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Sunday, May 1, 2011


No matter the anthologies, not matter the publishers or editors, secondary ed. literature textbooks / anthologies pretty much always house the same short stories, novel excerpts, and plays as any other.  The pieces may get readjusted for grade level or shift focuses or be used in different contexts, and maybe something will get taken out--at least temporarily--or another author might get added, but but by and large this prosy stuff doesn't really change.  The poetry, on the other hand, shifts dramatically.  Over the next several weeks, I'm going to dig through the eight or nine secondary ed. lit. texts I've got on my shelves.  I'll open and close with the first and last poems printed in the each and fill the middle, hopefully, with a handful of poems I don't already know or that otherwise interest me.

Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

The Clouds Pass
Richard Garcia
The clouds pass in a blue sky
Too white to be true
Before winter sets in
The trees are spending all their money

I lie in gold
Above a green valley
Gold falls on my chest
I am a rich man.

The Tom-Cat
Don Marquis
At midnight in the alley
      A Tom-Cat comes to wail,
And he chants the hate of a million years
      As he swings his snaky tail.

Malevolent, Bony, brindled,
      Tiger and devil and bard,
His eyes are coals from the middle of Hell
      And his heart is black and hard.

He twists and crouches and capers
      And bares his curved sharp claws,
And he sings to the stars of the jungle nights
      Ere cities were, or laws.

Beast from the world primevil,
      He and his leaping clan,
When the blotched red moon leers over the roofs,
      Gives voice to their scorn of man.

He will lie on a rug tomorrow
      And lick his silky fur,
And veil the brute in his yellow eyes
      And play he’s tame, and purr.

But at midnight in the alley
      He will crouch again and wail,
And beat the time for his demon’s song
      With the swing of his demon’s tail.

The Shepherd’s Hut
Andrew Young
The smear of blue peat smoke
That staggered on the wind and broke,
The only sign of life,
Where was the shepherd’s wife,
Who left those flapping clothes to dry,
Taking no thoughts for her family?
For, as they bellied out
And limbs took shape and waved about,
I thought, She little knows
That ghosts are trying on her children’s clothes.

A Word
Emily Dickinson
A word is dead
When it is said,
      Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
      That day.

The Objection to Being Stepped On
Robert Frost
At the end of the row
I stepped on the toe
Of an unemployed hoe.
It rose in offense
And struck me a blow
In the seat of my sense.
It wasn’t to blame
But I called it a name.
And I must say it dealt
Me a blow that I felt
Like malice prepense.
You may call me a fool,
but was there a rule
The weapon should be
Turned into a tool?
And what do we see?
The first tool I step on
Turned into a weapon.


  1. Overall, I wasn't too impressed by the selection--shockingly brief, by the way--of poetry in this text. I recognize why each chosen, as each clearly exemplifies a particular poetry convention, but I think there are better poems available for each instructional objective.

    Of the 5, "The Shepherd's Hut" is definitely my favorite--lyric and stark and, in its brevity and imagery, indicative of my favorite type of poetry. The first 2 are, I think, fairly puerile, the Dickinson very Dickinson, and the final is perhaps my least favorite Frost ever, though the rhyme scheme--very typically "Frosty"--is characteristically clever.

  2. I agree with just about everything there. I just don't find the Frost poem even that good. I get the feeling that he is held captive to an overly constrictive rhyme scheme that doesn't flow naturally.

    Of course, the worst thing about these literature books is the feeling of compulsion. It's always less fun when you think that you HAVE to read for an assignment, and I find that these bulky textbooks always reminded me of that in a way that "Life of Pi" as a real book didn't. Much nicer just to lie down in bed with a regular book than sit slumped over a desk with a huge 20-year-old textbook.

  3. I was pretty unimpressed by the selection in this textbook. The next one's significantly better. You're right, though, about textbooks, and that's entirely--and I mean ENTIRELY--why I never used them. Never.

    About the Frost poem -- it really bothers me. Frost is seriously one of the greatest American poets of all time--for both the technical and the emotional ends. I guess every poet is allowed his moments of lapse; usually his rhyme schemes aren't a source of a sense of restriction, but an added element to the elegance of his writing. Worse than that, of all the Frost poems to choose....


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