Three Yaddo Poets Demand Honor for the Fallen

May 30, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Toi Derricotte Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo

“Not Forgotten” by Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte, “Not Forgotten” from Tender. Copyright © 1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. Source: Tender (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

Grief is a war unto itself, distinct from the fight that precedes loss. Wrenching as it is to consider life beyond heartbreak, Derricotte observes ants honoring their dead: “They carry them off like warriors on their steel / backs  . . . so that every part will be of service.” To derive from unspeakable tragedy the possibility that war will not harm yet another generation is to return to that tragedy a saving grace. “I think of / my husband at his father’s grave—“ she continues, “the name had disappeared . . . he swept it / with his handkerchief to make it clear.” Just as we cannot forget those lost to the fight, we cannot forget those lost to grief, either. — SS

Cyrus Cassells Photo: Hillviews Magazine (2019)

“The World That the Shooter Left Us” by Cyrus Cassells

Copyright © 2018 by Cyrus Cassells. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Cassells opens with a warning: “Beware, be clear: the brown man . . . never makes it out of the poem alive.” Nodding to the 21st century’s digital audience, the speaker makes fruitless overtures first to “the far-seeing sages” to redeem “the brusque spectacle of point-blank force.” Unable to escape “the brute, churning / surfaces of the world” that “bear our beloved citizen away—,” Cassells turns finally to the “austere saints / and all-seeing masters” of history, translating their instructions himself. We must turn “the ruse of self-defense / into justice-cries and ballots.” — SS

Langston Hughes Photo: Carl Van Vechten / Carl Van Vechten Trust / Beinecke Library, Yale

“I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, “I look at the world” from (New Haven: Beinecke Library, Yale University, ) Source: Poetry (January 2009)

“I look at the world,” Hughes’ speaker proclaims, the title’s repetition in the poem’s first line evolving its sentiment into a groundswell of reclamation, “from awakening eyes in a black face—.” Hughes must look through a world crafted for his own downfall to envision the natural world that persecution obscures. After dawn lights “these walls oppression builds,” his newfound sight demands the destruction of cruelty’s facade, a prison from which fellowship is the only way back to what is real: “I see that my own hands can make / the world that’s in my mind. / Then let us hurry, comrades, / the road to find.” — SS