A poem about that thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
May_Jamaal.jpgSo wrote Emily Dickinson more than 100 years ago. Over the years people have questioned what this agoraphobic spinster was hopeful about. It’s a question that still resonates today — where do you find hope when everything is stacked against you.
Detroit-based poet Jamaal May explores hope in its many forms in his 2016 collection “The Big Book of Exit Strategies.” Feathers, wings and birds appear often in these poems that spring from hunger and devastation and racism and all the other issues that come from living in poverty in the wealthiest country in the world.

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How books can make things better

bridge.jpgLet’s be honest. America is quickly becoming a shithole country. The steady drone of stupidity coming from Washington, D.C. is deafening. And it’s February in Michigan with all the dreary gray that comes with it. And, of course, there’s what happened yesterday in Florida.

But today’s book was read before a teenaged gunman killed 17 people as they sat in class. It’s interesting, as people across the country ask why, how relevant Thornton Wilder’s 1926 classic “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” still is.

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Patti Smith and a life well-lived

smith.jpegI am late to the party on Patti Smith —rocker, reader, poet, artist, writer. In 2015, I read a glowing review of her book “M Train” and checked it out of the library., but never got around to reading it.

Flash forward to a couple months ago when I came across an audiobook of it, and thought I’d give it a try. One of my sons was exploring her old albums so her name must have been subliminally planted in the front of my mind. Plus, I was in a melancholy mood and, because this was a book about her grief over the death of husband, Fred Sonic Smith, I thought it would be just the ticket.

What I discovered is a remarkable person, a writer of depth and whimsey, and someone I wish I had known about years ago.

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Leaving childhood behind, a poem for my daughter

Today my daughter, the youngest of our four children, turns 14.

The only girl, she is tough, funny, smart, caring, thoughtful and beautiful. As I do with all my kids, I worry about her. She will be in high school in the fall, and kids are mean. She’s going to be exposed to things and people and feelings there I have to close my mind to or I’ll go crazy.

She needs me less and less for the everyday things like shuttling to and from activities, but the truth is, she’s been leaving me since she learned to walk. And I’ve had 13 years to come to terms with that and practice in letting go with her three brothers. It doesn’t make it easier. Today’s poem by Linda Pastan lets me know I’m not alone in this feeling.

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Yet do I marvel at the courage of black poets

cullen 2
Countee Cullen

Because it’s February and because, apparently, I am trite, I will dedicate this month’s poetry posts to work by black writers.

Several years ago when I was fairly newly married, had a child and a full-time job, I decided I thought it made sense to get a master’s degree in English. Because I had an odd work schedule — daily newspapers have lots of those for those willing to take them — I could only take classes on Mondays. My choices were limited and because of that, I took an odd collection that, I think, was good for me.

My favorite was my first, a class on the Harlem Renaissance, a movement I’d heard of, but didn’t know much about. I learned so much about the African-American experience through literature written by black Americans that my fascination with it has continued to this day. It’s a crime so many of these gifted writers with something important to say are unknown to most Americans, and their work is rarely read outside of survey courses on African American literature.

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