John Keats: A Brief Life

Born on October 31, 1795 in London, John Keats would later go on to become one of the more renowned lyrical poets of his time, joining contemporaries such as Percy Shelley and William Wordsworth in the annals of poetic history – a great accomplishment in and of itself, if not punctuated more so by the short life he lived, passing at the age of 25 years due to tuberculosis. In that time, Keats had published three volumes of poetry and completed works such as “O Solitude” and “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” as well as the epic explorations of Greek mythology, “Endymion” and the posthumously published “Fall of Hyperion.”

The oldest of four children, Keats’ appetite for literature and poetry sprouted at an early age while he was receiving education at Enfield Academy, later to be taken under apprenticeship as an apothecary-surgeon at the age of 15 and studied in a London hospital. Six years later, at the age of 21, Keats was a licensed apothecary, though he never practiced medicine for the rest of his life. His true passion had remained in poetry and its evocative nature.

However, despite how history has held him on a pedestal for his brilliance as a lyrical poet, many within the community of his contemporaries often criticized Keats for his work, labeling him as a “vulgar Cockney poetaster” and degrading his work due to his liberal education compared to their more conservative world views at the time. And while history may sometimes assume that Keats was quite affected by this criticism, the prolificacy that he displayed in the final years of his life might suggest otherwise, particularly in his undertaking of the 4000-line epic, “Endymion.”

While Keats had explored the arenas of politics and social reform in much of his literary work, he is well-remembered for his utility of imagery, of lyric (his Shakespearean sonnets have received notable praise) and especially of his grasp of the human condition – particularly when dealing with terminal beauty as well as suffering and loss, much of which he had braved in his life.

Much of the unknown often explores Keats’ life as one of great hardship, losing his father to horse riding accident at a young age and his mother effectively driving herself from her children’s lives after mishandling family finances. His grandmother eventually turned over matters of the estate to a man named Richard Abbey, who history remembers as miserly and deceitful regarding the family wealth. In fact, it is estimated that, by the time of Keats’ death, Abbey had withheld approximately £2000 from him in a day when even £100 yearly afforded a rather comfortable lifestyle.

Known well for his matters of the heart and the human condition as it relates to suffering, it seems that Keats was fated to experience much of that directly as it related to his family life (the death or loss of his parents and a failed romance with one Fanny Brawne), his finances courtesy of Mr. Abbey, and the backlash of criticism he suffered for his work at the whims of socially disparate counterparts. Yet, despite all that and the misfortune of a short life, Keats was seemingly able to use these experiences to enhance his work and bring to life the evocative nature of poetry that he had spent nearly his entire life daring to explore. Having passed on February 23, 1821 after a trip to Italy, Keats was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

Celebrating Black Poetry During Black History Month

Although we’ve already talked about Maya Angelou before, there are several other inspirational and great African-American poets that should be celebrated not only during Black History Month but at any time because there poetry is amazing regardless. But what I love about black poetry is that you can feel the essence and soul that these writers put into their work as they reflect upon the African-American experience. We can feel their pain, their sorrow, their joy and whatever emotion they are willing to share in their piece.

Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her second collection of poems entitled Annie Allen.  She was also the first black woman to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. Her most famous piece, is “We Real Cool” found below:

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most celebrated times in Black Culture. Jazz musicians like Luis Armstrong and Duke Ellington paved the way for African American musicians, while writers like Langston Hughes broke new ground for African American writers. His most famous poem entitled Harlem (see below) was an inspiration for other black writers. For example, African American playwright  Lorraine Hansberry titled her play A Raisin In The Sun about a black family in Chicago during the time of segregation.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Audre Lorde describes her self as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” During the Civil Rights movement, her poetry reflected the turbulent times. The Brown Menace (below) especially rings true as police brutality, white supremacy and other issues still persist til this day.

Call me

your deepest urge

toward survival

call me

and my brothers and sisters

in the sharp smell of your refusal

call me

roach and presumptuous

nightmare on your white pillow

your itch to destroy

the indestructible

part of yourself.

Call me your own determination

in the most detestable shape

you can become

friend of your image

within me

I am you

in your most deeply cherished nightmare

scuttling through the painted cracks

you create to admit me

into your kitchens

into your fearful midnights

into your values at noon

in your most secret places

with hate

you learn to honor me

by imitation

as I alter–

although your greedy preoccupations

through your kitchen wars

and your poisonous refusal–

to survive.

To survive.


Dylan Thomas – A Brief Biography

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born October 27, 1914 in Swansea, South Wales. And it seemed, from the outset of his life, he was destined for the field of literature. His father, an English literature professor, was known to recite Shakespeare to him as a young boy. This relatively simple act seemed to trigger what would soon become a great love for literature and – specifically – poetry. Thomas became particularly fond of the works of D.H. Lawrence, indulging himself in all of the English novelist’s poetry, and he went on to excel in English while neglecting all of his other studies. It wasn’t very long afterward at the age of 16 that Thomas would leave school altogether to pursue an early career in writing as a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. And it wasn’t much longer after that, Thomas had lost his love of journalism and left his job to dedicate himself fully to his poetry, at the age of 18 years old.

It was within the period of his late teenage years that Thomas seemed to be the most prolific. Roughly half of his accomplished works are accounted between leaving school at 16 and moving to London around the age of 20, shortly after publishing “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” in 1933, which was featured in the New English Weekly. It was this first international publication that would spark interest in him, calling him to the attention of several editors of English literary magazines before moving to London shortly thereafter. His first collection of work would later be featured standalone in December of 1934 as “18 Poems.” Several other collections would soon follow, including “Twenty Five Poems” in 1936 and “The Map of Love” in 1939. Thomas’ work and perspective were also unique in that he generally broke away from contemporary tendencies to write about social or intellectual issues such as T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, preferring to concentrate his efforts more toward lyrical works and reflecting a mood akin to works of the Romantic period.

Unfortunately, as much as Thomas succeeded in the literary world, the other pieces of his life couldn’t seem to fall into place. During the height of his success as a writer, he wed a dancer named Caitlin Macnamara, and they went on to have three children. However, much speculation would later come about the fidelity of their marriage, even suspicions that both he and Macnamara may have been involved in affairs apart from each other. Thomas also struggled financially at a time where he succumbed greatly to alcohol abuse. He took work for the BBC during World War II as a film scriptwriter, in which he contributed to over a hundred radio broadcasts, one of which would later inspire his radio play “Under Milk Wood,” written in 1953. Thomas even supplemented this income with reading tours – reading tours that were more often characterized as “flamboyant performances – which would eventually see him on his way to the likes of Italy, where he would be inspired to write his most famous poem, “Do no go gentle into that good night,” as well as the United States, where he would tour four times in his life. It was unfortunately there, in New York City, on his last tour that Thomas would meet an unfortunate and untimely demise. Having collapsed at the Chelsea Hotel, Thomas passed away only a few days later at St. Vincent’s Hospital on November 9, 1953. It was discovered Thomas had died of pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and a fatty liver.

Despite the issues surrounding many aspects of his life, Dylan Thomas was most remembered for his contribution to the literary world, both for his work and for the performances of his works, reviving with vigor such traditions as lyricism and reinventing the Romantic poet during his time in America, where he was renowned for being “flamboyantly theatrical” and reading his poetry “with tremendous depth of feeling and a singing Welsh lilt.”

Having Fun With Tongue Twisters

Have you ever been sitting around the house with the kids and bored to tears? You don’t want them watching television or playing video games either. You want them to find something to do that is going to keep them entertained and maybe educate them a little. We all know that most kids know that fun and learning is almost always a trap.

However, what if there was a way that we could make them laugh, improve their speech and offer a stronger vocabulary? Thankfully, there is and it comes in the form of fun and exciting tongue twisters.

While a tongue twister may sound like an immense form of pain in your mouth, it could not be further from the truth! In fact, a tongue twister is simply when a group of similar words are placed in a sentence and create a difficult situation for an unexpecting individual. While these tongue twisters are more than willing to give anyone’s speech a run through they will serve up some serious giggles. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to get you off running with some of our favorite tongue twisters.

Now there are three rules you need to know if you are going to try these. One, you have to say them three times each. Two, you have to say them as fast as possible. And three, you have to laugh!

If you have ever gone to the beach, you more than likely have come across your fair share of seashells. In fact, this is exactly what ha[ppend to poor little Sally one afternoon:

“Sally sells silver sea shells… by the shiny sea shore…
So she can see… the shimmering silver ships”

Where you able to keep up with Sally and her seashells or did your tongue get tied up?

Origin of ‘Roses are Red’

We’ve all heard (and some of us might have even written) some variation of the classic love poem “Roses are Red.” It’s a simple four-line stanza with an equally simple rhyme scheme:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Sugar is sweet

And so are you

And while this poem in itself comes off as something like a simple nursery rhyme, what if I were to tell you that its origins transform it into but a piece of a much greater work? While the modern-day usage is far from word-for-word compared to its ancestral use, the similarities are quite clear.

It was upon a Sommers shynie day,

When Titan faire his beames did display,

In a fresh fountaine, farre from all mens vew,

She bath’d her brest, the boyling heat t’allay;

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,

And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forest grew.

This excerpt is from the epic poem The Faerie Queene, written in 1590 by Sir Edmund Spenser, specifically Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6. For those of you who might not know, this poem is meant to reflect Elizabethan virtues (such as temperance, chastity, friendship and courtesy, among others) in the forms of various knights during their travels, as each of these virtues is challenged and tested. The work itself spans across seven different books, the seventh and final being incomplete, though Sir Spenser’s original intent was to compile a body of twelve separate books. But, I digress.

Other origin stories regarding “Roses are Red” can arguably be found in more content-similar sources. As the poem itself is one so simple in structure, content and rhyme scheme, it stands to reason to find that inspiration may very well have been drawn upon from the likes of actual nursery rhymes – in this case, “Gammer Gurton’s Garland: Or the Nursery Parnassus,” a collection of English nursery rhymes written by Joseph Ritson in 1784. The specific excerpt inclusive of the source for the modern-day poem is as follows:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you

Even more obvious than Spenser’s usage in “The Faerie Queene,” this practically shows the modern nursery rhyme verbatim within the body of the poetry itself. And considering the fact that this is literally from a book of nursery rhymes and how the poem is viewed in the modern day, it makes even more sense to associate the origins with “Roses are Red” to this work, whether many of us were even aware of its existence of not. There is, however, one body of work from which the poem may very well have evolved that many of us have heard about. The original two-line excerpt follows:

Les bleuets sont bleus, les roses son roses

Les bleuets sont bleus, j’aime mes amours

Translated from its original French, “The violets are blue, the roses are red, the violets are blue, I love my loves.” This is part of the body of a song sung by the character Fantine within the time-tested work Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Some speculate that he may have been familiar with Spenser and his work, “The Faerie Queene,” and perhaps drew inspiration from such, though to say one way or another definitively is a rather moot point. However, it is still interesting to note how so simple a poem in both structure and content can have such a lustrous background concerning its possible origin story.

Are Nursery Rhymes Considered Poems

What defines a poem? To many people, it is as simple as writing several lines of words with similar syllable counts and an easily identifiable rhyme scheme. To others, it can be as complex as associating techniques such as internal rhyme or particular cadences, or sometimes it employs no rhyme scheme at all, but emphasizes its content through imagery, clever wordplay and other writing techniques such as symbolism or allegory. Ultimately, it begs the question: are written pieces such as nursery rhymes actually considered poetry?

Many who are more versed in written poetry would be tempted to say that poetry as a whole is a composition of words in prose or verse form (even if that form happens to be blank verse with no real, defined or recognizable structure at all), the end result of an attempt to portray vivid emotions and ideas. Rhymes, arguably, are really only one piece to this puzzle on a general scale, assuming they are even utilized at all (refer to blank verse). Considering there are various types of rhymes and rhyme schemes (when they even exist) that can appear in a wide variety of ways, to argue that a nursery rhyme is on par with ‘legitimate’ poetry might be taken as an insult to some poetry purists.

And while it is true that, by their nature, nursery rhymes in general are not at all complex in either vocabulary, posited ideas or imagery, or even any sort of complicated rhyme scheme (generally, they employ some variant of the easily repetitive a, b, a, b style with the rhyme pairs consistently appearing at the end of lines), the idea that nursery rhymes could qualify as legitimate poetry could very well come down to nothing but personal preference.

With that said, the main element in nursery rhymes is in fact the rhymes themselves. The easily identifiable rhythmic meter is precisely what gives nursery rhymes their unique quality as opposed to being pairs of potentially meaningless, written verse that may or may not have rhyming words coming together at the end of them. Often, nursery rhymes employ few other (if any) poetic techniques for the sake of being simple enough for children to understand. And consider nursery are written primarily for young children. Many young children aren’t interested in or able to identify internal meaning or even many rhyme schemes any more complicated than external rhymes (incorporating words that rhyme at the end of lines), even though other potential rhymes do exist, such as the internal rhyme (in which words within the same line rhyme with each other), the assonantal or consonantal rhymes (which attempt a rhyme scheme by either vowel or consonant sounds respectively rather than an entire syllable), or even alliteration.

So, while it is not necessarily inaccurate to say that nursery rhymes are poetry, it puts a very broad definition to an already broad and sometimes vague topic of discussion in defining poetry. The greatest debate seems to be that nursery rhymes exist primarily to highlight only one technique of written poetry – and only one technique that may or may not even be used consistently within poetry. Very infrequently does a nursery rhyme involve any other poetic qualities besides cadence and overly simplistic rhyme schemes. So, when asked if nursery rhymes are poetry, it’s really only a small corner of poetic possibility that nursery rhymes ever touch upon.

Considering The Symbolism Of “The Raven”

As we get ever closer to Halloween, one of the favorite activities of some families is to read some of the classic works of Edgar Allen Poe.

After all, who else in American literature has such scary and macabre stories and poems, focused on death and lost love? Edgar’s our man when it comes to Halloween.

One of the favorite Halloween poems is “The Raven,” which was successfully spoofed by the animated show The Simpsons during a Halloween special.

Poe developed quite a legacy with his short stories and poems, all revolving around death, lost love and the macabre in general. “The Raven” is one of those poems that can be analyzed to be about either death or lost love, or perhaps both. The symbolism can be interpreted in a number of ways, and let’s take a quick look at a couple of these symbols and what they could mean.

The Raven

Of course in a poem known as “The Raven,” it would only make sense to spend a little time discussing the title character. The raven tortures the narrator of the poem, especially with his incessant “nevermore” reply. But what does the raven mean in the poem?

The narrator refers to “Lenore” a few times in the piece, and the raven is asked about Lenore. While the Lenore symbolism will be discussed in a minute, the raven could either be seen as death (due to the dark color of the bird, which is often correlative to death) or could be symbolizing the Grim Reaper taking away Lenore, that lost love. Another idea has to do with Lenore not being an actual person but a symbol of love, where the raven is a reminder to the narrator that death is coming and overrules any positive emotion in this mortal existence.


Lenore is clearly a symbol and is not referring to an actual person. At least, that seems to be the idea, because Poe takes no effort to explain anything about her.

We know from Poe’s biography that he did have a true love lost in his life, a woman whom he was infatuated but was forbidden because she was married to someone else. Then she died quite young and it tore Poe’s heart.  Perhaps Lenore is a memory of that lost love, and the raven represents death which took her away from the narrator and tortures the narrator’s heartbreak.

Another possible explanation is that Lenore could represent life eternal, or hope and optimism, while the raven is reality of death and the finality of mortal existence, and as much as the narrator wants to “focus” on what is possible with Lenore, the raven never fails to dominate the room, showing that escaping death can never happen. It’s like paying taxes.

Flight of the Raven

Which direction “The Raven” actually goes is up for healthy debate, but it seems pretty clear that both of Poe’s favorite themes – death and lost love – are showing in colorful words straight from the heart of Poe, one of the great writers in American history, and the darling of Halloween.

The Frosting of Frost’s Fork

Robert Frost is a true American poetic legend.

His style, his mind-portraits with his words are all masterpieces that are celebrated for generations. But there may be one of his most-famous poems that have been turned into an unfortunate cliché

We have all gotten various greeting cards or “motivational” or “inspirational” notes that refer to the “road less traveled.” That phrase comes from Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” but a reading of the poem in its full context reveals that the phrase is misused constantly.

The basis of “The Road Not Taken” isn’t about being a trailblazer or doing something in an unorthodox way. If one actually reads the poem, the theme isn’t on the road that is truly less traveled – which in the poem doesn’t actually exist – but it is instead about the “fork in the road” that is a metaphor for any of life’s choices and decisions we make almost every day.

The truth of the matter is that the title gets misrepresented. We can read that clearly there is no road that is actually less traveled between the two that the narrator is considering. They are both virtually untraveled. The poem is not about blazing trails, it’s about the road our choice takes us down. It is untraveled because that “fork” is the decision that we have yet to make, and so no one else can go down either road because this is a decision that only we have individually.

You see, when we come to a decision, even if 100 other people faced the exact same decision, their “forks” are in a different context of their individual lives. Even if we have the same options, the course of our life will be different than those other 100 people. The untraveled road signifies where we will be going based on our decision. It’s essentially free will combining with what the “plan” will be for us. And our “plan” will be different than those 100 other people who may have had the same decision because all of our lives are individual and we all come to that decision, that “fork,” from different places.

With what is revealed about this poem is that it’s about future potential regret for the road not taken, and about the future and how we might see our lives based on the decision that we are yet to take. On the one hand, there is an expectation of one of two things – either we will remember our past inaccurately, or we will undergo some “revisionism” or hypocrisy about the decision.

On the other hand, the poem is about wondering “what if.” If we take one road, we will wonder at some point down that path whether we should have taken the other road – is the road not taken better than the one we chose? And as we make this choice only once, we are never able to go back and re-visit the fork again, which is also a lamentation in the poem.

Robert Frost is accomplished at painting a picture of nature that explores our psyche and makes us contemplate the beauty and the starkness of the decisions we make and possible consequences. Reading Frost is a fascinating psychological journey.

Famous Children’s Poets Who You Should Know

When we start reading to our kids, we don’t always consider adding variety to the regimen. Sure, simple stories are nice but sometimes kids and parents could both benefit from something a little bit different. Poetry can provide a lot of benefits for a young mind: not only does it make you think and interpret a lot more about a little bit, but it can also help put them to sleep when it’s time for bed. Sure, we all know Dr. Seuss. But there are more poets out there devoted to telling insightful tales to your kids. Here are a few of the great children’s poets whose names you should definitely know.

Shel Silverstein was a Playboy cartoonist, but don’t let that dissuade you from giving his poems a try. Actually, the Playboy mansion was where he wrote a lot of his work. He wrote Where The Sidewalk Ends, a book of poems that was quickly recognized as a classic.

Edward Lear wrote and illustrated his poetic works, and when he wasn’t doing that he was working on other artistic endeavors such as composing music. When he was writing children’s poems, however, he made a name for himself by perfecting the limerick. It could be argued that he’s the only reason most of us have heard so many of them growing up.

Jacqueline Woodson has written a number of successful young adult novels, but she writes for younger kids and even adults as well. She won a National Book Award in 2014 and was appointed as the young people’s poet laureate of the Poetry Foundation.

Robert Louis Stevenson is famous for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and Treasure Island, but also a number of popular children’s poems on a variety of subjects. He isn’t afraid to venture into more serious topics or at least touch upon the darkness inherent in us all from time to time.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was written by Judith Viorst, but she also wrote poetry for children and parents both. She is especially known for her witty, fun-flavored titles like: Sad Underwear and Other Complications.

Roald Dahl never stopped churning out poetry. He wrote a collection called Revolting Rhymes. In it, he retold famous fairy tales–but these were far darker than your traditional Disney flavor.

You may not have heard of Naomi Shihab Nye, but she’s a master of the narrative whether in the form of narrative or poetic verse. She has won a number of awards and prizes for her writing. She’s known for the kind of imagery she weaves into her tales.

How many of these children’s poets did you recognize? There are dozens more that you might wish to see on the list, but these are a good start.

Seven Controversial Poets You Should Read Right Now

Poetry isn’t for everyone, but there are some poets who write about the most explosive topics you could imagine. Those who are brave enough to venture into this territory of the written word should be commended for both their skill in gaining the attention of the masses and their willingness to do it, even knowing the consequences. These are seven of the most controversial poets you’ll ever hear about, and you should probably read a few of their poems as soon as you can.

W.B. Yeats wrote a poem called The Second Coming, a cold prophecy about the fall of a Christian age that has lasted for two thousand years. He firmly believed that such eras tended to last about that long, and that this one was ending at last. He considered the millions of dead from World War I to be evidence of this.

Amiri Baraka might be the most controversial on the list, and the most contemporary. After the events of 9/11, she wrote a poem called Somebody Blew Up America. A hardcore truther, he believed that President Bush was quite aware of what would transpire that day, as were the Israelis. This publication caused a battle between the poet and a number of government posts including the governor of New Jersey at the time, and soon enough the question of how far free speech can go came up.

Allen Ginsberg published Howl in 1956 inside of a collection. He was a fierce opponent of conformity during a time period that needed such a man to speak for the rest of us who couldn’t. He was openly gay, and at the time such a thing was considered an illness as well as a criminal act. His collection was taken into the court system of San Francisco, a city which thankfully allowed its publication.

T.S. Eliot got The Wasteland published in 1922, and it has graced literature classes ever since. All over the U.S., poetry was somewhat fluffy and light-hearted, and T.S. Eliot’s new work crushed everything we knew about the medium into darkness and oblivion in a post-war world left in extreme emotional pain.

William Shakespeare isn’t all that controversial anymore, but some of his subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, and it wasn’t always well-received during the time in which it was written. Although it isn’t an explosive reason, some of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare regarded the writing conventions which up to that point hadn’t been standardized. Spelling and grammar were in part up to the author to define. He helped create a number of the words and colloquialisms still in use today.

Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck explored the past, present, and the way the two interact when it comes to the way in which we define the sexuality of women during the women’s movement. The poem is steeped in metaphor, opening with a shipwreck underneath the ocean surface.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, perhaps one of the greatest achievements of his time period. Although his writing isn’t all that controversial in the strictest sense, he managed to strongly impact writing in the form of poetry for some time to come by implementing syllabic meter into his works. This helped propel Middle English used at that time into something that felt a lot more alive.