National Poetry Month: Poem-a-Day

poets.orgNational Poetry Month ends on April 30th, but you can keep the feeling going strong by signing up to receive a poem by email from the American Academy of Poets, the folks responsible for starting National Poetry Month in 1996.

I signed up for Poem-a-Day back in 2014, which means I’ve read and received hundreds of poems over the years. Some days I skim the poem and smile, then move on with my day. Other days, the poem resonates deep within me and shifts my perspective for the rest of the day, following me like a shadow. Either way, receiving a new poem to read each day has been a wonderful way for me to grow my knowledge of the body of American poetry.

You can join thousands of others who have discovered the pleasures of a Poem-a-Day by visiting the Academy of American Poets page here. In the meantime, here’s a copy of today’s poem written by Mineapolis-based poet, Danez Smith.


say it with your whole black mouth

                                                                                                 by Danez Smith

say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent

& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness,
of breath after breath

i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen

& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me

& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?

so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.

how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?

here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations

i don’t know what i’ll do.

i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.

i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list

what my mother fears i will say

                         what she wishes to say herself

i came here to say

i can’t bring myself to write it down

sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up

              if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
              i wake chained to the bed

i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us

when i do
                      can’t say

         i don’t dance


o my people

          how long will we

reach for god

          instead of something sharper?


my lovely doe

with a taste for meat


the hunter

         by his hand

Copyright (c) 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

14494858_1052448421529899_6375380712797709368_nKaecey signature

Prompt #37: Love and the Older Body

Love poetry! Of course — the romance, the longing for connection, the passion — the heartbreak! So much love poetry is written by the young and for the young. And it should be that way. Do any browsing at all, in books or online, and love poetry is everywhere. At the Academy of American Poets, their collection of Love Poems is legion, beginning with the most famous perhaps of all, Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s famous “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways.”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

But, love is not only for the young, and love poetry is not only written by young poets. I stumbled upon a poem this week, on The Writer’s Almanac, called “Surfer Girl” by Barbara Crooker. The speaker in the poem is “on the far side of sixty,” “athletic as a sofa.” The poem opens with her walking on the beach, spotting a surfer, “sleek as a seal.” The poem goes on as the speaker imagines herself in a younger body, “lithe and long-limbed,” with her “short tousled hair full of sunshine.” The poem describes the health and power of a younger body, a young person’s ambitions and dreams, “Nothing more important now than this balance between / water and air, the rhythm of in and out.” This poem is about longing and love, for the surfer boy and for the younger self remembered.

Another poem I found this week, titled “You Make Love Like the Last Snow Leopard” by Paige Taggart, came through my Poem-A-Day email subscription from I don’t always have time to read them when they come, but this title really caught my eye. What would that be like, to be the last snow leopard on earth, and to make love — would it be fiercely, with fear and the knowledge of certain death, impending loss, would it be tenderly, aware of an aching body, the absence of youthful power? I find Taggart’s poem strange, with ambiguous language, some disquieting sexual allusions and unusual images of time passing. In the first stanza, “Time hunts your shadows.” In the second stanza, the speaker addresses her lover, “Your white hair flocked. It’s old age that makes / you kill for food,” pairing an image of old age with an image of violent survival. The last two lines are the most disturbing and beautiful in the poem, I think: “A cliff of umbrellas and memory / shaping your every move.”

These two poems spoke to me of the ways we think of physical love as we get older: full of the aches and memories of the body, and the longing of the heart for something powerful in today’s experience. Love isn’t only for the young.

You can see some of Paige Taggart’s jewelry “Bling that Sings” here on Tumblr and here at her website. She seems to have a mission to decorate poets wherever she finds them.

If you want to write a poem, write a love poem, modeled after one of the ones on the website. If you are inspired to try something else, imagine what it would be like to be a passionate young soul trapped in an older and no-longer powerful body. Describe the way the body moves and the way the spirit of love moves and how those types of motion agree or disagree, work in harmony or collide.

The photo of the female swimmer is by Etta Clark, from her book of the same name, “Growing Old is Not for Sissies.”