16 June 2010

Poetry in a Vacation Challenge

Throughout the summer we are going to challenge you to think of books that move you to travel --to walk in the footsteps of the author or to go to the places on the pages.  

We begin with Poetry.  Why?  Because we were inspired by Emily Dickinson!  Here is the story:

Soon New York buses will be graced with another poem, this one from Emily Dickinson.  Care of the Poetry Society of America riders can read a bit of poetry as the bus pulls into the stop.  

According to Alice Quinn, executive director of the PSA, the latest poem with share "How happy is the little stone that rambles in the road alone, and doesn't care about careers and exigencies never fears."  A good thing to ponder these days. 

The presence of Emily will certainly help to promote an exhibition, which the Poetry Society of America co-sponsored, at the New York Botanical Garden. The Botanical Garden has recreated the gardens which fed Emily's soul and moved her to discover her timeless prose.  Throughout the garden are 30 poems placed near the flowers and trees from which her inspiration blossomed.

We suggest this Poetic Vacation
Head to the Bronx and immerse yourself in the gardens that inspired Emily Dickinson. How to get there: Emily Dickinson's Garden: The Poetry of Flowers is open through August 1, 2010.  To get the full scoop watch this segment on PBS, The Garden Roots of Emily Dickinson's Poetry -click here to watch.  For even more inspiration listen to NPR's segment and check out the photos, click here.
We invite you to think of a favorite poem.   Where would it take you on vacation? Another option: think of a place and then search for a poem about it. Tell us about the poet/poetry and the place that inspires the trip!  Please feel free to write out the entire poem.


  1. I can hear the echoes of the voice that first read this to me, but I cannot remember who it was. I imagine going there with that voice... that would be a magical vacation.

    The Isle Lake of Innisfree
    William Butler Yeats

    I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

    And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
    Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
    There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
    And evening full of the linnet's wings.

    I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
    While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
    I hear it in the deep heart's core.

  2. Butterfly
    Flutter by,
    Floating flower
    in the sky.
    Kiss me with your
    Petal wings---
    Whisper secrets,
    Tell of spring.

    Author Unknown

    I came across this poem today -there are butterflies all over my garden and I thought how life would be if I were a butterfly. I am not sure if this is what you mean, but I would love to vacation as a butterfly!

  3. The Big Sister and The Little Sister want to go to Paris. And since we didn't know a poem off hand we started looking, here is what we found!

    Paris in Spring

    The city's all a-shining
    Beneath a fickle sun,
    A gay young wind's a-blowing,
    The little shower is done.
    But the rain-drops still are clinging
    And falling one by one --
    Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
    And spring-time has begun.

    I know the Bois is twinkling
    In a sort of hazy sheen,
    And down the Champs the gray old arch
    Stands cold and still between.
    But the walk is flecked with sunlight
    Where the great acacias lean,
    Oh it's Paris, it's Paris,
    And the leaves are growing green.

    The sun's gone in, the sparkle's dead,
    There falls a dash of rain,
    But who would care when such an air
    Comes blowing up the Seine?
    And still Ninette sits sewing
    Beside her window-pane,
    When it's Paris, it's Paris,
    And spring-time's come again.

    Sara Teasdale

  4. Peter Berlinghof2:08 PM

    I'll have to get to the NY Botanical gardens for the Dickinson exhibit!

    And we New Yorkers have been enjoying poetry with our public transporation for a while now- the NYC Subway system's "Poetry in Motion" program sometimes displays short poems on the trains in the overhead spaces that usually have advertisements. I always enjoy the way these poems in unlikely places have the ability of instantly transporting you away from your daily commute to another state of mind. Check out the link for more info:


  5. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.
    12. The Windhover
    To Christ our Lord

    I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
    In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
    Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

    Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
    Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
    Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

    I am at the Grand Canyon at sunrise, and down below soars a giant condor, riding on the warmth of the air awakened from the golden western wall.

  6. I am taking some liberties with this challenge... but when I read the words "travel" and "poem" I thought of the lyrics to this song which take me on a journey and make me long for travel at the same time:

    California by Joni Mitchell

    Sitting in a park in Paris, France
    Reading the news and it sure looks bad
    They won't give peace a chance
    That was just a dream some of us had
    Still a lot of lands to see
    But I wouldn't want to stay here
    It's too old and cold and settled in it's ways here
    Oh, but California
    California I'm coming home
    I'm going to see the folks I dig
    I'll even kiss a Sunset pig
    California I'm coming home

    I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
    Who did the goat dance very well
    He gave me back my smile
    But he kept my camera to sell
    Oh the rogue, the red red rogue
    He cooked good omelettes and stews
    And I might have stayed on with him there
    But my heart cried out for you, California
    Oh California I'm coming home
    Oh make me feel good rock'n roll band
    I'm your biggest fan
    California, I'm coming home


    Oh it gets so lonely
    When you're walking
    And the streets are full of strangers
    All the news of home you read
    Just gives you the blues
    Just gives you the blues

    So I bought me a ticket
    I caught a plane to Spain
    Went to a party down a red dirt road
    There were lots of pretty people there
    Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue
    They said, "How long can you hang around?"
    I said "a week, maybe two,
    Just until my skin turns brown
    Then I'm going home to California"
    California I'm coming home
    Oh will you take me as I am
    Strung out on another man
    California I'm coming home


    Oh it gets so lonely
    When you're walking
    And the streets are full of strangers
    All the news of home you read
    More about the war
    And the bloody changes
    Oh will you take me as l am?
    Will you take me as l am?
    Will you?

  7. Stacy Dever Levy9:22 PM

    This poem helps me to feel like I don't NEED a vacation. :)

    Why I Wake Early
    Mary Oliver

    Hello, sun in my face.
    Hello, you who make the morning
    and spread it all over the fields
    and into the faces of the tulips
    and the nodding morning glories,
    and into the windows of, even, the
    miserable and the crotchety-

    best preacher that ever was,
    dear star, that just happens
    to be where you are in the universe
    to keep us from ever-darkness,
    to ease us with warm touching,
    to hold us in the great hands of light-
    good morning, good morning, good morning.

    Watch, now, how I start the day
    in happiness, in kindness.

  8. Honestly, poetry IS a vacation unto itself. It opens the mind to the dream world of the writer. I go to poetry for strength, for inspiration, for sourcing and understanding when my mind is clouded with too much.
    Additionally, it seems I write poetry to unmuddle the muddified.
    I feel an ache to contribute to this particular challenge because of the close connection the center of my soul has to Emily Dickinson, and that is the direct result of some very important mentors in my life—the late Dr. Roseanne Hoefel, and Dr. Carol Bender, both professors of mine during my four years at Alma College.
    I spent a spring term studying Dickinson on the East Coast. We traveled by bus from Michigan, through Niagra Falls, and into Massachusetts where we stayed at the University of Massachusetts and experienced a fragment of the ‘five college system’ life for a day or so. While there, we visited the Robert Frost museum and the Emily Dickinson Homestead—walked through the rooms where she lived (and wrote!) and walked the grounds as well—observing the lush gardens, the trees; her vantage point.
    Spending time in Amherst in springtime is simply stated: verdant.
    I fell in love with the community, with Smith College, with the allure of the poetry and academic influences of life there, in that space. It was chilly and one day I bought an oversized grey sweatshirt with ‘Amherst’ in purple across the chest I can remember every rain soaked or humidified, late-spring morning, jogging, with the heavy pull of that sweatshirt, weighing me down.
    After our brief stint in Amherst, we traveled to Woods Hole, hopped the ferry, and moved into a cute white home in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard for the month.
    There were many poems read, assignments given, and a large paper written during the class. We shared time with another class on the island—Dr. Bender’s creative writing class, and concocted group dinners and blended assignments. We had to act out one of our poems and the piece I memorized and tried my best to ‘act’ out was:
    I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (280) by Emily Dickinson
    I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
    And Mourners to and fro Kept
    treading – treading – till it seemed
    That Sense was breaking through –
    And when they all were seated,
    A Service, like a Drum –
    Kept beating – beating –
    till I thought
    My Mind was going numb –
    And then I heard them lift a Box
    And creak across my Soul
    With those same Boots of Lead, again,
    Then Space – began to toll,
    As all the Heavens were a Bell,
    And Being, but an Ear,
    And I, and Silence, some strange Race
    Wrecked, solitary, here –
    And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
    And I dropped down, and down –
    And hit a World, at every plunge,
    And Finished knowing – then –

    I will always hold Dickinson close to my heart, and take time to re-read her work the sheer volume could be enjoyed over a lifetime.
    Special thanks to Tracey for the Joni Mitchell… every time we share something I see why we became quick friends! California is one of my favorites. It reminds me of my sister, and the summers of our youth—in particular her hippie phase as a young mother & woman on the verge of it all… the song always calls to mind the bright, golden maizey star light of my sister! Oh and thank you to Stacy for the Oliver piece as well… I love her, but had not read that poem yet! Oh how I love the BFW community! Thank you, thank you, thank you Four of Us for providing this space for us to commune!

  9. To Dreamer Jenn, et al. That Dickinson poem is not easy. For a number of years I taught in an all-boys prep school and in our American Literature class we would come upon that poem. Working through it was not very satisfying. Dickinson does not use either words or images casually. What was going on here? No matter where the discussion led us, I knew intuitively that we were not grasping it, but I couldn't answer the question. So it stayed a mystery until one discussion, sitting with a group of 16 year olds and listening to the usual suspects, "She's describing a nightmare."... "She's thinking of her own death and burial." and my prodding, "Why does she say "felt"/ How does such-and-such an image fit?", a young man said quietly, "She's having a nervous breakdown." And the poem broke open! To my credit, I said very calmly, "That's interesting. Can you read the images for us?" And, just as calmly, he did. When he finished, there were a few moments of silence and some lines from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins came into my mind:

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
    Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
    May who ne'er hung there. ...

    I thought of our interpreter, "He knows, he's been there."

    The silence was broken by the inevitable question to the teacher, "Is he right?" And I gave the only possible reply. "What do you think?"

    I am comfortable with the poem now. But I ask a similar question, what were your thinking as you acted it out?

  10. Please excuse the typos in the comment above. It's hot and steamy in my aerie and not conducive to seeing my own mistakes.