Oy. Now that David Orr has come out with the definitive book on Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”


and has revealed to the world that the poem is not what everyone thinks it is about…how the heck should we categorize  it, subject-wise?

I write this partly because I’m interested in daydreaming about putting together an online anthology of poetry that’s similar to Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin’s The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You. 

 imgres-1.jpgIt would range from poems to help one deal with grief, such as Emily Dickinson’s A Formal Feeling Comes, to poems to help one deal with congestive heart failure, such as Dean Young’s The Rhythms Pronounce Themselves, Then Vanish , which I found yesterday after one of my in-laws was taken to the ER with that illness and I was looking for info (and, yeah, poems, because I’m a dork) on it.

If I went along w/the usual popular reading of the poem and was doing a normal subject-type anthology, I’d put it under a subject heading like “Non-conformity.”  David Orr intimates that this is not what Frost intended the poem to be about, though, and offers a version of what it might look like if he did. Orr’s imagined version-of-Frost-had-he-been-a-lesser-poet writes that after looking at two roads, he

…took the other, as just as fair,
And posing perhaps the greater test,
Because it was narrow and wanted wear,
Rising so steeply into thinning air
That a man would struggle just to rest,

While the other offered room to play
Or stand at ease along the track.
I took the lonelier road that day,
And knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one that dared me to try,
And that has made all the difference.

Bleh. Corny. Frost made better choices.🙂

It’s my understanding that the initial inspiration for his piece was the way that, whenever Frost took a walk in the woods with one of his friends, his friend could never figure out which path to take.  One of the tricks of the poem is that although it seems to say that one path is better than the other, Frost is saying that both paths are the same. (“THEY’RE WORN REALLY ABOUT THE SAME, MAN!” One can picture him shouting at his friend. “JUST PICK ONE! THEY’RE EQUALLY LYING IN LEAVES NO STEP HAS TRODDEN BLACK! GEEZ! DO I HAVE TO WRITE YOU A POEM ABOUT THIS?! “)

Perhaps, if I am to choose a subject heading based on an ailment for this one, though, “Indecision” might not be a bad choice.

Read more of David Orr’s


at Literary Hub. 

The rest of Orr’s book about this poem is called The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong.

Can you write one poem an hour for 24 hours straight?


Well, this ended on August 13, but it’s good to know about for next year:


The Goal: Write one poem every hour, for twenty-four hours, straight.

The Reward: In one day you will write a chapbook worth of poems. An admirable achievement. You also get the satisfaction and bragging rights that comes with completing a challenge, as well as the Official Marathon Writer’s Certificate.

Find more details here

Poetry Diary 4:a decent poem to read when a loved one is in the hospital


Someone I care about is in the ER for the second time in a month.

Rafael Campo, a doctor-poet, really seems to “get it” in his poem “Lost in the Hospital.” I like this poem because it’s not sappy, or maudlin, or overly depressing. The end is helpful for the familiarity of what it captures.  

Lost in the Hospital

It’s not that I don’t like the hospital.
Those small bouquets of flowers, pert and brave.
The smell of antiseptic cleansers.
The ill, so wistful in their rooms, so true.

Poetry Diary 3: poems found about the weird ambivalence re: one’s kids growing up


I mentioned the other day that I was looking for poems that express the mixture of pride and (though we try to hide it) grief that parents often feel when watching their children grow up. While leafing through Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times again last night, I found two.  They’re simple and a little folksy (Prairie Home Companion companions) but seem to capture the ambivalent emotions involved. Though they’re about older kids, the fact that other parents feel this way at watching their kids grow–enough to write decent poems about it–makes me feel a little better re: my own feelings right now.

The first is “To a Daughter Leaving Home” by Linda Pastan.

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you

Read rest of poem at The Writer’s Almanac.  Apparently this is a good poem to make videos from–I found a bunch of YouTube videos made from it on-line.

The second is No Longer a Teenager by Gerald Locklin.

my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn’t need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,

Read rest of poem at The Writer’s Almanac

I’m hoping to start a list of links to on-line poems like these that groups them by emotion and experience….

2,000 Donald Trump poems

In the Augusts 29, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, Charles Bethea has a brief piece on 


A quote from the article:

….Trump’s greatest contribution to the poetic arts is undoubtedly as muse. Since last summer, some two thousand user-generated poems about Trump have appeared on the seven-year-old Web site Hello Poetry, which attracts more than eight hundred thousand readers a month. It’s free to join Hello Poetry: you just have to submit a poem you’ve written. The topic is up to you. (There are also four hundred poems about Hillary Clinton.)

Here are two lines from “Dual Airbags” by “ConnectHook:”

It’s a bitter pill (more like pilloried)

So shall we now be Trumped or Hillary-ed?

Poetry Diary 2: Poems in which parents lie to their kids


I lie to my child more than I’d like–telling him everything will be ok, for ex, that we’ll always protect him, etc.  Today I picked up Garrisson Keillor’s book Good Poems for Hard Times and came across two poems about parents lying  to their children.

The first, Fleur Adcock’s “For a Five-Year-Old,” is about a mother lying about her own inner nature to her child.  It begins

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:

Read rest of poem at The Writer’s Almanac. 

The other is David Ignatow’s “For My Daughter in Reply to a Question.” It’s full of lies, which is apparent from the first few lines of the piece:

We’re not going to die.
We’ll find a way.
We’ll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.

Read rest of poem at The Writer’s Almanac.

These two remind me of “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith, one of the poems that went viral after the recent massacre in Orlando:


Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

Read rest of poem at Waxwing Literary Journal. 

Katy Waldman has a short interview with Smith about this poem up at Slate, which is where I first found out about it.  For a few days after reading it I couldn’t get the refrain of it out of my head, and I thought of it esp. when I was thinking of the shootings at the same time my kid was in an unrelated sad mood & I was holding him as he cried about not wanting to grow up.  At least the poem ends on a relatively good note.