Posted in Poem/Poetry

Gentlemen of the Old School, poem

The Madonna in Sorrow Giovanni Battista Salvi (1609-1685)
The Madonna in Sorrow
Giovanni Battista Salvi

gentlemen of the old school
those devotees of Mary …
Mother of Christ, Handmaid of the Lord
seeing her in every woman
….. generously
even me – daughter, mother, niece, friend –
protagonist, antagonist,
on-again off-again wife
simmering slowly in the broth of the cosmos
never quite done, never quite done
…..but they were …
………they were
gentlemen of the old school

dedicated to the real men in my life from whom you will not hear “locker room” talk

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved Photo ~ via Wikipedia and in the U.S. Public Domain

Posted in Poem/Poetry

Paradigms Shift, a poem

10551085_264625727060668_8470137909788891197_nwho are you?
The person you inherited from your parents
or the one you bequeath to your children?
Are you and you one or two?

Or have you merged like eggs and milk
into a pudding, not one or the other,
but something quite different

Do you have to break the mirror
to open fresh eyes?

Are you and you one or two?
Something more or something less.
Are you more or less than one?
Your heart is not broken,
though sometimes it feels that way.
The cells of your body are separate
but collaborative and reciprocal.
Your sight is lighted by the
ground of being, but . . .
the question remains

who are you?
Caught between the generations
their different cultures,
perspectives, values.
Their expectations are at odds
and the older made promises
the younger could never keep …
Times change.
People evolve.
Paradigms shift
and you are you, adapting.

© 2013 poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Posted in Poem/Poetry, Wednesday Writing Prompt, writing prompt

Your Mother, a poem … and therein lies your Wednesday Writing Prompt

"The wound is the place where the light enters in." Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

your mother

a tattered memoir in sepia tones
hanging on the wall of your office
a tiny plump sparrow of a woman
by a lone stone cottage
toothless, poor old thing
a warm shawl pulled to cover her head
an apron, worn shoes
from a time long past
from another world
my Turkish grandmother
what was her name?
you never said
i never asked

– Jamie Dedes


My paternal grandmother never made it to the United States and died before I was born.  I remember my father mentioning her only once and saying that when his father died he was sad that his mother never wore colors again. She only dressed in black. In some times and places, it’s customary for women to wear only black after the death of a husband – not just for a mourning period, but for the rest of their lives.

A sepia photograph of her hung in my father’s office.  I knew she was his mother and never thought to ask her name or to ask about her life.  That’s something I regret. Because of this I think, she comes to mind more often than the only grandparent I ever knew, my mother’s mother, Adele.

Write a poem, creative nonfiction piece or fictionalized account of a grandparent or other relative.  Perhaps there is a mystery – something specific you wish you knew and had asked about – or perhaps there’s something you wish you’d done with him or her.

© 2016, poem, prompt and illustration, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Posted in General Interest, Poem/Poetry, poetry history, Writers/Poets



“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” Joseph Brodsky

Well life happened – as it usually does until it doesn’t – and I missed Banned Book Week, September 25- October 1 – but it’s never too late to ponder banning and the unreason that often leads to it. One of the more humorous examples is:

How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore

– Shel Silverstein from A Light in the Attic (Harper Collins, 1981)

I wouldn’t blame you if you are surprised to think that a work by the recipient of a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award and two Grammy Awards would be banned. Consider also that Shel Silverstein’s books have been translated into thirty languages and have sold over twenty-million copies. He may have written for children but adults are enamoured of his writing too. So why was A Light in the Attic banned? According to Cunningham Elementary School in Wisconsin, Shel’s book would encourage children to break dishes in order to avoid having to dry them. Apparently some people are missing a funny bone.

Ginsberg’s Howl was famously condemned as obscenity. Publisher Lawrence Ferlighetti and City Light’s Bookstore Manager Shig Murao were arrested, Ferlighetti for publishing obscene literature and Murao for selling it.  There was a protracted and very public trial. Ultimately, it was determined that the book was protected under Freedom of Speech. The judge also pronounced the book “not obscene.” Here is a clip Howl, a movie about the trial. James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to click through to the site to view the video.

Not too long ago we celebrated the life and work of Gwendolyn Brooks.  In this video she reads her poem We Real Cool and explains why some chose to ban it …


Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was withdrawn from libraries for “explicit language. Six poems from Les Fleurs du mal by French poet Charles Baudelaire were considered an insult to public decency.  Baudelaire and his publisher were fined and the poems suppressed. The Roman poet Ovid’s Ars Amatoria – essentially a relationship guide in a series of three books compossed in elegiac couplets – was considered “licentious.”  Some speculate that Ovid was banished from Rome for it.

Some poets suffer worse than banishment, banning and fines.  PEN America reports HERE (scroll down) on writers and poets around the world who are on trial, imprisoned or murdered for the perspectives revealed in their work. Such poets often remind us of social injustices that remain simmering but unaddressed in a back corner of our minds. They create awareness of current injustices and inspire us to act. They call on us to hold ourselves and the powerful to account, often pointing out the ways in which we are complicit. That these poets and their work are found so threatening is a testimony to the power of words. There’s some solace in that.

© 2016, Jamie Dedes; illustration in the public domain


Posted in Poem/Poetry


Ascent of the Blessed, Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516), Early Netherlandish Painter
Ascent of the Blessed, Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516), Early Netherlandish Painter

The road to the hospital lies under the weight of fog.
Perhaps that’s as it should be, all things considered.

I’m tempted to fuss with speculations and similes,
though it might be unwise, maybe even unkind,
to say that road is like a passage leading to salvation,
the undoing of cardiac arrest, then I’d have to
knock on wood in my mother’s way, not to jinx it,
not to jinx raising Lazarus from his hospital bed –
The quality of resuscitation is the quality of a mercy,
which might not show itself this day, so we pray.

We wonder, does consciousness survive brain death?
Will he come back from over the brink like a drunk
from a binge, ready to swear-off his bad habits,
suddenly enamored of Christ, whom he’d forsaken?
Will he change from his tech job to a confession
of sins and martyr himself in social services ~
a nouveau-saint of the died-and-came-back genus,
kin to those other types of marketers, not to be rude…

But it is a stretch, though I’d be happy if he survives
and over-brims more Light into our darkness. Amen.

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Illustration in the U.S. Public Domain

Posted in Poem/Poetry


Lebanese shortbread cookies stuffed with figs, dates or walnuts (the original fig newton???)
Lebanese shortbread cookies stuffed with figs, dates or walnuts (the original Fig Newton???)

The year we shaped our lives in the redwood forest,
you brought a wounded salamander inside to heal.
We gathered woodsy things, thistles and pinecones.
We made rose-hip syrup, dried the last of the herbs.
I decorated the cabin in an ensemble of earth tones,
a spicy blend to match the fires you built in the hearth
and the scent of the East in the ma’amoul baking. Our
seasonal hibernation was swathed in sweets and books.
Our winter warmed on the gold-dust of our dreams.

© 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; photograph, mamoul: biscotti libanesi, by fugzu under CC BY 2.0 license

Posted in Poem/Poetry, Wednesday Writing Prompt, writing prompt

the century of possible peace, a poem … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt


the century of possible peace

after Muriel Rukeyser’s “Poem”
I lived in the century of world wars and
into the century of “hot spots” and “conflicts,”
those isolated regions of hostility and battle, of
choreographed shows of military cliché and the
violent disaffected eruptions of the marginalized

Every day is an homage to some insanity
Media reports are conveyed with facile intensity
by hyperkinetic journalists – they deliver easy
and ominous conclusions based on seemingly
recondite facts, quickly moving to celebrity
gossip and other insipid topics . . .

I have lived in two centuries of wars
I know what it is to be exhausted by the
vain posturing of the ruling class and
the tired protestations of tribal unity and
supremacy based on accidents of birth

I know what it is to imagine peace across
the circumference of one small blue ball
in a Universe of inestimable size and breadth
I know that darkness can descend with the
speed of light and that love is more than an
anchor and that hope keeps our dreams alive

I have lived into the century where the world is
grown small, where the peacemakers are tireless
and perhaps enough hearts have grown large …
sometimes I think I am living in the century
where peace is as possible as war

– Jamie Dedes © 2013 poem, the century of possible peace and 2016, photographJamie Dedes, All rights reserved

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
– Muriel Rukeyser
Muriel Rukeyser (1913 – 1980), American poet and political activist. Some consider her the greatest poet of her generation. Adrienne Rich has said of her, “Rukeyser was one of the great integrators, seeing the fragmentary world of modernity not as irretrievably broken but in need of societal and emotional repair.” You can read more about this poet HERE.
© 1968, Poem, Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness (recommended)



Literary allusion is a device by which a writer refers – directly or indirectly – to an individual, an event, or a work of art or of literature. We use this to connect our text to the greater world and the experiences, emotions and ideas that are the common human condition. In the poems above, the subject is war and the way the news of it is delivered and reacted to. I allude to Muriel Rukeyser’s Poem (it’s below mine) in the first line of my poem with “I have lived in the century of world wars.” I feel as she did and echo her observations and emotions in my own way and from the perspective of my own time.

Choose a poem that you very much relate to. Use one line of it in your own poem and explore the subject from your time, place and perspective.



Posted in Poem/Poetry, poetry history, Social Justice/Activism, Writers/Poets

A DEFENSE OF ACTIVIST POETRY by Michael Dickel who penned “War Surrounds US”

American-Isreali Poet, Michael Dickel
American-Israeli Poet, Michael Dickel

51pv4fg0wpl-_sx329_bo1204203200_By now, those who pay attention to poetry and in particular the poetries of witness and activist poetries, know well that it follows from a long tradition. Yet others, especially cultural and political conservatives, argue “protest” poetry or “political” poetry both do not constitute “Literature,” and that such poetry cannot help but be time-bound little more than contemporaneous commentary. I have been told that some of my poetry is “journalistic,” and that I am caught in a “fashionable” trend from the mid-1950s that has no literary roots beyond, possibly, the Beats. Such arguments simply are nonsense.

unknownCarolyn Forché’s volumes Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English 1500–2001 and Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness demonstrate, with excellent examples, a long history of social and political engagement in English poetry. In fact, one might claim just the opposite of the (usually disguised political) claims that the tradition began in the middle of the 20th C. could be made, that solipsistic confessional poetry that is more autobiography than engaged in the world emerges from that time, in counter-balance to a history of poetry engaged in the outside world.

For this post, I provide two examples of poets from the first half of the 20th Century who engaged in the world.


The first, two poems come from the well-known poet William Butler Yeats: Easter, 1916, written in response to a political protest forcefully broken up by the British, who executed 16 of the protesters. The poem, written in September 1916 and published in 1928, ends with a powerful commentary on the protest, the execution-martyrdom that resulted, and, prophetically, the continuation of the Irish struggle: “A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

– William Butler Yeats

Yeats’ poem, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, comments powerfully and bitterly on violence, war, oppression, and the loss of our own humanity in modern times. The poem, in six parts, has a history of difficult critical reception—critics had a hard time reconciling it with others of Yeats’ works. However, since the later part of the 20th Century, his poem has had a more thoughtful reading by the critics, possibly giving weight to saying he was “ahead of his time.”

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood —
And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.

Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some Platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.

We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth.

Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked — and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias’ daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.

– William Butler Yeats

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.


unknown-1For the second example, I move to a lesser-known writer. John Cornford, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, died during the Spanish Civil War under “uncertain circumstances at Lopera, near Córdoba in 1936.” We have no idea how much he might have contributed to poetry, had he survived. However, his poems written during the Spanish Civil War did survive, and were published posthumously. Born in 1915 in Cambridge, England, he was a committed communist. “Though his life was tragically brief, he documented his experiences of the conflict through poetry, letters to family and his lover, and political and critical prose which spoke out against the fascist regime and its ideologies.”

Sandra Mendez, a niece of John Cornford who also holds the copyright to his work, created a song from his poem “To Margot Heinemann.” The YouTube below is her performing that song.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

These are just two of many examples that could be drawn from the long history of English letters. Engaged poetry, poetry of witness, activist poetry, political poetry—all comprise an important aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of what we call “Poetry.”

– Michael Dickel

Select Resources and Links
Burt, Stephen. The Weasel’s Tooth: On W. B. Yeats. The Nation.
Dickel, Michael. Curator / Editor. Poet Activists: Poets Speak Out. The Woven Tale Press.
Rumens, Carol. Poem of the Week: Poem by John Cornford. The Guardian.

THE POET AS WITNESS, an interview with Michael Dickel

© 2016, essay, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Posted in American History, Poem/Poetry, poetry history

I, too, sing America … Langston Hughes poem at the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture, opens September 24, 2016
National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Opens September 24, 2016

AMERICAN POETRY: Langston Hughes’ I, too, sing America will be used in the opening ceremonies on Saturday for the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian in DC.

The poem predates the Civil Rights Movement by about ten years:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

– Langston Hughes

The website with details on the grand opening is HERE.

The photograph is by Fuzheado under CC BY-SA 4.0 license