'And when the owl stirred, a fine dust fell from its wings'

In many cul­tur­al tra­di­tions, an encounter with an owl at night is an omi­nous sign. But here, in a poem by recent Shel­ley Memo­r­i­al Award win­ner, Arthur Sze, (first pub­lished in 1982), there is a won­der­ful trans­for­ma­tion from the pur­ple of dusk to the green of dawn that cap­tures a moment of pure opti­mism in this strange and decid­ed­ly mag­i­cal noc­tur­nal encounter between the p...

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American Life in Poetry

'I hold my life above a sieve'

There is a long and ancient tradition of poetry as a form of prayer. Here, in a poem from his new collection of new and selected poems, The Naked Prince, South Carolinian poet Ben Greer brings to my mind the faith we have in words, even as he contemplates the comforts of his own faith in God.

 

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American Life in Poetry

'Moths sing of you from wherever moths go to sing'

Sometimes defining what we mean by love causes us to fumble around, until we find the right language, or, as in this case, the perfect lived image that captures it all. Tyree Daye does this here in hi...

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American Life in Poetry

'Each bite an ordinary weapon we wield against the shrinking of mouths'

The insane birds in 'Almost Forty', by the always eloquent and emotionally generous poet Ada Limón, seem to be warning of the coming of winter, but it is time, really, and its passing, that they anthe...

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American Life in Poetry

'Animals long believed gone crept down from trees'

Tracy K Smith, former poet laureate, has a wonderful way with strange and haunting images, that still manage to tell a resonant story. I think of the old story she tells here - how future generations ...

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American Life in Poetry

'Watching the troubled people running and crying'

I have a memory of Lucille Clifton responding to a young poet who asked her how she managed to be a productive publishing poet despite having to raise six children, by saying, “I wrote shorter poems.”...

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American Life in Poetry

'I keep that scrap of paper in my pocket'

June Jordan died in 2002, an American child of Jamaican immigrants whose remarkable poetry is collected in The Essential June Jordan, a new collection published by Copper Canyon Press. This eloquent f...

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American Life in Poetry

'Mama, with an axe, trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow'

Missouri poet Kitty Carpenter could have chosen any number of titles for her poem, a moving and difficult accounting of how the roles of parent and child change as a result of the passing of time; but...

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American Life in Poetry

'Little one, it starts with a heart'

It must be one of the great mercies of life that time provides us with the magical capacity to turn memories of the complete alarm of caring for an infant child into a delightful bit of nostalgia. Adr...

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American Life in Poetry

'Here every flower grows ragged and sideways and always beautiful'

I have heard so many poets say that they feel like outcasts, until they meet other outcasts and dreamers, people who seem to feel like them, and suddenly they feel affirmed in their difference, and, a...

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American Life in Poetry

'Nothing moving but his quick beating heart'

José Alcantara’s poem, which appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Rattle, seems simple enough - a splendid and hopeful account of a familiar moment - a bird stunned by a collision with glass, held in ...

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American Life in Poetry

'We go nowhere for weeks. We're stiff and silent in these rows'

Only 0.03 per­ cent of us end up doing jury duty each year. But we all car­ry an aware­ness that it can be us next. Accord­ing to casi​no​.org a quar­ter of Amer­i­can adults serve on jury duty at lea...

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American Life in Poetry

Kwame Dawes takes over as editor of American Life in Poetry

Award-winning poet, author, and editor Kwame Dawes has published his first weekly column as American Life in Poetry editor, in partnership with the Poetry Foundation and University of Nebraska-Lincoln...

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American Life in Poetry

'They whirl out the door, the blue sky a sudden surprise'

Pat Emile, who served as assistant editor to American Life in Poetry for over a decade, was described by past editor Ted Kooser as the “Jill-Of-All-Trades for this column”. I was fortunate enough to e...

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