Poetry Reading at Shut Up and Eat

My friend C. came to town to participate in an open poetry reading and I got to accompany her. The location was the restaurant Shut Up and Eat.  I had a very good fried egg sandwich on a biscuit and settled back to hear some poetry.

David Cooke came to read his poems and also show his poetry boxes he has for sale.  He also read the poem “the New Colossus,” a poem which I have memorized.  For unknown reasons, he left off the last line.

I had this guy pegged as a poet even when he was standing in line for food.  He had the bulging notebook and taut mannerisms that pointed to a lot of thoughtful writing time.  Before everyone got started, he flipped through his notebook, reading this and that.  He also knew David Cooke left off the last line of “the New Colossus.”  What he did not do was read any poetry aloud.  Odd.

My friend going over her poem.  This picture also includes my phone, and the post-it note where I wrote down the bus transit times.

Another woman was taking pictures for a write-up of the event .


This woman was the organizer.  She read also.


A bevy of poems to choose from.

My friend’s poem went over well, and I enjoyed it.  I also enjoyed several other poems read aloud.  It was a great way to spend an evening.

A poem for today by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I was looking for a specific type of poem and this is not that poem, but I couldn’t resist it.

I Love You


I love your lips when they’re wet with wine
    And red with a wild desire;
I love your eyes when the lovelight lies
    Lit with a passionate fire.
I love your arms when the warm white flesh
    Touches mine in a fond embrace;
I love your hair when the strands enmesh
    Your kisses against my face.

read the rest at:

Take your poet to work day.

It’s Take Your Poet to Work Day!

I brought my favorite poet, Marge Piercy.  Of course, one of her cats had to come along too.

To alert everyone to this most important day, I made a quick display in the window.  On the right is the announcement from tweetspeak about TYPTWD and a cutout of Emily Dickinson, one of the featured poets they suggested.  On the right is Marge Piercy and two of her poems. (They happen to be this one and this one, both of which I have committed to memory.)

I never saw anyone look at my display all day long.  Alas.

Poem for February 2012: In Praise of my Bed.

You can read this month’s poem here.

I love this poem. Of late, I’ve not been working very hard at anything, but I can recall times in my life when nothing was better than climbing into bed at the end of a long day. “The labor of being fully human” indeed.
And with that, so my poetry project goes on hiatus. I’ve enjoyed memorizing poems over the past few years. However, I’m not reading a lot of poetry right now and so I don’t come across poems I feel compelled to memorize. Perhaps when I make space in my life for poetry, I can begin this project again.

I hope to soon have a poetry post outside my house so I can display my favorite poems that are not quite right for memorizing. In the meantime, I will revisit my memorized poems now and then to keep them in my brain.

Poem for January 2012: Dawn Revisited

Here it is: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2003/08/28

I chose this poem because in some ways it is a sufficient “new year, new start” sort of poem. However, though the light is returning, we are still in the dark of winter. “How good to RISE IN SUNLIGHT!” I would project forcefully at the dark, rainy sky as I walked to the train in the morning. Aside from using this poem to chastise the earth for something that is perfectly natural, I also greatly enjoyed the phrase “prodigal smell of biscuits.”

Poem for December 2011: A Song in the Front Yard

Go to here to read this poem.

You also have the option to listen to the poem although I have to say that the recitation doesn’t do a lot to bring out the charm.
I chose this poem because it accurately captures the frustration I felt growing up and being “good” all the time. (Whether I was actually good or not is beside the point. I felt like I was good all the time and every treated me as if I was good all the time, thus, I was good all the time.) As an adult, it’s easy to see that “coming in at a quarter to nine–or even earlier–is a good thing, and perhaps hanging out with someone who sold a back gate is not the best company to choose. But there comes a time in childhood when a split seems to happen and there are suddenly the “bad” kids and the “good” kids. The bad kids might not really be bad, just testing rules to be cool or suffer from a lack of supervision. But the good kids can see the split and for me the longing to break rules and ignore the consequences was a strong one, even if it wasn’t often acted upon.

Poem for November 2011: Solitude

You can read Solitude by clicking on the link below. I can pretty much guarantee you know the first two lines.

I was drawn to this poem because of two passing comments made in books I read this month. In Anne’s House of Dreams, at one point Anne says to her friend something to the effect of, “you will have all the joys and sorrows a mother can expect.” In Wendall Barry’s A Place On Earth several of the characters experience great sorrow, but continue to go about their business, integrating the sorrow into their lives for the time being.
This was interesting to me because I feel as though today we do not accept sorrow as a normal part of life, but rather a misfortune which just happens to find us on occasion. This poem, especially the last lines, seem to refute this notion, saying instead that we all need to pass through sorrows to get to the “halls of pleasure.”
I also spent the entire month debating the tone of this poem. Is it one of those nineteenth century instructional poem, basically saying, “unfortunate things happen, but you are better off looking on the bright side?” Or, instead, is it tinged with a bit of bitterness, with the ultimate meaning being, “people will be your friends when you are happy, but once you experience sadness, you are on your own.” After a month of reciting, I’m inclined to the latter opinion and I think that the second conclusion is the correct one, and I offer the last six lines as proof:
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

The bit of reading I did about the poem (okay, I just read one Wikipedia entry, it’s not like they pay me for this gig) said that Wheeler Wilcox encountered a woman dressed in black crying by herself on a train. She spent the ride comforting her and the poem sprang from that experience.
I take comfort in this poem. It says my sorrows are okay.
As for memorization, it went in pretty easily, but I think it will be hard to retain, simply because the order of the things are easily jumbled. Sometimes when I’m reciting, my mind wanders and I discover I have skipped entirely one pair, usually feast/fast, but sometimes glad/sad. For this reason I will put it on daily rotation for December and January, just to solidify it.

Poem for October: The Raven

UNCLE! I cry UNCLE. I give up on this most delightful poem. A few things went wrong here. First off, it was too long to memorize over two months. I think my original assignment had me committing two to three stanzas per week to memory. That just wasn’t possible, for on the best weeks I could get maybe a stanza into my brain. The second problem was the darn “archaic language” problem. I will most likely never in my life say the sentence “Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore.” It’s a great sentence. I love “dirge,” “melancholy,” and the alliteration of “burden bore,” but so much “old fashioned” in one sentence just doesn’t stick in my head.

This was an incredibly fun poem to memorize, full of fabulous alliteration, great turns of phrase and much drama. Rather than recite it in the boring “poetry recitation voice” you can actually act it out. But I just can’t get it all in. I had thought of extending my memorization period into November, but I seem to be falling behind again and again and my frustration has grown, mirroring like the main character’s journey with the Raven. So I’m letting this one go and learning a good lesson about biting off and chewing. For the record, I made it through 12 stanzas.
My favorite lines? “And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain/Thrilled me–filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before.”
I also loved the stanza that begins “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing.”
I’ll look into a shorter Poe poem. His rhyme scheme is great and world choice is delightful. In the meantime, enjoy this as I did. Try reading it aloud.
The Raven
Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Poem for September: Coming soon.

The poem for September is actually the poem for September and October, so tune in for the October 31 post to find out what the poem is. In the meantime, let’s chat about how I keep all these poems in my head.

Or at least that was what this post was supposed to be about as I was going to have the plan in place by the time I got to this post. Alas, here I am with no plan. So we shall create one.
When I started the project, the plan was that I would work on the current month’s poem daily and Sunday would be my review day. I knew the key to remembering all the poems would be to keep them fresh in my mind so I would recite all the poems in order from beginning to end weekly. This worked pretty well until I got about a year and a half in. Then there were too many poems to whip through on a Sunday. And Sunday turned out to not be such a good day for review anyway, as it doesn’t usually involve a lot of biking or walking.
I find that I can usually remember the previous year’s poems, the poem I’m working on and the previous month’s poem, but have trouble remembering the previous six months poems. There seems to be a gap where the poem has to sit forgotten in the brain for a bit before it emerges into consciousness again.
So here’s the new plan. I’ve typed a list of all the poems I’ve memorized. At this point, it’s 31 poems. I’ve also got them listed quarterly by year. For instance: January, (2010–Invictus, 2011 The Pool Players) February (2010–February, 2011–Oranges) March (2009–Incident, 2010–Otherwise, 2011–Wild Geese) These are both in Excel so I can add to them as I add more poems. The plan will be that the current review is the current quarter we are in. September is the last month in the July/August/September quarter. Beginning in October I will review the poems in the October/November/December Quarter. I will also go back over the previous six months of poems.
I won’t have to do this for each poem every day. In fact, that would be a bit of overkill. Instead, I can review one poem per day while I am dressing in the morning. I’ve started a hard copy poem book that contains each poem I’ve memorized. I will also make an extra copy of this book for my bag. A lot of my poem reciting happens when I’m walking or riding the bike. Having a secondary poem book to refer to will be handy for when the exact words don’t come immediately in my head. Right now I get to a point like that and think, “damn it. Something, da dah, da dah da dah something.” Then I have to remember to look it up when I get home which never happens.
The other thing I’m going to do is let the poems I don’t really like go. Such is the case for ‘Praise Song for the Day.” (October 2010) It was a complex poem that I really didn’t like by the end of last October when it was all stuck in my head. Looking at it now, I remember almost nothing of it. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the current month’s poem and don’t have the energy to shove it back in. I may come back to it someday, but not right now.
The September/October selection may bleed over into November. We shall see what October’s memorization brings.

Poem for July: Outwitted


Edwin Markham

He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

The poetry project mistress almost missed a month of poetry memorization. June’s selection took a very long time to learn and I hadn’t chosen anything for July and here it was July fifth. Then July tenth. Then the fifteenth. Then the twentieth. Would I miss memorizing a poem for the first time since May 2009?

Enter the short poem that I had almost completely memorized anyway. I’ve mentioned this poem before on the blog, Edwin Markham was a former Poet Laureate of Oregon. And this poem was in some anthology I had for some Junior High or High School English class. So now it is officially learned and the Poetry project carries on.

Because I have three weeks off in August and because it is very difficult for me to memorize poems when I am not walking to the train or riding my bike to work every day, I will have another very short poem for August.

Also in August I hope to have a post about how I keep all these poems fresh in my memory.