Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Poetry Stretch - America Is ...

Last week my Thursday class focused on using primary sources, interpreting documents and analyzing art and photographs. We also looked at the book THE ART OF FREEDOM: HOW ARTISTS SEE AMERICA, by Bob Raczka. Using very simple text and art from the likes of Georgia O'Keefe, Thomas Hart Benton, John Trumbull, Stuart Davis, and more, Raczka provides an introduction to the things that make us American. In pictures and words America is depicted as hard work, jazz, baseball, freedom, and more.

This book got me thinking about the stretch this week. Since the 4th of July is Friday, this seems like a perfect time to write about what America is.  I hope you will join me in writing about America this week. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. America for me is a place of dreams, but some of those dreams are long deferred.

    This from my newest book of adult poetry--The Bloody Tide: Poems of Politics and Power--but this is a poem that could be used with kids (5th grade and up

    Slow Train Coming

    “(A) reminder to all of us that at times equality can feel
    like a slow train coming”-- LZ Granderson

    Somebody coughs.
    It’s cold at the station, wind blowing from the north,
    blustering, posturing, blueing the children’s lips.
    They stamp their feet, rub mittened hands impatiently,
    breathing cumulus from open mouths.
    I glance down the long line.

    Somebody hears
    the grinding wheels on the rails right before the train
    huffs into sight. We dare not grow weary, do not grow weary.
    The children’s laughter is the thin thread pulling the train,
    like a clacketing tin toy, along the tracks, racing entropy
    even as it nears.

    Somebody asks,
    Where is the train, where is that damned train?
    A long time coming, I think, the years wear on,
    and what do we have to show the children?
    Only the songs, Freedom, Freedom,
    and the dreams.

    ©2014 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved>

  2. Lots of us
    all different stripes
    and always were
    lined up, stacked like
    logs of a cabin
    alternating contrasting
    taking turns

    Red for blood shed
    (that's what makes
    the red man red)
    and white for that other
    imaginary skin color
    and for the pure intent
    of democracy

    Stars we are all stars
    on the blue ground
    of an earthly heaven
    our pointed hands
    and feet jostling
    for a place, for a time
    of our own

    Thanks for the suggestion, Tricia...and can I link back here on the 4th when I host PF? Incidentally, that Jasper Johns map on the cover of Raczka's book hangs rather largely on my living room wall!

  3. America Is

    Big prairies, big skies,
    big lakes, big trees,
    big canyons, big mountains,
    big roads, big bridges,
    big buildings, big cities,
    big minds, big mouths,
    big ideas, big dreams.

    —Kate Coombs, 2014
    all rights reserved

  4. America for me is also the land of dreams, some whimsical and fanciful. Early-20th-century American cartoonist and animation pioneer Winsor McCay, best known for his newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. On the evening of February 8, 1914, at the Palace Theater in Chicago, at the height of Vaudeville and World War I, McCay premiered one of the first animated (and interactive) short films, after drawing thousands of frames on his own, and introduced the world to the antics of a friendly “dinosaurus” named Gertie. Gertie the Dinosaur was a success and is now highly regarded by critics and historians.

    By Steven Withrow

    In Winsor’s waking flicker-dreams
    The editing’s inelegant,
    But to the crowd an elephant—
    No, older than a mammoth—seems

    To live. “He’s bound to bank a million,”
    A man says on the mezzanine.
    “McCay has built a time machine!”
    And now this dinosaur vaudevillian

    Giraffes her neck and plucks a plum—
    It’s obvious that she’s a she
    By feminine agility—
    From the chalk-talk master’s inky thumb.

    She swallows whole a cartoon stone
    And races with a mastodon
    Whose upcurved tusks McCay had drawn
    In frame by frame by frame alone.

    She lumbers to a lakeside stop,
    Then dips her head and drinks it dry,
    And, when she’s scolded, starts to cry.
    Her tears are yet another prop

    McCay, tuxedoed, whip in hand,
    Had bundled in her bag of tricks
    Far back as Nineteen-Hundred-Six.
    It works precisely as he’d planned.

    Their grand finale—what a lark!
    House lights drop; McCay shrinks down
    And rides away on Gertie’s crown
    Into the thaumatropic dark.

    ©2014 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

  5. I found your challenge at Heidi's site today, Tricia. I know the book, & it is beautiful, I agree. It was also lovely to see everyone's ideas of America. FYI-the first letters were in bold, but didn't come through.

    Choosy (Chewsy) Americans

    Apple pie
    Moo Gai Pan
    Egg Foo Yung
    Irish potatoes
    Clam chowder
    Arroz con pollo
    Linda Baie ©All rights

  6. Linda, I love your poem, and I do think that list shows what is still best about us. I wish I were feeling upbeat about America today - on her birthday! - but ever since Citizens United and the recent school shootings, well, the truth is, I'm not feeling very sentimental about America recently - I get increasingly cranky about the word "freedom" (freedom to buy assault weapons, freedom to exclude health care choices to women, freedom to buy elections....) and "dreams" (immigrant children being sent home, people seeking amnesty but being turned away....) So my poetry stretch reflects that. Hope it isn't too glum - it's really just full of questions.


    Maybe what isn't
    Wasn't ever, maybe
    What wasn't couldn't
    Even ever be, maybe it was just
    Me - a middle-class old-timer -
    Singing "Free to be..." but
    Not understanding that
    Nobody new was still believing,
    Maybe the ones still yearning
    To breathe free wish they
    Had never come, maybe they wish
    They were leaving, I'm sorry but
    The majesty of those purple mountains
    Bumping into banks too big to fail
    And people too small not to -
    That leaves me bruised and blue
    And it's true, I'm having a hard time
    With the new Hard Times.
    Someone said don't blink but
    I blinked, and I find myself more
    And more thinking isn't it time
    To take off the blinders and cry?

    1. I hear you, Julie. And raise you a blinker or two.


    2. Jane, I know you and I and a lot of us are questioning things right now - maybe we can take our questions and be good advocates for change. I felt like a killjoy adding that "poem" (okay, just a stretch!) into the mix, but the 4th made me bluer this year than other years. Probably the recent SCOTUS decisions?...or maybe, as Ilan Stavans says in his new book (A Most Imperfect Union) there was "too much myth-making for my taste." In any case, I've calmed down and decided to be little more upbeat :-) As usual, I'm swinging like a pendulum (and why do I want to add "...but at least I'm swinging!") Crazy times.

    3. Amen to all of your thoughts here! The "corporations as people" thing has my eyes crossing, and--I'll just stop there. So sad. On the other hand, and thank heavens there's an other hand, this country is still amazing in a lot of ways, from the Grand Canyon to (most of) the people. Plus the lovely fact that it's NOT North Korea! Thanks for sharing, and for the poem.

  7. Enjoyed reading everyone's poems! Interesting about the "dreamy" theme. Linda is making me hungry. One of my favorite stanzas is Heidi's
    "Stars we are all stars
    on the blue ground
    of an earthly heaven
    our pointed hands
    and feet jostling
    for a place, for a time
    of our own"

    To ask for forgiveness from fevered lips
    Still doesn’t quell your ancestors whips
    Or burning our houses, marching our streets
    With angry mobs in ivory sheets.
    Blasted with hoses, strung out in trees,
    Thinking our color was a disease,
    Admitting mistakes takes a lot of heart
    Forgiveness is a good place to start.

    (c) Charles Waters 2014 all rights reserved.