Friday, September 28, 2012

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Poem

After the earthquake I wrote here, here and here about hearing my friend Magalie Boyer on the radio, being interviewed on the American Public Media show The Story. Hers was one of the respectful, loving, and deeply sorrowful voices coming out of Haiti in those terrible days, an articulate Haitian woman speaking her sadness about what had happened to her country. 

This week Magalie shared a poem with me that she wrote about the earthquake, and I immediately begged her to let me share it for Poetry Friday. Here it is.

by Magalie Boyer

Some things we lost in the earthquake:

The Ministry of Planification and of External Cooperation and the Ministry of Public Health

The Ministry of Finance and of the Economy and the Palais de Justice

The Primature and the DGI

The National Palace


Sainte Trinite and Sacre Coeur

The Wesleyan Church of Carrefour-feuilles

Maxo’s records, complete with his new-born picture, from Chancerelle

And Mario, who was 17 and albino

Marie-Lucie, a nursing student, Marie-Lucie and her 98 classmates

The habit of hearing harmony in the city’s cacophony

(As if the ensemble of tap-taps and 4x4s could be a choir!)

Our casual relationship with rank misery

The ability to match our tears to our grief

Jacmel’s invincibility

The mask of sufficiency

The fig leaf of society

 Here is today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Poetry Friday: Elizabeth Alexander 2

I'm back with Elizabeth Alexander today, after finishing listening to the podcast I linked to last week. Again, I enjoyed learning more about Alexander than that she was the poet who read a poem at Obama's inauguration. I loved so many of the things that Alexander had to say, and the poems that she read, that I had to feature her once more. Here she is on poetry as a poor people's art:
"So but I think poetry — you know, what I also like to continue what a number of writers — Lucille Clifton, Wanda Coleman — they've talked about poetry as an art form that is a poor peoples' art form, which is to say you don't need — you can't write a novel without a lot of time to yourself. They don't get written any other way. But I love how these women talk about how you can snatch time to make a poem. That doesn't mean that they aren't hard to make, but it means that they are like grass or flowers coming up in the sidewalk cracks. Wanda Coleman says, 'I can start a poem if I'm waiting on line. Poor people spend a lot of time waiting on line. I couldn't write a novel waiting on line, but I could start a poem waiting on line.' Lucille Clifton says, 'The best conditions for me to write poetry are at the kitchen table, one kid's got the measles, another two kids are smacking each other. You know, life is going on around me.' And not only is that the stuff of the poems, but also that she can snatch little tiny snippets of space for the poems. She had six children and she was very, very funny. She said, 'Why do you think my poems are so short?' Because that's what results when you're grabbing time like that. But, I mean, they are incredibly, powerfully meditative, amazing, amazing poems. So I think that there's a way that poetry — you don't make any money from writing it and you don't need any money to make it."
I liked this quote because I have been feeling lately as though I don't have time for poetry - for any of my own writing, really. Of course I'm teaching poems to my students, but I'm also grading their work and taking an online graduate class, and that doesn't leave much time for thinking and creating. But I need to "snatch little tiny snippets of space" more often. Later she talks about writing with a newborn:
"You just realize like, well, if you're gonna do it, just do it. Don't even think about doing it. Don't talk about doing it. Just do it. So actually, it was with my first child and nursing in the middle of the night and being, of course, so tired, but also wonderfully unguarded. I found that actually being that tired was fantastic for my poetry because I had no filters. You know, I'd have the baby in one arm and it would be three in the morning and I'd write some things down on any scrap of paper. I just grabbed the time I had."

Speaking of birth, here's the beginning of Alexander's poem "Neonatology."


 by Elizabeth Alexander

Giving birth is like jazz, something from silence,
then all of it. Long, elegant boats,
blood-boiling sunshine, human cargo, a handmade kite —

No longer a celebrity, pregnant lady, expectant.
It has happened; you are here...

Here's the rest.

And with the combination of poverty and birth, I have to share this post too, written by my friend Beth McHoul. Yes, giving birth is like jazz, in all its improvisation and beauty and joy, but for too many women around the world, giving birth is terribly dangerous. Here's a poem I wrote about a scene I witnessed in Port-au-Prince right after the US election when Obama became president.

 November 7, 2008, Port-au-Prince

The Friday after the US election
 We were driving home on Delmas
And I saw a little family:
A man carrying a newborn with infinite gentleness
And a woman walking slowly behind him.
She had the doughy belly of recent childbirth.
My body felt that familiar soreness as I watched her.

Some women are pushed to the curb In a wheelchair
After the hardest work they'll ever do
And then helped carefully into a car
With a car seat awaiting the floppy-headed baby
And driven by a husband who tries to avoid every bump in the road.
This one walked home
With a towel tied around her waist
To hide any evidence of postpartum bleeding.

I wondered as we passed if she had named her baby Obama?
I wondered what his life would be like
With such a strong mother
And with a father who carried him home
With so much love and pride.

 by Ruth, from

Alexander says about poetry,
"I think that one of the great things about poetry, and many black women poets have written about this, that human beings have always made song. Communities, tribes, peoples, have always told each other the story of who they are in song."
This week, Elizabeth Alexander and Beth McHoul and Haiti have me thinking about poetry and song, birth and death, life and loss.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry Friday: Elizabeth Alexander

Yesterday I started listening to a podcast featuring Elizabeth Alexander (you can find the podcast here), and I heard her read her poem "Ars Poetica #100:I Believe." When I went to her website to look for the text, I also found another that I liked even better. It's called "African Leave-Taking Disorder." I grew up in Africa and have witnessed this "disorder" many times, and even developed it myself. Far from being a disorder, it's a wonderful feature of the deep, satisfying relationships that people have with each other in traditional African culture, where hurry is not valued, and people matter more than things or events.

The poem begins like this:

Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder

The talk is good. The two friends linger
at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.

There is no after the supper and talk.
The talk is good. These two friends linger

at the door, half in, half out, ‘til one
decides to walk the other home. And so

they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the
nightgowned wife who shakes her head and smiles

from the bedroom window as the men talk
in love and the crickets sing along.

You can read the rest here.

The only Elizabeth Alexander poem I had ever heard or read before this podcast was her inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day". When Obama was inaugurated, I searched out all the poems that have been read at inaugurations (there aren't many) and read them with my eighth graders. After listening to the lovely conversation in the podcast (I'm still not finished; I'm listening to the one that's an hour and a half long, and I just can't ride the exercise bike that long), I am sure I am going to be seeking out more of her work.

Here's today's roundup.

Have a great weekend. Here's hoping you develop "African leave-taking disorder," and spend some time in deep, satisfying conversation.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Poetry Friday: The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

Last week I posted a poem my son shared with me; this week it's one from my daughter.

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

by Albert Goldbarth

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Here's the rest.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

More After the Storm

“I put the baby under a table, and we tried to go under the bed, but there was water coming up from the floor,” said Ms. Millien, 35. “In past storms we could stand in the corners where the leaks are not too bad to stay dry, but with this storm there were no corners, there was no escape.”
from this New York Times article.

It's been a week since Isaac paid us a visit. I spent most of last Saturday sleeping, since I had spent most of Friday night awake. Our aftermath, as I wrote in an earlier post, involved cleaning up fallen branches and dealing with electrical and internet outages. We still don't have electricity back properly, though it's been on for five minutes here and there. Our neighborhood is full of the sounds of many generators. Anyone who can afford it here owns a generator, since power cuts are so common even when no storm has passed through. Our generator is running now, and it's loud and smelly, and I am so thankful for it.

But I never had to put a baby under a table, and I never had to stand in the corner to stay dry, and although it felt like the windows might blow out, I never thought my roof would blow off. And I don't live in a tent. And I know every single minute that the world isn't fair, and that I am outrageously privileged.