Dead Poets’ Society

Riding the bike with my dog Elliot early this morning, I notice that most of the leaves have been blown away in the strong, recent winds, leaving us without the bright color of autumn, but allowing us to see farther.

As we approach Samhain, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, that turning point of the year for which there are many names, I think of the many American poets in the generation born in the 20s and 30s who have died this year:  Maxine Kumin, Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and very recently, Carolyn Kizer and, just this week, Galway Kinnell. Simin Behbahani, the “Lionness of Iran,” also died this year at the age of 87.

Most of the poets named above were also activists as well as poets.

Killing Them Softly: Iraq’s Poetic Justice gives more background about Iraq poet Nabil Nehme al-Jabiri and his earlier convoy of poets to Baghdad this month.  Writer Randy Robinson discusses the world-wide use of poetry to center people, to re-call them to themselves in heightened moments. Likewise, In the most recent edition of Poets & Writers, Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts notes“…there is something about the act of codifying and distilling the language into a piece of art that’s different  [from the way we usually talk]…there is still something ceremonial and ritualistic about the poem…That heightened place gives poetry its great power in our culture, and maybe that’s why we turn to it for inaugurations and weddings and funerals. Poetry moves us in a different, powerful way.”

Here in America, Michael Brown was recently eulogized in spoken word, poetry, and song in Ferguson, MO. One observer noted, “This is a sacred space and beyond the yelling, we want people to get quiet and centered about what this is really about – a family is in mourning and a community is grieving.” See more here.

It is always hard for one generation to understand the lived history of a previous generation. However, I have come to believe that poetry which comes from one’s depth will always speak to those of the future, no matter the outer, changed circumstances.

In yesterday’s New York Times obituary by Daniel Lewis, Kinnell is quoted as saying,  “To me poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” For your pleasure, here is him reading his poem Blackberry Eating (1980).


Rabia al-Basri (717-801),a  poet and Sufi mystic who lived in what is now Iraq, is  depicted in this water color painting. She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love (Source: Nida, Naushad’s blog Harvard Law School site).


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