Billy Collins pays tribute to his favorite 17 year old high school girl

Poem in Your Pocket

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I heard Billy Collins, who has twice been chosen as the United States Poet Laureate, read this on a National Public Radio program and it stuck with me.

To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl 

Billy Collins

Do you realize that if you had started

building the Parthenon on the day you were born

you would be all done in only two more years?

Of course, you would have needed lots of help,

so never mind, you’re fine just as you are.

You are loved for simply being yourself.

But did you know at your age Judy Garland

was pulling down $150,000 a picture,

Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory,

and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room?

No, wait, I mean he had invented the calculator.

Of course, there will be time for all that later in your life

after you come out of your room

and begin to blossom, at least pick up all your socks.

For some reason, I keep remembering that Lady Jane Grey

was Queen of England when she was only fifteen

but then she was beheaded, so never mind her as a role model.

A few centuries later, when he was your age,

Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,

but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies,

four operas, and two complete Masses, as a youngster.

But of course that was in Austria at the height

of romantic lyricism, not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.

Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15

or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?

We think you are special by just being you,

playing with your food and staring into space.

By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,

but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.

Got poetry?

Poem in Your PocketTwo years ago my friend (and poet) Dennis Kirschbaum opened my eyes to Poem in Your Pocket Day (His piece “The Useless Machine” is brilliant). Dennis was kind enough to give me a poem about coffee to have that day, which I have kept with me since then (I confess to making a note once on the back of the folded paper).

This year I invited friends who know and love poetry to share a favorite poem with me in anticipation of Poem in Your Pocket Day. I’ll be posting their choices here.

I’m beginning with Dennis and a poem he wrote.

Blessing for Coffee
Dennis M Kirschbaum

Make the sun shine on leaves and let their roots
drink rain. Strengthen arms and backs to pick

the cherries and wash away flesh to reveal seeds.
Steady ships on the inscrutable sea carrying them

green and raw in burlap to arrive in New York,
L.A. and where the Mississippi empties.

Give wisdom to the roaster bringing heat,
revealing character neither pallid grass nor

so burnt that the surface bleeds pungent oil.
Guide the barista’s tattooed hands as he grinds

fourteen perfect grams into the yawning mouth
of his portafilter and fits it to the group head,

an offering of gifts at the stainless altar. Hold fast
the laws of physics, scramble electrons, build heat,

pressure, force steam through puck into ceramic.
Grant through fortune and the labor of my hands,

spare custom to bestow for this crema capped,
dark measure. Now, while this brain is becalmed

in haze, help me recall the miracles that delivered this
to my lips and let me be worthy of it as it fills me.

Dennis Kirschbaum
Dennis Kirschbaum

Dennis M. Kirschbaum grew up in Baltimore. He has a B.A. in English from Guilford College and an M.A. in Jewish Philosophy from Baltimore Hebrew University. He is an Associate Vice President at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and an Adirondack 46er, having climbed to the summit of the highest mountains in New York State.  His chapbook, Clattering East is available from Finishing Line Press and on Amazon. He lives and writes in Washington Grove, Md.

addition: Dennis is also featured at Author Amok today.

 

 

Poem in Your Pocket

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day, which is part of the month-long celebration of poetry this month.

I had a few ideas on the poem I would carry today, but after Monday’s heartbreaking tragedy in Boston, I returned, as I have many times, to John Lennon’s Imagine.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Got a poem on ya?

As part of National Poetry Month, today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I like poetry but am guilty of not paying a lot of attention to it. I have had several “driveway moments” waiting for the poem on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” and yet it never occurs to me to look for poetry as some of my friends do.

I asked my old friend Dennis Kirschbaum, who staffed The Metaphor Hotline at Guilford, for a poem about coffee (which Dennis loves at least as much as a good metaphor). He didn’t send me one of his own poems, but what he did send is very good, almost as good as his own work.


In Praise of Joe
by Marcy Piercy

I love you hot
I love you iced and in a pinch
I will even consume you tepid.

Dark brown as wet bark of an apple tree,
dark as the waters flowing out of a spooky swamp
rich with tannin and smelling of thick life—

but you have your own scent that even
rising as steam kicks my brain into gear.
I drink you rancid out of vending machines,

I drink you at coffee bars for $6 a hit,
I drink you dribbling down my chin from a thermos
in cars, in stadiums, on the moonwashed beach.

Mornings you go off in my mouth like an electric
siren, radiating to my fingertips and toes.
You rattle my spine and buzz in my brain.

Whether latte, cappuccino, black or Greek
you keep me cooking, you keep me on line.
Without you, I would never get out of bed

but spend my life pressing the snooze
button. I would creep through wan days
in the form of a large shiny slug.

You waken in me the gift of speech when I
am dumb as a rock buried in damp earth.
It is you who make me human every dawn.
All my books are written with your ink.