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At least once a week
I walk into the city of bricks
where the rubies grow

and the killers await
the coming of doves and cats.

I pass by the homes of butchers
and their knives sharpened by insomnia

to the river of black sails
and the torn-up sea and the


They dip their wings in the sunset,
They dash against the air
As if to break themselves upon its stillness:
In every movement, too swift to count,
Is a revelry of indecision,
A furtive delight in trees they do not desire
And in grasses that shall not know their


A man walks into a 
museum in Paris, the Museum
of Natural History, to saw
a tusk off an elephant-
skeleton centuries-older than  
he’ll ever be, becoming

in those early morning hours  
part of a derelict and
inglorious human history,



One never grows weary of The Weary Blues. Langston Hughes’s first book, published by Knopf in 1926, is one of the high points of modernism and of what has come to be called the Harlem Renaissance—that flowering of African American literature and culture in the public’s consciousness. Really an extension of the New Negro movement that began toward the start of the twentieth century, international as much as based in New York, the Harlem Renaissance represented different things to different people: to “race men” like W. E. B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, the black cultural ferment found from the teens to the nineteen twenties and beyond provided an opportunity to prove in culture things sometimes denied black folks in society—namely, their humanity.

For a younger generation of black artists like Hughes, their humanity proved self-evident. What’s more, the freedom of expression they sought and Hughes insisted on in his 1926 manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain

Poetic Terms/Forms

In April 2014 A Poet’s Glossary by Academy Chancellor Edward Hirsch was published. As Hirsch writes in the preface, “this book—one person’s work, a poet’s glossary—has grown, as if naturally, out of my lifelong interest in poetry, my curiosity about its vocabulary, its forms and genres, its histories and traditions, its classical, romantic, and modern movements, its various outlying groups, its small devices and large mysteries—how it works.”  Each week we will feature a term and its definition from Hirsch’s new book. 

negative capability  John Keats coined this term in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas (December 21, 1817).  He wrote:

several things dove tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and

Schools & Movements

The dominant figure in modern poetry from the 1920s through the middle of the century, in part because of his stature as a critic and publisher, was the poet T. S. Eliot. In his landmark essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," (1919) Eliot defined poetry as an escape from emotion and personality—a definition that subsequent American poets have alternately embraced, argued with, and denounced in such a vigorous fashion that it may be useful to consider it as a linchpin of modernism.

True poetry, according to the poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, "only wants to see the world, to see it better." Poetry, he believed, is a superior form of knowledge which gives us the fullness of human experience, not just the facts and abstractions that suffice for knowledge in a scientific age. Ransom was the leading light of the Fugitives, a group of Southern Agrarian poets and critics formed at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s, who were distinctly at odds with northern


Poetry Book
Singing School:  Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters by Robert Pinksy
Isn't It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets