Poems for Uncertain Times
Jan 10, 2017
Compiled by CL Young, Colorado Review Associate Editor
This week, the Colorado Review and CSU poetry communities offer a list of some of the poems we return to when we need strength, reassurance, grounding, and reminders of beauty and empathy.
Dan Beachy-Quick, Book Review Editor (poetry) & Associate Professor of Creative Writing:
Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Peace”
Camille Dungy, Professor of Creative Writing:
Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me”
I sent this poem to a number of my friends in the days after the election. It is so important to me as a communication of strength and resilience.
Ross Gay, “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian”
Right now I’m really drawn to this poem because it shows the potential for nourishing community even through our differences.
Emma Hyche, MFA student:
Aracelis Girmay, “Elegy”
I only came across this poem a few days ago, but it’s been echoing around my brain constantly since then. The best way I can describe the last quatrain is that it feels like a punch in the stomach and a kiss on the forehead at once.
Katherine Indermaur, Assistant Managing Editor & MFA student:
Rumi, “The Guest House”
This poem is one my grandmother shared with my uncle when he was going through a divorce, and my uncle shared it again at my grandmother’s funeral. It is one I return to in times of trouble and grief.
Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
This poem is a wonderful, emotional appeal to all modern Americans.
Denise Jarrott, Associate Editor & MFA student:
Louise Bogan, “Night”
Cole Konopka, Associate Editor & MFA student:
George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous”
I’ve returned to this poem again and again during troubled times for its ability to help me ground myself in a world that is still real despite how I feel about it. Specifically the following lines from section 2 speak to this kind of stability I sometimes need:
And the pure joy
Of the mineral fact
Tho it is impenetrable
As the world, if it is matter,
David Mucklow, Associate Editor & MFA student:
Ocean Vuong, “Headfirst”
I turn to this poem because it wrings out my heart, line by line, in a painful but loving way. It makes me think about the love and work of my mother raising me, and of all parents.
Kelly Weber, MFA student:
Emily Dickinson. All of them.
Emily Dickinson’s lyrics speak concisely and quietly to the soul in times of need.
Sarah Wernsing, Academic Success Coordinator & MFA student:
Melanie Almeder, from “Ten Cures: Found Poems”
I like to read this during times of distress because it makes me smile—it’s wry; it allows us to smile at our own rituals and coping mechanisms, at the way we take our small worries so seriously.
Zach Yanowitz, Associate Editor & MFA student:
Paul Celan, “Death Fugue”
Celan because Celan. Sometimes you have to indulge your sorrow and grief.
Ben Kopel, “Iscariot Rising Sutra”
Ben Kopel’s poetry charges me with its generosity and its sincerity. It makes me love everybody whom I love even more than I already do. It makes me want to fight for the things that make us alive in a world that tells us to sit down and shut up.
Cameron Awkward-Rich, “Bad News, Again”
This poem is wrought purely out of empathy. It feels as important as ever. It reminds me how much we matter to each other and how much loveliness there is in a world that feels increasingly dangerous and bad.
CL Young, Associate Editor & MFA student:
Brandon Shimoda, “The Killing Fields”
I return to this poem because no matter how many times I’ve read it, it requires my full attention. Regardless of what my mind is doing when it enters the poem, by the end it has been altered in some way. This poem reminds me that words are capable of such action.
Multiple Authors, “Election Day”
Since last week, I’ve been coming back to this poem over and over again to read it aloud. Twenty-six different voices are joined here. As I read it, I feel the power of each one grow and accumulate and by the end I feel mighty.