5 American Poets

The five poems and poets that follow are for English or ESL teachers who are looking to do a class with some poetry.

I made videos to go with the poems just for the fun of it, but also to provide some visual food for thought. I hope they help make the poetry a pleasurable learning experience for students and an added aid for teachers.

I like in the video of Harlem how the girder’s chipped away layers of paint resemble (to my mind anyway) a camel. I noticed it one day waiting for the R train at White Hall Street. It was like a dream. Is it the girder’s dream down in the dark subway tunnel to be a camel? Then it could walk freely through a sunny desert.

I like watching my friend Akram react to the ocean in Sandpiper. He reminds me of a sandpiper. Have you ever played and run away from the waves in the ocean? In what ways do the ebb and flow of Bishop’s lines resemble the ocean folding and coming up the beach?

As I recite Millay’s sonnet, the camera pans back to reveal a target deer whose heart has been ripped apart by arrows. Cupid’s arrows? What is love if it isn’t meat or drink?

And I love how the happy Monkey on 9th Street seems so independent on the corner waiting for no one. Do happiness and independence go hand in hand? I filmed this back in November and the monkey is still there, March 26, a feisty fellow.

When the Figure on 12th Street vanishes under a coat of paint is it like a bad thought disappearing? Are we glad or sad to see it go?

There is a lesson plan for The Fog on this blog:


Fog by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over city and harbor
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg

Harlem by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Elizabeth Bishop

Love is not all by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by pain and moaning for release
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Two short poems by Gregory Corso

Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power.

The spirit of Life
pours thru the death of me
like a river
unafraid of becoming the sea—

Gregory Corso

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