Yale Class of 1975

Our Poetry Project

The project consists of favorite poems submitted by classmates. It is inspired by Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project implemented during his tenure as US Poet Laureate. Poems offer concentrated glimpses into the world we inhabit. Our favorites may offer resolution and hope. All are welcome — Serena.

Below, we include guidelines for submission of your favorite poem to our Poetry Project, as well as archived poems as they are replaced on our front page by newer submissions.
 

Poetry Project Archive

 

Week 1: The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

— Robert Frost

Michael Stein: There are a couple of W.B. Yeats poems I like as much, but they’re quite long, and this one by Frost seems particularly à propos.
 


 

Week 2: Anglais Mort à Florence

A little less returned for him each spring.
Music began to fail him. Brahms, although
His dark familiar, often walked apart.

His spirit grew uncertain of delight,
Certain of its uncertainty, in which
That dark companion left him unconsoled

For a self returning mostly memory.
Only last year he said that the naked moon
Was not the moon he used to see, to feel

(In the pale coherences of moon and mood
When he was young), naked and alien,
More leanly shining from a lankier sky.

Its ruddy pallor had grown cadaverous.
He used his reason, exercised his will,
Turning in time to Brahms as alternate

In speech. He was that music and himself.
They were particles of order, a single majesty:
But he remembered the time when he stood alone.

He stood at last by God’s help and the police;
But he remembered the time when he stood alone.
He yielded himself to that single majesty;

But he remembered the time when he stood alone,
When to be and delight to be seemed to be one,
Before the colors deepened and grew small.

— Wallace Stevens

Doug Henwood: I’ve loved Stevens since my Yale days, mainly for his extraordinary language, and I’ve also loved Brahms forever. And this seems appropriate to our age cohort. I almost wrote a dissertation on him, but then I dropped out of grad school.
 


 

Week 3: To His Coy Mistress

        Had we but world enough and time
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain.

I would Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

— Andrew Marvell

Wendy Goodman-Thum: a favorite poem of mine
 


 

Week 4: From Bubbs Creek Haircut

High ceilinged and the double mirrors, the calendar a splendid alpine scene – scab barber – in
stained white barber gown, alone, sat down, old man

a summer fog fray San Francisco day

I walked right in. On Howard Street
          haircut a dollar twenty-five

Just clip it close as it will go.

          “Now why you want your hair cut back like that.”

          – Well I’m going to the Sierras for a while

Bubbs Creek and on across to upper Kern.

          He wriggled his clippers

“Well I been up there, I built the cabin up at Cedar Grove. In nineteen five.”

          Old haircut smell.

— Gary Snyder

Malcom (Mic) Fleming: One of my favorite poems has always been Bubbs Creek Haircut by Gary Snyder, who among many awards, was the recipient of Yale’s Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Before we moved to Greece from the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I had 1500 books. For the move, we decided to bring only 60. What would make the cut? In addition to three Yale History of Art textbooks, my stash included my 1965 edition of Gary Snyder’s Six Selections from Mountains and Rivers Without End, which I bought long ago at City Lights Books in San Francisco. The book is a talisman for me, but it’s only coincidental that in my old age my beard looks a lot like Snyder’s.

Although many know Gary Snyder for his associations with the Beat Generation and interests in Zen Buddhism, I have always liked his work for championing the environment. Indeed, he is often honored for his consistent concerns for the environment.

My particular affection for Bubbs Creek involves a personal anecdote that fondly reminds me of earlier days of unbridled optimism and certain naivetés.

My first command in the Army was of a truck company in Ludwigsburg, Germany, responsible for 180 teenage soldiers driving all over West Germany. I was required to give a weekly presentation to them called “Command Information.” It could be any topic of my choosing that generally improved morale, cohesion and professional understanding of the mission. My drivers had seen the Alps, crossed the Rhine and Danube, and bivouacked (“camped out”) in many of Germany’s beautiful forests. “Why not help them see and appreciate these wonders around them but also consider the beauty of the land in our own country?” said the young Lieutenant.

So one gray Saturday morning I read Bubbs Creek Haircut to them. Unbelievable as I look back, especially considering how long the poem is. While I do remember one wise guy commenting on our own short haircuts, a couple of others fondly recalled hiking, fishing and hunting trips with fathers and friends. It was a quiet moment, which I’ve never forgotten.

Above is the poem’s evocative opening.

 


 

Week 5: Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

— Robert Frost

Laurie Clarke-Buchar: Buc’s [Dave Buchar ES ‘75] fav poem is by Admiral Takijiro Onishi

In blossom today then scattered
Life is so like a delicate flower
How can one expect the fragrance to last forever.

He recites it frequently and has for 50 years. And mine is Robert Frost’s A Dust of Snow

 


 

Week 6: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

Paul T. Mascia (DC): I love the nature imagery in the first part of this poem, as it expresses how the myriad elements of the beauty in the world around us bring glory to God. But, even more, I love the second part, which highlights how the beauty of Christ shines forth in all the many unique faces of the human race. As I have grown up to enjoy the incredible religious, cultural and racial diversity of New York City, for example, for me, this poem reiterates two special messages from Maya Angelou:

      “Diversity makes for a rich tapestry.”
      “In diversity there is beauty, and there is strength.”

May our eyes be opened to the beauty of the face of Christ in all of humankind, and in every face we encounter in our day to day lives.

 


 

Week 7: The World is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

— William Wordsworth

Lisa Kaslow: I love this project. I would like to submit a poem by Wordsworth that my mother, Shirley Kaslow, would recite to me each time she would drive to our farm. She passed away on January 24 at 99 years 7 months and a day. When the hospice nurse came to interview her to see if she qualified for care, Mom recited this poem as if an actress in a Shakespearean drama. She refused to give her age or answer probing questions about her health. Mom was an oracle and had a poem or a song for everyone, every event and every occasion. I told her about this project as she was wasting away, and she perked up and smiled at the fact that you were gathering poetry that meant so much to each of us.

 


 

Week 8: A Child

I was a small child
And I played at the beach
Two men in dark clothes
Walked past
And said:
Good morning, little child,
Good morning!

I was a small child
And I played at the beach.
Two blonde girls
Walked past
And whispered:
Come along, young man,
Come along!

I was a small child
And I played at the beach.
Two laughing children
Walked past
And called:
Good evening, old man,
Good evening!

— Steinn Steinarr from Three Modern Icelandic Poets: selected poems of Steinn Steinarr, Jón úr Vör, and Matthías Johannessen by Jón úr Vör and Marshall Brement. Reykjavik, Iceland. 1985. (translated from Icelandic by Marshall Brement)

Gunnar Knapp: I found this poem in a book of Icelandic poetry which I bought during a visit to Iceland about 20 years ago. It’s a simple poem, but it really struck me at the time and seems to become more meaningful to me with each passing year.

I was also quite intrigued to read about the translator, Marshall Brement, who struck me as a fascinating example of how a person can be intellectually curious and actively engaged in the arts even while pursuing a professional career.

“Marshall Brement (1932-2009) was a career United States Foreign Service officer who served as United States Ambassador to Iceland in 1981–1985 and, after retirement, was a professor at the University of Virginia. . .Brement graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1952 and earned his Master of Arts at the University of Maryland in 1955. His foreign languages were Russian, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, Spanish, Icelandic, and Indonesian. He was the first American Ambassador to publicly address the Icelandic people in their own language…” [Note: the rest of Gunnar’s excerpt and entire article can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Brement SJF]

 


 

Week 9: The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
   dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

Roy Carlson: Why? I love the constraints of the sonnet form in both rhythm and rhyme; the historical use of sonnet as love poem; the sheer sonic majesty (read it aloud!)

 


 

Week 10: Letter

I had wanted to begin
By telling you I saw another
tanager below the pond
where I had sat for half an hour
feeding on wild berries
in the little clearing near the pines
that hide the lower field
and then looked up from red berries
to the quick red bird brilliant
in the light. I have seen
more yarrow and swaying
Queen Anne’s lace around the woods
as hawkweed and nightshade
wither and drop seed. A new blue flower,
sweet, yellow-stamened, ovary inferior,
has recently sprung up.
                                     But I had the odd
feeling, walking to the house
to write this down, that I had left
the birds and flowers in the field,
rooted or feeding. They are not in my
head, are not now on this page.
It was very strange to me, but I think
their loss was your absence. I wanted
to be walking up with Leif, the sun
behind us skipping off the pond,
the windy maple sheltering the house,
and find you there and say
here! A new blue flower (ovary inferior)
and busy Leif and Kris with naming
in a world I love. You even have
my field guide. It’s you I love.
I have believed so long
In the magic of names and poems.
I hadn’t thought them bodiless
at all. Tall Buttercup. Wild Vetch.
“Often I am permitted to return
to a meadow.” It all seemed real to me
last week. Words. You are the body
of my world, root and flower, the
brightness and surprise of birds.
I miss you, love. Tell Leif
you’re the names of things.

— Robert Hass from Field Guide. Yale Series of Younger Poets. Vol. 68. Yale University Press, 1973.

Ken Rosenbaum: I was a Bio major. One afternoon during sophomore or junior year, I was browsing natural history books at the Yale Coop, and I came upon one titled simply Field Guide. Curious, I opened it. It was not a field guide. It was a book of poetry, very accessible, clearly written by someone with a love of nature and West Coast landscapes. I bought it. About twenty years later, when Robert Hass was serving as poet laureate of the United States, I went to hear him at a reading, and afterwards he kindly autographed my copy of Field Guide. Here is one of the poems from the book.

 


 

Week 11: Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

— Naomi Shihab-Nye

David K. Lee (ES): There is background on this poem here:
https://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2012/05/01/incomparable-naomi-shihab-nye-kindness
I hope this poem is familiar to some or many, and maybe it’s someone else’s favorite, too. I find it motivating in good times and consoling in hard ones. Its message is so important to pass on and model: it always helps to be kind in what we think, say and do.

 


 

Week 12: Summer Storm

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm–
A gesture you didn’t explain–
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm–
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different

— Dana Gioia

Chris Donnelly: I have remained challenged about what sort of poem I should send along. As I think I indicated, poetry has not really been my thing. It is not that I don’t read poems – I do – I just haven’t done a lot to incorporate them into my being. This, despite a high school project involving reading the poems of John Milton with a very quirky and particular Jesuit and a college-age interest in TS Eliot. So, I went to the two books of poems that I have on my bookshelf – A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czelaw Milosz and Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor. The first included a lot of very interesting poetic moments – many translations from different cultures and different times far from today. As a way of getting reflected glimpses from far away – very profound but not necessarily poetic, in the sense of poetry also being a disciplined approach to the use of words. The Keillor collection is much more eclectic and even a bit quirky itself. In it I found a poem that seemed to fit what I was after – a glimpse of something not necessarily profound but likely common to all of us in some way that also shows the discipline of poetry. Here it is.

 


 

Week 13: O śmierci bez przesady (Polish)

Nie zna się na żartach,
na gwiazdach, na mostach,
na tkactwie, na górnictwie, na uprawie roli,
na budowie okrętów i pieczeniu ciasta.

W nasze rozmowy o planach na jutro
wtrąca swoje ostatnie słowo
nie na temat.

Nie umie nawet tego,
co bezpośrednio łączy się z jej fachem:
ani grobu wykopać,
ani trumny sklecić,
ani sprzątnąć po sobie.

Zajęta zabijaniem,
robi to niezdarnie,
bez systemu i wprawy.
Jakby na każdym z nas uczyła się dopiero.

Tryumfy tryumfami,
ale ileż klęsk,
ciosów chybionych
i prób podejmowanych od nowa!

Czasami brak jej siły,
żeby strącić muchę z powietrza.
Z niejedną gąsienicą
przegrywa wyścig w pełzaniu.

Te wszystkie bulwy, strąki,
czułki, płetwy, tchawki,
pióra godowe i zimowa sierść
świadczą o zaległościach
w jej marudnej pracy.

Zła wola nie wystarcza
i nawet nasza pomoc w wojnach i przewrotach,
to, jak dotąd, za mało.

Serca stukają w jajkach.
Rosną szkielety niemowląt.
Nasiona dorabiają się dwóch pierwszych listków,
a często i wysokich drzew na horyzoncie.

Kto twierdzi, że jest wszechmocna,
sam jest żywym dowodem,
że wszechmocna nie jest.

Nie ma takiego życia,
które by choć przez chwilę
nie było nieśmiertelne.

Śmierć
zawsze o tę chwilę przybywa spóźniona.

Na próżno szarpie klamką
niewidzialnych drzwi.
Kto ile zdążył,
tego mu cofnąć nie może.

— Szymborska, Wisława

On Death, without Exaggeration (English)

It can’t take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn’t strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won’t help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d’etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.

There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.

Death
always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.

Albert Palitz: My Mother was the poet. I lost her in 2020 at age 98. In my last photograph of her, she’s sitting in her favorite chair with a hardback collection of the poems of Wislawa Szymborska. I told her I’d never heard of the poet, and she immediately recited the first few stanzas of On Death Without Exaggeration. Oh…my…God! That’s the poem I’d share. https://www.babelmatrix.org/works/pl/Szymborska%2C_Wis%C5%82awa-1923/O_%C5%9Bmierci_bez_przesady/en/7552-On_Death%2C_without_Exaggeration

 


 

Week 14: Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

— Joy Harjo

Nina Gates: Thanks so much…for moving this initiative forward. For decades we’ve had a group who do an annual holiday lunch at which we all share poems. It started with a group of Yale grads from 73-78, all in the SF Bay.

 


Submission Guidelines

1. Submission Period: Ongoing, with no end date planned.

2. Submit 1-2 pages of poetry (12 pt) by a poet other than yourself.
    • Email to: serenajfox@me.com
    • Subject line: Class of 1975 Favorite Poems
    • Provide title, name of poet and translator, publishing acknowledgements
      if not in public domain (see Guideline 4).
    • Please provide optional information, as well, if you don’t mind.

3. Options:
    • One poem
    • Part of a longer poem
    • Translation of a poem or part of a longer poem

4. Please include the following in your email:
    (* indicates required field; other fields optional )
    – Date/Time
    – Last Name
    – First Name
    – Email Address
    * Title: English/Original
    * Poet/Translator
    – Meaning for Submitter
    * Acknowledgement if not in public domain