Sunday, April 30, 2023

Poetry Month 2023 Wrap Up and Murfin Verse for May Day

National Poetry Month 2023 is drawing to a close and so is this blogs annual celebration of verse.  I know poetry is not everyone things, but over the years we have developed a small following for our selections.  Most of the time when I start out, I don’t know exactly what shape a new series will take.  This year was a little less international than some although Canadians, Ukrainians, and an Ecuadorian were represented.  We ran heavily to contemporary or near contemporary writers and were pretty balanced between men and women.  Black voices shone, as did Native or First Nation writers and a Latina.  A lot of familiar favorites of the past didn’t make it, but perhaps readers came away with new discoveries.  But I did find space for my own trivial verse, but, hell, I own this pop stand and if I don’t give myself a break, who will?

In fact, we will close out with Murfin verse.  Tomorrow is May Day, among other things International Labor Day and the celebration revered Social Democrats, Socialists, Marxists, Anarchists, Syndicalists, and old Wobblies like your scribe.  More on that story tomorrow.  In 2017 I wrote this short poem for a big Chicago May Day March.  I had been somewhat irked by timid posts by some business unions and Democratic pols trying to endorse the action without sounding Red.

                                   May Day in Chicago, 2017.

It Ain’t May I Day

May 1, 2017


It ain’t May I Day, Bub!

No, siree.

It’s get the hell out of our way

May Day,

beg no damn pardon

May Day,

get your paws off of her

May Day,

leave those kids alone

May Day,

all hands on deck

May Day,

we and us and ours

May Day,

five finger fist

May Day,

We win,

May Day


May Day,

Get it now?


—Patrick Murfin


Saturday, April 29, 2023

If Talk Could Exalt a Nation by Jerry Pendergast —National Poetry Month 2023

Jerry Pendergast reading.

The work of Jerry Pendergast, Chicago poet, poetry slam emcee, and contributor to the Revolutionary Poets Brigade Facebook group, has regularly been featured in our National Poetry Month posts.  His work is influenced by jazz, Irish cultural identity, urban observation, and a keen sense of social justice.  Today’s verse is inspired by his Irish roots.

                                Oscar Wilde.

If Talk Could Exalt a Nation

“We Irish are too Poetic to be poets…We are a nation of brilliant failures.

But we are the greatest talkers since the Greeks”. Oscar Wilde


If a stanza a river long

could sink a battle ship

If a run on sentence

taking a hearer through the mess u ages

could make a regiment

charging through a city street

drop their rifles.


If a tail end

of a narration

could disable a tank.


Wheels falling

with each change

Each embellishment

If an O’Carolan Concerto

Could misdirect a Cavalry

Put their commanders in a trance

If pipers could melt swords

Would Ireland be free?

Would it ever have been conquered?


If master fiddlers could make clergy

and officials scatter their thoughts

Dance like there were no floor director

Would Ireland imprison Wild Earnest Men?


Force young Women into work houses

for being young woman like?

or victims? Tell them their sins

are washed down the sink.?

Ban novels that win international awards?


Or would the state and the church

Be more well rounded.

Like the Ethiopian and Celtic crosses.


Jerry Pendergast


Friday, April 28, 2023

Verse for America’s Original Tree Hugger Holiday—National Poetry Month 2023

Before Earth Day, Arbor Day was the primary environmental celebration and semi-holiday in the United States.  And for a while it was a very big deal with tens of thousands of volunteers across the country planting and tending trees.  The results were breath taking. 

Arbor Day is often credited with re-foresting American cities and towns.  Old 19th Century photographs reveal that many were barren urban wastelands long denuded foliage with buildings jammed together and coming right up to streets and crude sidewalks.  In Chicago, for instance, Daniel Burnhams famous network of grand boulevards which radiated from the downtown core piercing the neighborhoods with trees was influenced by the Arbor Day movement.  Later the smaller boulevards—the local name for the strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street—were planted with trees, many by the CCC during the Great Depression.  Not only did all of those trees greatly improve the look of the city, they helped dramatically clean the air and provided much needed shade that helped cool city folk through sweltering summers.  Some sociologists even noted a reduction in crime in neighborhoods with trees.

Tree planting festivals have been traced by to the Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra in 1805 where a local Priest organized a three day fiesta around planting hundreds of trees.  The custom spread to neighboring villages and towns.

In America Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by Democratic politician and later Secretary of Agriculture Julius Sterling Morton at Nebraska City, Nebraska.  That first year 10,000 trees were planted in and around the community.  Anyone who has ever visited Nebraska can attest to the crying need for trees on its vast High Plains.  Morton’s son, Joy Morton, the founder of the Morton Salt Company in Chicago, shared his father’s enthusiasm and founded the Morton Arboretum in suburban Lyle centered on the grounds of his estate.

An Arbor Day tree planting in 1887.  Looks to be on the grounds of a High Plains school.

The first observance drew national attention and soon other towns were emulating it.  By 1883 the American Forestry Association officially endorsed Arbor Day and named Birdseye Northrop of Connecticut as Chairman of a committee to make the day an official national celebration.  Birdseye, who liked to travel, also introduced the idea to Japan, Australia, Canada, and back to Europe.

In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States.  It became an annual tradition.  Eventually Congress designated the final Friday of April for the observance and several states made it a holiday. 

In the early years the Boy Scouts were heavily mobilized for tree planting and many troops continue that tradition.  As observed, the CCC and the WPA in conjunction with the National Forest Service were employed during the Depression.

Tree plantings continue, but the spotlight seldom shines on Arbor Day anymore.

But we can celebrate with poetry, naturally.  Poets probably have been versifying about trees since the first bard plucked his lyre.  Yet most of us can only recall Joyce Kilmers Trees.  With apologies to Kilmer who was killed in the trenches of World War I just as his hymn to trees was becoming famous.   It is a pretty bad poem filled with mixed and conflicting metaphors.  We can do better.

Alan Keitt is a poet with a special interest in the intersection of spirituality and ecology.  This poem and other work appeared in Gatherings: Seeking Ecopsychology, an on-line journal published in the early years of the current century.

A venrable live oak.

The Live Oak Chronicles

You came a volunteer

when the fires no longer scourged the wiregrass

and chased old gopher turtle down his hole

You saw it didn’t you—

The felling of the longleaf pines for the field

a hundred years ago

You heard the lathering mule grunt

as the straight plow hung on the grandaddy rock

You felt it didn’t you—

as they ringed your roots

with the rocky spawn of the field

You saw the rough stone pilings

and the raw cypress boards and battens

You saw it when the rusty roof was shiny new

and the Pecan trees were full of nuts

You heard it, didn’t you—

when the singing stopped and the prayers began

and all the laughter and the tears

You saw them leave

following mama's body

down the old mail road

for the last time

You saw us too—didn’t you

digging lighter stumps

to free the buried sunlight

of two centuries

in my stove

But at the center of your triune trunk

there came a moldering,

only a crack at first

One night, alone

with the abandoned house

and the fields fallow

your mossy beard

began to stream eastward

Was it a roiling front that came

or the summer's anvil cloud

You leaned with it

as a thousand times before

and just never came back up

Soon the last of your Siamese siblings

split off balance and wounded at the core

will lean its way one last time

And from the new light

above the ruin

of your descended majesty

the birds will come

as jewels for your shroud.


Alan Keitt


Naomi Shihab Nye is an American, an Arab, a poet, a parent, and a woman of Texas.  She is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother and lived in Jerusalem, in St. Louis, and now with her own family in San Antonio, Texas.


Palestinian Fig tree.


My Father and the Fig Tree


For other fruits, my father was indifferent.
He’d point at the cherry trees and say,
“See those? I wish they were figs.”
In the evening he sat by my beds
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a figtree.
Even when it didn’t fit, he'd stick it in.
Once Joha1 was walking down the road and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him, his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
“That’s not what I’m talking about!” he said,
“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth—

gift of Allah!—on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.
I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest,
 sweetest fig
in the world and putting it in my mouth.”
(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Years passed, we lived in many houses,
none had figtrees.
We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
“Plant one!” my mother said.
but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
“What a dreamer he is. Look how many things he starts and doesn’t finish.”

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song
I’d never heard. “What’s that?”
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig in the world.
“It’s a fig tree song!” he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
emblems, assurance
of a world that was always his own.

1A trickster figure in Palestinian folktales

–Naomi Shihab Nye

Weeping Willow by Claude Monet

Kathleen Lohr is a Los Angeles based poet and screenwriter whose work has appeared in local and regional literary magazines including The Moment, Red Dancefloor Press, For the Lives of Us, Dance of the Iguana, Blue Satellite, 50%, Poetry Motel, Shelia na Gig, and Chiron Review.

The Weeping Tree

When the wild mouths
of first love promise
the willow listens.

The earth tastes of silence
and grey swings creak
on butter-soft porches
phrases sway
then fall like feathers
and the willow listens.

While babies smell of jazz
their cries like small mice
in the jasmine silvered nights
and the lights surrounded by moths
whose wings flutter
uncertain on the edges of black
the willow listens.

Inside bricked rooms
when grampa lays
aside his coffee spoon
because the moon is made
of blue cheese
not green
the willow listens.

Sides are chosen
no matter which
it’s the spirit of the thing
and still the willow
with its branches bent
the tips brushing the grass
like loving brooms
listens, listens.

As time is laid aside
like pine cones
that roll on empty roofs
over evening shutters
or morning lace
when the children say
see, see the willow tree
the willow still listens
and weeps.

Kathleen Lohr


All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace illustration by the author.

We will end with that counter-cultural mystic Richard Brautigan who decades ago had this vision.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Richard Brautigan