We kick off the One Page Poetry Circle fall program with Commemoration Poetry, also called occasional poetry, which is composed for a particular occasion or after a significant event. Commemoration poems are frequently written to celebrate weddings and to enhance funerals, military victories, defeats and anniversaries. Early British poets often received patronage for writing commemoration verse and the Poet Laureate of England was originally appointed for the purpose of writing verse for significant national occasions, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Many people believe that Alfred Austin may have been the worst Poet Laureate as he commemorated the illness of the Prince of Wales with these lines, “Across the wires the electric message came, He is no better, he is much the same.”

Similar lines by Philip Larkin, erected at a memorial planter in Queen Square Gardens on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, have an intriguing backstory:

In times when nothing stood
But worsened, or grew strange,
There was one constant good:
She did not change

Elizabeth Alexander read her commemoration poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” at the inauguration of Barack Obama as President in 2009 in a tradition that includes Robert Frost celebrating the inauguration of President Kennedy (1961), and Maya Angelou (1993) and Miller Williams (1997) celebrating Bill Clinton’s inaugurations.

Commemoration poems, although often lyric, can also take the form of elegy, epithalamion and ode. These are poems written for a public and often performed before an audience, which distinguishes them from any poem that may be written for an occasion. One of the most famous World War I commemoration poems is “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon, which contains this familiar verse:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

In “Old South Meeting House,” a 2016 poem commissioned by the Academy of American Poets, January Gill O’Neil chose to commemorate a historical church now dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers along Boston’s Freedom Trail, “At this time of political divides, I wanted to end on a note of hope”:

In praise and dissent.
We draw breath from brick. Ignite the fire in us.
Speak to us:
the language is hope.

Do you have a commemorate poem you especially like? We invite you to post it on this blog and tell us why you liked it. Let’s hear from you.

To add a comment or post a poem, just click on the little speech balloon near the headline of this post.

~Abigail Burnham Bloom and AnnaLee Wilson

One Page Poetry Circle

September 12, 2017
NYPL St. Agnes Branch, 444 Amsterdam Ave.
5:30 -6:30 PM.

One Page Poetry Circle sponsored by the New York Public Library is open to all. St. Agnes Branch Library is handicap accessible. 

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