Thursday, October 7, 2010

Whitman and Dickinson

The final emergence of a truly indigenous English-language poetry in the United States was the work of two poets, Walt Whitman (1819–1892) and Emily Dickinson  (1830–1886). On the surface, these two poets could not have been less alike. Whitman's long lines, derived from the metric of the King James Version of the Bible, and his democratic inclusiveness stand in stark contrast with Dickinson's concentrated phrases and short lines and stanzas, derived from Protestant hymnals.

What links them is their common connection to Emerson (a passage from whom Whitman printed on the second edition of Leaves of Grass), and the daring originality of their visions. These two poets can be said to represent the birth of two major American poetic idioms—the free metric and direct emotional expression of Whitman, and the gnomic obscurity and irony of Dickinson—both of which would profoundly stamp the American poetry of the 20th century.
The development of these idioms, as well as more conservative reactions against them, can be traced through the works of poets such as Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935), Stephen Crane (1871–1900), Robert Frost (1874–1963) and Carl Sandburg (1878–1967). Frost, in particular, is a commanding figure, who aligned strict poetic meter, particularly blank verse and terser lyrical forms, with a "vurry Amur'k'n" (as Pound put it) idiom. He successfully revitalized a rural tradition with many English antecedents from his beloved Golden Treasury and produced an oeuvre of major importance, rivaling or even excelling in achievement that of the key modernists and making him, within the full sweep of more traditional modern English-language verse, a peer of Hardy and Yeats. But from Whitman and Dickson the outlines of a distinctively new organic poetic tradition, less indebted to English formalism than Frost's work, were clear to see, and they would come to full fruition in the teens and twenties.
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Poetry in the colonies

As England's contact with the Americas increased after the 1490s, explorers sometimes included verse with their descriptions of the "New World." Up through 1650, the year of Anne Dudley Bradstreet's "The Tenth Muse," which was written in America (most likely in Ipswich, Massachusetts or North Andover, Massachusetts) and printed/distributed in London, England, there are 14 such writers whom we might on that basis call American poets (they had actually been to America and to different degrees, wrote poems or verses about the place). Early examples include a 1616 "testimonial poem" on the sterling warlike character of Captain John Smith (in Barbour, ed. "Works") and Rev. William Morrell's 1625 "Nova Anglia" or "New England," which is a rhymed catalog of everything from American weather to glimpses of Native women, framed with a thin poetic "conceit" or "fiction" characterizing the country as a "sad and forlorn" female pining for English domination. Then in May 1627 Thomas Morton of Merrymount---an English West Country outdoorsman, attorney at law, man of letters and colonial adventurer---raised a Maypole to celebrate and foster more success at this fur-trading plantation and nailed up a "Poem" and "Song" (one a densely-literary manifesto on how English and Native people came together there and must keep doing so for a successful America; the other a light "drinking song" also full of deeper American implications). These were published in book form along with other examples of Morton's American poetry in "New English Canaan" (1637); and based on the criteria of "First," "American" and Poetry," they make Morton (and not Anne Bradstreet) America's first poet in English. (See Jack Dempsey, ed., "New English Canaan by Thomas Morton of 'Merrymount'" and his biography "Thomas Morton: The Life & Renaissance of an Early American Poet" Scituate MA: Digital Scanning 2000).

One of the first recorded poets of the British colonies was Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672), who remains one of the earliest known women poets who wrote in English. The poems she published during her lifetime address religious and political themes. She also wrote tender evocations of home, family life and of her love for her husband, many of which remained unpublished until the 20th century.

Edward Taylor (1645–1729) wrote poems expounding Puritan virtues in a highly wrought metaphysical style that can be seen as typical of the early colonial period.

This narrow focus on the Puritan ethic was, understandably, the dominant note of most of the poetry written in the colonies during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The earliest "secular" poetry published in New England was by Samuel Danforth in his "almanacks" for 1647–1649, published at Cambridge; these included "puzzle poems" as well as poems on caterpillars, pigeons, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Of course, being a Puritan minister as well as a poet, Danforth never ventured far from a spiritual message.

Another distinctly American lyric voice of the colonial period was Phillis Wheatley, a slave whose book "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," was published in 1773. She was one of the best-known poets of her day, at least in the colonies, and her poems were typical of New England culture at the time, meditating on religious and classical ideas.

The 18th century saw an increasing emphasis on America itself as fit subject matter for its poets. This trend is most evident in the works of Philip Freneau (1752–1832), who is also notable for the unusually sympathetic attitude to Native Americans shown in his writings, sometimes reflective of a skepticism toward Anglo-American culture and civilization.[8] However, as might be expected from what was essentially provincial writing, this late colonial poetry is generally somewhat old-fashioned in form and syntax, deploying the means and methods of Pope and Gray in the era of Blake and Burns.

On the whole, the development of poetry in the American colonies mirrors the development of the colonies themselves. The early poetry is dominated by the need to preserve the integrity of the Puritan ideals that created the settlement in the first place. As the colonists grew in confidence, the poetry they wrote increasingly reflected their drive towards independence. This shift in subject matter was not reflected in the mode of writing which tended to be conservative, to say the least. This can be seen as a product of the physical remove at which American poets operated from the center of English-language poetic developments in London.
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American poetry

American poetry, the poetry of the United States, arose first as efforts by colonists to add their voices to English poetry in the 17th century, well before constitutionally unified thirteen colonies (although before this, a strong oral tradition often likened to poetry existed among Native American societies. Unsurprisingly, most of the early colonists' work relied on contemporary British models of poetic form, diction, and theme. However, in the 19th century, a distinctive American idiom began to emerge. By the later part of that century, when Walt Whitman was winning an enthusiastic audience abroad, poets from the United States had begun to take their place at the forefront of the English-language avant garde citation needed.

This position was sustained into the 20th century to the extent that Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot were perhaps the most influential English-language poets in the period during World War I. By the 1960s, the young poets of the British Poetry Revival looked to their American contemporaries and predecessors as models for the kind of poetry they wanted to write. Toward the end of the millennium, consideration of American poetry had diversified, as scholars placed an increased emphasis on poetry by women, African Americans, Hispanics, Chicanos and other subcultural groupings. Poetry, and creative writing in general, also tended to become more professionalized with the growth of creative writing programs in the English studies departments of campuses across the country.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking

I'm sitting up late tonight,
writing down the thoughts
that keep me from sleep.

My heart is full of pain.
You're out on the town with your new love.

I hope she gets a run in her pantyhose
and the zipper on her new dress breaks;
or maybe you find out her breasts are fake.

I hope your face breaks out in zits
and she thinks your breath stinks;
and I hope you bend down and rip the seat of your pants.

When you get to the restaurant I hope the food is cold,
I hope the wine is sour and the bread has mold
(a case of food poisoning would be neat).
And I hope when you start dancing she throws up on your feet.

If all these things could happen,
maybe I could sleep.
And with a rested mind
I could wish for some more things to happen to you . . .

But it still won't be enough.

Debbie Ledet
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When He Died

When He Died

Lights are flashing, people are dashing,
it's so cold out it would kill a snowman,
Cash register's ringing, Caroler's singing,
and a man digs through a trash can.

Everyone's shopping, nobody's stopping,
as he holds out the paper cup he's found,
With holiday cheer, filling the air,
he begs from his seat on the cold ground.

Music is playing, everyone's saying,
Merry Christmas and oh yes Happy New Year,
Yet all step around, the man on the ground,
pretending there's no one to see there.

Hungry and cold, broken and old,
With a beard and all dirty they think he's strange,
Their filled with detest, by his simple request,
can you please help me out with some spear change.

No one would dare, to venture near,
the old man with change to be given,
All stepped aside, as he walked with no pride,
to the alley with the box that he lives in.

On the way there, he happened hear,
these words from the mouth of a small child,
Look! Santa Claus!, which made him pause,
then he turned and he winked and he smiled.

His eyes twinkled bright, on that cold winters night,
when he climbed in his box from the storm,
As he laid down his head, on his newspaper bed,
the words of that child kept him warm.

And the very next day, when they brushed away,
the snow from the box where he lied,
They all thought it strange, he'd have cup fill of change,
and a smile on his face when he died.

TrueBlu9
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Santa Claus is coming Poem

Santa Claus is coming Poem
He comes in the night! He comes in the night!
He softly, silently comes;
While the little brown heads on the pillows so white
Are dreaming of bugles and drums.
He cuts through the snow like a ship through the foam,
While the white flakes around him whirl;
Who tells him I know not, but he Findeth the home
Of each good little boy and girl.

His sleigh it is long, and deep, and wide;
It will carry a host of things,
While dozens of drums hang over the side,
With the sticks sticking under the strings.
And yet not the sound of a drum is heard,
Not a bugle blast is blown,
As he mounts to the chimney-top like a bird,
And drops to the hearth like a stone.

The little red stockings he silently fills,
Till the stockings will hold no more;
The bright little sleds for the great snow hills
Are quickly set down on the floor.
Then Santa Claus mont to the roof like a bird,
And glides to his seat in the sleigh;
Not a sound of a bugle or drum is heard
As he noiselessly gallops away.

He rides to the East, and he rides to the West,
Of his goodies he touches not one;
He eateth the crumbs of the Christmas feast
When the dear little folks are done.
Old Santa Claus doth all that he can;
This beautiful mission is his;
Then, children be good to the little old man,
When you find who the little man is.
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Christmas is here Poem

Christmas is here Poem

A good time is coming, I wish it were here,

The very best time in the whole of the year;

I'm counting each day on my fingers and thumbs --

the weeks that must pass before Santa Claus comes.

Then when the first snowflakes begin to come down,

And the wind whistles sharp and the branches are brown,

I'll not mind the cold, though my fingers it numbs,

For it brings the time nearer when Santa Claus comes.
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