Exploring The Hardships Of Divorce Through Poetry

You’ve probably heard the relevant statistics: nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Or young people aren’t marrying or having children as much (or as early) as they once did. Society is about to collapse, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard the doomsday naysaying. Marriage is a difficult vow to uphold. The institution is under pressure from all sides. But sometimes it’s important to focus on the pain we feel at the end of one journey — which we can use to recognize that it can just as easily be viewed as the beginning of another.

How often do couples claim to have had an amicable divorce? They happen. But even when couples split up agreeably, it can still be an emotional roller coaster — especially after years of togetherness have been invested. The following poems explore divorce in all its forms, from the good to the bad.

“The Break Away” was written by Anne Sexton. And she’s not one to cut corners when describing the harsh realities of a life apart:

Your daisies have come

on the day of my divorce.

They arrive like round yellow fish,

sucking with love at the coral of our love.

Yet they wait,

in their short time,

like little utero half-borns,

half killed, thin and bone soft.

They breathe the air that stands

for twenty-five illicit days,

the sun crawling inside the sheets,

the moon spinning like a tornado

in the washbowl,

and we orchestrated them both,

calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.

There was a song, our song on your cassette,

that played over and over

and baptised the prodigals.

It spoke the unspeakable,

as the rain will on an attic roof,

letting the animal join its soul

as we kneeled before a miracle–

forgetting its knife.

Pablo Neruda’s popular poem “If You Forget Me” explores what it might be like to lose someone you love — even when you know you’re better off without them:

I want you to know

one thing.

You know how this is:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

of the slow autumn at my window,

if I touch

near the fire

the impalpable ash

or the wrinkled body of the log,

everything carries me to you,

as if everything that exists,

aromas, light, metals,

were little boats

that sail

toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

And then there are the poets who explore what it means to make and break a vow at a time when vows were taken, well, more seriously than those made today. John Dryden shows us how to walk this path in “Why Should a Foolish Marriage Vow:”

Why should a foolish marriage vow,

Which long ago was made,

Oblige us to each other now

When passion is decay’d?

We loved, and we loved, as long as we could,

Till our love was loved out in us both:

But our marriage is dead, when the pleasure is fled:

‘Twas pleasure first made it an oath.

If I have pleasures for a friend,

And farther love in store,

What wrong has he whose joys did end,

And who could give no more?

‘Tis a madness that he should be jealous of me,

Or that I should bar him of another:

For all we can gain is to give ourselves pain,

When neither can hinder the other.

Poetry Topics: What Should I Ask My Students To Write About?

Many teachers will inevitably ask their students to write about whatever they feel like writing about. Sometimes an assignment will relate to a book read for class. But other times it can be most beneficial to provide students with a framework, context, or abstract idea and let them run with it. Giving the entire class the same idea can lead to some strangely provocative work! Here are a few easy ideas for poetry topics.

One classroom professor (whose name we will absolutely mention: Joseph Cardillo), routinely gave his college students a one-word framework about which a poem needed to be written. One of those topics? The word “lips.” Another? The word “eyes.” There was no other direction provided. A poem needed only incorporate the word. The results were fun, to say the least. 

Asking students to write a poem about a specific topic can inspire interest. Ask them to write about where they grew up — a town, community, state, province, or country are all fair game. The most provocative, insightful poetry will come from those who were born outside of the country, and help other students understand outsiders a little more.

You can also ask students to write about abstract concepts like a bad dream, love, the feeling of falling asleep, what it’s like to be underwater, etc. Ask them to write about a sight, sound, emotion, or anything else related to the five senses. Ask them to write about things they haven’t yet experienced for themselves! What is it like to become a parent? What is it like to climb a mountain? ….Explore outer space? Anything is fair game.

Children love to dream. Ask them to write about a fantasy, like a super power they wish they had. There are so many options! And keep in mind that these prompts don’t just work for high school students or little kids — they will work just fine for you, too!

The History Of American Cities Through The Lens Of Poetry

The United States of America is a great melting pot of diversity, much of which can be seen in its cities. February is African American History Month — but most of us have forgotten because we’re so focused on COVID-19 and a historic second impeachment. But go to America’s cities, and the melting pot is there for everyone to see. The history becomes more visible. Chinatown in NYC, Little Tokyo in LA, the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

Poetry is a great way to experience a city’s history. 

Trenton, New Jersey holds a number of events throughout the year devoted to those whose hearts yearn for more poems from new and old writers alike. The Pop Up Shop: Black History Month: Poetry Edition will occur on February 27 at 2 PM in the Heavenly J Dance Studio. Remembering Poe will take place in the Historic Village at Allaire (Wall Township, NJ), but will set you back thirty dollars.

New York is another great place to enjoy the written word — voice aloud. The Spoken Word Battle Slam series: The ReBoot will take place in Brooklyn’s APAC Studio on Friday, March 5 at 8 PM. Slam poetry is an experience like no other, and we highly recommend seeing (and listening for yourself) at least once.

Head to Honey’s Lounge in Houston, Texas for Talkin Dirty After Dark on Friday, February 19, at 7 PM. A second event at Honey’s will present The Ides of March on Friday, March 19 at 7 PM.

For fifteen dollars, you can listen to Herbs & Words Spoken Word & Smokin Mics in Philadelphia, PA on February 27 at 8 PM. 

Those interested in city-specific poems can begin a relevant search here. Chicago Poems is an aptly-named collection of poems written by Carl Sandburg. Here’s an excerpt:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

If you’re not drooling for American cities just yet, try “Elegy for the Native Guards.” Here’s a taste:

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead

trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—

all the way to Ship Island. What we see

first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee—

half reminder of the men who served there—

a weathered monument to some of the dead.

An Influential Poem For High School Students

It can be difficult for many of us to feel relaxed when reading poetry — because it’s not for everyone! Some struggle to read between the lines or envision exactly what a writer is trying to tell us through the written word. But even though some may not enjoy the poems we share, we still have the obligation to share them. That’s especially true for young kids and high school students whose minds are still developing. 

These are some of the most influential poems that every student should read at least once. The poem “Snow” by David Berman perfectly encapsulates the strange spontaneity of childhood — and all the bizarre things we do and say to make it interesting. It reads:

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow. 

For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels

Had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake. 

The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn’t know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor. 

Our voices hung close in the new acoustics. 

A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

When we talk to kids about poetry, we always must ask several questions: “What does this mean to you?” “What do you see?” “How did it make you feel?” Part of this exercise isn’t just about poetry. Instead, it’s about learning more about the students themselves. Many will use poems to explain their own feelings and experiences to those who are willing to listen (and, ironically, read in between the lines of life).

Poems That Explore The Minority’s American Dream

The United States is a melting pot. We don’t have “culture” of our own — or so some say — not because we haven’t built a wonderful country, but because we’ve assimilated the cultures of all our combined peoples. We’ve assimilated their foods, their interests, their art, and everything else. But for some reason not all of us understand that our diversity is what makes us stronger. It’s what gives us that little extra something that other countries lack.

And because of that, discrimination against minorities is alive and well in America. If anything, the last four years have ensured that the friction between our minority and majority communities is more dangerous than ever. Attacks against minorities are on the rise. And that’s why we feel it’s time to enjoy some of the poems that explore the American dream — from a minority’s point of view.

Langston Hughes provided us with a wonderful poetic vision of his American dream. A compilation called The Dream Keeper and Other Poems gave us great insight. He wrote:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes […].

Tomorrow,

I’ll sit at the table

When company comes. […]

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed —

I, too, sing America.

The lines express a semblance of camaraderie between those who feel like outcasts and everyone else — even if some people pretend not to see it. Langston writes as an American like anyone else, and challenges those who are prejudiced to take a good look and see if they can say he isn’t really beautiful.

“Not a Movie” shows the struggle that African Americans once endured when trying to vote. Sadly, that struggle is echoed today in the GOP’s use of voter suppression. 

Well, they rocked him with road-apples

Because he tried to vote

and whipped his head with clubs

and he crawled on his knees to his house

and he got the midnight train

and he crossed that Dixie line

now he’s livin’

on a 133rd.

[…] And there ain’t no Ku Klux

On a 133rd.

Other minorities express similar struggles through poetry. A group of Muslim American girls wrote “American Dream” and “Welcome” to show what their parents expected when immigrating. This is “Chameleon,” written in part by 15-year-old Lena Ginawi.

We will never be white only pretend to be. We hide behind big mirrors and lies unsure of who we really are.

African American or the other way around? Pakistani first, American?,” they say.

“Tears roll off our face. The droplets form a perfectly curved rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, which one am I?” they say voices rising.

“Which one are we. Maybe we’re a mix. Maybe we are many. A combination of colors … Maybe we are one.”

Theirs is a story so many share: that of a marginalized community trying to fit in just like everyone else. 

Poems To Inspire During The Remaining Months Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

By the end of this pandemic, it’s almost certain that most of us will understand some semblance of the losses we’ve been forced to endure. Even those of us who haven’t directly felt the effect will have a friend or friend of a friend who lost a loved one or works in healthcare. Nursing homes have been entirely wiped out by COVID-19, their residents sent to the hospital to never return. While some of us will always deny the reality of what has happened, most of us get it. And we’re looking for a way to cope.

Well, poetry will always provide an outlet for those of us who need it the most. Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” is a great reminder that life presents us a choice: allow pain to conquer all, or allow all to conquer pain. Granted, Bishop wrote this poem in the 70s while struggling with alcoholism, but the words are certainly as relevant as ever — especially since they begin with a list of things that can be lost. The bright side is this: some of us haven’t lost near to everything we have worth having, and we should cherish all left to us in this time of uncertainty.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Writing About One Of Life’s Biggest Obstacles: Poverty

To say that the world has thrown us a curveball in the last twelve months is a huge understatement — and whereas all of us hope for the best in 2021, the year has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. Many of us are still out of work thanks to job cutbacks and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many more to rethink their financial situations. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the written word has become all the more valuable.

You might not think that a person would choose to write about their own experiences with a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy — but they do. That’s the sad state of the world we live in. Here are a few poems that explore this unfortunate topic.

This poem is aptly called “Bankruptcy” and was written by Kelvin Rush, who takes a somewhat comical and almost optimistic approach to what life threw his way:

My assets were sold

I was stripped naked and bare

They found all the gold

It was a callous affair

My home has now gone

My reputation in tatters

At least I’m still alive

That’s all that matters

They took all my money

My possessions, my debts

They’ll be no more legal action

No phone calls, no threats

In a year from now

I become debt free

Thank you to my creditors

For my Bankruptcy!

“Bankruptcy Hearing” by Dana Bisignani takes on a completely different tone: she writes about how the stigma of bankruptcy and financial distress can be crushing, follow you around forever, and make you feel like a child unfit to survive in the real world.

They have us corralled

in the basement of the courthouse.

One desk and a row of folding chairs—

just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher

in neat little rows.

        Upstairs,

wooden benches like pews and red

carpet reserved for those who’ve held out

the longest. No creditors have come to claim us

today. We’re small-time.

This guy from the graveyard shift

stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands

in his lap. None of us look each other

in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you

get here. . .  

chemo bills, a gambling addiction,

a summer spent unemployed and too many

cash advances to pay the rent.

We examine the pipes that hang

from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,

the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall

so like our other failed escapes:

light of the TV at night,

glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,

a stop light on the way out of town.

The Best Election-Based Poetry For 2020

The election is right around the corner. Suffice it to say, many Americans are feeling anxious about the outcome of the election. The majority, in fact, call it very important whether they belong to the left or right side of the aisle. Poetry is about discerning the truth from complicated images and topics, though, which is why we’re partial to Medium’s Election 2020 collection of poems called “Resistance.”

Emma Briggs’s “Anticipation” sums up how we all feel right now. It encompasses the darkness we all see in the future, but remains optimistic in its message:

‘Like waiting for a biopsy.’

Indeed,

and I’m not even directly affected.

This last week

is not easy:

a daily escalation

of tension.

‘What if?’

Try not to slip

down the terror spiral.

Try not to trip out

on how it’s so wrong.

Focus on those

small signs of light

in this dismal tunnel.

Keep breathing,

stop reading

the comments.

Everything ends,

remember;

finally life

will cycle on

and around

as usual.

Sherrye Richardson asks “How Broken Are We?” in another practical poem. How many of us can relate to the idea that we as Americans are living in a fractured, broken society struggling to recover from its differences — even as we’ve struggled for hundreds of years?

Misery master

Destroyer of dreams, killer

Of hope and teller of lies

Surrender

Recover

Give more, go hard

Lay down, stay down

Choices, decisions react

Going forward

Some days nothing matters

Others down and blue

Reach to find

The stolen soul

Not quite defeated

Rise up America

Gail Walter shared “We Shall Not Be Moved” in order to showcase how the past can tell the story of the present and future:

“Tomorrow the invasion begins in earnest, and it is an invasion with all the implied violence. It is the feeling of flat on the ground, face in the gravel, something heavy in the middle of the back so that the stomach has nowhere to go. It is a posture of death. It is a posture that cannot sustain life. Parts of the dying earth fill my mouth so that I cannot breathe and cannot speak.”
Read the rest here.

The Most Disturbing Poems You’ve Never Read

We’re not here to discuss Edgar Allen Poe or any other popular poet you know and love. The most disturbing topics for poetry are fact and not fiction. If you’re faint of heart, then please leave now. These are adult topics. If you have children, we urge you to discuss subjects like bullying, sexual abuse, and harassment — most of which are much more commonly experienced in junior high or high school with people they know rather than people they don’t. 

One such case of sexual abuse occurred in an Idaho school where three high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted a special needs individual who eventually sent a poem called the World is not used to people like me to Buzzfeed.

It reads:

The Worlds not used to people like me

They still have Hitler within their hearts they

Think that being different is a sign of

Weak and bullying can get them far

But what society doesn’t know is that a kicked

in hanger can bruise and penetrate the heart

It leaves you walking on a stub because

Of the burden put on you by the people

That you thought you once loved

The Worlds not use to people like me

Like Alex, it likes to pound you to

The ground and lock the door

For your opportunities and leave you

Helpless with a sound

Why lord why does this happen to us send

Us to earth to be sent to the back

Of the bus

The assaulted teen and his sexual abuse lawyer were responsible for sending the poem to be read by others who had experienced similar circumstances, and urge others to speak out when it happens to them.

You can find additional poems on similar topics like The Script, That Look, or Years Have Past at Into the Light. Anonymous author Abigail shared a poem called Gaps, which reads:

Gaps in the graphics,

Always knew they were there,

But stuff I saw made me

More reluctant to share

It was fresh, it was new,

Never been there before,

And the scary specifics

Made me feel like a whore

I know if I trust You

I’ll come out the other side,

With more freedom than ever,

Nothing to prove, lose, or hide.

Gaps in the graphics,

Want them to stay as they are

Then once and forever,

That ship can sail afar.

How would you interpret the poem? At first glance, it could have nothing to do with sexual assault. The narrator is, at its deepest meaning, discussing the subject of trust thematically. How long does it take to trust someone enough to feel “freedom” on the open waters of life? Ultimately, the poem seems to address the darker realities of some relationships that don’t work even when we might like them to. While Gaps is subtle in subject content, we can infer deeper meaning from the author’s other poems that can be viewed on the same site.

The Best New Coronavirus-Inspired Poems You’ve Never Heard Before

The coronavirus pandemic has led our world down a dark road — and the United States in particular has made innumerable mistakes in tackling this problem. Thankfully, this year’s National Poetry Month put everything into perspective. Writers shared their coronavirus-inspired poetry to shed light on the struggles of everyday people around the country. Some end with tears, while others end with giggles. 

My Corona was written by Sally Morgan:

The coronavirus looks like a dog toy

or a child’s Koosh ball

with its primary color

and fanciful shape.

How can something so whimsical

be so insidious?

It hasn’t infected me, mind you,

but it has changed me —

morphed into an

odd, complex chimera.

I’ve grown antennae that detect

a six foot field around me.

I’ve developed a fly’s eyes

to see danger on surfaces.

Like a squirrel, I bury food

in nooks and crannies

for a distant time.

I don a carapace

to venture out —

which I shed like a

snakeskin

on return to my door.

I am Lady Macbeth at the sink.

The future keeps receding.

Certainty has collapsed.

Sometimes I am like

the bear,

lumbering out of hibernation —

but mostly, I am like

the ground hog,

waiting

still waiting

to see her

Shadow.

Here are a couple stanzas from A Viral Composition written by Renata Starbird:

It all seems so simple, yet wonderfully cunning

that we should be haunted by creatures so stunning.

Not a prokaryote nor is it eukaryotic,

some close to home, others much more exotic.

As we go ’round the globe in our planes, trains, and cars,

as we chop down the trees to make room for our yards,

as we drill deep into earth and pave roads in the mountains,

viral dark matters inch closer by thousands.

These poems elicit our emotions about the new world in which we live through a novel lens — and we should all strive to take a second glance and reevaluate. Looking for more? A quick look online will feed your appetite.