National Poetry Month weekly selections

April 3, 2015

National Poetry Month weekly selections

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we have been posting a free poem from our archives every Tuesday and Friday during April.  You can have these sent directly to your email by signing up here

Friday, April 28

This poem of thanks from American Psalm, World Psalm by Nicholas Samaras seemed a fitting ending for our national poetry month series. Thank you for reading!


For what we are given.
For being mindful of what we are given.

For those who grieve and those who celebrate.
For those remain grateful in the face of everything.

For the assembly of words that links us together.
For individual speech that becomes speech shared.

For the transformations a written page may effect in us.
For those who pay attention.

For the teachers who gave us the chrysalis of language.
For the comrades of the heart who left us signposts.

For the parent who gave us the one ethic of discipline.
For the wisdom to take discipline to heart and not resent it.

For the second chance that is the writing down.
For those who know that half of poetry is silence.

For the language of breath and the breath that is prayer.
For those who wake to light and know the depths of sacrament.

For this common meal and us who bow our heads and partake.
For those who remember that "So be it" is also written





Friday, April 24

Today's selection is from The Moment's Equation by Vern Rutsala, the 2003 winner of our Snyder Prize, and a 2005 National Book finalist in poetry. Rutsala was the author of 15 other books of poetry and served on the Ashland Poetry Press board until his death last April.

Billie Holiday

On those last records her voice
sounds almost gone—
cracking, breaking – but hitting
notes wasn’t the point.
She was after the bones of beauty
not the flesh. It was far
too late for anything else.
She sang what must happen,
what has, the death of gardenias,
the abyss that the abyss
falls into. It all scraped along
her phrases, extracting the horrible
meat hiding inside simple words,
in the space between each
word, between each note.
And she broke our hearts until
they could break no more,
then broke them one more time
just to make sure we got the point.
Art isn’t on the surface,
not some decoration like frosting,
like a flower in your hair—
it’s like a silk bag of pulverized
crystal, glinting, sharp,
able to cut in any direction.
Her voice filled every room
in our minds and showed how empty
each was, how desolate
the wind blowing through them
and yet with sticks and stones,
castoffs, garage sale losers
she furnished each one
with a shattered gritty beauty
just before she took it all away.


 Friday, April 21

Today's selection is from The Rattling Window by Catherine Staples, the 2012 winner of our McGovern Prize, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. 

Atropos & the Goldfinches

Look at the one with the shears,
head down, intent
on the thread she attends:
life spun, measured,
cut off. She must close
in the precise place—
that grass thin hit of light—
now, not a moment later.

Nothing vindictive
in her pure face,
she is young and earnest.
Look with what grace
she leans, foreleg
taking the weight
while a lawn mower hums
and a half-dozen goldfinches
sway on stems of coneflower,
patiently, each seed,
pivot and tip.

A brother and sister
kick a ball. She’s close by,
but they can’t see her;
she’s the dizzy blind of light
at the garden’s end,
fine net of midges
at the compost’s rim.
She is who she is,
and it’s all one to her:

mayflies in a day,
monarchs a few weeks.
In another breath she’ll step,
iron blades will meet.
Some living breath will cease
and a loss will fall home.

This afternoon—
it’s the children’s pony;
tomorrow, your father or aunt,
someone’s dearest dear
will slump from this world.
The glittering thread will fall
in a tangle of autumn knotgrass,
fluttering its last magic
in the nave of the children’s palms,
insufficient solace
for the next night’s grief.


 Friday, April 17

Today's selection is from Remorseless Loyalty by Christine Gelineau, the 2004 winner of the Richard Snyder Publication Prize. Ashland Poetry Press published a second volume of her poetry in 2010 entitled Appetite for the Divine. With spring in the air, we can't resist offering up these two related selections.


You’re nine walking
to school in April air so new
your chest aches:

the maples unwrap translucent
ears, tuning them towards you;
tulips in the yards spread

their petal lips in expectant smiles
as you pass while redwings
whistle the high note

of your heart; the sun streams directly
into your dreams, your every prayer

prepares itself to be answered


Spring at 41

I walked the woods early today.
Sunlight advanced before me
across the hill’s crest as if
the light and warmth were mesh,
a solar seine delicately, deliberately opening
out in the morning’s first cast. Birdsong
and frog trill were a pulse,
a felt sound in that spring air.
Bluets, violets, strawblossoms, and
spring beauties crowded my path in such
profusion I could imagine
they welcomed me much
as I welcomed them. My own arms
swung at my sides, in the line
of sight, my skin crimped yet
with the imprint of the bedsheets,
wrinkled like a baby’s cheek from the crib.
This was a kind of grace to behold and
for the moment I felt
renewable as the morning.


 Tuesday, April 14 

Today's selection is from J. David Cummings' Tancho, our 2013 Snyder Prize winner. This striking collection recently won the Independent Book Publishers Association's Benjamin Franklin Award in poetry. Cummings, a former theoretical physicist, reflects on the world's first use of atomic weapons.

The poem uses a Japanese word: “Torii” refers to a gateway structure consisting of two uprights with a straight crosspiece at the top and a concave lintel above the crosspiece. It is usually made of wood (often painted vermilion) or stone and is commonly built at the approach to a Shinto shrine but can be seen in other locations throughout Japan. A torii defines an open space; there is no gate attached to the uprights that might bar entry or exit.  The torii Cummings refers to is from the photograph featured on the book's cover. 


Torii, Nagasaki, August 10, 1945 

The torii at the zero point
framing a membrane of gray light, a space
living in the enigma of time, to the eye
exactly like the space outside the gate, but not.
Because you can imagine it, enter and leave
in one motion, slip the tissue of the world,
and not know in which direction you have traveled.
It stands among a sea of broken things.
The Shinto shrine, gone. The maze of streets, gone.
The garden, the garden path, gone. The trees, gone.
All’s below, beneath the ruptures of gray surface,
deep in the currents of the drowned and eaten.
And through the torii, a little distance in,
the stripped spine of the last tree, or the first.


 Friday, April 10 

Today's selection is from Out of Place by Richard Jackson. Published in 2014, the book is a finalist for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award; winners will be announced this evening. Jackson is the author of 10 books of poetry, including 2 others published with Ashland Poetry Press. He will be at the Ashland Poetry Press AWP Conference booth this afternoon from 4-5 p.m. for a book signing. 


It is part of our disguise that our dreams are lived by someone else.
Thales dreamt an eclipse in 570 BC and stopped a war. You arrived
subconsciously in a sentence I was reading from a book I never
finished. What we say gets its meaning from what we don’t say.
Persephone kept her love hidden underground. So much of what
we feel is habit. We need to search for a way to say what is real:
the air filled with the simple pungency of cut grass, the flowers
barely breathing, the black and azure butterflies mating in clusters
by the side of the trail, the melancholy taste of blackberries
some bear had abandoned at my approach, the stag that lifts
its head unconcerned, whatever drifts away, whatever stays.
How do we keep our own dreams from touching each other?
I remember, as a boy, fearing for the snail as it crawled out
from its shell, I imagined for love. I couldn’t coax it back.
What we do is a metaphor for what we don’t do. These are
the only ways to tell you what I mean. In Chagall’s drawings
the faces of his lovers are surprised by their own sadness that
they have not become one of his angels smudged across the sky.
Their nights disguise themselves among the noontime shadows.
At the tomb, Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was a gardener.
What we know gets its meaning from what we don’t know.
It is why we create stories for those Mayan cities still buried
beneath the jungles of Mexico. Everything is a metaphor.
Those butterflies on the trail, for instance, I thought
they carried part of the sky on their wings. Or the cloud
rising like a ruined column from some ancient site supporting
the sky’s idea of it. In a while the wind convinces it to collapse
as it does with so many of our dreams. What we dream
gets its meaning from what we don’t dream. Memory betrays us:
The sentence I read as you appeared was a piece of smooth
ocean glass where Nicholas of Cusa dreamt of spiritual beings
living near the sun. Anaximander knew we emerged from
sea creatures. What if you had appeared with those few snowy
egrets this morning who seemed puzzled or fearful at my presence?
What we love gets its meaning from what we don’t love.
The air here seems filled with fragments of some other day.
In a drawing I saw once, my words shivered for how the stag
gazed tenderly at the wolves, as if to say they had no other choice,
as if to forgive them as they ate so ravenously from its side.
No, never again have I dreamt such a perfect love.



 Tuesday, April 7 

Today's selection is from The Rigid Body by Gabriel Spera. Published in 2012, the book was a finalist for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award and was the 2011 winner of the APP Richard Snyder Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey. 

The Hopeless Ends 

Someone who loved me let a pet store clerk
put a spider on her palm, a leggy
bonbon, a shy confection—the bitter
chocolate of its fur, the creamy brindling
of its knees. She didn’t flinch, although it
ambled up her arm, but told me only
that it tickled, and walked soft. He plucked it,
a dark orchid, from her elbow’s pale sleeve
and tried to hand it next to me, smiling
like a dentist to assure me that it
had no reason to bite, but I for one
had walked far enough through the world of men
to know that it really didn’t need one—
pain was a reason in itself. And as
with all of life’s uniquely offered gifts,
I held myself wise in that rejection,
that refusal to be drawn in. Only
now, years after, still shamed by the utter
emptiness of my hands, do I see how
fragile it was—how could I not grasp it?—
having since learned firsthand the hopeless ends
love drives us to. To think I didn’t think
I was unworthy of her gaze, didn’t
shrink from it, as it rose to me from her
outstretched palm and all it suffered to bear
for my sake. It’s with me still, that spider,
crouched beneath the trapdoor of my heart.

* This poem was originally published in The Great River Review.

 Friday, April 3

We start our month of poems on April 3 with a selection from Mark Irwin's American Urn: Selected Poems (1987-2014).  


Sometimes in the middle of each April
when the dandelions stare
through our sleep, when the cellophane, torn,
glints in the teeth of grass, and the squirrel lobs its orange fire

limb to limb, I am content to gaze into the air engraved
with sparrows and rain, into the wonderfully out-of-focus
green in all its flux. Then the word yes
finds all its creeks and rivers, then our cries
are urgent and palpable as gravel thrown
into water. Surprised we
blink and are taken. Then I remember

that my question, having something to do with light, has come
a long way, and now I would like to tell you
something else in the language of petals, something about winter
and the stones placed upon so many dead.

* This poem was originally published in Tall If (2008).


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