We have good reason to celebrate the extraordinary poets who have lived and worked in New Jersey. Below are excerpts from a few of their poems. Included are classical and contemporary works, Pulitzer prize winners, and a poem about Chris Christie.
Asphodel, That Green Flower – by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack of what is found there.”
Leaves of Grass – by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
“A child said ‘What is the grass?’ Fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is anymore than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.”
Burying Father – by BJ Ward (b. 1967)
“In Seaside Heights, New Jersey, my father would shade us
with his huge beer belly that curved down
over the copper snap of his red cut-offs.”
The Gull – by Madeline Tiger (b. 1934)
“The huge grey gull
over the Jersey Turnpike
steely as Amtrak
crosses long above this
toward the seashore.”
Ka’Ba by – Amiri Baraka (1934-2014)
“A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.“
Ambush – by Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947)
Headless shadows skirt the hedgerow.
A crossroad for lost birds
calling to the dead.
& then a sound that makes you jump
in your sleep years later,
the cough of a mortar tube.
News Item – by Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
“Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.”
War is Kind – by Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
“A man said to the universe:
‘Sir, I exist!’
‘However,’ replied the universe,
‘The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.’’
Homecoming by Charles Johnson (b. 1947)
“The country I call home
lies at the end of a road
as I speed from the setting sun
into the night rising to swallow
every daylight disappointment.”
Watch List – by George Witte
“Each night’s color coded panic level,
each spike of chatter the authorities
deem meaningful becomes less real, a cry
we villagers ignore, too often warned.
It isn’t news unless it entertains
or terrifies, depending on your taste.”
The Black Family Pledge – by Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
We pledge to bind ourselves to one another, to embrace our
lowliest, to keep company with our loneliest, to educate our illiterate,
to feed our starving, to clothe our ragged, to do all good things,
knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters.
We ARE our brothers and sisters.
Howl – by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”
Love Calls us to the Things of this World – by Richard Wilbur (b. 1921)
“The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.”
Bay Way Elizabeth, Six A.M., EST – by Joe Weil (b. 1958)
“Early morning, Bay Way.
I walk upwind from the oil tanker herds,
enter the same disquieting stillness.
I remember from thirty years ago,
watching my father sleep off a double shift.”
Sparrow Hawk above a New Jersey Cornfield – by Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938)
“So the the shadow of death skims lightly
the snow at our feet, the beak hidden,
the silhouette taut with grace.”
The Figured Wheel – by Robert Pinsky (b. 1940)
The figured wheels roll through shopping malls and prisons,
Over farms, small and immense, and the rotten little downtowns.
Covered with symbols, it mills everything alive and grinds
The remains of the dead in the cemeteries, in unmarked graves and oceans.
Ozone Journal – by Peter Balakian (b. 1951)
“This road goes north –
no need to ask where you are,
sentimental pop songs are stuck in the CD shuffle
there’s a valley, a river, a smoking something –
if you ask what color is the sky
can anyone say – cloudless, clotted, open?”
Chris Christie: The Empty Vessel – by Sara Cress
“Adrift, a ship’s direction changes course
with every heavy gale that tempests by,
until the worst, with brutal, ruthless force,
assumes the wheel, then best intentions die.
“O, let me be a vessel for your voice!”
the broken man did howl above the rage,
“I do believe you are the only choice
to whip a mob to frenzy in this age!”
Poetry – by Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
“If you demand on the one hand
the raw material of poetry in all its rawness
and that which is on the other hand genuine,
you are interested in poetry.”
Many of the above poems appear in The Poets of New Jersey – from Colonial to Contemporary edited by Emanuel di Pasquale, Frank Finale, and Sander Zulauf – Jersey Shore Publications 2005 (available at your public library, a bookstore and online.) By googling the text you can obtain the complete poem in most cases.