Archives for category: commemoration

We had a great turnout for the first of our fall 2017 season on September 12, where we examined poetry and Commemoration. 

Abigail began the circle with Jacqueline Woodson’s “Occasional Poem,” in which a student responds to a teacher’s assignment, “I guess them arguing/on a Tuesday in January’s an occasion/So I guess this is an occasional poem.” Although an occasional poem is another word for a commemorative poem, this one was not written for a traditional public event.

Roger read Marc Antony’s famous speech, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a work that starts as a commemorative oration but ends as an incitement to riot: “Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—/For Brutus is an honourable man;/So are they all, all honourable men—/Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.”

Hazel read William Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” a poem that commemorates or remembers London before sunrise, “The river glideth at his own sweet will:/Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;/And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

Gail read a shortened version of Yevgeni’s Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar,” a poem that became a monument commemorating an horrific event, “No monument stands over Babi Yar./A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone./I am afraid./Today, I am as old/As the entire Jewish race itself.”

Christiana read “Grand Central” by Billy Collins, which reads in its entirety:

The city orbits around eight million
centers of the universe
and turns around the golden clock
at the still point of this place.

Lift up your eyes from the moving hive
and you will see time circling
under a vault of stars and know
just when and where you are.

Linda read “Villanelle for an Anniversary” by Seamus Heaney, composed about the founder of Harvard University, “Begin again where frosts and tests were hard./Find yourself or founder. Here, imagine/A spirit moves, John Harvard walks the yard,/The books stand open and the gates unbarred.”

Eileen read Primo Levi’s “Shema” in which he substitutes knowledge of the holocaust for the well-known Jewish prayer, “Consider that this has been:/I commend these words to you./Engrave them on your hearts.”

Terry read “The Dogwood Tree” by Curtis Moorman, a poem she announced was not very good but that intrigued her because the author wrote prolifically from jail, “Legend says of the Dogwood tree/That on it, Christ was crucified/His blood was shed for you and me/When the soldier pierced His side.”

Vincent read “Normandy, the Impossible Made Possible,” a poem he had written and published describing the landing of the Allies, “Into the face of death, they forged our destiny,/Changing the course of history.”

Maria read William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” which examines how a scene can be remembered, “For oft, when on my couch I lie/In vacant or in pensive mood,/They flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude;/And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

AnnaLee completed the circle with Mary Jo Bang’s “The Role of Elegy,” which describes a type of commemorative poem, and explores the poet’s difficulty memorializing her son’s death: “The role of elegy is/To put a death mask on tragedy,/A drape on the mirror.”

Scott couldn’t make the meeting but found a poem celebrating an event in the Boer War, which included the lines:

They went across the veldt,
As hard as they could pelt.

Like much of commemorative poetry, these lines are awful. Unfortunately great poetry cannot usually be composed on command.

We look forward to the poems you bring for Poetry and Punctuation. As a reminder, OPPC is not for reading poems you have written, but an opportunity to appreciate well-established poets. 

Find a poem! Show up! Read a poem! Discuss a poem!

Fall 2017 Schedule

October 17: Poetry and Punctuation
November 14: Poetry and Power
December 12: Poetry and Windows

Abigail Burnham Bloom and
AnnaLee Wilson

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

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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.