5 Great Poems By U.S. Poet Laureates

The United States Poet Laureate—serves as the official poet of the United States. During their term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Here are 5 great poems by U.S. Poet Laureates.

1. Cloud by Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate from 2008-'10

A blue stain

creeps across

the deep pile

of the evergreens.

From inside the

forest it seems

like an interior

matter, something

wholly to do

with trees, a color

passed from one

to another, a

requirement

to which they

submit unflinchingly

like soldiers or

brave people

getting older.

Then the sun

comes back and

it's totally over.

2. History Lesson By Natasha Trethewey, poet laureate from 2012-present
I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips
of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each
tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side
of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,
forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,
her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

3. Candle Hat by Billy Collins, poet laureate from 2001-'03

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:

Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,

Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,

Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather

from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror

and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio

addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew

we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head

which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,

a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like

to be wearing such a chandelier on your head

as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read

any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him

lighting the candles one by one, then placing

the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,

the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house

with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door

one dark night in the hill country of Spain.

"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"

as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,

illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

artrocks.ca

4. An Extraordinary Morning by Phillip Levine, poet laureate from 2011-2012
Two young men—you just might call them boys—
waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get
them downtown. Yes, they're tired, they're also
dirty, and happy. Happy because they've
finished a short work week and if they're not rich
they're as close to rich as they'll ever be
in this town. Are they truly brothers?
You could ask the husky one, the one
in the black jacket he fills to bursting;
he seems friendly enough, snapping
his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings
“Sweet Lorraine," or if you're put off
by his mocking tone ask the one leaning
against the locked door of Ruby's Rib Shack,
the one whose eyelids flutter in time
with nothing. Tell him it's crucial to know
if in truth this is brotherly love. He won't
get angry, he's too tired for anger,
too relieved to be here, he won't even laugh
though he'll find you silly. It's Thursday,
maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe
the Sabbath, but these two, neither devout
nor cynical, have no idea how to worship
except by doing what they're doing,
singing a song about a woman they love
merely for her name, breathing in and out
the used and soiled air they wouldn't know
how to live without, and by filling
the twin bodies they've disguised as filth.
5. Selected Haiku By Issa by Robert Hass, poet laureate 1995-1997
Don't worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.
New Year's Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.
Goes out,
comes back—
the love life of a cat.
Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
I'm deaf?
Under the evening moon
the snail
is stripped to the waist.
Even with insects—
some can sing,
some can't.
All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.
Napped half the day;
no one
punished me!

loveinabandb.blogspot.com

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