A mad dash through all sorts of love, courtesy of 11 fine poets (named at the end of the post!). It’s a scientific fact that love poems can keep you warm in a snowstorm (it’s not a fact.) Check some out at the library today – they’re great inspiration for writing your own. After all, the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest is coming up.
Even though we have had several inches (about 18 inches) of snow this season, winter is just beginning! According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, winter begins at 12:11 PM on December 21st. Winter, like all of the seasons, has its lovers and haters. Personally, fall is my favorite season, but winter has to be my second most favorite. I like cold weather and I love walking in fresh snow, especially at night. Is winter harsh and bleak? Or beautiful and full of joy? The answers to those questions can be found in poetry. Yes, poetry. The mystery and wonder of winter can be found by reading poetry. Poets often use one of the elements of the winter season as a metaphor in their poems. The bare trees and fields. The cold winds. The short days and long nights. The snow. Two of my favorite winter poems come from the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology series. The first one is from 2008. Crystal Blankets by Valesha Edwards
My eyes glued to a winter wonderland
Crisp, chilling breeze blusters and flows
Light, white flakes whispering off to new regions
I gaze transfixed on an earth blanketed with white crystals
Delicate flakes with unique shapes weave gracefully from a somber sky
Amazing how simple white crystals disclose joy in me
How beautiful, yet simple white crystals enlighten a person,
is one of life’s vast mysteries
The second one comes from 2011. Sparsile by Annie Utterback
November the barber
sweeps with the wind,
collecting his trimmings
on the forest floor.
I left my tree house
in its snug red jacket,
but the compass is a circle
and she’s led me here before.
I don’t want to meet you,
Miss Argyle Winter.
My friends have all vanished.
I’ve nowhere to go.
With your blanketed blizzards
and white woolen mittens,
I can’t seem to distinguish
man from snow.
The forest Manhattan,
its trees all the same,
our faces are blank,
our branches are bare.
The city is night,
We’re all constellations.
You need no map to find me.
I cut my own hair.
For more information about the Ralph Munn Creative Writing program click here. Happy Winter Solstice! Winter is here whether you love it or hate it. ~Marian
If you caught any of the coverage of the presidential inauguration ceremony on Monday, you might have noticed poet Richard Blanco joining the lineup of super VIPs like Barack Obama and Beyoncé. Blanco stood before the crowd of one million to read his poem “One Today,” which he composed just for the occasion.
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Although several presidents have commissioned inaugural poems in the past, Richard Blanco is only the sixth inaugural poet in U.S. history. The first president to include poetry in his inaugural event was John F. Kennedy, who asked Robert Frost to read his poem “The Gift Outright” during the 1961 ceremony. In 1977, the poet James Dickey shared “The Strength of Fields” during the inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton invited poets to participate in both of his inaugural ceremonies—Maya Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” in 1993 and Miller Williams read “Of History and Hope” in 1997. For President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, he invited his friend Elizabeth Alexander to write and read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” during the ceremony.
Occasional poems like these are meant to commemorate a significant event or occasion by invoking the emotions and impressions of that moment in time. Many inaugural poets have used the opportunity to reflect on the last four years and look ahead to the future. Intrigued by this literary challenge, Yahoo! News recently asked six poets (including movie star James Franco) to compose a new poem for the occasion of Obama’s second inauguration. The resulting poems represent an array of unique viewpoints and reflections on the President and the nation’s past and future. You can check them out here.
If perusing this presidential poetry has moved you to try your hand at some occasional poetry of your own, inspiration is all around. Write a poem to commemorate a birthday, a break-up, or the inauguration of the weekend. Need more ideas or poetic guidance? The library is packed with poetry-writing resources!
For the last four months, I very slowly was reading through one book of poetry. Admittedly, this is a long book, comprised of six smaller “books” (or chapters, if you will), and I wanted to take my time and not rush through it.
De Rerum Natura, or On the Nature of Things was written by a poet-scientist-philosopher by the name of Lucretius, sometime in the 1st century BC. Very little is known about Lucretius: when exactly he was born, when he died, when he wrote the poem, who exactly he wrote it for, etc. etc. What we do know from his writing is that he was a disciple of the philosopher Epicurus. You may know him by the word that was derived from his name/philosophy – epicurean, meaning “fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating and drinking.” (Also the inspiration for recipe-aggregator Epicurious)
Only a bit of what Epicurus wrote remains in the world, which makes De Rerum Natura extra important. Even more important is that it’s beautiful to read, and still moving as a piece of writing. While Lucretius explains the way the world is made of atoms, how that relates to the soul, and now-wacky theories about how the sun rising comes from a collection of “fire seeds” and how earthquakes are caused by collapsing caves on the inside of the Earth, he’s also paying close attention to metaphor and language, and making it something that one would want to read.
In fact, the original discovery of the manuscript of De Rerum Natura was made by chance, and a re-discovery in much the same way led to its reader, Stephen Greenblatt, writing a book on how he was affected and why the ideas in the poem are still important. That book is called The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, and this is some of what Greenblatt has to say about Lucretius
“Lucretius, who was born about a century before Christ, was emphatically not our contemporary. He thought that worms were spontaneously generated from wet soil, that earthquakes were the result of winds caught in underground caverns, that the sun circled the earth. But, at its heart, “On the Nature of Things” persuasively laid out what seemed to be a strikingly modern understanding of the world.” – from an interview in The New Yorker.
“It’s a theory of everything. That is its glory and perhaps its absurdity. It tried to say what the nature of everything was.
And it had at its center an ancient idea, wasn’t invented by the poet, but actually by philosophers before him. But the whole theory was, in effect, lost, except for this poem. And the theory is that the world consists of an infinite number of tiny particles.
The ancient Greeks called them the things that can’t be broken up, and the word for that was atoms. …these were dangerous ideas, especially as Christianity took hold.” – from PBS
Why would his ideas be dangerous? Because they went against established (or what were beginning to be established) religious ideas – “. …Epicurus taught that all things were made of atoms, including the human soul, which was consequently as mortal as the body. He taught that though the gods exist, in a blissful state to be imitated by mortals, they neither created the physical world nor intervened in it. The clear aim of these teachings, together with the injunctions to avoid public life and cultivate moderate pleasure, was the elimination of all anxiety regarding human life and all fear of death and the supernatural. Little wonder that both the Roman political establishment and later the Christian church regarded Epicureanism as a dangerous threat.” – from Poetry.com
“And now, so crippled is our age, that the earth,
Worn out by labor, scarce makes tiny creatures–
Which once made all, gave birth to giant beasts.
For I find it hard to believe that a golden cord
From heaven let living things down into the fields,
Or they were made by the stone-splashing waves of the sea;
The same earth gendered then that now gives food.
What’s more, at first she made, of her own prompting,
The glossy corn and the glad vine for us mortals,
And gave, of her own, sweet offspring and glad pasture.
Yet these now hardly grow for all our work:
We sweat our oxen thin and the strength of our farmhands
We crush; for our fields the plow is not enough.
So full of labor and so spare of birth!
Now the old plowman shakes his head and sighs
That all of his hard work has come to nothing,
Compares the present days to days gone by
And over and over touts his father’s luck.
Disheartened, the planter of stooped and shriveled vines
Curses this bent of our age, and rattles on
With his reproach: our elders, full of reverence,
managed to live with ease in narrow bounds,
With much less acreage to a man; he doesn’t
Grasp that, slowly, wasting away, all things
Go to the tomb, worn out by the long years.” (II, 1149-1173)
Don’t want to read the whole thing? Check out an illustrated excerpt in The graphic canon. Volume 1 : from the epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous liaisons, edited by Russ Kick.
– Tessa, CLP – East Liberty
Have you ever taken a walk down a Pittsburgh street and wondered what wonderful or terrible things may have happened there in years past? There’s a way to maybe find out.
Go to Retrographer to see the past overlaid upon the present. There, over 5,000 historic images of Pittsburgh have been tagged to the locations at which they were taken. You can see that in 1935, there was a particularly scary Halloween Party happening in front of the fountain at the Frick Fine Arts building (read: clowns) and that trolley car tracks used to criss-cross Centre Street. You can check out how bustling East Liberty looked in 1928, and a road crew working in Homewood, around 1910, looking towards some very familiar rowhouses on Hamilton Ave. that I drive past almost every day of my life.
Or maybe you’d like to take a walk and read poems about the streets on which you’re wandering? Then get yourself over to Public Record, a project done in 2010-11 by Justin Hopper in connection with Encyclopedia Destructica and Deeplocal.
Hopper uses poetry to expose history. You can download an iPhone app that will show you a map of Pittsburgh and the locations that correspond to the poems, written about what daily life was like in 19th century Pittsburgh. Or you can download the MP3s for free.
I hope these sites will inspire you to go create your own Pittsburgh-centered creative works. Find some history there, at the library, or the Heinz History Center Archives, and make it your own. Submit it to the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest. Record it in words, film or music at the Labs. Find the cutest historical boy from Historic Pittsburgh and send the link to My Daguerreotype Boyfriend.
-Tessa, CLP-East Liberty
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