On Father’s Day

Normally, no matter the classes I teach each semester, I always do a poetry unit. Often, I break the poems up either by time period or by theme, and when I do it by theme, I always include a section on parents/sons and parents/daughters. I tend to change the poems up every year and have included work by Natasha Tretheway, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Toi Derricotte, Theodore Roethke, among others. But no matter how I change the unit, I always include “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, one of the poet’s most famous works, and also one of my favorite American poems.

Like me, a product of an economically depressed, blue-collar coal mining town, my students always relate to the poem. No matter the semester or the type of students, I always get a positive reaction to the poem. The students can relate to the father’s labor, the way he starts the fire,  warms the home, polishes the son’s shoes, and yet, expects no thank yous. The poem is beautiful and tender, rich in its language in just 14 short lines. In a lot of ways, it makes me think of and remember my father, dead 10 years come February. He too labored hard but did not expect praise, even though he picked me up from school daily and like my mother, spent years working to carve out a good life for his kids.

I encourage you on this Father’s Day to click the link to the poem and enjoy it. Here’s another link, one to a short audio podcast from The Poetry Foundation on “Those Winter Sundays.” It includes a recording of Hayden reading the poem, some background on him, and analysis by another favorite poet of mine, Terrance Hayes.

Finally, I’ll end this blog post with a link to one of my poems, “Waiting Room,”. Enjoy, and Happy Father’s Day!

Poets on Stamps

The United States Postal Service has decided to create stamps in honor of some of some of the most influential 20th Century American poets. The list includes Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Theodore Roethke, Denise Levertov, and Joseph Brodsky (who was actually born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, after he was exiled by the Soviet government). If you like poetry and haven’t heard of most of these names, pick up a contemporary American poetry anthology or their collections. A lot of them shaped and influenced the genre not only through their poems, but also through their essays on craft.

 

As is, this list stands as a pretty good representation of some of the most influential poets of the last century. I did wonder why some names were left off, though. It’s funny to see William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens pictured on stamps, but not T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the other two godfathers of Modernism. Sure Pound and Eliot spent part or even most of their careers oversees, but they were born in America. I also wonder why Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell (Sylvia Plath’s early mentor), don’t get a stamp. And what about Whitman and Dickinson?  I’m hoping there will be another set of stamps to feature some more poets. But it’s cool the USPS is even releasing this set, which I’ll buy and save once it’s released.