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"Who Was it First Spoke of April?" Poems for National Poetry Month, 2012

"Who Was it First Spoke of April?" Poems for National Poetry Month, 2012

Author: Johannah Bomster

For the month of April, I'll add a poem a day and some commentary, to celebrate National Poetry Month, 2012.

Poems. Thirty days.  A poem a day, curated by your Sophia tutorial hostess, Johannah Bomster Johannah.

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An Ephemeral Table of Contents for "Who Was it First Spoke of April?"

I had wanted to have a nice, tidy Table of Contents for this month, but that did not happen. In its stead, here's an overview of the poems, day by day. I'm a big believer in the messy first draft--here's proof!


April 30, 2012

And so we come to the end of National Poetry Month, 2012. Today's poem is a found poem by celebrity gardener Daniel de la Falaise. I feel the call to create a Sophia tutorial on found poetry: Stay tuned!


Source: de la Falaise, Daniel. (2012, February 28). “Every vegetable” [Pull quote]. in Sandra Ballentine, “Profile in Style.” New York Times, T magazine, p. 65.

April 29, 2012

My sister-in-law had suggested Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Lament," and my brother--her husband--had suggested Galway Kinnell's "The Correspondence-School Instructor Says Goodbye to His Poetry Students." Drawing on my collaborative, consensus-based work style, I polled my Facebook friends. So, with a resounding (n = 2) from an (N = 185), today's poem is "Lament."


Source: Millay, Edna St. Vincent. (1981). Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York, NY: Harper Perennial. (original work published 1921)

The Smallest House in New York City (Fun Fact About the Poet)

Edna St. Vincent Millay lived briefly at 75-1/2 Bedford Street, the smallest house in New York City. Other famous residents include Cary Grant, Margaret Mead, and William Steig.

​You can read about the house here:


You can see a video tour of the house, which was  here:





April 28, 2012

Today's poem is an elegy by Yoko Ono.


Source: Ono, Yoko. (1981). Season of Glass. [Liner note] Season of Glass. New York, NY: Geffen Records

Yoko does her thing

My mind is very much on my father these days.I remember once my parents went for a day trip to stock up on classical records at the Harvard Coop. This was shortly after John Lennon was shot, so I asked my parents to see if the store had a copy of my Fluxus idol Yoko Ono's Fly. ​To my surprise, the store did and my parents bought it. This was back in the day of the stereo system, and the music blasted out from enormous speakers wired into every room.I remember my father saying delightedly to everyone, "Have you heard this? It's ghastly!" "Take a listen," he'd say, "Have you ever heard anything like this? Absolutely ghastly!" And he kept listening, reveling in the ghastliness. So, obviously, he had a different take than I on his contemporary, Yoko Ono, but I admired then and still do, three decades later, my father's willingness to engage in difficult music. 


​Here's a clip from 2005 of what John Lennon called "Yoko doing her thing all over you." Not sure what the original poster meant with the scare quotes in the clip title--you can decide for yourself.


April 27, 2012

Today's powerful, mysterious poem comes from Philip Levine.


Source: Levine, Philip. (1991). 'They Feed the Lion” in New Selected Poems. New York, NY: Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House.

Listen to the poet read the poem

​To hear Philip Levine read the poem, click the link below. 

​If you know what inspired the poet to write "They Feed They Lion" and don't want to hear the back story again, you can head straight to 1:26 for the  poem itself. Otherwise, you can listen straight on through.

Levine has much to say about privilege, assumption, and bias. Yet, as from Maureen N. McLane tells us in  the May 2012 issue of Poetry​ magazine, "Poems aren't for teaching; they insinuate." They feed. They lion.


Source: Levine, Philip. (1991). 'They Feed the Lion” in New Selected Poems. New York, NY: Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House.

April 26, 2012

Rumi is the man! I so often hear Mary Oliver's lines "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?" What I love about Rumi is that he doesn't ask the rhetorical question. He TELLS you the answer. And the answer is always one of love and compassion.

If you don't own "The Essential Rumi" already, what are you waiting for? Go and buy it right now.


Source: from The Essential Rumi (1995). New York, NY: HarperTrade. Coleman Barks, translator; John Moyne, translator.

April 25, 2012

Emily Dickinson says that "After great pain, a formal feeling comes," but for me, I think grief works the other way: First comes the formal feeling, and then the great pain reveals itself. Either way, today's poem exploring the flatness of grief is sparked by thoughts of my father (6/12/1934-4/24-2012). One of my earliest memories of hearing poetry was his exhorting us children to get moving. He would say, "Stand not upon the order of your going, But go at once!" from Macbeth.


Source: Dickinson, Emily. (1960). After great pain, a formal feeling comes. T.H. Johnson (Ed.) The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1755; p. 710). New York: NY: Little, Brown. (original work 1892)

April 24, 2012

A root vegetable. A clown. An ephemeral moment captured in cigar smoke? All three.


Source: Karla Kuskin and Kenneth Koch

Cigar Smoke to Match Clouds that are the same (1970-1971)

Something about Koch's poem reminded me of this art project by John Baldessari. I think I will try to replicate this piece with my own hot air this winter, when the Minnesota temperatures dip well below 0 Fahrenheit.


Source: Baldessari, John. (1971). Cigar Smoke to Match Clouds that are the same. (Photograph installation)

April 23, 2012

A poem for this Monday. Or maybe every Monday.


Source: Stafford, William. (1994). The Darkness Around Us is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Here me read the poem


Click the link belwo for a SoundCloud recording of me reading the above poem:

Source: Stafford, William. (1994). The Darkness Around Us is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

April 22, 2012

Here is a poem for Earth Day.
There's a General Electric commercial in which the lab technician says that "GE is literally making the world a smaller place." I hope not! I would like to world to be bigger. I wish we had one more continent. Another moon. Someplace new to weave garments of brightness.


Source: From the Tewa people (H. J. Spinden, translator). (1996). Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet. (Jane Yolen, Ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

April 21, 2012

Fireworks? Check. Found poem? Check. Shaking up the rhetorical model of delivery with a PowerPoint? Check. Here's a found poem by Paul Violi from a firework catalogue.

Source: Violi, Paul. (1993). The Curious Builder. Brooklyn, NY: Hanging Loose Press

April 20, 2012

Today is my brother Mark's birthday, and he asked to see this video, so happy birthday, Mark! It answers one of poetry's biggest questions, which is why poets read aloud the way they do. When I first learned to scan poetry, I marked each syllable as stressed. It seemed to me that each syllable was crucial, important, and weighted. The result, of course, was a monotonous rendering of what should have been a more musical, nuanced piece of writing. I've gotten better at reading over the decades, but I still read old-school style.

Source: I made this Xtranormal video

April 19, 2012

I remember being driven up the I95 corridor on the East Coast when I was a child. This was back in the absolutely nascent days of the ecology movement, just a few years after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published. I remember being overwhelmed and excited by the energy of the manmade world--factories, power plants, smoke stacks, train tracks. And the gorgeously controlled plumes of industrial gas and steam. What can I say? I was a child in the mid-1960s. As William Carlos Williams says in "Burning the Christmas Greens," "All this! and it seemed gentle and good to us." Today's poem reminds me of those drives.


Source: Sakaki, Nanao. (1997). Let’s Eat Stars. Nobleboro, ME: Blackberry Books

April 18, 2012

When I first read this poem, I thought, dang, why does it have to be a sow? Why can't it be something cuter and more approachable, like an alpaca, a kitten, or an otter? And then I had to laugh, for indeed "sometimes it is necessary/to reteach a thing its loveliness." For some of us and at some times in our lives--or maybe just for me at points in my life--it is necessary to relearn this loveliness again and again.


Source: Kinnell, Galway. (1980). Mortal Acts, Mortal Words. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

The Poet Reads His Poem

Here is a great find from the American Museum of Natural History. It's from a series of "digital broadsides" produced in 2003. 


​Click the link below to hear Galway Kinnell read "St. Francis and the Sow":

April 17, 2012

It's National Haiku Day! To celebrate, I've chosen a haiku by Issa (1763-1827) that resonates with me. I've chosen to unleash my inner poet curmudgeon, as well.

I think there is no poetic form more misunderstood or dismissed than the haiku. An eight-line poem with rhymed couplets is not a limerick. A ten-line, unrhymed, unmetered poem is not an Elizabethan sonnet. Yet, a three-line poem or a 17-syllable poem somehow gets labeled a haiku, no matter its topic or tone. Sometimes it makes me angry and calls out my inner snob: "It's not a haiku! Stop calling it a haiku!" Formal poetry has a history and carries its conventions, and the haiku is no different from a pantoum or ghazal in carrying its conventions. Respect the genre!

I mean, is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a taco? Is a tuna sub garnished with cilantro a banh mi? Is grilled ham and cheese on wheat a cubano? No. There are conventions to each sandwich. Is a vaguely imagistic fragment sentence a haiku? Well, you can guess what I would say.


Source: Issa. (1994) R. Hass (Ed.) The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. New York, NY: Norton.

April 16 2012

I asked 14-year-old Mimi to share her favorite spoken word poem. Today, Mimi's pick for National Poetry Month.

April 15, 2012

For Tax Day, a poem about the great wheel of local economy.


Source: Soto, Gary. (1985). “How Things Work” in Black Hair. PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

April 14, 2012

Here's another poem constructed of rhetorical questions, yet this one has gravitas and mystery. Wallace Stevens--the insurance executive of blackbird fame--says that a good poem should leave the reader "agreeably mystified." Agreed.


Source: Neruda, Pablo. (2001) The Book of Questions. (W. O’Daly, translator). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press. (original work published 1974)

April 13, 2012

Here's a found poem filled with innocence and wonder. Folks with good memories may recall the original context and author.


Where did I find the poem?

Here's the original source. Listening to it again, I still hear that baffled wonderment regarding the origins of existence. For me, nothing brings on an attack of vertigo like contemplating the infinite universe.

April 12, 2012

Perspective is everything. You know, like to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To an insurance executive, everything looks like a blackbird. To the poet's gardener, every icicle looks like a root vegetable from outer space. Like that.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy Nancy Willard, who is my pick for today.


Source: Willard, Nancy. (1996). In Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems. New York, NY: Knopf. (originally published in Household Tales of Moon and Water, 1982)

April 11, 2012

One-twefth teaspoon

This is "the amount of honey made by a single honeybee during her four-week lifespan" (Eating Well magazine [2011, September/October] . "Editor's Picks," p. 18). This factoid made me sad--it seemed like so little. From a scientist's perspective, feeling sad for the bee means falling into anthropomorphism. From a poetry reader's perspective, it's not just a bee. It never was just about the bee.


Source: Dickinson, Emily. (1960). To make a prairie. T.H. Johnson (Ed.) The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1755; p. 710). New York: NY: Little, Brown. (original work 1896)

"A Single Drop of Honey"

I imagine that a single drop of honey is about one-twelfth a teaspoon. Here's a beautiful version of Abigail Washburn's 2005 song "Single Drop of Honey," performed by two members of from Ellement, an a capella group from Colorado College. The song runs from 0:15 to 2:40.

April 10, 2012

I've been out of the classroom for a while, but I remember two frequent questions from students: "Will this be on the exam?" and "Did I miss anything?" Did you miss anything? Did you miss anything? Tom Wayman says, yes, you missed both nothing and everything.


Source: Wayman, Tom. (1993). from Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems, 1973-1993. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing.

Hear me read the poem

Click the link below for a SoundCloud recording of me reading the above poem:

April 9, 2012

It's National Poetry Month AND National Emotional Overeating Awareness Month. Could there be a poem for both?

Yes. Yes, there is a poem for both.


Source: from The Essential Rumi (1995). New York, NY: HarperTrade. Coleman Barks, translator; John Moyne, translator.

April 8, 2012

Those who celebrate Easter may choose to serve the traditional Easter ham. There's that expression, "Eternity is two people and a ham." Here is a poem about a couple and a ham.


Source: I wrote this poem

Hear me read the poem


​Click this link to hear the SoundCloud recording of me reading the poem:


April 7, 2012

I found the "Wind Map" while surfing yesterday. It's a beautiful, almost conceptual site that displays wind currents in the continental United States in relatively real time. 

For some reason, the Wind Map made me think of of W.S. Merwin's poem "The Truth of Departure."  Maybe it was something about Hawaii, the setting of the poem, not being on the map. Maybe it was the way the wind currents look like ocean currents. I don't know why--it just did.


"The Truth of Departure," W.S. Merwin


Source: Merwin, W.S. (1997) Flower and Hand: Poems 1977-1983. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press. (originally published in Opening the Hand, 1983)

April 6, 2012

I myself read this poem often as a reminder to check myself for authenticity and accidental codependent behavior, using it sort of like those patron saints who guard against something, my favorite being St. Ignatius Loyola, the patron saint against being overly conscientious. I'm not at the wisdom stage, but I can totally check whether I'm moving forward "in the little ways that encourage good fortune."

This poem has been widely reprinted across the Internet. As I was doing my source citation, I discovered that appeared on Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" on April 7, 1998. I think it's as fresh a reminder now as it was then.


Source: Stafford, William. (1998). The little ways that encourage good fortune. In The Way It Is. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press.

Hear me read the poem

Click the link below for a SoundCloud recording of me reading the above poem:

April 5, 2012

Today's poem is "Look," by Rolf Jacobson, translated by Robert Hedin. The PDF is a screen capture from the Poetry Society of America's Poetry in Motion Atlas--click the "Source" link to explore PSA's other Poetry in Motion poems and to see this poster in entirety (and straight up!). I was coordinator of the Twin Cities Poetry in Motion program from 2004-2006, along with poet Morgan Grayce Willow. A poetic shout-out here to the folks at Larsen, who designed the poster-poems, for which they won a Print magazine Regional Design Annual award.


Hear me read the poem

Click this link to hear a SoundCloud recording of me reading the above poem.


April 4, 2012

I love found poetry. What makes a good found poem? I have some academic ideas on the linguistics, poetics, tropes, and whatnot that make a good found poem. But, really, sometimes I read a sentence, headline, or whatever and get that moment of connection and transcendence I like to get from a poem. And when I lay the text out in stanzas, it looks poem-like. So, a found poem.


Source: Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal. (1998). M. Dahlby (Ed.) The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion

April 3, 2012

I think of James Merrill's "The Mad Scene" whenever I do laundry. Indeed, when I manage to build my laundry room, I will use this poem as my inspiration. I wonder if Merrill was inspired by the 1951 Alec Guinness film "The Man in the White Suit," although maybe I am reading the lines about the "new fiber that never stains or wrinkles, never/Wears thin" a bit too literally. But was is that lean tree bursting into grief at the end of the poem? Is it the willow tree? The concluding scene of an opera I never saw?


Source: Merrill, J. (2008). The Mad Scene. J.D. McClatchy & S. Yenser (Eds). Selected Poems. New York, NY: Knopf. (Original work published in Nights and Days, 1966)

Hear me read the poem


​Click this link to hear me read the poem:

April 2, 2012

Poet Michael McClure reads the first stanza of the "General Prologue" of the Canterbury tales. There is a wealth of audio for this excerpt, but the McClure reading is one of the least mannered. It's from The Last Waltz, a movie I watch every Thanksgiving. Now, I thought that I had memorized these lines, but in preparing today's pages, I realized that my delivery was more of an interpretation of the language than a good example of Middle English. Don't let my failure stop you from reading this poem out loud. It's been my experience that children especially love hearing Middle English; children also love learning about the two letters the English alphabet used to have--the eth and the thorn--but lost along the way. Missing letters! That will make a person "slepen al the night with open ye"!

Source: McClure, M. (1978). Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales [excerpt]. In The Last Waltz [film], dir. M. Scorsese.

The first 18 lines of The Canterbury Tales

"Who was it first spoke of April?" asked William Carlos Williams. Chaucer is my guess.


April 1, 2012

Coleman Barks's translation of Rumi's "Two Kinds of Intelligence"


Source: from The Essential Rumi (1995). New York, NY: HarperTrade. Coleman Barks, translator; John Moyne, translator.

Hear me read the poem

Click this link to hear my SoundCloud recording of the above poem: