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Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

2014 June 5
by Jesse McCarthy

Maya Angelou


Caged Bird

By Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

Bearden pond

Romare Bearden, Tapestry “Recollection Pond” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1976)



By Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy” from Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899, rep. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1913)


The Map

2014 May 8
by Jesse McCarthy


Ortelius, Nova Francia from “Typus Orbis Terrarum,” 1570,  [detail]


The Map

by Elizabeth Bishop


Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.


From North and South, Houghton Mifflin, 1946



Poets as Roommates: nugget from the Elizabeth Bishop Paris Review Interview



I heard a story that you once spent a night in a tree at Vassar outside Cushing dormitory. Is it true?


Yes, it was me, me and a friend whose name I can’t remember. We really were crazy and those trees were wonderful to climb. I used to be a great tree climber. Oh, we probably gave up about three in the morning. How did that ever get around? I can’t imagine! We stopped being friends afterwards. Well, actually she had invited two boys from West Point for the weekend and I found myself stuck with this youth all in—[her hands draw an imagined cape and uniform in the air]—the dullest boy! I didn’t know what to say! I nearly went mad. I think I sort of dropped the friend at that point . . . I lived in a great big corner room on the top floor of Cushing and I apparently had registered a little late because I had a roommate whom I had never wanted to have. A strange girl named Constance. I remember her entire side of the room was furnished in Scottie dogs—pillows, pictures, engravings and photographs. And mine was rather bare. Except that I probably wasn’t a good roommate either, because I had a theory at that time that one should write down all one’s dreams. That that was the way to write poetry. So I kept a notebook of my dreams and thought if you ate a lot of awful cheese at bedtime you’d have interesting dreams. I went to Vassar with a pot about this big—it did have a cover!—of Roquefort cheese that I kept in the bottom of my bookcase . . . I think everyone’s given to eccentricities at that age. I’ve heard that at Oxford Auden slept with a revolver under his pillow.


anarchaeology of lichen

2014 April 29
by Jesse McCarthy

Reclining Figure in Marsh Landscape 1967

Willem de Kooning, Reclining Figure in Marsh Landscape, 1967


(anarchaeology of lichen)

by Liz Howard

In the towns I wear a sash monogrammed “Jacque Cartier”
and paddle through the desiccation of mute origin

if I wasn’t such a bâtarde I’d swell dissident
and beaded aquatic, take to water

tender stairwell of mares
limbic foals all misskwa nibowin
red death of my arms and horses and horses

lichen for the stomachs of caribou you track me in this herd
the city now a dénouement of the assimilative purge

symbiome:  what it took for you to enter
history, a slackened joy

John Clare and I and 37 Claires well versed in literature
each have a simulation of a raven in the crooks of our arms

tepid swallows
be your own antecedent
where possible

or a coda to my bibliography of silence, a fur-lined oneirophrenia
ascetically-charged moral pastures and thought-systems of rivers

but not for lack of wolves
or inside of wolves or besides the point of wolves
also teleology

what cache of stone flaunts umbilical sinew and lesser hides?
in a whalebone summer I’ll hum, ‘que sera, sera’ on the tundra

just below this earthen burial urn is your
mammalian warmth place a hand
to tend it             the
velveteen recognition
slides down
the artifact
of calcified desire

where memento and trajectory vistas assemble subthalamic
or post-coital alluvium—all dressy—take the small bend of it

for memory/stamen/intoxicate

no sister flower could ever recover this

—selfsame pleasure.



Liz Howard is a poet from northern Ontario, currently based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Misunderstandings Magazine and online at Matrix Magazine as part of the New Feminisms Supplemental. In 2009 she was shortlisted for the LitPop Award for poetry. She is the recipient of a Toronto Arts Council grant for poetry. Skullambient, her first chapbook, is forthcoming from Ferno House Press. On May 7th and 8th, 2014 she will be in Princeton along with fellow Canadian poets, Mat Laporte, Erin Robinsong and Aisha Sasha John, for A Rhythm Party, a reading series and workshop exploring the intersection of hospitality and poetics. The poem (anarchaeology of lichen) will be includded in Skullambient and can be found online at Ditch Poetry.