"Good poetry emerges from the wellsprings of the human spirit, and if we are in the right place in ourselves to hear it, it can call forth our own inarticulate knowings, and offer a mirror into the core and the truth of our own life. It can show us the spark, the fire at our center, which, in the end, is the only thing in us likely to endure, the one thing worthy of our true name." -Roger Housden
1. The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Whole Country by Amanda Gorman. This small volume is just one poem. The poem of 2021. Amanda Gorman, its author, swept into our lives and our hearts at just the moment when we thought everything was broken beyond repair: race relations in the country; politics; religion; rights for LGBTQ; COVID-19; Trump and all his lies culminating on an insurrection attempt on January 6th. And yet, here was Amanda Gorman, a beautiful black woman, stepping up to the podium at the inauguration of Joe Biden telling us, through her poetry, that we will be okay. That we have a hill to climb but we can do it. "Somehow we've weathered and witnessed / a nation that isn't broken, /but simply unfinished. And that we will "Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true, / that even as we grieved, we grew, / that even as we hurt, we hoped, / that even as we tired, we tried, / that we'll forever be tied together, victorious. The world stopped as we listened and as we breathed. We will be okay. She finished the poem like it was a prayer:
2. DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi. It has been over sixty years since the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, was set up between North and South Korea. It is likely the most militarized border on the whole planet. In this collection of poems, memoir, collages, letters, drawings, and photos Don Mee Choi's transformative "DMZ Colony comprises an imaginative and highly multimedia mode of accessing a space where human perspective is forbidden" (Chicago Review of Books). It won the National Book Award for Poetry last year. The judges had this to say about the collection,
Devastating and vigilant, this bricolage of survivor accounts, drawings, photographs, and hand-written texts unearth the truth between fact and the critical imagination. We are all “victims of History,” so Choi compels us to witness, and to resist (National Book Award).
I know very little about the Korean conflict, except for what I learned on M.A.S.H., which of course doesn't count. As I read through the book I was very confused, especially as specific names were mentioned and details of their horrible treatment at the hands of the other side were explored. Though the poems were not clear to me intellectually, the feeling tone of them hit me hard. As I closed the book I just sat there stunned. What just happened?
I really won't recommend DMZ Colony to anyone to read except if I happen to run into a Korean War history buff or a person who earned their MFA in poetry. The poems are so complex and require more thought than the average reader (me) is willing to give. I think that this is the kind of poetry that scares people away from reading poetry. I understand why DMZ Colony won the National Book Award, it is stunning and inventive, but I'm guessing that selections like this put more people off than attracts them to the art of poetry.
4. Light for the World to See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope by Kwame Alexander. You many recognize the name of this poet. He is an award-winning author of many middle grade and YA books, The Crossover is one example. Light for the World to See is small collection of three poems for adults. The first, "American Bullet Points" is about the killing of George Floyd. The second, "Take a Knee", is about the activism of Colin Kaepernick. And the third poem, "The Undefeated", is about the election Barack Obama, our first black president.
|from "Take a Knee" by Kwame Alexander|