Marist Celebrates National Poetry Month

Members of the Marist community explain the appeal of their favorite poems

A poem can be a powerful thing. Archibald MacLeish once wrote, “A poem should be motionless in time,” and while it’s true most of us might not think about the power of poetry on a daily basis, it seems everyone has a favorite poem in their memory: something simple or profound that we carry with us across careers, and across continents. And for every favorite poem, there’s a unique story attached that makes those words so much more special. Twenty years ago this April, National Poetry Month was created to remind us that poetry -- these motionless moments in time -- can be a part of our lives in ways both big and small.

To celebrate National Poetry Month at Marist, we've asked a variety of students, faculty, administrators, and staff from across the campus to share their favorite poems, along with the personal stories that make each poem special. We hope their stories below will inspire you to join the conversation and share your own favorite poem with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the hastags #Marist and #NationalPoetryMonth.

Watch the Marist.edu Events Calendar and the weekly Events @ Marist email from the Office of Media Relations for special readings and other events throughout April, as Marist celebrates National Poetry Month.

 – Tommy Zurhellen, Associate Professor of English 


 

Marist Community Members


Kaliyah Gardner '19 Kaliyah Gardner '19
Psychology Major, Creative Writing Minor

"For women who are 'difficult' to love." by Warsan Shire

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you

(Click here for the full poem)

I fell in love with this poem because it helped me fall in love with myself. It made me realize that I am much more than a love-seeking object and far from a man's dream. I am reality: something beautiful, multifaceted, and irrepressible. Through her fervent diction, Shire taught me that being difficult to love is not a bad thing, so long as I love my true self.


President Dennis Murray President Dennis J. Murray

"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

(Click here for the full poem)

I have always liked the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. Of course, "invictus" is a Latin word meaning unconquerable. The poem reminds us that we control who we are and how we live our lives. Henley wrote "Invictus" in his early 20s while recovering from a tubercular infection. The disease resulted in one leg being amputated and almost losing the other. Writing the poem under these conditions was an act of courage in itself. He refused to let this disability control his future and went on to live a fulfilling life as a poet and editor. His words have inspired others for generations. 


Erin Kane Erin Kane '16
English Major, Theatre Minor

"Needles and Pins" by Shel Silverstein

Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
Sew me a sail
To catch me the wind.

(Click here for the full poem)

This is my favorite poem because I think it captures beautifully, concisely, and idyllically the many different people it takes to get your feet off the ground. Even though it is a children's poem, I still find its message applies to my life just as powerfully today.


Nicole Patrizio ‘16 Nicole Patrizio ‘16

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

(Click here for the full poem)

I first read "Prufrock" for my Modern British and American Poetry class during my junior year. I completely fell in love with it, to say the least. My favorite line in all of poetry, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" comes from this poem. I think the words Eliot uses are so beautiful, but the message so truthful and disturbing. Who can blame the speaker, Prufrock, for feeling he is running out of time, yet has accomplished nothing of lasting significance? We all want to leave an impact of our presence here.


Dr. Judith Saunders Dr. Judith Saunders
Professor of English

"Consolations for Double Bass" by Charles Tomlinson

Click here to view the full poem

Working by way of analogy, the poem offers solace to those whose accomplishments are useful but not showy. Parts allocated to the double bass typically are monotonous, while the violins and high brass are assigned the more interesting melodic lines. Yet the bass makes essential contributions to orchestral compositions: steadily maintaining the beat, it prevents the more high-pitched, conspicuous instruments from going astray, from losing themselves in an unsynchronized cacophony of sound. The bass provides a dependable, secure anchor for the musical acrobatics compelling listeners’ attention. What is true in the orchestra holds true in human enterprises as well. Subtly the poem offers praise to human equivalents of the double bass: it lauds the contributions of those who work in the background; those who complete unglamorous but essential tasks; those who keep things going without dramatic display. I enjoy the subtle mockery at work in the poem, the unpatterned but persistent rhyme (lot /bottom/not, you/do, repeat/blood-beat, unastounded/ground), and I take special pleasure in the dual-language rhyming: endless/Hundesleben.


Dr. Patricia Tarantello Dr. Patricia Tarantello
Visiting Professor of English

"A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

(Click here for the full poem)

When I was in high school, my mom gave me a collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetry. I devoured it! My favorite poem from the collection is "A Psalm of Life." It is such a motivating poem. Whenever I need a reminder to be patient, hopeful, or optimistic, I return to it.


Deidre Sepp Deidre Sepp
Director of Career Development, Career Services

"Go to the Limits of Your Longing" by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

(Click here for the full poem)

My mother gave me this poem when I was 34 and she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn't sure why, but I folded and kept it in my wallet. Fourteen years later, my sister and I were both diagnosed with breast cancer within two weeks of each another. Rilke's words never failed to calm me when I was terrified that one of us - or both of us, or my mother, or all of us - would die. Along with surgeons, oncologists, chemotherapy, friends, and faith, I also thank Rilke for my life. He legitimized my fear in a way nothing else could and reminded me to keep finding beauty despite my circumstances. In September, my sister and I will celebrate 15 years as survivors. My mother lived to age 88. We just kept going. The paper the poem is printed on is battered and torn, but it is still in my wallet.


Christopher Pryslopski Christopher Pryslopski
Director of the Hudson River Valley Institute

"Finding the Space in the Heart" by Gary Snyder

I first saw it in the sixties,
driving a Volkswagen camper
with a fierce gay poet and a
lovely but dangerous girl with a husky voice,

(Click here for the full poem)

Good art, be it poetry, pottery, or serving someone tea, shows us how to live, reminds us of our inherent wisdom. Whether it is “Reading Milton by Firelight” or “Things to do around Seattle,” which includes advice on finding good thrift stores, Snyder shows us other ways to engage our world. The concluding poem of his epic Mountains and Rivers Without End, “Finding the Space in the Heart,” captures and encapsulates so much of how he does this. Beginning with travels in the 1960s, then 70s, 80s, and ending in the present, he weaves personal with geological and cultural narratives to manifest a landscape at once internal, external, and eternal. He finally ends by suggesting there is no end.


Patricia Houmiel Patricia Houmiel
Assistant Director of Housing

"The Sunflowers" by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many, fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.

(Click here for the full poem)

I have always loved sunflowers: VanGogh, fields in Italy, the random flower popping up under the bird feeder, seeds intentionally planted reaching up to meet the eaves of the house. So the first time I read this poem, I was smitten. I had to read it over and over again, like binge listening to a new favorite song. I was simply amazed at Mary Oliver’s spot on descriptions, her insights deepened my appreciation and love of sunflowers. “Their dry spines creak like ship masts”, “lonely, the long work of turning their lives into a celebration is not easy”, "and all those rows of seeds", her words conjure up such precise images. For me, reading this poem is like being in a field of sunflowers on a hot, sunny day, even on a snowy day in April in Poughkeepsie.


Professor Brian Haughey, CFA Professor Brian Haughey, CFA
Assistant Professor of Finance & Director of the Investment Center

"Mid-Term Break" by Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

(Click here for the full poem)

This poem is beautifully written, yet tragically poignant. Heaney masterfully conveys the unspeakable sadness of his family at the accidental death of a child, his younger brother. His sparse descriptions weave such a vivid portrait that I feel I am in the house with him. And the final line is heartbreaking: "a foot for every year".


Professor Michael Johnson Professor Michael Johnson
Professional Lecturer in Fashion Technology

"After the Last Dynasty" by Stanley Kunitz

Reading in Li Po
how "the peach blossom follows the water"
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
Chairman Mao,
naturally with the sex
transposed
and the figure slighter.

(Click here for the full poem)

The moment I decide on a favorite poem, I think of another that I like just as well. But I keep returning to Kunitz’s “After the Last Dynasty.” It’s the funniest sad poem I know. Or maybe the saddest funny poem. Anyway, if you ever lived in Williamsburg in the 90s, in your 20s, and your then-girlfriend once bought you the used copy of Kunitz that you’d hoped to buy for her, then you know exactly what I mean. “Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony…”


Kendall Tomulich Kendall Tomulich '16
English Major, Psychology Minor

"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

(Click here for the full poem)

I like this poem because of its dark twists and supernatural elements through the talking raven. I also find it fascinating how the narrator changes psychologically throughout the poem and how the raven pushes him in directions as well.


Meghan Jones Meghan Jones '16
English Major, Creative Writing Minor

"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

(Click here for the full poem)

A big reason I love this poem is because my high school men's choir performed a stunning choral setting of it, and I hear it every time I read the poem. The rhyme scheme, though very simple, must have been difficult to get exactly right. The message of the poem, especially the ending, is a profound, and often relevant, look at just how much the world demands of us.


Geoff Brackett Dr. Geoffrey Brackett,
Executive Vice President

"Ah! Sunflower" by William Blake

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

(Click here for the complete poem)

Blake’s poem “Ah! Sun-flower” is one of his first that moved me when I was an undergraduate. Blake seems to be underscoring the need to pursue one’s desires and dreams in the here and now—to define your own love and future, not copy someone else’s. This always struck me as a powerful, beautiful, and haunting lesson, and the fact that Blake could convey such a profound message with such delicate lyrical architecture made a huge impression on me.  It was one of the reasons I went to England to study Blake for my doctorate.

An echo of this poem happened when I moved from England to New York City in 1989.  I was lucky enough to have met Allen Ginsberg on several occasions, and after a reading at St. Mark’s in the Bowery I asked him to sign my copy of his Collected Works.  He began to draw the sunflower on the flyleaf and I recited the poem and he joined in while finishing his signature.  We talked briefly about Blake and did so on several other occasions, and though I was of course a young academic and he was perhaps the greatest living American poet, he was always respectful because, I think, Blake meant so much to him. And the evidence of that fact is in his great poem "Sunflower Sutra" (1955), where, sitting in a dilapidated railroad yard near San Francisco, California with Jack Kerouac and weighed down with the weight of the world, he sees a sunflower, remembers Blake’s poem and asks, “when did you forget you were a flower?” For me, these two poems form a haunting dialectic across the centuries about aspiration and embodiment of spirit, and they resonate powerfully as one example of the power of poetic expression.

Ah! Sunflower 


 

Austin Christensen Austin Christensen '16
Communications Major, Theatre Minor

"McElligot's Pool" by Dr. Seuss

"Young man," laughed the farmer,
"You're sort of a fool!
You'll never catch fish
In McElligot's Pool!"

When I was in seventh grade, I was in a production of Seussical, a musical that featured a collaboration of Dr. Seuss's works. My character sang a song called "It's Possible", which was taken almost directly from the book McElligot's Pool. Not only do I have a connection to the book/poem through the song, but the song's message of imagination and possibilities being endless when it comes to thinking is something I agree strongly with and hold close to my heart. As a writer and actor, imagination is something I cherish very much, which is why the poem is so near and dear to me.


 

Donise English Donise English
Professor of Studio Art

"I years had been from home" by Emily Dickinson

I Years had been from Home
And now before the Door
I dared not enter, lest a Face
I never saw before
Stare vacant into mine
And ask my business there.
My business, --just a life I left,

Was such still dwelling there?

(Click here for the complete poem)

This particular poem uses the metaphor of a "home" and its door to speak about the uncertainty of the past, present and future.  Her words allow me to stand at that door and experience this psychological quandary and inspire my response with visual imagery.   I hope that my work can convey to the viewer what I find most compelling about Emily Dickinson’s poems: they tell you things you don’t know or feel you need to know or feel until you know or feel them.

Below is an image of a handmade book that I made about this particular poem that includes a series of paintings that I made in response to the verse.  The paintings were photographed then printed to make the accordion style book that you see.

Donise English art

 


 

Krista Rivera Krista Rivera '16
English/Adolescent Education Major, Spanish Minor

"Holy Sonnet 10" by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

(Click here for the complete poem)

This is one of my favorite poems because it personifies death in such an interesting way. It transforms death into something futile and powerless, which counters the daunting, all-conquering phenomenon people typically consider death to be. The paradox "Death, thou shalt die" communicates such a powerful, spiritual message. 


 

Dakota Swanson Profile Picture Dakota Swanson '17
English/Adolescent Education Major, Creative Writing Minor

"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.

(Click here for the complete poem)

When I first heard the poem, I was drawn to its imagery, because a series I had been reading dealt with aspects of fire and ice. That series was A Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin, and I just found the ability to contrast a poem with a novel so amazing. I also think the poem itself is open to great interpretation because fire and ice are pretty commonly associated with many things. So you could take the poem at face value about being about the end of the world, or it could be about passion versus detachment and how too much of one can lead a person to ruin. I'm not really good when it comes to poetry, but I just find the poem immense within its small length.


 

Cristina Lupo Profile Picture Cristina Lupo '17
Business Major, Creative Writing Minor

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

(Click here for the complete poem)

This is my father's favorite poem. He would often quote it in what we call our "car pep talks" when I was younger. As I was growing up, this poem kept reappearing in my life, and was a favorite of one of my basketball coaches. The way it constantly found its way back into my life makes it special to me. 


Vicki Dearden Profile Picture Vicki Dearden '17
English Major, Psychology Minor

"Progress" by Bo Burnham

I almost forgot about you today. A sizable 
spill of coffee shot me to my feet, holding 
up my mocha-soaked notebook like an 
unclaimed child. 

(Click here for the complete poem)

I tend to over-think things. Well, not really over-think, just think too much. Once I start thinking about something it's hard for me to stop. I'll think about it when I wake up, when I'm in the shower, and when I'm walking to class. This poem mentions forgetting something for an instance. Even for just a minute, they are free from obsessive thought. And then when the moment passes, they go back to thinking about something as simple as that person brushing their teeth.


 

Professor Irma Blanco-Casey Professor Irma Blanco-Casey
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages

"La Vida es Sueno" ("Life is a Dream") by Pedro Calderon de la Barca

There, four-footed Fury, blast-engender'd brute, without the wit
Of brute, or mouth to match the bit
Of man--art satisfied at last?

(Click here for the complete poem)

I find Calderon de la Barca's message both intriguing and captivating. He sees life as "madness", "illusion", "fiction" and "a dream". This makes me think deeply about what is important in life. Are we going to allow certain things that may happen in life to take control of our humanity? We must concentrate, not on the "madness" of certain dreams but on living each day to the fullest. Because, in the end, dreams are just that: dreams!


 

Professor James Snyder Profile Picture Professor James Snyder
Associate Professor of Philosophy & Director of the Marist Honors Program

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

(Click here for the complete poem)

When my son was a baby I used to read this poem to him before he napped. I found the poem by accident – I picked up a random book of English verse, opened it, and there it was. But I grew to appreciate the poem because it speaks of the peace and quiet that can be found in the country, and it helped him fall asleep. To this day this poem still holds a special place in my mind.  


 

Vanessa Nichol-Peters Profile Pictures Vanessa Nichol-Peters
Director of Marist-LdM in Florence, Italy

“I am an African” by Pitika Ntuli

Caressed by African winds
Trade and anti-trade
Washed by our many rivers
Pure and impure
Endurance tested by rugged edges of
Mt. Kilimanjaro and Ukhahlamba
Tested by the desert sun
Within the maelstrom of sand storms
I carry a clear vision in the retina
Of my eye
A vision of our rebirth
I swear by every grain of sand
In the Sahel and Kgalakadi

(Click here for the complete poem)

Pitika Ntuli is a South African artist and poet who spent more than 30 years in exile from the apartheid regime. I heard Pitika deliver this poem in powerful and moving performance, during a lecture on Indigenous Knowledge. I grew up forced to learn European history, with African history relegated to a footnote of folklore; each time I read this poem, I am filled with pride, hope, and excitement to learn more about my own history.


 

Sharone Wellington-DeAnda Sharone Wellington-DeAnda
Internship and Project Coordinator, School of Professional Programs

"Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free. 

(America never was America to me.)

 

(Click here for the complete poem)

This was one of the first poems I had ever read. As I child I was fascinated with America and everything American. My Grand Uncle took a tour of the country shortly after World War II started. His stories about America were colorful, full of rhythms, smells and colors that made England as gray as it can seem. My Father gave me a small book of Langston's poems (his favorite poet). I was drawn to "Let America Be America Again," but confused by the imagery conjured against some of the words used. I now realize that the poem was as apt then, in Langston's era, as it is now. It is not lost on me that the title is remarkably close to a slogan being used today.


 

Patricia Ferrer Profile Picture Dr. Patricia Ferrer
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages

"Hombres necios" ("Silly Men") by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

*** excerpt & translation:

Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis:

English translation:

Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

This poem was written in Mexico around 1670 by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the first Latin American female writer.  I love the poem because it articulates so clearly the double standard of the Spanish patriarchal colonial society.  It also highlights the dialectics of the social construction of gender. I think it is clever and not devoid of humor. I enjoy reading it and teaching it.



Marist College has a strong tradition of encouraging student writing and creativity. All students regardless of major may take a creative writing course as part of their Core studies, and the vibrant Writing Major and Minor programs allow students to balance their own creativity with the real-world applications they will need in their future careers. And outside the classroom, there are always plenty of campus events and programs to showcase student writing, such as the annual Red Fox Poetry Slam, the MOSAIC student writing journal, as well as many other workshops, internship opportunities, and visiting author talks with writers such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Cornel West, Art Spiegelman, and Jonathan Franzen.

For more information on poetry and writing opportunities at Marist, visit the English Department webpage or contact the Chair of the English Department, Professor Tommy Zurhellen.

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