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Michael Shepherd

Joined: 07 Dec 2007
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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:02 pm    Post subject: American Poetry Reply with quote

American poetry in English (a qualification now required as Spanish comes more and more into the picture) is mostly written these days by poets who have gotten themselves a post in Creative Writing at a college or university faculty. And since Americans whether of the North or the South, have been traumatised by fundamentalism long before Islam crept up on the eastern seaboard, spiritual reference tends to be approached through home and family experience rather than directly.

We shall see what the New York anthology turns up; and if you want to acquaint yourself with the better-known living or recently deceased American poets, you would do best to google, the American Academy's website.

As to a representative living American poet known more within the poetry world than outside it, I'm just reading 'Space Walk', the last-but-one collection of Tom Sleigh. It may not be a good idea to post just one of his poems -- isn't it single lines that endear a poet to you for life ? But I get a sense of seriousness and breadth and depth and height of mind from his work (almost all American poets write 'open verse' these days) which encourages me to mention his name for those who wonder 'where poetry is at' right now.

Happily, has several of Sleigh's poems on screen, and an audio recording of his vigorous reading of his poem 'Round' which couples mischievous youth and deteriorating age memorably...

And as I've mentioned elsewhere, 'America's 100 Favourite Poems', collected together by a previous American Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, matches each poem (not all by American poets) with the most moving and heartfelt tributes from all sorts and conditions of people for whom that poem has been a standby and touchstone and strengthener and heart-warmer throughout their lives...Amazon has copies around £9 but I guess it will go out of print soon, since it was published in 1999..

America makes more effort then we do in the UK, to spread poetry around the community. Online, you can sign up on
to get emailed a weekly poem chosen by Ted Kooser, the previous US Poet Laureate (usually a downhomey choice matching his own poetry); and 'Slate', the enterprising online version of the Washington Post, which you also sign up for on a daily basis, has a weekly poem with an audio version of the poet reading it, chosen by Robert Pinsky, another former US Poet Laureate; a rather wider choice covered by this one.

Here's 'Space Station' by Tom Sleigh :

(Author's Note: a space station generates gravity by revolving one way and then another. When it reverses direction to revolve the other way, there are several moments when gravity is suspended.)

My mother and I and the dog were floating
Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware
Hovered above the table. Napkins drifted
Just below the ceiling. The dead who had been crushed
By gravity were free to move about the room,
To take their place at supper, lift a fork, knife, spoon—
A spoon, knife, fork that, outside this moment's weightlessness,
Would have been immovable as mountains.

My mother and I and the dog were orbiting
In the void that follows after happiness
Of an intimate gesture: Her hand stroking the dog's head
And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes:
The beast gaze so direct and alienly concerned
To have its stare returned; the human gaze
That forgets, for a moment, that it sees
What it's seeing and simply, fervently, sees...

But only for a moment. Only for a moment were my mother
And the dog looking at each other not mother
Or dog but that look—I couldn't help but think,
If only I were a dog, or Mother was,
Then that intimate gesture, this happiness passing
Could last forever...such a vain, hopeless wish
I was wishing; I knew it and didn't know it
Just as my mother knew she was my mother

And didn't...and as for the dog, her large black pupils,
Fixed on my mother's faintly smiling face,
Seemed to contain a drop of the void
We were all suspended in; though only a dog
Who chews a ragged rawhide chew toy shaped
Into a bone, femur or cannonbone
Of the heavy body that we no longer labored
To lift against the miles-deep air pressing

Us to our chairs. The dog pricked her ears,
Sensing a dead one approaching. Crossing the kitchen,
My father was moving with the clumsy gestures
Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death
Moving among the living—though the world
Was floating with a lightness that made us
Feel we were phantoms: I don't know
If my mother saw him—he didn't look at her

When he too put his hand on the dog's head
And the dog turned its eyes from her stare to his...
And then the moment on its axis reversed,
The kitchen spun us the other way round
And pressed heavy hands down on our shoulders
So that my father sank into the carpet,
My mother rested her chin on her hand
And let her other hand slide off the dog's head,

Her knuckles bent in a kind of torment
Of moonscape erosion, ridging up into
Peaks giving way to seamed plains
With names like The Sea of Tranquility
—Though nothing but a metaphor for how
I saw her hand, her empty, still strong hand
Dangling all alone in the infinite space
Between the carpet and the neon-lit ceiling.

Last edited by Michael Shepherd on Wed Apr 09, 2008 10:18 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 10:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Poet's Choice

Robert Hass, the US Poet Laureate from 1995-7, who now teaches at UCSF in Oakland, Cal., wondering, on his appointment, what a Poet Laureate might do for poetry, inaugurated, or rather revived, the 19th century practice of printing poems in newspapers.

25 newspapers across the US carried his weekly choice. Now, under the title 'Poet's Choice', the book of his selections is about to be published.

Keats' 'Ode to Autumn' mixes in with established American favourites; those who enjoy anthologies for their surprises should note this new 'addition to your bookshelf' -- as we say in the book trade....
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 2:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As I mentioned above, Ted Kooser selects 'accessible' poems to extend poetry readership in the US which has been steadily cultivated by recent US Poet Laureates. Here's a typical 'down-homey' recent choice :

Part of a Legacy

I take pillows outdoors to sun them
as my mother did. "Keeps bedding fresh,"
she said. It was April then, too--
buttercups fluffing their frail sails,
one striped bee humming grudges, a crinkle
of jonquils. Weeds reclaimed bare ground.
All of these leaked somehow
into the pillows, looking odd where they
simmered all day, the size of hams, out of place
on grass. And at night I could feel
some part of my mother still with me
in the warmth of my face as I dreamed
baseball and honeysuckle, sleeping
on sunlight.

Frank Steele
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2008 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I mentioned above, Robert Hass, US Poet Laureate 1995-7. He's just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. As with all Poets Laureate -- it goes with the job -- his reputation divides 'critical opinion'...Here's an example of his poetry :

Heroic Simile

When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai
in the gray rain,
in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty,
he fell straight as a pine, he fell
as Ajax fell in Homer
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge
the woodsman returned for two days
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing
and on the third day he brought his uncle.

They stacked logs in the resinous air,
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately.
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large;
the logs from midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood,
moons and quarter moons and half moons
ridged by the saw's tooth.

The woodsman and the old man his uncle
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working
because they are tired and because
I have imagined no pack animal
or primitive wagon. They are too canny
to call in neighbors and come home
with a few logs after three days' work.
They are waiting for me to do something
or for the overseer of the Great Lord
to come and arrest them.

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits.
The young man is thinking he would be rich
if he were already rich and had a mule.
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they'll probably
be caught, go home empty-handed
or worse. I don't know
whether they're Japanese or Mycenaean
and there's nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village
is not translated. A hero, dying,
gives off stillness to the air.
A man and a woman walk from the movies
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities.
There are limits to imagination.

Robert Hass
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Michael Shepherd

Joined: 07 Dec 2007
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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Apr 10, 2008 11:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's a poem from one of the greats of the older generation of American poets : typical of the way much American poetry has gone : the unpretentious, prosaic world of the wooden verandah in a country farming town; anecdotal; colloquial;, which yet contains the reflection, the poetic distillation of life over the generations..

Sitting Outside

These lawn chairs and the chaise lounge
of bulky redwood were purchased for my father
twenty years ago, then plumped down in the yard
where he seldom went when he could still work
and never had stayed long. His left arm
in a sling, then lopped off, he smoked there or slept
while the weather lasted, watched what cars passed,
read stock reports, counted pills,
then dozed again. I didn’t go there
in those last weeks, sick of the delusions
they still maintained, their talk of plans
for some boat tour or a trip to the Bahamas
once he’d recovered. Under our willows,
this old set’s done well: we’ve sat with company,
read or taken notes—although the arm rests
get dry and splintery or wheels drop off
so the whole frame’s weakened if it’s hauled
across rough ground. Of course the trees,
too, may not last: leaves storm down,
branches crack off, the riddled bark
separates, then gets shed. I have a son, myself,
with things to be looked after. I sometimes think
since I’ve retired, sitting in the shade here
and feeling the winds shift, I must have been filled
with a child dread you could catch somebody’s dying
if you got too close. And you can’t be too sure.

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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 10:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Those who would like to know more of recent and current American poetry are encouraged to look at the 'Quotations about Poetry' thread here, where a substantial question-and-answer session with a previous US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, on common queries about poetry, quotes or refers to a number of these poets.
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The poetry of pain is not so often represented here : but this is an example of what poetry can offer :

Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me

There's this movie I am watching:
my love's belly almost five months
pregnant with cancer,

more like a little rock wall
piled and fitted inside her
than some prenatal rounding.

Over there's her face
near the frying pan she's bent over,
but there's no water in the pan,

and so, no reflection. No pool
where I might gather such a thing as a face,
or sew it there on a tablet made of water.

To have and to haul it away,
sometimes dipping into her
in the next room that waits for me.

I am old at this. I am stretching
the wick again into my throat
when the flame burns down.

She's splashing in the tub
and singing, I love him very much,
though I'm old and tired

and cancerous. It's spring
and now she's stopping traffic,
lifting one of her painted turtles

across the road. Someone's honking,
pumping one arm out the window,
cheering her on.

She falls then like there's a house
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
and vomits into the ditch.

She keeps her radioactive linen,
bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
we sleep in different rooms.

Over there's the toilet she's been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
through the door make a toast to it,

Here's to you, toilet bowl.
There's nothing poetic about this.
I have one oar that hangs

from our bedroom window,
and I am rowing our hut
in the same desperate circle.

I warm her tea then spread
cream cheese over her bagel,
and we lie together like two guitars,

A rose like a screw
in each of our mouths.
There's that liquid river of story

that sometimes sweeps us away
from all this, into the ha ha
and the tender. At night the streetlights

buzz on again with the stars,
and the horses in the field swat their tails
like we will go on forever.

I'm at my desk herding some
lost language when I notice how quiet
she has been. Twice I call her name

and wait after my voice has lost its legs
and she does not ring back.
Dude, I'm still here, she says at last

then the sound of her
stretching her branches, and from them
the rain falling thick through our house.

I'm racing to place pots and pans
everywhere. Bottle her in super canning jars.
For seventeen years, I've lined

the shelves of our root cellar with them.
One drop for each jar.
I'll need them for later.

John Rybicki

Rybicki works for a living in factories, and for Wings of Hope Hospice in Allegan, teaching children who have experienced loss or trauma to write creatively.

“Teaching creative writing to children is the purest thing I do,” Rybicki has said. “I am a storm on two feet when I instruct. I dare students to break the laws of nature on the page, to say what it is a heart is burning to say; to scrawl across the sky the kinds of sentences God might roll out of bed and read.”
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2008 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's another recent American poem :

A Windmill Makes a Statement

You think I like to stand all day, all night,
all any kind of light, to be subject only
to wind? You are right. If seasons undo
me, you are my season. And you are the light
making off with its reflection as my stainless
steel fins spin.

On lawns, on lawns we stand,
we windmills make a statement. We turn air,
churn air, turning always on waiting for your
season. There is no lover more lover than the air.
You care, you care as you twist my arms
round, till my songs become popsicle

and I wing out radiants of light all across
suburban lawns. You are right, the churning
is for you, for you are right, no one but you
I spin for all night, all day, restless for your

sight to pass across the lawn, tease grasses,
because I so like how you lay above me,
how I hovered beneath you, and we learned
some other way to say: There you are.

You strip the cut, splice it to strips, you mill
the wind, you scissor the air into ecstasy until
all lawns shimmer with your bluest energy.

Cate Marvin
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Michael Shepherd

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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Sat May 03, 2008 10:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dana Gioia is one of America's best-known writers on poetry, since a famous article of 1991, 'Can Poetry Matter ?' which is much quoted. You can read it on his website under his name.He's also a poet of reknown :


The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other--
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper--
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always--
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

Dana Gioia
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Sat May 03, 2008 1:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When this thread was named 'American Poetry' I didn't expect to be quoting the words of a Native American... but here it is, smelted from prose into verse by the distinguished poet David Wagoner :


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
and you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
if you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2008 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not sure where this poem should go on the Forum -- Derek Walcott, born 1930, West Indian poet and playwright and Nobel prizewinner in 1992, has taught at Boston University for many years now :

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott
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Peter Blumsom

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PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2008 2:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is he related to the great West Indian batsman, Clyde Walcott, a hero of my youth?
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Mon May 05, 2008 2:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alas, Pete, Clyde was born in Bridgetown, Barbados; while Derek was born on the island of St Lucia -- though possibly way back they both descend from slaves, if not children, of a slave owner name of Walcott...though not recorded as such.
African names were forcibly disused, in speaking to and recording slaves...

Nor is Theo Walcott of Arsenal related to Clyde, as once rumoured...

But Derek has always maintained a very straight bat anent West Indian history, with quite a strong drive through covers when bowled a dodgy ball...and as an equally or more famous playwright, an all-rounder to be reckoned with..
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 7:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Seems poetry is going well in the US. website got 1.35 million hits during April; and there are 36,000 subscribers to its free Poem-a-day service..and there's a free downloadable CD of their Poetry Month public readings by poets, on offer from the same
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Michael Shepherd

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have a very soft spot for this poem by an 'amateur' poet of considerable output and skill. Maybe its nostalgia will appeal to those of the older generation who remember the post-war confidence of the American dream made real...but I think it speaks of the American heart.

Route 66 for President

Roll down your window and smile.
Hold it.
Now let me get one with the background of vintage automobiles,
tinted postcards, motels, and Route 66 trying to slake my
thirst not for freedom but for the symbols of freedom,
like this eagle here in the roadside souvenir shop,
or this flag or this cowboy figurine or this open road.

If it could, Route 66 would continue beyond L.A.
and reach out into the Pacific, guiding us into an adventure
of chrome and digital flying fish and mermaids holding welcome
signs at the arrival gate and telepathically cheering us onwards
through endless smorgasbords with bean salad and cherry tomatoes and opportunity.

And Route 66 would continue East too,
right up to the doormat of the Statue of Liberty,
where we will flare our nostrils and feel monumentally proud
about our image of generosity.
Give us all those poor and huddled masses indeed.
We can feel proud about the intention anyway.
And we can feel proud about our vacation on Route 66,
and our willingness to accept our freedom in the form of
finite road trips on glorious glorious blacktop.

I hold on to as many faded Route 66 e-bay collectibles as I can,
Each has its own theme song and they all sound about the same
and the voices sing about times when there were more choices,
and words like “consolidation” and “homogeneity” were simply big words,
not ravenous viruses on the culture, tract homes filling in the canyon,
tract homes in the refrigerator, tract homes on the radio
transmitting their call letters to the huddled masses pouring across the border
like chaotic productions of The Grapes of Wrath, coming to take our scummy jobs,
threaten our Way Of Life, and hand us foreign expressions and explosions.

So I’m voting for Route 66 for president.
I’m voting for honesty and simplicity and rodeos and prayer meetings
and Corvettes and friendly gas station attendants wearing white hats
who will fill ‘er up because I want to be filled up, I need to be filled up
and I always want a clean windshield and clean sheets and a clean bill
of health and I want to be A-okay and be given the thumbs-up sign with
a wink and a grin.

And I want Judy Garland as Dorothy to sing me to sleep each night
and I want to hear all the good news about good people doing wonderful
and ingenious things and I only want perfect landings and firm handshakes.
I know there are killers and black tumors skulking out there on moonless nights
but I only want to see them on TV, which I can turn off any time I want
with my trusty remote control, which I can also use
to turn on the stereo to bring me my beloved Route 66 in the
All-American key of C major, the very best key of all.

I want Route 66 to tuck me in each night and gently wake me each morning,
and serve me a cup of hot coffee in bed with eggs and toast
and reassure me that it doesn’t have to be so difficult all the time,
Please Route 66, tell me that heartache is just temporary,
and please Route 66, vacuum my rugs, take out my garbage,
sweep away any irony that dares to collect on the welcome mat
outside the screen door with the reliably squeaky spring and the hook
that jangles against the wooden frame when the door slams shut.
I want all the irony swept under the prayer rug,
It should pass me by completely like the Angel of Death,
especially the American form of irony encapsulated in the fact
that a positive, swinging, toe-tapping tune like Route 66 follows a 3-chord
12-bar progression invented by dark-skinned, second-class citizens
singing about trouble.

Route 66 will be my magic coat and decoder ring
and will deliver me from evil and will warn me about traffic up ahead.
Route 66 will be my lord and my savior. I will pray to Route 66
for redemption and a fresh start and an easy ending,
and my prayers will be answered by the doorbell,
and there will be my mother alive once again with no
signs of dementia, beckoning me out to the curb to the waiting automobile
with a full tank of supreme, and she will drive me past my old school
out past the city limits through wheat fields and vast lakes
and the Grand Canyon and I will wave to farmers and train engineers
and Santa Claus and the sandman and I will rise out of the car and enter
an old black and white cartoon with singing daisies
and I will rest on pillows of clouds safe and secure on pillows of clouds
safe and secure with my mom, her voice like Judy Garland’s,
singing along to a song on the car radio
that sounds like the blues.

Michael Philips
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