A Poem Popped Up in My News Feed

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So, it appears that the online magazine, Slate, offers a poem read by the author every week. I’ve been subscribed to Slate for about a year now to get updates on the political news content. But this morning, as I was scrolling through their posts, I noticed there was a poem amongst them! This was a bit of a shock to me because when I think Slate, I think politics. And when I think ‘politics,’ my mind definitely does not jump to ‘poetry.’ Yet, here we are.

This week, Slate featured poetry from Paul Breslin. Paul Breslin is a Professor of English at the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences at Northwestern University. Yes, the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. What luck that the first time I notice Slate features poetry, the poet is from Northwestern, which is so nearby! Paul Breslin has written many books and won many awards, all of which you can read about at this link.

There is something special about hearing a poet actually read his or her work aloud. Because they are the ones who wrote the poetry, they know where the stops and pauses belong, they know how to pronounce all the words, and they know where to lay emphasis in order to wring the emotion out of you as intended. I would argue that you haven’t fully experienced a poem until you’ve heard it actually read by the poet him or herself.

In this week’s featured virtual poetry slam, Paul Breslin reads seven of his poems in a column called “Seven Octets,” so named because each of the seven poems consists of  eight lines. You might think that would get boring, the same format over and over, but Breslin changes the visual layout of those lines as well as the rhyme scheme over all seven poems.

The poems Breslin reads seem to flow in a rollercoaster fashion, beginning at the low end with his childhood memories, cresting at a peak with his middle-aged life involving the purchase of his own house, and then ending once more at the low end with more remembrances from his childhood.

My personal favorite of all seven poems is “Primal House” because it ties together all of the others, in a way, with the remembrance of childhood memories weaving into the speaker’s adult life. The mention of grief and loss recalls the final two poems, which mention the speaker’s dad. This begs the question of whether the grief and loss the speaker felt as a three-year-old, in that first house, was caused by his father.

Some very interesting poems here from Paul Breslin. I’d encourage you to check them out and definitely listen to Breslin actually read the poems himself. They gain a whole new meaning when you hear a voice put the author’s name.

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

5 thoughts on “A Poem Popped Up in My News Feed

  1. jk white October 5, 2010 / 8:37 pm

    Breslin has done a lot of great work in poetry over the years via criticism as well, and if I were up in my poetry room I’d look up the titles for you. But I’d point out mostly that poetry is almost always political since, from its oral roots, poets spoke for and of as well as to the people, and they also spoke and speak to power. In fact, because poems can so move us, poets are quite often exiled (Dante on on!) and executed (Lorca, etc.). A large number of poems from the Harlem Renaissance, as another example, or Corky Gonzales’ “I am Joaquin” which inspired the United Farm Workers, are explicitly political (as are many poems by Russian, Polish, Hungarian Holocaust et.al. poets); while, many would argue (me included) believe the very act of writing or reading a poem even or especially in a capitalist visually/technological focused society is by its countercultural nature a political act. Oh, I could go on, but this is my first blog post and I don’t want to be a blog hog! (though I will add that, unfortunately, not all poets are the best readers of their own work; still I agree with Mary — it’s always worth hearing her or him read her or his own poems whenever you can!).

    • Editor October 5, 2010 / 10:47 pm

      Ah, you’re absolutely right about a lot of poetry having political roots! I honestly was going to mention that in this post and then I must have forgotten. But I agree with you, lots of literature and poetry has been written about and for political causes. It’s a great way to reach a lot of people.

      (Thanks for the comment, Dr. White!)

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