National Poetry Month: Staff’s Favorite Poems, Round No. 1

April 4, 2018

April is National Poetry Month, which means that we at Maryland Humanities have been spending some time thinking about the poets we read and re-read, the poems we love, and the impact that poetry can have on the human spirit.

This week, we thought that we would share some of our favorite poems & poets with you. We will hear from five of our staff members in today’s post. 🙂

Our Executive Director Phoebe Stein’s favorite poem is “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

“My mother gave me the book of the same name when it was published in 1978.  I was 11 years old and mesmerized by the power and beauty of the language.”

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Our Program Officer for History Day & Veterans Programs, Judy, loves the poem “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins.

“It’s happening to me more and more now (forgetfulness), but since I never had the capital of Paraguay on the tip of my tongue, that’s not among the things I’ve forgotten. Enjoy hearing Billy Collins read his poems on NPR. I also love the works of the late Maryland poet, Lucille Clifton.”

“Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Our Digital & Database Associate Sarah’s favorite poem is “Remember” by Christina Rossetti.

“It is one of the few poems that I have somehow committed to memory without any conscious effort on my part. I love its mournful tone tinged with hope and goodwill for those who remain. I also love The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, and almost every mischievous poem by Lewis Carroll.”

“Remember” by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Our Director of Advancement, Aaron, is a fan of the powerful, visceral quality of Adrienne Rich’s poetry. His favorite is “For Ethel Rosenberg”.

“When I discovered this poem as a young man—one admittedly fairly ignorant about any history after WWI, which was as far as we got in high school—the way in which it provided the story of the Rosenbergs was so…exciting! I had never read poetry that was so brutal and clear-eyed and which helped me come to understand a historical moment.”

Eden, our Program Assistant for Maryland Center for the Book, has a more “in the moment” approach to poetry. Her current favorite is “The Rainy Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

“I like it because it is straight to the point, while still sounding beautiful. It is about having hope, even when things seem hopeless. And also how to appreciate the good days, you have to experience some bad ones too.”

“The Rainy Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

We would love to hear what your favorite poems are! (Leave a comment and tell us!)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on our blog do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Maryland Humanities or our funders. 

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