Friday, March 30, 2007

The Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld

I pulled this "found poem" off Slate. It has a zen koan quality to it.

I miss Rumsfeld, in a way. In the way that I know I'll miss Sanjaya.

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Donald Henry Rumsfeld (born July 9, 1932) is a U.S. politician and businessman, who was the 13th Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford from 1975–1977, and the 21st Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush from 2001–2006. He is both the youngest (43 years old) and the oldest (74 years old) person to have held the position.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley was a maverick: a renowned atheist and proponent of "free love" when such things were decidedly unfashionable. He was good friends with the notorious Lord Byron, and his brilliant wife Mary wrote the decidedly "un-womanly" Frankenstein, one of the first great novels.

As a poet, he was ambitious and passionate, and is criticized for letting his poems get out of control. I think Ozymandias, however, is extraordinarily tight, as Shelley manages to squeeze a sort of epic resonance into a sonnet.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
'Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792 in Sussex, England. He is considered to be one of the great poets of the British Romantic Period along with William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and John Keats. Like Keats, Shelley died young, drowning in a shipwreck shortly before his thirtieth birthday.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Possum Crossing by Nikki Giovanni

Possum Crossing

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .
relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live

Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and raised in Ohio. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, and several magazines have named her Woman of the Year, including Essence, Mademoiselle, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently Professor of English and Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies at Virginia Tech.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An Old Cracked Tune by Stanley Kunitz

I had the pleasure of meeting Stanley Kunitz while I was studying at the University of Virginia. He told terrific stories, having been close to some of the great American poets of the century. He even claimed to have "discovered" Gerard Manley Hopkins, when he pulled an obscure collection of poems off a library shelf and opened the book to Hopkins' now famous poem "God's Grandeur." Kunitz said he was immediately impressed, and with Kunitz's backing, so soon was the rest of the literary community.

An Old Cracked Tune

My name is Solomon Levi,
the desert is my home,
my mother's breast was thorny,
and father I had none.

The sands whispered, Be separate,
the stones taught me, Be hard.
I dance, for the joy of surviving,
on the edge of the road.

Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905. He attended Harvard College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1926 and a master's degree in 1927. He served in the Army in World War II, after a request for conscientious objector status was denied. Following the war, he began teaching, first at Bennington College in Vermont, and later at universities including Columbia, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Washington. He was named Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2000. He died at the age of 100 on May 14, 2006.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Silverstein's work, which he illustrated himself, is characterized by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre and the just plain silly. His wicked, giddy humor is beloved by countless adults as well as by children. He died in May 1999.