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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.


Welcome to the One Page Poetry Circle at St. Agnes Branch Library!

We met on November 1 to discuss Prose Poems. We loved discussing the difference between poetry and prose and found it to be a thin line indeed.

Abigail opened the circle by reading the first paragraph of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita which begins, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.” Nabokov incorporates the images, meter, alliteration, and density of poetry into his prose.

Roger read the words of two great presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Pearl Harbor Speech” telling the nation about “a date which will live in infamy” and Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” We found Lincoln’s words to be more like poetry, more evocative with more rhythms and figures of speech as he contrasts the living with “these honored dead.”

Hazel read Antony’s famous funeral oration from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,/And I must pause till it come back to me.” Clearly written in poetic lines with an iambic pentameter rhythm the words have the sentence structure of a prose speech.

Phil read the beautiful conclusion of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” Like Nabokov, Joyce was also a poet whose prose is as rich and beautiful as his poetry.

Gail read “Allegory of the Cave” by Stephen Dunn based on Plato’s vision. A man attempts to tell his fellow prisoners what he has learned in the twentieth century but finds himself unable to communicate effectively and eventually, “He just stood here,/confused, a man who had moved/to larger errors, without a prayer.”

Elizabeth read a review from Poetry Magazine by Frederick Seidel of a book of poems by Jonathan Galassi that approached poetry itself, “In the middle of Galassi’s life’s journey, in the middle of the dark woods, the road forked. Galassi had no choice —and chose—and wrote these poems. You have here the music of civilized decency superintending a heart raving and roaring like a lion.”

Eileen read Grace Paley’s “Here” which states with lovely simplicity what life is like for her, “Here I am in the garden laughing/an old woman with heavy breasts/and a nicely mapped face.”

AnnaLee closed the circle by singing a ballad, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a true story of racial injustice, written in the Civil Rights era by Bob Dylan, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. In the final twist of the refrain, “Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/Bury the rag deep in your face/For now’s the time for your tears,” Dylan gives America permission to cry.

Between prose that reads like poetry and poetry that reads like prose, we found the two delightfully intertwined and inseparable. As Peter Johnson explains, “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

We look forward to seeing the works you select for Poetry and Endings and to discussing them with you on December 13. Bring a poem of a known poet. Bring a friend. Show up! And widen the circle! Without your support the library may find other uses for the spacious room they’ve given us.

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Fall Schedule:
December 13, Poetry and Endings

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.