May 31, 2010
A curious thing happened to me yesterday in New York City. Robert Hass read at Poets House and gave a program for children in the morning. I took my six-year-old son, Walker, with me because he’s started writing poems (he’s got me beat by 3 years!) and we spent the day in the City alone together.
When I told Walker we were going to see and hear one of my poetry teachers, he said, “That’s cool, because he taught you and now you’re teaching me and when I have children I’ll teach them…it’s like we’re keeping it going.”
Indeed, it felt like that when I introduced Bob to my son. Bob has grandchildren Walker’s age and it wasn’t lost on me that there was something transpiring between our three generations.
Walker brought one of his poems to share with Bob and handed it to him in an envelope. During the program, in which Bob was reading poems by children from his River of Words project, he pulled out Walker’s poem and asked if Walker wanted to read it. Walker shyly declined and Bob asked for permission to read it to the audience. Walker beamed. (So did I.)
Bob read Walker’s poem and declared, “This is a real poem.” We both smiled. It was a magical moment to have a mentor appreciate the work of your son. I was really feeling blessed that morning.
Later, after wandering around Tribeca and the wonderful riverside parks along the Hudson, Walker and I sat on the rocks behind Poets House in the newly opened South Teardrop Park and listened to Bob and his wife Brenda Hillman read their poems into the late afternoon. What a magical day.
Here is Walker’s poem, “The Snow I’ve Been Waiting For”:
The Snow that crunches beneath my feet.
Oh the wonderful snow, snow, snow.
The snow that tastes so wonderful.
The snow, the snow, the snow.
The snow I’ve been waiting for all along,
The snow I’ve been waiting for all year.
The snow, the snow, the snow.
The Snow I’ve been waiting for.
–Walker Anderson, 6
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For the past 13 years I’ve been sending out a poem-a-week email during National Poetry Month. Each week, I introduce a poem to readers on the list, which is now over 300 strong.
At month’s end, I’m always asked to extend it beyond the month of April. In lieu of that, I think I’ll publish poems from the series here from time to time, as long as I can get the poets’ permission.
(If you’d like to subscribe to the list for next year, send me an email at greenskeptic[at]gmail[dot]com.)
My friend Lee Kravitz — whose memoir, Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things, comes out next month — is a great reader of poetry.
So when he handed me a book of poems at Thanksgiving last year, I knew it would be worth reading.
He told me two things about the book: it was written by another good friend of his and she was an intensive care physician in Washington, DC.
The book was Night Shift by Serena J. Fox. And one thing you quickly learn from her poems is that Dr. Fox is no Dr. Williams making house calls in a small, northern New Jersey community. She started her career in the emergency room of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of the busiest ERs at the time – the early era of AIDS.
(I had an experience at Bellevue in the early 80s – probably while she was in residence there — involving an attempted suicide by a neighbor. It was not a fun place to be back then.)
As a poet, Fox has an uncanny ability to apply her poetic sensibility to the reality she witnesses through her work. I admire the way she seamlessly weaves medical terminology – a rare gift that perhaps only Jane Kenyon mastered before her – and the harshness of life as she sees it into a poetry that transcends reportage.
Fox tackles a variety of forms and styles from traditional lyrics to fragments and more experimental sequences. And she is equally adept at short and long forms — her long poems, including the title poem, “Northeast Coast Corridor,” “Blood Holies,” and “551,880,000 Breaths” are remarkably varied and sustained collages of images and information, stories and voices overheard.
How glad I am that Lee introduced me to her work and pleased that I can introduce a sample of it to you here.
Here is Serena Fox’s poem,
The Road to Çegrano, 1999
(with Patch Adams and Clowns, Skopje, Macedonia)
Pinpricks of poppies
Camps and tents
Of no interest to
Grass and fields—
The other side of
In the camps
A busload of
With the villagers—
Six thousand here
Is the only
Covering the tents
Come armed with
The kids riot for
They quiet for
For the boy
Leg in a
Promises to send
Thank G’d the
What would they have
Done in winter
But where to send
Back to the
Over the fence
Out toward the
Boys, girls, bombs,
–Serena Fox, from Night Shift
(Copyright Serena Fox. Reprinted with permission of the author)
Serena sent me this note about the poem: “In May of 1999 I joined Patch Adams for a one-week trip to Macedonia and the refugee camps holding thousands of people who had scaled snow-covered peaks to get out of Kosovo. We were an eclectic assortment of clown-doctors who had traveled with Patch before and others like me who hoped to contribute in some small way to soothing the chaos going on in the former Yugoslavia.
I thought I was going to deliver intravenous supplies and help set up a clinic outside the camps for women. I also ended up roving the camps with children of all ages and forgoing my usual reserve for my first red rubber nose and a blue wig. As usual the people I met gave me infinitely more than I could ever give back. I was impressed by the efficiency and cleanliness of the UN sponsored camp.
The most vivid sensory memory is that of the foothills covered with poppies, women in the fields wielding scythes, the slowing of time and the redness of the poppies which had the exact quality, for me, of arterial blood.” –SJF