Goodbye, National Poetry Month!

Time sure flies when you’re having fun.  It’s hard to believe another National Poetry Month is already drawing to a close, but for one last hurrah, don’t miss this great mini-film adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s poem “This Is Not a Fairytale.”  You can also hear her read on Wednesday, May 11th as part of the 2nd Annual Evanston Literary Festival, and make sure to keep coming back to Off the Shelf for Poetry 365 – a great way to scratch your poetry itch all year long.

National Poetry Month: April 30th

Piano and Scene by David Berman

A child needs to know the point of the holiday.

His aunt is saying grace over a decaffeinated coffee
and her daughter is reading a Russian novel
whose 45 chapters are set
on 45 consecutive Valentine’s Days.

Grandpa is telling the kids fairy tales
from Pennsylvania’s pretzel-making region

and it’s hard for me to be in the mood
you need me to be in right now,

as I’m suddenly wrapped up in this speculation
on the as yet undiscovered moods of the future,

like nostalgia for a discontinued model of robot
or patriotic feelings for your galaxy Continue reading “National Poetry Month: April 30th”

National Poetry Month: April 29th

A System of Cells by D.W.

In a Bluetooth beginning,
android search discovery mode
pre e-verse minds app connection
handheld night n’ snap-chat rays
data speed download gratification
micro-cosmos in a virtual wave
and the mega-gigabyte saw it was good.
keywords of antibiotic meditation
earth@ cloud storage, dropped signal, to wireless hell
and the face of darkness
fell over the screen


This poem was selected by Don W. (Maintenance)

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Poet Profiles: Reginald Gibbons

Photo by Cornelia Spelman

Our National Poetry Month celebration has reached a fever pitch, but before we make our last call and flip on the bright lights, we want to introduce one more special guest to our poetry party.  As you well know, Evanston is home to some seriously talented poets, and it is our pleasure to highlight their work right here on Off the Shelf.  Next up is Reginald Gibbons.  The Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program in NU’s School of Professional Studies, Gibbons’ tenth book of poems, Last Lake, will be published in October by University of Chicago Press, and his book about poetry, How Poems Think, came out last fall.  He has published a novel, Sweetbitter, has edited a collection of poets’ essays (The Poet’s Work) and other books, and has translated a volume of Selected Poems: Odes and Fragments of Sophocles, poems by Spanish and Mexican poets, and also two ancient Greek tragedies (Bakkhai and Antigone); in 2017 he will publish a book of very short fiction.  We recently spoke with Gibbons via email about his poetic origins, his writing process, and the poetry that inspires him.

Continue reading “Poet Profiles: Reginald Gibbons”

National Poetry Month: April 28th

Happy As The Day Is Long by James Tate

I take the long walk up the staircase to my secret room.
Today’s big news: they found Amelia Earhart’s shoe, size 9.
1992: Charlie Christian is bebopping at Minton’s in 1941.
Today, the Presidential primaries have failed us once again.
We’ll look for our excitement elsewhere, in the last snow
that is falling, in tomorrow’s Gospel Concert in Springfield.
It’s a good day to be a cat and just sleep.
Or to read the Confessions of Saint Augustine.
Jesus called the sons of Zebedee the Sons of Thunder.
In my secret room, plans are hatched: we’ll explore the Smoky
.     Mountains.
Then we’ll walk along a beach: Hallelujah!
(A letter was just delivered by Overnight Express–
it contained nothing of importance, I slept through it.)
(I guess I’m trying to be “above the fray.”)
The Russians, I know, have developed a language called “Lincos”
designed for communicating with the inhabitants of other worlds.
That’s been a waste of time, not even a postcard.
But then again, there are tree-climbing fish, called anabases.
They climb the trees out of stupidity, or so it is said.
Who am I to judge? I want to break out of here.
A bee is not strong in geometry: it cannot tell
a square from a triangle or a circle.
The locker room of my skull is full of panting egrets.
I’m saying that strictly for effect.
In time I will heal, I know this, or I believe this.
The contents and furnishings of my secret room will be labelled
and organized so thoroughly it will be a little frightening.
What I thought was infinite will turn out to be just a couple
of odds and ends, a tiny miscellany, miniature stuff, fragments
of novelties, of no great moment. But it will also be enough,
maybe even more then enough, to suggest an immense ritual and
.     tradition.
And this makes me very happy.


This poem was selected by Russell J. (Adult Services Librarian)

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National Poetry Month: April 27th

First Lesson by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

“Melanie and Me Swimming” by Michael Andrews

This poem was selected by Lesley W. (Head of Adult Services)

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National Poetry Month: April 25th

Later History by David Rivard

No, it isn’t so bad being
the tail end of a life form, & even when it is
over for good, when the rivers slow to a stop
and we are eradicated from this planet
with its hierarchies of golden wasp, conqueror, & clerk,
it still won’t be over. Our extermination
will allow us to survive ourselves, but changed
in our ways, humble, less sullen, quickened,
like dust driven along by a risen wind.
Each of us like a skater
who sidles down a corridor of wind & snowflakes, without
loneliness or fear. I think we will communicate
with one another the way,
in a bright kitchen on Sundays, a worn & disheveled pajama bottom
can deliver a message simply by clinging
to a thigh, quietly
but with a sly impunity. Doubt will defeat itself,
perfectly aware of its own
weaknesses, & all the treaties & accords of history
will be honored. All the subtle fragrances & intensities
of axle grease, of sails on the Nile & tangerines,
will be recalled & sung,
while our faces in the mirrors of innumerable
bathrooms will no longer loom up to obsess us.
But sorrow, sorrow will be unchanged.
So that we may recognize each other.

— For Michael McGuire


This poem was selected by Heather R. (Adult Services Librarian)

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National Poetry Month: April 24th

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (excerpt) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres? Continue reading “National Poetry Month: April 24th”

National Poetry Month: April 23rd (Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!)

Sonnet CXXIX by William Shakespeare

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme,
A bliss of proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
.    All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
.    To shun the heav’n that leads men to this hell.


This poem was selected by Russell J. (Adult Services Librarian)

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National Poetry Month: April 22nd

“An earthen vessel” by Jimmy Glass

An earthen vessel may hold the rarest wine
.     The handwrought silver goblet—gall
.     The tattered cover—words of wisdom
.     The gold-edged leaf—the cruelest lie
.     Stumbling words—love’s true oath
.     The silver tongue—the razor’s edge
.     The truth arrives disguised,
.     Therein the sorrow lies

A scene from the Piven Theater’s production of “Dead Man Walking.”

This poem selected by Lesley W. (Head of Adult Services).  Jimmy Glass was executed in Louisiana in 1987.  His poem was chosen by Sister Helen Prejean – author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents – as part of the Piven Theater’s Quality of Mercy project.

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