem because it's about nature in the city, and I can imagine that many young people growing up in the city where I live (Port-au-Prince, Haiti), have a similar experience.

This is a Petrarchan sonnet.  I love the juxtaposition of that highly academic, fancy form with the stark reality of the life described in the poem: the persona of the poem lives in a nasty urban environment.  His first exposure to flowers comes when someone puts in a park.

Dennis Craig

I have never learnt the names of flowers.
From beginning, my world has been a place
Of pot-holed streets where thick, sluggish gutters race
In slow time, away from garbage heaps and sewers
Past blanched old houses around which cowers
Stagnant earth.  There, scarce green thing grew to chase
The dull-gray squalor of sick dust; no trace
Of plant save few sparse weeds; just these, no flowers.

One day, they cleared a space and made a park
There in the city’s slums; and suddenly
Came stark glory like lightning in the dark,
While perfume and bright petals thundered slowly.
I learnt no names, but hue, shape and scent mark
My mind, even now, with symbols holy.

There is so much here: the way nature relates to the spiritual, the way exposing a young person to beauty can change everything, the lightning and thunder of new thoughts, a new way of seeing the world.

I live in an urban environment, too, and one of the things I love most is getting weekly flower deliveries from a merchant in my neighborhood.  When I shared this poem with my eighth graders, I told them that the flowers in the poem were "almost holy."   Then I looked back at the poem and saw that Craig hadn't qualified "holy" the way I had.  There was no "almost" about it.  For him, the flowers were "symbols holy."  And for me they are, too.  They remind me that there is still beauty even in the midst of difficulty, that riotous color still exists in spite of everything.  They remind me to "consider the lilies," which Emily Dickinson wrote was the only commandment she always obeyed.  Here is a recent bouquet from my "flower guy."

Here's an article I found about Dennis Craig and this poem.  I posted this poem once before, in 2012.

Here's something I wrote about flowers  when I was in the States after the earthquake.

And here's today's roundup, hosted by the incomparable Jama.


Jessica Stock said...

Beautiful! I love the poems you find. I wish I could take your classes.

jan godown annino said...

Dennis Craig's poem is exquisite with that last line, providing a shiver. Appreciations, Ruth.

Tabatha said...

I saved that poem back when you posted it in 2012, Ruth! I thought about using it for Poetry in the Halls; I can't remember whether I did. It is a beauty.

Linda B said...

I went back to read your early flower post, Ruth, full of sadness, struggling through. This one by Daniel Craig is lovely, and touches on the city, and we have our own parts where a dandelion must be a peek of sunshine midst the rest. You always share new things to me, so thank you for that! "save few sparse weeds; just these," a gorgeous line to read aloud! Do you know the book "Seedfolks" by Paul Fleischmann? It touches on this poem.

jama said...

Great poem for Earth Day. You're lucky to have a flower guy and I agree with the holiness of flowers, blooming with hope.