Porsha Olayiwola is Boston’s poet laureate, but I was unaware of her until I read a recent article in The Boston Globe magazine about her commission to write a poem exploring the history of Black Boston. The article shares how Porsha first came to Boston a decade ago to work at the Pine Street Inn and the cultural shock of moving from her predominantly black neighborhood in Chicago to Boston’s South End. She writes of her move to Boston and her experience over the past decade as she has come to make Boston her home, here.
But the reason I wrote this post is to share a fiery video of Porsha from a few years ago at the Camp Bar in St. Paul, Minnesota where she shared her unapologetic anger and frustration in her poem, Unnamed. It evokes strong emotion through language. Weaving upsetting and unsettling images and reminders of our past, Porsha shares her perspective on the power of a name. The language is strong and the anger palpable. It is a powerful poem.
You can read more of her work, see more of her videos, and learn more about Porsha online at porshaolayiwola.com. She is a force to be reckoned with and I hope to see and hear a lot more of her here in Boston in the years that follow.
For the past few years, each winter I share this poem by American poet, Robert Frost. The poem was written ninety-nine years ago while living in Vermont back in 1922 and it was published a year later in Frost’s New Hampshire volume. The book earned Frost the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1924. One of the reasons I love Frost is because his poetry is so accessible but at the same time he elevates the experience through his use of words, rhythm and symoblism.
Above is a photo Sergio took when we were walking to my parent’s house at Lake Winnipesaukee. It was dusk and the snow was still falling. It felt like we were the only ones around. The photo is a favorite of mine and reminds me of this poem. We are only missing a horse, harness and bells.
STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
Amanda Gorman recited The Hill We Climb at the inauguration for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on January 20, 2021. The 19 year old Harvard University sophomore is the youngest inaugural poet ever and the first to be named national youth poet laureate. Below, is a video of her recitation of the poem.
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast, we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one. And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect, we are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
So we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another, we seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: that even as we grieved, we grew, even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried, that we’ll forever be tied together victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one should make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in in all of the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it. That would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, and this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can periodically be delayed, but it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us, this is the era of just redemption we feared in its inception we did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves, so while once we asked how can we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us.
We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free, we will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, our blunders become their burden. But one thing is certain: if we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left, with every breath from my bronze, pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one, we will rise from the golden hills of the West, we will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution, we will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked South, we will rebuild, reconcile, and recover in every known nook of our nation in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful, when the day comes we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.
Yesterday’s activities in D.C. championed by the President and the Republican Party (yes, I find the entire Republican Party complicit) had me tossing and turning last night much like I was last spring when I first wrote this poem.
random thoughts ramble through my head thinking these thoughts are keeping me from bed- round-n-round, back-n-forth they go yet where will this lead? i don’t know-
so i toss-n-turn in my bed with images run amuck in my head- a restful sleep i need, i know but that will have to wait til tomorrow-
little tree little silent Christmas tree you are so little you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest and were you very sorry to come away? see i will comfort you because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark and hug you safe and tight just as your mother would, only don’t be afraid
look the spangles that sleep all the year in a dark box dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine, the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms and i’ll give them all to you to hold every finger shall have its ring and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see and how they’ll stare! oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands and looking up at our beautiful tree we’ll dance and sing “Noel Noel”
Initially published in 1920, EE Cummings is one of America’s greatest poets. Born in 1894 in Cambridge, MA, he lived most of his life in New England, passing away in 1962 in his home in North Conway, NH.
The poem shares the excitement a young brother and sister feel about their little Christmas tree. In more modern times, a children’s book was illustrated and used the poem, but I couldn’t find much more about this work. MichaelasMommy Blog provides some more thoughts and insights into the poem for those who may be interested.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I love poetry but I know that it is a form of expression that confounds or can come across as trite to many, and I get it. I often don’t understand or appreciate poems either, but when I connect with a poem it inspires something within me and evokes a strong emotional response.
The poem shared above is by one of the greatest English speaking poets of all time. W.B. Yeats. It was first published in 1899, but still inspires me. What I have always been struck by in this poem are the last two lines.
I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
It is fair to say that 2020 has been a difficult year no matter who you are, what you do or your politics might be. So let’s all be mindful of each other’s dreams and tread softly as we approach election day here in the U.S. and in the days, weeks and months that follow the election.
Every fall since 2009, I post this poem from American poet, Robert Frost. It’s one of my favorites and is accessible to even those who “don’t get poetry”. His words, which were inspired by the fall foliage of New England, create a visual that is easy to follow and the underlying meaning is both meaningful and obvious. The poem was first published in the Yale Review in 1923 and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry the following year in 1924.
Nature’s first green is gold Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
With the Summer Solstice having just occurred, I thought it appropriate to repost this poem. Slightly melancholic and romantic, In the Summer, is a personal favorite that was written by a Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani.
Valentine’s Day may have been on Friday, but I’m in favor of extending any holiday that is about expressing your love. This poem, published by Robert Frost in 1928, is a personal favorite. He masterfully paints a picture with his words to describe love in such an intimate manner. Whenever I read this poem it is with a soundtrack softly playing in my head of waves crashing on the beach followed by the rushing noise of the water quickly receding back into the ocean.
The heart can think of no devotion Greater than being shore to ocean – Holding the curve of one position, Counting an endless repetition.
With the start of Summer season in the US starting today – the start of Memorial Day Weekend – I wanted to share this poem which I post each summer.
In the Summer was written by a Syrian named Nizar Qabbani. Its slightly melancholic message makes it all the more romantic, which is pretty impressive considering the entire poem is less than 40 words.
At the touch of you,
As if you were an archer with your swift hand at the bow,
The arrows of delight shot through my body.
You were spring,
And I the edge of a cliff,
And a shining waterfall rushed over me.
Bynner was born in NYC, spending his formative years in Brookline, MA and at Harvard before embarking on travels, that ultimately led him to Santa Fe, NM. Bynner was friends with D.H. Lawrence who based characters on these two “friends” in his book, The Plumed Serpent.
In what has become an unintentional tradition, each October I post this poem. It is a personal favorite and happens to be by the 20th century poet, Robert Frost.
Nothing gold can stay was inspired by the fall foliage in New England and was written nearly 100 years ago, back in 1923.
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
When I was growing up I spent a lot of time with my cousins but as we’ve grown older we’ve gone our separate ways and rarely see each other. However, I still love and care about my family, so I was impressed when his boyfriend posted this brief video that my cousin, Matt Albiani, created. It appears to be based off of a poem he wrote back in 1996.
Check out the video above then leave a comment and like it. 🙂
IT CAN’T BE AUGUST YET, CAN IT?
I DON’T KNOW – I JUST WOKE UP AND LOST TRACK OF TIME.
BUT THE DOOR IS OPEN. AND SO IS THE WINDOW
WHERE I STAND, LEAN OUT
AND LET THE SUN ON MY SHOULDERS
NOW BROWN AND FRECKLED.
I CAN SEE BLUE WATER THROUGH THE TREES
AND WHITE CANVAS SAILS THAT TAKE ME AWAY
TO THE ISLAND ON THE LAKE
WHERE THE SKY IS ALWAYS CLEAR
AND SEPTEMBER NEVER COMES
Salem, MA is set to host the 10th annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival, May 4-6. Turning this picturesque New England town into epicenter of contemporary American poetry, and providing you the chance to hear many of the nation’s best poets read and discuss their work in intimate and engaging forums.
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is the nation’s largest annual poetry festival, showcasing nearly 100 poetry readings and workshops, a small press and literary fair, panels, poetry slams, visual arts, and open-air performances. This year’s festival will include nearly 300 local and nationally known poets.