Poets Online Archive: THE BEST

January 2000

In a recent issue, TIME magazine chose "The Waste Land" as the best poem of the century along with Yeat's "The Second Coming" and Frost's "Home Burial."

"In his elegy on the death of Yeats, W.H. Auden wrote that "poetry makes nothing happen" and added, "It survives,/ A way of happening, a mouth." This sentiment seems a long step down from Shelley's 19th century claim that poets are "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." But both statements add up to the same thing: the practical life of getting and spending needs, however grudgingly, the exhilaration and consolation of poetry, of memorable speech, of words striving to be true to themselves." Paul Gray in Time

Do these poems (so solidly members of that "dead poet's society we learned in school) speak to you? With Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project now available as a book and most media recapping the century's best for us, do you feel that your favorites have been selected? Is that need for poetry in you one to read, or to write poetry of your own?

Write a poem that addresses that need to read and write poetry. Consider the place of poetry today. Perhaps, select a poem that inspires you as a starting place. Write about a poet. Write about the act of reading poetry by others. About reading it aloud. About the process of trying to create it.

read the full text of "The Wasteland" with extensive notes
read "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats
read Robert Frost's "Home Burial"

Senryu for Robert Burns

Frozen ground in January
Snowdrops push up through the mud
The poet is born

Greedy boy!
Only the first of many
Your mum's breast

Music in your head
You push the plough through stoney earth
The earth pushes back

You booked passage to Jamaica
In Edinburgh, someone read a poem
Almost a new world

Gold and fame were yours
But you had other things on your mind
Women and song

By day you rode
Checking weights and measures
By night, candlelight and pen

You played a fiddle
Scratched out the ancient tunes
Your pen scratched more sweetly

You played with women
Told some lies and told some truths
Loved the babies

Illness and fever
There was no remedy for this decline
Only cold sea-water

Death came
In the prime of your manhood
Deaf to your songs

Paul Milne


As I drive down the road suffering
from highway hypnosis,
a phrase pops into my head.
It is relentless in its power
to be heard or written.
If I wait, it flutters out
to the wind
never to be seen or heard from

Yesterday, another writer inspired me
to write about recent tragedy.
The words and ideas raced through my head
like a horse trying to get to a finish line.
When I came home, all else forgotten,
the words poured from my mind
to my fingertips
while tears found their well known path
down my face.

After the piece flowed to concrete form,
I sat back, spent
And felt a weight lifted from me.
I could not sleep as I did not want
this wonderful feeling to end.
Today, my step is light
and my heart is on its way to healing.

When I go for long periods of time
keeping the creative forces locked up,
a longing hovers inside
waiting to be fulfilled.
Why do I wait?
Too little time, too many things to do.
In my heart I know
that to be whole
I must let the forces out of their cage
to lighten my load
of the swirl and clash
of life inside.

Tonya Anderson

old friend

i saw you today at the little table
across the room
a young girl hanging on your every word
oh it was you all right
in the same old jacket frayed around the edges
my first thought was to move closer
but i hesitated for i needed to be sitting
with eyes closed at a moment like that
for i may never again be able to purge
an old memory and i needed to
be done with it
would you remember when we first met
in that muddy foxhole in Vietnam?
my buddy yank introduced us
but i brushed you off i was too busy living
and as it turned out, yank was too busy dying
the next day you would remember as
i gathered up yanks personal belongings
to ship to his wife back in Illinois,
i recall her name being Gail
there was a little yank too, there always
seems to be, that's the way it is i guess
inside your jacket i saw the blood smear
as hank held you close he didn't want to die alone
he had said that so many times
after the girl left your table i came up behind you there
and gently lifted the corner of your jacket half expecting to see
the blood dripping from the pages
then the lady with the purple dress and
rhinestone glasses, do all librarians wear
purple dresses? picked you off the table and
put you back upon the shelf
so i just left you there alone
i told some guy at the little bar i stop
at now and then
that I’d seen you again today
he replied  I've heard of Robert Frost
he plays for the Cowboys don't he?

ray cutshaw

I Asked John Ciardi

"What is this need
To read and write?"
In spite of other calls, this one exceeds itself
and has not stilled because,
searching for another light
- a father to my own -
that thundered truths for me
to ponder, willing cause for me
to wonder at his prayer:

"our fathers, whose art was Heaven,
honored be your names.  Our kinship shown,
your need be known on earth
as it were in Heaven.  Show us this way..."

to this day I bless the time
my need to rhyme
sent me to his book,
"How Does a Poem Mean,"
and to his column
in The Saturday Review!

All I've spent on poetry
and all I viewed and gleaned
I''ve  hooked from him.
He's justified my call.
It is all
I've ever needed to proceed.

Catherine M. LeGault

* the quotation in stanza two is from "STATEMENT", The Collected Poems of John Ciardi

Mea Culpa

Searching sustenance, I consider the words,
the echoed chants of long dead poets,
their rhythms, heartbeats still felt
in voices silently reciting verse
and I hear the poems as I whisper
the wants and desires of their
prurient poetic proclivity.
I imagine verse read in their voice,
the intonation, exclamation and gravity
distinguishing mundane from soaring,
a small piece of their souls
as I breathe between stanzas
tasting ecstasy in their art.
Daring to weave my words
into the fabric of their history,
I read my rhythm, my rhyme
in whispered passages, listening
for the faintest hint of possibility.
With the slash of a pen, a broken lead,
I recount my triumphs and failings
and search my heart for immortality.

James Thompson



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