2nd installment of Poetry in America

The second installment of “Poetry in America” aired tonight on WHYY Philadelphia; if you missed it you can catch it here:
(but I don’t know for how long).

I didn’t have high hopes for this one since it had Shaq and Pau Gasol and Shane Battier (all professional basketball players, if you don’t follow the sport) reading a poem with a basketball theme (don’t beat me up for my snooty bias- I was feeling quite chastened by the end of the episode). But I was pleasantly surprised. Shaq turned out to be a very good reader of the poem and an excellent commentator on its themes and form. My surprise didn’t stem from the fact that Shaq is an athlete, but rather from the fact that I had seen him on tv several times and he was always the joker, the guy who engaged in goofy antics;  he had a well-earned reputation for being a prankster. I had trouble picturing him as capable of a serious discussion, let alone about a poem. The episode is worth watching just for his part in it.

I was enlightened by the author’s conversation with the host as well. Bottom line: What looked to me like a minor, throwaway poem turned out to have depth and nuance. I learned something about reading a poem closely and not tossing it aside so quickly. This episode is well worth watching for those reasons.


New poetry series

“Poetry in America, created and directed by Harvard professor Elisa New, is a new public television series and multi-platform digital initiative that brings poetry into classrooms and living rooms around the world.”
Tonight it’s on WHYY at 9:30, with a piece on an Emily Dickenson poem. Check it out here:

Wendell Berry: American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 When despair for the world grows in me
 and I wake in the night at the least sound
 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
 I go and lie down where the wood drake
 rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
 I come into the peace of wild things
 who do not tax their lives with forethought
 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
 And I feel above me the day-blind stars
 waiting with their light. For a time
 I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry” and is reprinted with permission of the author and Counterpoint Press.

Remember May Sarton?

Browsing through my shelves I came across “Selected Poems of May Sarton”. I can’t remember the last time I read her, but it was probably after the announcement of her death in 1995.  Her work is well worth revisiting. Here’s a short poem describing an ecstatic encounter with a fig:

The Fig

Under the green leaf hangs a little pouch

Shaped like a gourd, purple and leathery.

It fits the palm, it magnetizes touch.

What flesh designed as fruit can this fruit be?

The plump skin gives a little at the seam.

Now bite it deep for better or worse!

Oh multitude of stars, pale green and crimson-

And you have dared to eat a universe!