Paul Engle, former director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, wrote that poetry “is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” Poetry, like spring, embraces contradictions. Fitting, then, that the American Academy of Poets declares April National Poetry Month. In recognition of the importance of poetry in the life and history of The University of Iowa, fyi offers readers a change of pace—not stories about poets, but a few of their poems.
Like Dew on the Grass
Oh, the sound of water dreaming of reincarnation, yearning to be born again; and the lachrymal gland of the grass eavesdropping on the sound; what’s alive lives only by calling its name while it lives; what is isn’t what it should be, nor is this life. I wonder how calm it will be inside that blazing flame! Holding a bruised candle, I’d like to enter the dew and fall asleep.
—By Ji-Woo Hwang, trans. by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program
Just a Little Yoga
This morning the goldfinches returned
to the thistle feeder. They’d ignored it all winter,
but now, as the first smudge of gold shows in their coats,
they light in the birch and test thistle gone stale.
Ramón lolls underneath on melting crusts of snow.
I’m behind an upstairs window, wobbling on one
leg, doing “tree,” trying to forget looking on.
—By David Hamilton, Professor of English and editor of the Iowa Review
The Parabolic Curve of the Red Stem of a Dandelion Gone to Seed
Anything tasting like moist straw is good now.
Then, I sat on the grass and waited for the dandelions
to spray their white feathers in the wind,
and a fly came by to see what had spoiled,
but nothing had. A sweat bee the size of my fingernail
worked nearby, taking what it needed.
The taste of whatever bloomed near common grass
is good now. Then, a bird hid in the pine,
biting off yells that seemed to say all seeds were his
by right. Then I noticed, for the first time, I believe,
the easy, fluent curve of their stems.
I was in love with the commonest weed of all,
more for the slim line of its stem
than for the expression of its face. O my secret,
scattered among the green leavings of time—
weren’t we as resilient a pair as this straw in the wind,
and weren’t our steps together as light
as the crackling of rice paper? I hear that crackling begin
again, as I split the stem of the dandelion,
and fold it and chew on it. Because then
the dandelion towered over its tiny estate, today
I reach down to pull one from the earth, recklessly,
and carry it awhile, and taste it and drop it.
—By Marvin Bell, Flannery O’Connor Professor of Letters
Reprinted by permission of the author, from Rampant, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2004.
Each Word: A Family History
In wartime, Mother waited
Each week by the promontory,
Rowing the outrigger downriver,
The baby quickening inside her.
She and Father had written
Each other two years before
They met and married, before
The war. The baby, stillborn,
Later, was buried in the forest.
The oar-strokes drew circles,
Widening as she waited.
The courier emerged from
The rainforest, silent, and
Father’s letter said, a week old,
I am well… His firm, even hand
Giving her a now, a sufficiency
Of life, each creased line erasing
The kempeitai still hunting him
In the foothills between them, each
Word an alternative world.
—By Rowena T. Torrevillas,
Adjunct Assistant Professor of English