Is it Tuesday? Every Tuesday a new poem appears in the box and on the blog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poem 11 Robert Frost

This week we have a guest curator--Tom Bailey, my dad and recently retired (after 40+ years) English professor.  Enjoy!

Tom writes:

In this little poem by Robert Frost, he seems to be trying to see how many great big ideas he can cram into a very small space.  From its counter-intuitive title [if gold can’t stay, what can?], through its surprising use of small words [of the forty words in the poem, only 20% have two syllables, and none have over that], its insistent trimester beat [three beats per line], it surprises…and will continue to surprise the reader each time she returns to the simple but profound text. 

Note the absolute scientific, even photographic realism: spring in New England is, in point of fact, golden: the maple and aspen trees bloom early, and when the sun strikes these blooms, the trees themselves, the entire woods are golden.  And the hue changes quickly to a different green, as though against nature’s will.  In only an hour, things will change.  As all things do…and not necessarily for the better.

Note how three words about falling predominate in the poem’s structure.  “Leaf subsides,” Eden “sank,” and “dawn goes down.”  Poetry, Frost famously said, “is a momentary stay against confusion.”  So with this poem: things change, subside, sink, so look and enjoy while you can.  The world is extraordinarily beautiful, but beauty, like everything else, is transitory.  Why? Because nothing gold can stay.  Unless, of course, you capture such beauty in language. It’s Shakespearean, isn’t it? as in the couplet which ends Sonnet 18: “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”  Even if it’s a poem about change…another counter-intuitive.

       Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem 10--by Matt Mauch

Passing (nee praising) the laundromat (Grand and 36th) my head unbloodied as it is unbowed  by Matt Mauch

This week we have another local poet, Matt Mauch, who lives just up the street and teaches at Normandale Community College.  His book of poems, Prayer Book, was published by Lowbrow Press in 2010. 

This poem, "Passing (nee praising) the laundromat (Grand and 36th) my head unbloodied as it is unbowed" is a poem of praise and a poem of place.  In some way reminiscent of Neruda's Odes,in this poem the speaker praises the socks he sees in a woman's hands as she holds them up in the simple domestic act of folding clothes.  The speaker is passing quickly on his bicycle, and in his brief glance at the domestic scene in the laundromat, he is reminded of his grandmother, of the labor of women, of the ways lives in cities are simply glimpses, from which we create stories for ourselves.  

As when viewing a movie filmed in Minneapolis, I find myself smiling in recognition at the laundromat there, one I pass nearly every day on my way to the Y.  Have I ever looked inside to see who is there, cleaning their clothes?  Have I ever taken the time to wonder at the ways my life glances up against the lives of the people in the laundromat?  And what an unexpected turn the poem takes, in the 4th stanza when the socks become a grandmother's eyes.  Note, too, that as the poem becomes more interior, as the speaker meditates on the possible meaning of this scene, the poem fills with "i" sounds: bike, crying, why, I, fly, ride.  In the end, the speaker suggests that he has taken on the task of flight for the woman, for the ghosts, whom he leaves in the laundromat, while he goes on, to ride and to write.

Passing (nee praising) the laundromat (Grand and 36th)
my head as unbloodied as it is unbowed

                                                                                          By Matt Mauch

A pair of brown socks

held above the basket
by a short brown woman

to the window
to see if they match

aren’t socks
but the eyes of my grandmother.

You can see (only) so much
from the saddle of a bike.

A pair of blue socks
held up next are crying.
I’ll never know for whom, nor why, nor which ghost’s
eyes produce cerulean tears.

I wave at the socks:
another example of how the dead and I
envy each other.

The short brown woman
is a butterfly

unable to fly. I ride away,
her only wing.

Matt Mauch, in addition to teaching full-time,is the creator and ringleader of The Great Twin Cities Poetry Read and Road Show, which will be held on Saturday, April 21 at Hamline University.  He also edits Poetry City USA.  For more on these projects go to:

And go to the reading on Saturday night!  Matt runs a great show.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Poem 9--Jennifer Knox

Willard, I Apologize  by Jennifer Knox

I chose today's poem because I was looking for a birthday poem; tomorrow is my daughter Emily's 27th birthday.  I discovered most birthday poems are ruminations on death, which makes sense I guess.  Still, I wanted something a bit more light-hearted than that.  So who better to turn to than Jennifer Knox, who writes some of the funniest poems around.  Many of them (most, even) aren't quite suitable for putting in my box where small neighbor children sometimes pick up poems (see my favorite "Hot Ass Poem"). But this one, "Willard, I Apologize" captures that tone a bit--the sarcastic, call-it-like-you-see-it speaker who wonders at the craziness of our species while recognizing her own shortcomings.  (Another poem "Of the Flock" begins with the lines:  'God/help us./ We're just not that bright.")

So in this week's poem, the speaker suddenly realizes that laughing at the old folks Willard  Scott always said happy birthday to on the Today Show was, in some sense, laughing at her own eventual old age and death.  That realization (not necessarily sympathy for others) leads her to cry "like a baby," suggesting at the very least that the old are tougher than the young, proud to be 103 or whatever, while the young have the luxury of either laughing or sobbing about aging.  

Happy Birthday, Em!  I guess I didn't find a very cheerful poem for you.  I considered "The Loveliest of Trees" by Houseman, "Morning Song" by Plath, and a hilarious one by Thomas Lux about daughters growing up, but it was a bit snarky.  So go buy a Jennifer Knox book if you want to laugh and be surprised at just how down and dirty poetry can be.  And sweetie, 27 is great.  Enjoy it.

Willard, I Apologize
                                    by Jennifer L. Knox

for laughing all these years
you’ve wished the centenarians
Happy Birthday.
I was wrong.
I thought I’d never die.

But lately I can’t hear you
say the names (Bettina Swoop
from St. Paul, MN, turns 103 today—
what a pretty lady!)
without crying like a baby.

If you want to know more about Knox, her website is:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Poem 8--Franz Wright

"A Happy Thought" by Franz Wright.  

This poem was published in Best American Poetry 2006.  It's probably since been published in a book, but I don't know which one or when.... 

There are so many things to like about this poem--the title being, it seems at first, in stark contrast to the subject matter/first line.  Most of us don't find thinking about our deaths to be happy, but by the end of the poem, Wright has made his case with good humor and that unexpected touch of beauty one always finds in his poems.  

His use of line is fantastic as well--the first 5 lines being mostly end-stopped and really emphasizing the iambic pentameter (have no fear of that strange word forever).  Then in line six, he suddenly enjambs the last line so the stanza ends "even I can see there's nothing there" which suggests emptiness, bleakness in death.  Yet the line continues "to be afraid of" and suddenly the tone has shifted, the poem begins its move toward the "happy thought" of the title.  

If you are not won over yet, the last stanza, with its "lonesomer maybe" should start to make you love this poem.  But if not that, then the last line, when everything that has come before is transformed into something glorious:  "it's dark as I recall, then bright, so bright."  Suddenly death has become birth, has become an occasion of beauty. 

A Happy Thought
                                    by Franz Wright                       

Assuming this is the last day of my life
(which might mean it is almost the first),
I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

Prepare for what’s known here as death;
have no fear of that strange word forever.
Even I can see there’s nothing there

to be afraid of:  having already been
to forever I’m unable to recall
anything that scared me there, or hurt—

what frightened me, apparently, and hurt
was being born.  But I got over that
with no hard feelings.  Dying, I imagine,

it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
but surely no more shocking or prolonged—
it’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

I sure do love Franz Wright.  If you'd like to read more about him, here's a link: