Kim Stafford’s “Dear America”

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Kim Stafford, son of the late American poet William Stafford, published this striking poem at the end of 2016 during troubled political times in America. Like many poems and speeches of protest, it takes advantage of a number of poetic and rhythmic devices to deliver a powerful response to those men and women who are quickly reshaping this country, for better or worse. Like many poets of witness, Stafford, too, finds a voice that pivots firmly in space, as he seeks to find solid footing in the new spinning and unstable world around us, as if we were all caught in the midst of an earthquake without fully realizing it.

If you were a century, I would be one breath,
striving to speak my honest syllable…

In addition to being a poet and teacher, Kim Stafford is a published and award-winning essayist, editor, and musician. He founded and directs the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Like his father, his poetry and writings deal largely with nature, place, preservation, and the West.

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Haki Madhubuti’s “For the Consideration of Poets”

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African-American poet and author Haki Madhubuti published Run Toward Fear in 2004, where this short poem first appeared. As its title suggests, the poem seems written to challenge poets and writers and shame much poetry and writing being published today in magazines, newspapers, and literary journals. In simple language–the poem is just two short questions–the speaker asks each of us to consider something else in our writing: “a poetry of resistance,” as it is put it in the poem’s opening line. Where is it? Great writers question the validity of what they are writing about and, especially, how they are writing frequently, and Madhubuti reminds us (with a not so gentle slap in the face) that even writers (should) have a responsibility to defy and resist whatever they don’t ethically agree with. Probably an even more important lesson to ponder today.

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Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”

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I love this poem. I first read it after the poem itself had gone viral in the wake of the tragic Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub on June 12, 2016. The shooter, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others before a 3-hour standoff with Orlando police that ended with Mateen being shot and killed. At first, the poem seems simple enough, and even slightly repetitive, but it grows on you. We start to understand the speaker is having some difficulty speaking, almost needing to keep re-forming the words in order to “sell” her children on the false idea of a world that is not “fifty percent terrible.” We begin to see the difficulty of telling our children the horrible truth that our world holds. We are left with “good bones,” though it’s fairly clear by the poem’s end that this is a fantasy. Aren’t we all guilty, to some degree, of selling ourselves a world that isn’t really there?

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