November 25, 2020

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9 Poems for a Tough Winter

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“CALIFORNIA WINTER” BY KARL SHAPIRO

One of my forever favorites is Karl Shapiro’s “California Winter,” a marvelous ode to the land of the oldest living things, / trees that were young when Pharoahs ruled the world, / trees whose new leaves are only just unfurled. I like best to read it through the eyes of Joan Didion, who writes about California like no one else, and who mentions Shapiro’s poem in The White Album. She rightly points out that its last stanza possesses the rare and quiet power of a prayer.

— Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor

“SEEING OFF MENG HAORAN FOR GUANGLING AT YELLOW CRANE TOWER” BY LI BAI

When I was a kid, my mom taught me Mandarin by having me recite classical poetry. I understood little and memorized a lot, and two decades on, I find I remember most of what I learned. But I now revisit these verses with an added layer of nostalgia: The lonely sail, a faraway shadow, against an endless blue / I only see the Yangtze flowing into the horizon, goes one. The permutations of translation are infinite, frustrating, time-consuming (this one is mine; I’m no scholar and no poet). This pandemic winter, go memorize some stuff as an exercise. Translate, if you can, for fun, and for no one but yourself.

— Shan Wang, senior editor

“WILD GEESE” BY MARY OLIVER

Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” is my ultimate comfort poem; I go back to it again and again when I’m feeling despondent or defeated. You could argue this isn’t the right moment for the first line—You do not have to be good. (You do have to be good! Cancel Thanksgiving!) But the poem doesn’t feel indulgent to me as much as it feels merciful: Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on. It reminds me that this long pandemic winter will be only a blip in the vast span of the Earth’s history.

— Faith Hill, assistant editor who helps select our Atlantic weekly poem

“AFTER ABOLITION” BY KYLE CARRERO LOPEZ

In a social and political moment in which more people are discussing what role, if any, prisons and police should have in our society, I find that art can help us move our thinking away from what we believe is possible, and toward what we believe we deserve. Kyle Carrero Lopez’s poem “After Abolition” helps me dream of what it might mean to build the sort of country in which the instruments of our carceral state are pushed toward obsolescence. I will be rereading it for years to come.

— Clint Smith, staff writer and the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent

“THOSE WINTER SUNDAYS” BY ROBERT HAYDEN

I raise the blinds. I lower the blinds. I raise. I lower. My son and I rise; my son and I set. I run school, I work, I single parent. I think of my single mother’s thankless hours; I call: What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices? As days shorten, how do we keep going? Hayden’s poem of winter mornings seems bleak, yet his last line answers: love.

—Jennifer Adams, associate director of production

Caroline Mimbs Nyce


2020-11-20 16:48:00


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