Wednesday, August 1, 2012

a geography of poetry

I kind of love The Academy of American Poets' National Poetry Map. You can click on a state and it'll give you a list of poets who came from there (and their poetry), the "poetic history" of the state, and current poetry events. 

I've lived in a few places in my (relatively short) lifetime, so I thought I'd do a quick synopsis of what I'll call my poetic geography.

(Pardon the screwed-up formatting. Blogspot's being bratty.)

When I tell people that I grew up in New York (Long Island, to be precise), I get odd looks and often a "You don't act/sound/seem like a New Yorker." Maybe not, but it's where I lived until I was 13. And I've got roots there, as my great-grandparents on both sides came over to Ellis Island back in the early 1900s. 

We can lay claim to a lot of poets:
Billy Collins  (born in the city in 1941)
Langston Hughes (lived in Harlem) 
Louise Gl├╝ck (grew up on LI)
Walt Whitman (grew up in Brooklyn and on LI)
John Ashberry (born in Rochester)
June Jordan (born in the city)

...and many more. Have some Hughes to start your day:

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun, 
To whirl and to dance 
Till the white day is done. 
Then rest at cool evening 
Beneath a tall tree 
While night comes on gently, 
Dark like me-- That is my dream! 

To fling my arms wide 
In the face of the sun, 
Dance! Whirl! Whirl! 
Till the quick day is done. 
Rest at pale evening . . . 
A tall, slim tree . . . 
Night coming tenderly 
Black like me.

 Massachusetts 
We moved to central Mass when I was 13. When people ask me where I'm "from,"
I usually say Massachusetts, even though I only really lived there from ages 13-18. 

Massachusetts is, well, it's a hub of poetry. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (The Sage of Concord) 
ee cummings (born in Cambridge) 
Anne Bradstreet (emigrated to MA with the Puritans) 
Emily Dickinson (the Belle of Amherst)
Robert Lowell (born in Boston) 
Robert Frost (grew up in Lawrence)

Need I go on? 
Have a wee bit of Frost:

For Once, Then, Something
Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.