poem index

Read This Poem: 826 Boston

826 Boston826 Boston  is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. With this understanding in mind, we provide drop-in tutoring, field trips, after-school workshops, in-school tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our free programs seek to strengthen each student's power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice.

The work of the participating poets in Read This Poem is a reflection of their own point of view and artistic expression, and does not represent the views of 826 National or its chapters. Some of the poems may address mature themes or contain adult language, and may not be suitable for all audiences, including students at 826 chapters.

Kristen Evans Picks Sandra Lim

At first glance, “Certainty” trusts itself, moving forward in the deceptive safety of sentences. In spare, straight-forward language, Lim reports on Edward Taylor’s dispatches from the wilds of colonial America. This approach unspools, turns slant: “Sometimes,” Lim writes, “a conceit makes itself necessary in the safety of the impasse between word and world.” The poem invites us to look at its guts, how it makes and unmakes both Lim and Taylor’s certainties, acknowledging the shared pretense that language tames the world. Its lines become more ecstatic, borrowing Taylor’s pre-Romantic Oh!s, his soaring and Sweet melody to reimagine a “strange and riotous interior, through which...nameless things fly.” “Certainty” obsessively confronts the limitations of language, even of its own language, struggling to map a past wilderness onto the wilds of the speaker’s interiority. “The wilderness: I cannot get around the back of it,” the poem laments, and I along with it.

Kristen Evans

Kristen Evans is a graduate of the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her first collection, Mammal Room, is forthcoming from SpringGun Press this month.
She works at 826 Boston as the Development & Communications Associate.

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Sandra Lim

Sandra Lim is the author of The Wilderness (W. W. Norton, 2014), selected by Louise Glück for the 2013 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and a previous poetry collection, Loveliest Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006). She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sandra Lim Picks Fanny Howe

Sometimes a poem lets you stand in such profound proximity to its concerns that you feel it was addressed to you alone. The language in Fanny Howe’s remarkable poem “Loneliness” is calm, investigative, supple—description, explanation, question—and yet there is a steady undercurrent of rougher feeling, something almost unbearable and unhearable. The poem ushers me into the clear thought and the intuition at once—the hypothesis at the poem’s end appears almost ecstatic: “Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems to need a little more time on its own.” This poem’s aloneness feels like a gift that people can give to one another.

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Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe is the author of more than twenty books of poetry and prose, including Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014). She is also the recipient of the 2009 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, given by the Academy of American Poets. 

Photo credit: Ben E. Watkins

Fanny Howe Picks Sam Cornish

This poem doesn’t want to be disturbed by an analysis of its beat, or its point of view. This is the case with all the poems I have read by Sam Cornish. They are like little flames that go up and down at the same time, shifting colors and intensities around a single figure: now a boy, now a man. Here, history. Here, a tortured instant; there, a moment missed. In this poem, 1931, Scottsboro, the full explosive combo of soft night, the South, the train, and the blackness of the boy add up to something subtle and beautiful.

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Sam Cornish

Born in Baltimore in 1935, Sam Cornish was educated at Goddard College and Northwestern University. Associated with the Black Arts Movement, he is the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including Folks Like Me (Zoland Books, 1993), Dead Beats (Ibbetson Street Press, 2011), and An Apron Full of Beans: New and Selected Poems (CavanKerry, 2008). He is the former poet laureate of the city of Boston.

Photo credit: Eric Levin