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Lee Ann Brown
Lee Ann Brown

What is the Grass?

About this Poem 

“This snapshot poem’s title is taken from Whitman’s ever-generative ‘Song of Myself,’ when a child asks a question that grows into Leaves of Grass. My poem answers from the middle of the mother-daughter dyad, touching on a new human’s relation to memory, dream and the shared hunger for a lullaby of green amidst the cloned cookie-cutter rest stops of modern America.”
—Lee Ann Brown

What is the Grass?

Lee Ann Brown

The child asks, bringing it to me in handfuls.
We stop at the Walt Whitman Service Area—
No sign of Him save some “Democratic Vistas”
& “Drum Taps” on a plaque near the Micky D’s

Let’s go find the grass
I say to my two-year-old beauty and
We pick one blade from the median
Then back we go in the forever car

Hours later, pulling into Richmond
She, half awake in my arms mumbles

Let’s go find the grass
 

Copyright © 2014 by Lee Ann Brown. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2014 by Lee Ann Brown. Used with permission of the author.

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Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

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Poets in Conversation

In this collection of conversations, poets talk with one another about what inspires them most about the art form.

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Poetry and Place

In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contemporary American poetry. Here you'll find a range of poems, commentary, and essays that revolve around what we mean by the idea of "home" or of "homelessness" resulting from travel or displacement. Some works deal with a specific time and location, while others focus on a more socially-constructed view of place through the lenses of pop culture and identity. In the end, we hope this collection both confirms and challenges your notion of place in American poetry.

For a more thorough exploration of our theme, check out W. T. Pfefferle's anthology Poets on Place: Essays & Tales from the Road.

Anne Waldman
poem

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Langston Hughes
1994
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2014 National Book Award Contenders

This year's James Laughlin Award winner, Brian Blanchfield, and two of the Academy's current Chancellors—Edward Hirsch and Claudia Rankine—are among those included on the longlist for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry. Read their bios and a selection of work from their nominated books.

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On the Poetic Line

The poetic line is one of the most emphasized elements of form, the structural division of verse that can indicate patterns in meter, rhythm, and rhyme and influence the aesthetics and emphases of the poem. Examinations and discussions of the line abound, and we hope this collection, featuring books and essays by a variety of writers, provides a context for the use of the line in the history of poetic craft. 

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Academy Chancellor Galway Kinnell (left), February 1, 1927 - October 28, 2014
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We the Poets

To celebrate American Archives Month in October we collaborated with the National Archives on We the Poets, a project for which we commissioned poets to write original works based on the archives’ holdings. The National Archives filmed the poets reading their poems at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. To read more about the project and to view related photographs and documents from the National Archives, visit the Prologue: Pieces of History blog.

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Galway Kinnell: A Tribute

Galway Kinnell, a former Academy of American Poets Chancellor and 2010 Wallace Stevens Award winner, passed away at eighty-seven years old at his home in Sheffield, Vermont, on October 28, 2014. Liz Rosenberg, writing in the Boston Globe, noted that "Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart." He will be missed.