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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. 

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On November 4 the One Page Poetry Circle met to discuss Poetry and Politics.

DonkeyAndElephantAbigail began by reading Hilaire Belloc’s “The Justice of the Peace” in which the speaker chides his tenant, “I do not envy you your hat, your shoe./Why should you envy me my small estate?/It’s fearfully illogical of you/To fight with economic force and fate.” We laughed sadly at the irony of the poem describing a world in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Roger read “Ozymandias” by John Keats. A traveller has seen a broken statue in the desert, “Nothing beside remains./Round the decay/Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away,” reminding us of the death of all tyrants and civilizations.

Hazel read Vachel Lindsay’s “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” which describes Lincoln mourning over the state of the world, “It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,/That all his hours of travail here for men/Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace/That he may sleep upon his hill again?” Our first three poems all envision a world in which the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Gail read “Exquisite Politics” by Denise Duhamel which describes conflicting attitudes about the United States with humor, “Someday … I’ll leave [America] as easy as a marriage,/splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage/before the other side yells: Wow! America,/Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.”

Karen read two short poems by Calvin Trillin. Here is “An Optimist Greets the New Speaker” in full: “It’s true for greed this has to be a gainer/(To lobbyists John Boehner’s on retainer)./Can anything be said for Speaker Boehner?/Yes. Others in the party are insaner.” These poems provided a good laugh on a day when we were not laughing about the state of politics.

Terry read from Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” written for the inauguration of President Clinton. The poem ends, “Here on the pulse of this new day/You may have the grace to look up and out/And into your sister’s eyes, into/Your brother’s face, your country/And say simply/Very simply/With hope/Good morning.”

AnnaLee completed our circle by reading another poem by Denise Duhamel, “Exquisite Candidate” which gives us a hodge-podge of candidates’ pledges, “I can promise you this: food in the White House/will change! No more granola, only friend eggs/flipped the way we like them. And ham ham ham!” AnnaLee noted that the title of this poem, as well as the poem that Gail read, reference the parlor game, Exquisite Corpse, in which a piece of paper is folded and rolled and each participant adds to the picture of a person in sequence (but without seeing what the others have done) until like the poem, there is a composite of a body from head to toes.

We were delighted to learn that one member of our group, Esther Lazarson, published a book of poetry, “Everyday Poems for Everyday People,” available from amazon.com.

And finally, Larry who moved away but has remained a friend of OPPC, posted two Robinson Jeffers poems to our blog on the subject of Poetry and Politics. See what Larry has to say at https://onepagepoetrycircle.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/oppc-november-4-poetry-politics/#comments .

We look forward to reading and discussing your selections for our next program, Poetry and Drink on December 9th.

Bring a friend and widen the circle! And remember to blog with us at onepagepoetrycircle.wordpress.com. Don’t be shy.

Schedule for the spring:
February 10: Poems about every day things
March 10: Poetry and red
April 14: Lyric poetry
May 12: Poetry and health

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.