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—Terrance Hayes, Academy of American Poets Chancellor (2017– )
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Marcus Wicker
Marcus Wicker

Close Encounters

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 27, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘Close Encounters’ began as a therapeutic exercise—an invective written to an ex-next-door neighbor who was unwilling to acknowledge my presence as anything other than a threat. But during revision, when the actual healing took place, the poem’s tone and audience changed. It never ceases to amaze me, the anodyne that is poetry.
—Marcus Wicker

Close Encounters

I was a real cute kid. Ask anybody. My father
likes to tell a story about a modeling scout

who spotted us out midday shopping
at the Briarwood Mall. Imagine five-year-old me,

all sailor stripes & junior afro, doing a full pull-up
on the magazine kiosk: Got any Keats? No doubt

something I’d heard watching Jeopardy
with granny, but it mattered not

to the tickled pink lady. Oh, you’re just soooo
sweet! What a cutie-sweet! she decreed, handing dad

her flowery card. It wouldn’t stop there.
My 10th birthday, whole neighborhood invited,

I strutted down the stairs in a white sports coat
like, Look, folks. In case you’re wondering,

I’m the host! My mother told Mrs. Holbrook
He was born full-grown with a briefcase. As I’m sure

you will be, little sewn seed, undone. Future me.
Dear son, the defacing starts much later.

After desegregation sparks the awkward clutch
of Coach clutches on campus busses, but before

the riots in Baltimore. It started a few days before
I turned thirty, Invisibility. Home from teaching

the sons & daughters of Indiana farm hands
it’s ok to write poems, same briefcase slung

tired across wrinkled linen, you’d have thought
I accosted her—Maria—when I stooped down

to pluck my mother a pair of magenta tulips    
from her own thriving garden, & she shrieked

Why are you staring at my lawn! Maria who
used to slide teen-me a twenty to occupy her

daughter in the playpen while she grabbed
a bottle of Bordeaux from the basement

before the real nanny arrived. She must have seen
straight through me, into the distant past, alternate

reality when your grandparents’ neighboring
residence would have been a servants’, & I

in that moment, for the first time, unsaw her.
As primer. A kind of manila cardstock 

I’d failed to imprint. Son, sometimes this happens.
It happens in gated spaces when you look like

a lock pick. See the 44th president. Scratch that.
It happens in gated spaces, as the lone

locksmith. & if I’m being honest,
the happy way things are going between

me & E., you may well resemble him.   
Don’t count yourself precious. Truth is,

too soon, you will bend down to rob a few
bright blossoms from your own land &

look away from the earth
to make certain you haven’t been ogled.

This phantom guilt applied to a nape
through the eyes of every blind Maria,

here’s the key: try not to let it die.
Now run to the closest mirror, quickly

remember how sweet the fleeting love.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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National Poetry Month 2017 Poster
Writing from the Absence
American Poets, Spring-Summer 2017
poem

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become
      unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
      make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
      the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance
       of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

Marianne Moore
1919
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

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A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

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Point Reyes National Seashore
poem

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
2007
Mark Strand's "Cento Virgilianus"
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Gwendolyn Brooks: A Centennial Celebration

A Pulitzer Prize winner, an Academy Fellowship winner, and the first black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, Gwendolyn Brooks was—and continues to be—an outstanding voice in the world of contemporary American poetry. Brooks, who was awarded countless literary honors in her lifetime, was known for writing poems that captured a cross-section of everyday life in her hometown of Chicago. In sonnets, ballads, epic poems, and more, Brooks captured the lives, speech, and perspectives of people as varied as those she encountered in her city, and was particularly known for her interrogation of race relations and class.

This year marks Brooks’s centennial, and to celebrate, we’ve created this new collection of essays, audio, and poems by and about Brooks.