Essential American Poets

There is a podcast and online collection of recordings on the Poetry Foundation's website called Essential American Poets. Created by Donald Hall in 2006 while he was poet laureate, each podcast condenses a poet's life and work into a few minutes of biographical high points and ends with a reading of several poems, which are often older recordings by the poet him/herself. The most recent addition to the podcast is Robert Hayden, known best for the poem "Those Winter Sundays:"

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

This poem seems especially fitting now as we settle into winter's cold. It is subtle, sincere, and ends with a line on love that doesn't make me want to throw-up: it isn't overly sentimental. Rather, it is full of the question the adult speaker is not asking in the poem but implies, which is, "Why?" Why did you love me, why did you do this, why did you not want something in return, etc.? This poem is an example of how to investigate childhood, familial love, and adult uncertainty with tact and sincerity.

I encourage you to sift through the many audio clips available and discover a new voice. Stay warm, everybody.

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