A Poem-A-Day Celebration

Throughout the month of April, Alfred A. Knopf and Tumblr are celebrating poetry in this space. So for a steady stream of poetry, follow this blog, read and share the poems, and be sure to submit your own.
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… And she who was driving said,
We know the coming disaster intimately but the present is unknowable.

Which disaster, I wondered, sexual or geological? But I was shy:
her beauty was like a language she didn’t speak and had never heard.

From “The Present”

As promised, Alfred A. Knopf is hosting a giveaway for D. Nurkse’s beautiful new poetry collection, A Night in Brooklyn.


A poem for a summer Friday from D. Nurkse’s forthcoming collection, A Night in Brooklyn, which goes on sale next Tuesday. Stay tuned—early next week, we’ll be offering up a chance to win a signed copy.

The Bars

After work I’d go to the little bars
along the bright green river, Chloe’s Lounge,
Cloverleaf, Barleycorn, it was like dying
to sit at five p.m. with a Bud so cold
it had no taste, it stung my hand,
when I returned home I missed my keys
and rang until my wife’s delicate head
emerged in her high window and retreated
like a snail tucked in a luminous shell—
I couldn’t find my wallet, or my paycheck,
though I drank nothing, only a few sips
that tasted like night air, a ginger ale,
nevertheless a dozen years passed, a century,
always I teetered on that high stool
while the Schlitz globe revolved so slowly,
disclosing Africa, Asia, Antarctica,
unfathomable oceans, radiant poles,
until I was a child, they would not serve me,
they handed me a red hissing balloon
but for spite I let it go, for the joy
of watching it climb past Newton Tool & Die,
for fear of cherishing it, for the pang
of watching it vanish and knowing myself
both cause and consequence.


Excerpted from A Night in Brooklyn by D. Nurkse. Copyright © 2012 by D. Nurkse. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Poem submission by Shaun Shane

he bounced
he pounced
he pinned

the mouse
the cat
bit in

then chewed
from limb
to limb

now the
mouse now
so sad

but the

a grin

Poem submission by Kerrie O’ Brien

It was years ago
a bad time of things
and you led us to Glencree.
people had left messages
all over the statues;
prayers, begging prayers
an inhaler, some pills.
you insisted we light candles
but I couldn’t bear the thought of it
even kneeling proved too much
so you coaxed me, carried me over.
we lit them from the same wick
perfect little blank sticks
the size of my fingers
we pushed them down,
and I went to walk away
it was too cold now
but you said
‘look, please, just look’
so we huddled there
in the flickering warmth
and watched them all weep
down to whispers and smoke.
we wept with them
in the hush and glow.
you held me up
as I had held you that night
and walked you round
that dark room
trying to rouse you,
not knowing you
were dead in my arms

"Life in the Big City as seen through the eyes of a Homeless Person"

The sun is so hot today.

I can feel the beads of sweat form upon my face,

As I try to make my way out of this rat race.

There is no finish line; I am not out to win.

I’m just trying to get back on my feet again.

But people are so unkind.

They don’t think I can do anything, even as I talk to them.

I’ve been walking all day; I am so tired.

I could end this charade if only I heard two words: “You’re hired.”

The air is so cold tonight.

As the wind whips across my face,

I try to think of a way out of this place.

I wish I had some money, some food, some clothes.

I wish I had some place to go.

But I am chased from everywhere I try to hide,

By those who tell me sanctuary is not mine to keep.

If only they could see the human soul in me,

I would have a place warm and dry—to sleep.

Poem submission by planetanarchy

A poem that arrives in a single sentence brings a neat jolt of pleasure to the reader; for our final day, we offer one such by the great Polish poet Janusz Szuber, whose poems always seem forged in gratitude, even when they take on painful historical realities. In this spirit, and in acknowledgment of all that poetry can do for us, we thank you for joining us this April. We will be back in your inbox with another month of selections next spring. Until then, read well.

- Knopf Poetry Team


I Had Dreams

I had beautiful dreams and was
Also happy when awake,
Always thanks to you, never
From myself in myself, so continue to be,
Now, only yourselves for me,
Like yellow flags, irises, girls by the water.

Translation by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough.


Excerpt from THEY CARRY A PROMISE Translation © 2009 by by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Bonus: Click here to download the broadside for “I Had Dreams.”

Poem submission by randompoeticthoughts

i would do better

alone in this world

with no one to speak to me,

just leave me alone!

i just want some peace

can’t you see in my eyes?

i despise human speech,

it just takes too much time.

i don’t care if you sit there

and just shut your mouth,

you can be in my presence

but you need to learn how!

it shouldn’t be hard

to be silent for hours

but from my experience,

no one else has this power.

i just want to go

somewhere secluded,

no voice but my own,

and a peace never ruined.

Poem submission by Bryan Edwin

When I was young, my father told me tales of indignation
like suffering was the best way to feel alive.
Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that it was all a lie.
As righteous as the promised land was told to be,
I knew it wasn’t for me.

And he put on that white collar, one abandoned dream at a time
saying to my mother, “Honey, it’ll all be fine.”
So tell me why you spend your nights drowning your lungs with wine.
The way we pray is the way we die.

When I wasn’t quite old enough to understand,
My father took my hand
and said, “Soon you’ll be a man
and I hope you know where you stand
because I’d like to see you again in the promised land.”

And illusions fell where my soul forgot to sell,
praying that he wouldn’t send me to hell.
But if he saw everything I’ve done,
I know I wouldn’t be the only one
to die a Prodigal Son.

When I was young my father suffered and sold
every dream he could ever hold,
not because he was getting old,
but because he believed the lies they told.
They never called him a broken man,
but I found shattered pieces in his hands.

Poem submission by Dougie M.K.

This is the poem that writes itself
In the lives of the unfortunate.
That records the lives of the rich
Because they understand not the truth
Nor the life that they lead.

And when the poem is complete,
It binds itself in the sadness of its accomplishment.
This is the poem that tells the story of the truly accomplished
Because, in the end, the unfortunate pull ahead of the wealthy.
For the unfortunate know the world and its workings,
While the wealthy know only their wealth.

The final, posthumous volume by Deborah Digges, now available in a paperback edition, opens with this poem - an urgent hello-goodbye to the reader.

- Knopf Poetry Team


The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round,
a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows
or is blown through my rooms of my heart
that shatters the windows,
rakes the bedsheets as though someone
had just made love. And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart. To save them
I’ve thrown flowers to fields,
so that someone would pick them up
and know where they came from.
Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.
Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother’s trousseau.
It is not for me to say what is this wind
or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.
Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead
the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,
no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.
It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.
But we will never lie down again.


Excerpt from THE WIND BLOWS THROUGH THE DOORS OF MY HEART © 2010 by The Estate of Deborah Digges. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Poem submission by Amanda Hueli

they will never touch 
a spinning moon
against a breaking ocean.

like two parallel lines
running forever 
yearning to meet
in super-market aisles
amongst the vegetables,
or in the open park
on the frozen bench
glazing over the sun.

an infinite hole 
is lodged between them.
they want to push out
the dulling light

cup it, pure
around their fingertips
give it to the other
like something borrowed
something new. 

on lazy days 
his whispers 
come back.
they have forgotten

just like if the moon 
ran his fingers through
the ringlet ocean, 
a whole world
would die away.

so like the moon
they need to run
from the other,
to save them 
from themselves. 

Poem submission by artificialcensus

Worn by millennia of neglect 
As decrepit and grey as he were, 
Tired bones rattled up the steepest hill in town. 

Umbrella’s felt – faded
Submissive to Wind’s brute strength
Served little to the sheltering of the fatiguing blind man.

As if the oceans had inverted, 
The road beared resemblance to waterfalls
Carrying schools of debris – and nearly, the umbrella porter.

Reaching the summit
Digits found the doorbell
To which the sound alerted the occupants within.

Answered by the deaf man 
And greeted by the mute friend
The threesome sat down to poker and rum.

As rain battled earth and wind ravaged window panes -  
Rosy cheeked, 
Each man took great joy in the miscommunication.

Poem submission by Amanda Jo

A cracking noise and the moon fell from its place between the stars 

The weathered orb shattered on the dirt

And through the dust you saw a stormy-eyed woman, with braided hair and a gypsy soul,

Weaving a golden sunrise morning

She searches through the debris and drags away a smooth crescent piece

She walks tilted,

Like her left arm is heavy

Her hips jut forward,

As if she were being pulled by a string around her waist

In her wake she leaves a sweet-scented honeysuckle path and a fluttering trail of butterflies 

She left you spellbound; a kind of understated magnetism

You recognize her as the mystic; a woman bearing a round, owl-like face, intended for smiling

She has bent you into an emotional being;

Wearing suction-cup eyes and following feet   

As the sun’s warmth dulled behind the mountains, she tied a cord around the ancient, crescent chunk, and hoisted it into the sky

She filled your empty hand with hers and whispered,

“Leave behind anything you cannot carry and follow me”

She guided the way by the light of a moonbeam she trapped in a tin can years before she learned of catching fireflies

She taught you how to ask the sunflower heads to follow the suns path across the sky

And how to curl seahorse tails and butterfly tongues

She explained how to smell the earthy undertones of rain on warm dirt

And showed you how to open the moon flowers petals to bathe in the moonlight,

Grateful for every moment for she knows the bloom will wither in the morning sun

And at the end of the lunar cycle, as you walk hand in hand, she quietly says,

“I’ve given you a reason,”

Her eyes held tears when she twisted around,

“Remember that connection; the pure rain from the sky only comes from pure water on the ground”

In Alexander Neubauer’s Poetry in Person, we are treated to a series of remarkable conversations that were recorded in the classroom of the legendary New School poetry teacher Pearl London, from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s - a time when a significant generation came of age in American poetry. Among the many visitors to her class (whom London asked to bring drafts of poems in progress, so that her students could learn about the nitty-gritty of creation and revision) were Lucille Clifton, Robert Pinsky, Paul Muldoon, Derek Walcott, Louise Glück, Charles Simic, and Galway Kinnell. In the chapter excerpted below, we hear London talking with Amy Clampitt, who came to the classroom in February of 1983, right at the time of her late-in-life début with The Kingfisher. She was sixty-three when it was published (and hailed by Helen Vendler in The New Yorker). The poem under discussion here is “Black Buttercups,” which would appear in Clampitt’s second book, What the Light Was Like. (The full text of the poem follows the conversation.)

- Knopf Poetry Team


PEARL LONDON: Let me say that, first, I’m so delighted, because we’ve all been wondering who Amy Clampitt is and what she looks like, and now we have you with us. Tell us about the metaphor of “Black Buttercups.” Are there really “black buttercups that never see daylight”?

AMY CLAMPITT: No. [Laughter] I’m very happy to talk about this poem because I think perhaps this poem has been longer in the making than almost anything I’ve ever finished. In various forms I was trying to write about what for strange reasons was for me a very traumatic experience— it sounds simple enough, moving from one house to another. But in the process of thinking about that experience, I suppose I began going back into something that went deeper. I’m not being psychoanalytical, but the metaphor of the black buttercups has to do with unfulfilled possibilities. I suppose we all know about such things in our own background and among our own families, among friends: about the experience of being moved from one place to another—”uprooted,” as it were— at the age of not quite ten.… One problem I ran into in writing this poem— I was going to describe an idyllic place I was forced to leave, but the fact is, although it was an idyllic place in my memory, there’s also a place where I discovered a lot of nonidyllic things. So have you got a poem there anymore? I don’t know. That’s one reason why it took me a long time to write this, because it turns out that when I started thinking about the years I spent in that house, which was the earliest house I remembered, I had to acknowledge that there were many things that were anything but idyllic. So I suppose that’s kind of the central core of the poem— there are these contradictions and there is this sense of things that went wrong that were never acknowledged. So that’s the black buttercups really.

LONDON: In “Black Buttercups” you ask, “When / … did the rumor / of unhappiness arrive?” And then we know that there’s that whole sense of menace and there is no safety— menace in the water, menace where the bull is in the pasture, and menace walking in that graveyard, I think it was. But that one understands in childhood. What was difficult to grasp for us were some of the particulars. Let me read you these lines and see if you can comment for us: “The look of exile / foreseen, however massive or inconsequential, / hurts the same; it’s the remembered / particulars that differ.”


How is one to measure
the loss of two blue spruces, a waterfall
of bridal wreath below the porch, the bluebells
and Dutchman’s-breeches my grandmother
had brought in from the timber
to bloom in the same plot with peonies
and lilies of the valley? Or out past
the pasture where the bull, perennially
resentful, stood for the menace of authority
(no leering, no snickering in class),
an orchard—or a grove of willows
at the far edge of the wet meadow
marking the verge, the western barrier
of everything experience had verified?

CLAMPITT: That whole catalog is really things that— I could go on forever. Part of the difficulty of writing that poem was to narrow down all of the things that I remembered, and they’re mostly growing things. My earliest memories were flowers, and it seems as though the pleasure I found in being a child had to do with spring arriving and finding things in bloom, and when you’re a child, of course, it seems like a thousand years since the last spring; you don’t believe it’ll ever arrive again. So they tended to gather around things that bloom; that’s what I meant.


Black Buttercups

In March, the farmer’s month
for packing up and moving on, the rutted
mud potholed with glare, the verb to move
connoted nothing natural, such as the shifting
of the course of streams or of the sun’s
position, sap moving up, or even
couples dancing. What the stripped root, exhumed
above the mudhole’s brittle skin, discerned
was exile.
                 Exile to raw clapboard,
a privy out in back, a smokehouse
built by the pioneers, no shade trees
but a huddle of red cedars, exposure
on the highest elevation in the township,
a gangling windmill harped on by each
indisposition of the weather,
the mildewed gurgle of a cistern
humped underneath it like a burial.
inhabited that water when the pioneers,
ending their trek from North Carolina, farther
than Ur of the Chaldees had been from Canaan,
settled here and tried to root themselves:
four of the family struck down on this farm
as its first growing season ended. Menace
still waited, literally around the corner,
in the graveyard of a country church,
its back against the timber
just where the terrain began to drop (the creek
down there had for a while powered a sawmill,
but now ran free, unencumbered, useless)—
that not-to-be-avoided plot whose honed stones’
fixed stare, fanned in the night
by passing headlights, struck back
the rueful semaphore:
There is no safety.
                                  I was ten years old.
Not three miles by the road that ran
among the farms (still less if
you could have flown, or, just as unthinkable,
struck out across country, unimpeded
by barbed wire or the mire of feedlots)
the legendary habitat of safety
lay contained: the memory
of the seedleaf in the bean, the blind
hand along the bannister, the virgin sheath
of having lived nowhere but here. Back there
in the dining room, last summer’s
nine-year-old sat crying on the window seat
that looked into the garden, rain
coursing the pane in streams, the crying
on the other side and it one element—and sits
there still, still crying, knowing
for the first time forever what it was
to be heartbroken.
                                  The look of exile
foreseen, however massive or inconsequential,
hurts the same; it’s the remembered
particulars that differ. How is one to measure
the loss of two blue spruces, a waterfall
of bridal wreath below the porch, the bluebells
and Dutchman’s-breeches my grandmother
had brought in from the timber
to bloom in the same plot with peonies
and lilies of the valley? Or, out past
the pasture where the bull, perennially
resentful, stood for the menace of authority
(no leering, no snickering in class),
an orchard—or a grove of willows
at the far edge of the wet meadow
marking the verge, the western barrier
of everything experience had verified? We never
thought of going there except in February,
when the sap first started working up
the pussywillow wands, the catkins
pink underneath a down of eldritch silver
like the new pigs whose birthing coincided,
shedding their crisp cupolas’ detritus
on the debris of foundering snowbanks
brittle as the skin of standing ponds
we trod on in the meadow, a gauche travesty
of calamity like so many entertainments—
the nuptial porcelain, the heirloom crystal
vandalized by wanton overshoes, bundled- up
boredom lolling, while the blue world reeled
up past the pussywillow undersides of clouds
latticed by swigging catkins soon to haze
with pollen-bloat, a glut
run riot while the broken pond
unsealed, turned to mud
and, pullulating, came up buttercups
lucent with a mindlessness as total
as the romp that ends up wet-mittened,
chap-cheeked, fretful beside the kitchen stove,
later to roughhouse or whine its way
upstairs to bed.
                                  Night froze it up again
for the ten thousandth time, closing the seals
above the breeding ground of frogs, the Acheron
of dreadful disappointed Eros
stirring up hell—the tics,
the shame, the pathological ambition,
anxiety so thick sometimes that nothing
breeds there except more anxiety,
hampering yet another generation, all
the sodden anniversaries of dread:
black buttercups that never see daylight
or with lucent chalices drink of the sun.
Did we then hear them moving
wounded from room to room? Or in what shape
was it we first perceived it—the unstanched
hereditary thing, working its way
along the hollows of the marrow,
the worry taking root within like ragweed,
the noxious pollen flowering into
nothing but sick headaches
passed down like an heirloom? When,
under the same roof the memory of
a legendary comfort had endowed
with what in retrospect would seem
like safety, did the rumor
of unhappiness arrive? I remember waking,
a February morning leprous with frost
above the dregs of a halfhearted snowfall,
to find the gray world of adulthood
everywhere, as though there never
had been any other, in that same house
I could not bear to leave, where even now
the child who wept to leave still sits
weeping at the thought of exile.


Excerpt from POETRY IN PERSON © 2010 by Alexander Neubauer. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Poem submission by kelwomack

Deep in desert sands they reached

High into space where rivers meet.

Twisting slithering through red giants

Standing shoulder to shoulder in grand alliance.

Spires of stone in mushroom form

Pillars where earth exploded and tore

Gorges who split the earth left scars

and monuments like golden Mason jars.

Swaths of crimson paint splatter and dry

Against coppery cliffs in morning light.

Bridges and arches plume from the earth

In hardened explosion gave their birth.

The land stretches, wrinkles, far and wide;

Surveyed by eagles in denim sky.

In the land of needles reaching for clouds,

Monstrous stones take a closing bow.